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Need Educated Opinions about Oracle Careers [message #105505] Fri, 15 February 2002 06:31 Go to next message
Messages: 2
Registered: February 2002
Junior Member
I'm currently researching a possible career change and training as an Oracle DBP. I would appreciate some feedback on what your experience has been. Has the training been worth it? What is a day in your life as a DBA like? Are positions predominately in small/large companies? Is your workday isolated, or do you have opportunities to interact with others. Any and all information would be appreciated to help me make this decision. Positive and negative comments are both appreciated.
Re: Need Educated Opinions about Oracle Careers [message #105507 is a reply to message #105505] Fri, 15 February 2002 17:33 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Khuram Sardar
Messages: 1
Registered: February 2002
Junior Member


The position of Database Administrator -- DBA for short -- means many things to many people. In a small development shop the duties are much broader than in a highly stratified major corporation. Whether a company is doing development or adopting a third part package will also determine the needs of the DBA position. Knowing what is expected of the position and knowing how the position envisioned fits within the company hierarchy is critical. In “ORACLE 8.0 Administration and Management” I list the following as a list of DBA job functions:

1. Installing and upgrading the ORACLE Server and application tools.
2. Allocating system storage and planning future storage requirements for the database.
3. Creating primary database storage structures (tablespaces) once developers have
designed an application.
4. Creating primary database objects (tables, views, indexes) once application
developers have designed an application.
5. Modifying the database structure, as necessary, from information given by application
6. Enrolling users and maintaining system security.
7. Ensuring compliance with Oracle License agreements.
8. Controlling and monitoring user access to the database.
9. Monitoring and optimizing the performance of the database.
10. Planning for backup and recovery of database information.
11. Maintaining archived data on appropriate storage devices.
12. Backing and restoring the database.
13. Contacting Oracle Corporation for technical support.

So let’s see if we can distill this down into some general categories of knowledge:

* Installation
* Configuration management
* Security
* Monitoring and Tuning
* Backup and Recovery
* Trouble Shooting
* Vendor Interface

So to be a full-charge DBA a candidate must be knowledgeable in all of the above areas.


Many times managers concentrate on technical qualities and overlook personality. Virtually every category shown above means a DBA will have to interface with other personnel, be they vendors, users, developers or managers. This indicates the a DBA should exhibit the following traits:

* Self Confidence
* Curiosity
* Tenacity
* Tactful
* Self starter
* Detail oriented

Why are these traits important?
I have had several underlings that lacked self confidence, they constantly asked my feelings on every decision major or minor and showed no initiative. As a beginning DBA under a full-charge DBA this may be all right but if the person is the full--charge DBA then who are they going to depend on for their decisions if they have no self confidence? Interview questions should include ones on problems and how they were solved. The answers should demonstrate self confidence. One thing to remember is that it is not bad to not know an answer, but to not know where to find an answer is bad.
The Oracle database system is constantly changing. Not all of these changes are documented. Curiosity is a requirement to be a good DBA. If a DBA isn’t curious they are passive and wait for things to be told them. A curious DBA will install the latest version and immediately begin searching out the differences and improvements and how they can be applied to make his or her job better (read easier). A curious DBA will have multiple references they purchased with their own money and will have read them. One of my interview questions involves what references the candidate has and uses. Needless to say if they respond with only the documentation set and haven’t even read that then their stock looses value rapidly. Curiosity will also drive them to understand the Oracle data dictionary and any utilities or packages provided by Oracle. Many of my interview questions deal with these Oracle internals. Lack of knowledge about the data dictionary tables and views and the Oracle provided utilities and packages is unforgivable in a full--charge DBA.
Trouble shooting requires a bulldog like tenacity, getting a hold and not letting go until the problem is solved. Many times a DBA will give up on a problem that would have been solved with the next solution they tried. As a SYSOP for the CompuServe ORAUSER forum I see questions daily that should have been solved by the person asking them, if they were tenacious and curious. I use trouble shooting questions from my own experience and from experiences I see a multiple of times on the ORAUSER and ORASUPP forums on CompuServe.
A self-starting employee is important for any position. Doubly so for a DBA. A DBA must be able to wade in and make things happen, not just wait for things to happen. A self-starting DBA obtains or develops their own scripts to monitor such items as table sizes, tablespace usage, SGA usage in short, all of the items that can get them in trouble if ignored. Questions dealing with level of experience in PL/SQL, SQL and SQL*Plus will show how many scripts the DBA candidate has developed. Some operations in PL/SQL and SQL*Plus are generally only used by DBAs so questions concerning specific techniques will expose those who have written their own scripts and those who haven’t.
Dealing with developers and managers, not to mention users, requires tact. A tactless DBA will make nothing but enemies for your department. Tact has been called the ability to tell someone to go to Hades and have them anxious for the trip. Many times developers, managers and users will make unreasonable requests, the DBA must have tact to field and deflect these requests without burning bridges. How a person acts during the interview process will show their level of tact.
The final trait, being detail--oriented, is very important. Being detail--oriented means that they don’t have to be told to cross check details. It also means they actively document quirks in the installation “Just in case”. The indications of a detail--oriented person are such things as bringing a daytimer or scheduler to the interview, showing up ahead of time, and asking questions that indicate they have researched the company they are interviewing with. This detail-orientation will show up in them knowing the Oracle internals and understanding the relationships between the views, tables and dynamic performance tables. Usually a detail--oriented person will take the time to research the database on their own.

