Just say no to being a manager

DBA? What?

I assume, like some others, my IT career started when a few of us got together to attempt a LAN gaming party. It then evolved into jobs like supporting dialup internet users for GTE and later on as a desktop tech. From there, I moved up to become a Sys Admin who swore I had no interest in programming and wanted nothing to do with being a DBA. And yet, here I sit, loving my job as a DBA and working towards getting better at development. Somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to remain technical and stay out of the ranks of management. Irony ensues, it seems, and the harder I work to avoid participating in a management role, the deeper I go as a DBA, the more into management I seem to get.

What do I mean? How often are we asked about impacts on the data? Or about licensing? How often do we spec servers and not think about the costs of these servers in terms of money and resources? DBAs are always making decisions based on costs vs. return, do we not? How often do we sit in meetings, or on calls, identifying risks and trying to protect the database servers? It doesn’t matter if you are the Senior DBA or the Junior DBA, we are all doing the same thing.

Senior DBAs spend more time in these meetings than the rest of us because they know the environment so well. Those DBAs are in there protecting the data and managing risks to the environment to the best of their abilities. Meanwhile, the rest of the DBAs are doing the technical work and occasionally attending the meanings/calls. Outside all of the external meetings, the DBAs are always talking amongst themselves about the data or servers…just a continuous internal meeting. Yeah, Meetings!

DBAs are more than technical

So what’s my point? DBAs spend much of their time on calls or in meetings? To point out the internal discussions are meetings as well? No…that wasn’t my point. My point is this, do you think the only type of training you should be working on is technical? If DBAs have to spend all this time interacting with people, shouldn’t we as DBAs get better at it?

dilbert
Years ago, when I started down the road of becoming a DBA on an AS/400, I worked with a couple of people who lacked interpersonal skills. It was always my way or the highway mentality. One of these people would go as far as to shout and yell in meetings, to bully people into his way of thinking, no matter how right or wrong he was. This person even treated team members with that mentality. It made for an unpleasant work experience. It also gave them horrible reputations, and worse yet, other team members got horrible reputations just for being a part of the department.

Develop other skills

If your goal is to be a better DBA, a more well rounded DBA, or to have a good reputation as a DBA, take the time to invest in interpersonal skills. I’m not saying you have to change into an extrovert with a sales attitude overnight, nor do you have to get all HR touchy-feely either. However, it would be beneficial to make people feel like they can approach you and leave with their heads still attached or not feeling worked up about their interaction with you. Too often, IT people get stuck in the technical end of the business and forget there are other aspects to the job. It might explain why IT departments are located in separate buildings, in basements, or some dingy corner of the office.

snoopyGo out into the sunlight, attend interdepartmental happy hours, jump into a GoT discussion. Take a few minutes to talk about sports, the weather, or ask how someone is doing before and after meetings. Don’t mention one technical thing during these “events,” just work on your small talk. Maybe check out some podcasts like the Art of Charm or read a book on management. Better yet, read a book about the other departments. Why? You might learn something about what other departments or managers have to do and why. Then you might start relating to them a bit and understand the direction of some of their decisions. You will evolve personally, and your career will grow. You can still avoid management responsibilities, but you’ll gain some skills or insight that may be useful somewhere else.

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