Where the Magic Happens

Being a Database Administrator is only one of many careers where you can work with SQL Server and so I was thrilled when Consultant Nick Haslam(Blog|Twitter) offered to share his own unique story with us as part of the What’s it Like to be DBA post series.

I was really pleased to be asked to do a Guest post for John, as I’ve found his website to be a great source of information over the past year or so. Thanks John for the Invite.

While I’m not specifically a DBA, I do do DBA related tasks, and part of my remit is to be able to assist DBAs where necessary, so I need to know and understand their needs.

I work primarily as a consultant, though that changes depending on the project. Most recently I’ve been working as a DataWarehousing consultant on a project for a multinational telecoms company. Though, I have skills in Database structures, ETL, database maintenance, and alot of other SQL stuff, I also have skills in a lot of Database-adjacent areas too.

How did you get started?

When I left university, I started work as a Technical Consultant, installing and supporting a Contact Management package. That was based on the bTrieve database, and I guess that was my first real experience into databases. A couple of years later, my employer at the time gave me the opportunity to do the MCSE certification(the original one, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer), which was several exams and numerous courses. I completed all bar one of the exams; the one in SQL 6.5. I’d had minimal practical experience in it then, and little time to get it sorted out. Not completing my MCSE was, and remains my biggest professional regret.

Then, I moved jobs, and worked for a Siebel consultancy. That was based on SQL server, and this was around 2000, when everyone had more money than sense, and I had no time to do anything other than project work. It was a great time for me, since I learned a great deal about practical database use, and dealing with customer expectations. Eventually, having working with Siebel, Microsoft CRM and SharePoint, I realised that I’d been spending the past several years working with SQL Server in one way or another (pretty obvious, in hindsight), and that’s where I started focussing my skills.

Describe what a typical day is like for you

Typically, I spend the majority of my time recently, dealing with customers and working on projects implementing Data Warehouses, investigating new technologies(currently Hadoop and Mobile BI tools) and evaluating how we can use them to give our customers a better advantage, or upgrading my skills.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a DBA?

One thing I’ve found over my years (and that makes me feel really old) is that you need to stay open to new ideas, and don’t restrict yourself to one ‘thing’. If you want to do the best job you can, you need to understand areas that are adjacent to your chosen field. By this I mean that if you are working with SQL Server, you should have an understanding of Windows (since it runs on Windows, and you can’t just blame Windows for everything, and pass the buck), along with Active Directory.

For me, it didn’t stop there; I learned C++ at university, and hadn’t touched it for many years, but as time has gone by, I’ve found that an understanding of a programming language, of whatever kind (I’ve played with a few, including VB, C#, and Java) is a great asset, since it gives you the ability to write something, if you can’t ‘find an App for that’.

However, my big piece of advice is to keep on learning. If you don’t keep pushing the limits of your knowledge you’ll get bored or stagnate, every day is a School day!

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  • http://terrychoo.com Terry Choo

    Hi Nick,

    Can’t believe I’ve only just read this article. I totally agree about everyday being a school day. In the course of my work in SQL Server 2008, I had to pick up some .Net programming and for my current project, probably interfacing using SOAP web services.

    I do realise that as work goes along, I have to learn related discipline like modelling and BI skills because besides the hard coding stuff, I need to be able to provide useful information to the business.

    I am starting to delve into Hadoop and since you say you have started on that and Mobile BI, would you care to recommend some sites or books to check out?

    from London