A good DBA candidate will know all of the areas discussed above. To reiterate the areas of knowledge required for a DBA are:

* Installation
* Configuration management
* Security
* Monitoring and Tuning
* Backup and Recovery
* Trouble Shooting

A DBA must be familiar with both installation and update on the platform that your system is running against. Each platform has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies. A DBA experienced on Windows-NT will have difficulty performing an installation on UNIX or DEC-VMS. Updates can raise havoc with production machines if they are done incorrectly. DBA candidates should be able to answer specific questions concerning installation and upgrade of Oracle systems on your platform. They should exhibit the curiosity to ask about your platform and any modifications to the standard installation that exist upon it during the interview process.

Configuration management involves database sizing, file placement and specification of storage media. A full--charge DBA will be familiar with system topics such as RAID levels, disk sharing, disk shadowing, solid state disks, optical storage and their application to the Oracle database environment. On UNIX they should also be familiar with the cost and benefits associated with use of raw devices and when raw device usage is mandatory.

Understanding Oracle security options is vital to the DBA job. A demonstrated knowledge of system and object level privileges, roles and profiles is required for any DBA. Understanding how the operating system security options interface with the Oracle options is also important. Additional requirements such as use of Secure Oracle and implementation of SQLNET are also considerations.
One of the critical aspects of the DBA job is the monitoring and tuning of the database and any applications. Monitoring and tuning requires a detailed understanding of the Oracle data dictionary, the tkprof and explain plan utilities and understanding how both the cost based and rule based optimizers function. Detailed understanding of what can an can’t be done via indexing, use of hints and SQL statement tuning is vital to a DBA. A DBA candidate should demonstrate knowledge of:

* DBA_ views, ALL_ views and USER_ views
* SYS owned “$” tables
* V$ dynamic performance tables

all of these are a part of the Oracle data dictionary. In addition the DBA candidate should have knowledge of the DBMS_* series of packages and how they can be used to facilitate tuning and script development and the UTL*.SQL series of utility scripts and their usage in tuning and monitoring.
A DBA candidate must understand all of the backup and recovery options. Use of the import and export utilities, use of cold and hot backups, all of these are vital topics that a DBA must understand. Interview questions concerning types of database backups used and how the utilities can be used are in order to show level of knowledge in this area. An additional topic that should be covered in this phase of the interview are recovery scenarios involving partial recovery at the table, tablespace and database levels.
Troubleshooting is a binary ability. Usually people will either have the knack or they won’t. Troubleshooting requires an analytical approach where the problem is laid out in discrete parts and each is attacked in a methodological fashion until the problem is solved. Troubleshooting also involves the ability to admit when you don’t know something but having the tenacity to say “But I can look it up”. Questions on troubleshooting must come from real life and should involve multiple steps and thought to solve. Questions on the most difficult problem they have encountered and how they solved it are in order to test their troubleshooting ability.
A final bit of knowledge required of a DBA is the ability to communicate clearly either in word or via written materials. Since a major portion of a DBA job will involve interaction with others on multiple levels within a company environment your DBA must speak, think and write clearly and concisely. A review of their resume with particular attention to any publishing credits will help with determining their abilities in this regard. Presentations at user groups, local or national, magazine articles or just articles in local user group publications all show the ability to communicate. At a professional level look for jobs where they wrote documentation or procedures. Most candidates with advanced degrees such as Masters or Phds will have had to have written and communicate to get to that level of education. Ask them to bring their dissertation or examples of their writing to the interview. Candidates should be sure to bring examples of this type of ability to the interview. The ability to communicate clearly in spoken word is also vital, the ability to take and give instructions and to understand complaints is vital. As qualified technically as a candidate may be if they cannot communicate they will not succeed.

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Re: Need Educated Opinions about Oracle Careers [message #105535 is a reply to message #105507] Wed, 27 February 2002 10:52 Go to previous message
H. Joy
Messages: 2
Registered: February 2002
Junior Member

Thank you for providing such a wonderful, detailed overview of Oracle dba responsibilities. This was very informative and helpful to me.

I have been a software engineer for 11 years (first C, then C++, then object oriented programming and database design). The last few years I ended up working with an object-oriented database used almost exclusively by investment organizations. Due to attrition in our group, I ended up taking on a lot of dba responsibilities, in addition to development projects. I found that, due to my passion for troubleshooting, I really enjoyed the dba responsibilities more.

I am now thinking of moving to a database that is more widely used, and Oracle seems to be the clear choice. My questions are: do you think any of my skills from using an oo database are transferrable to Oracle? What would be the best way to make the transition and get experience using Oracle? Family time is important to me: what are the typical hours for a dba and is there any flexibility in the typical schedule (i.e. flex time, part-time opportunities?) I always hate to ask this, but before investing a lot of time in this, what is the general salary range? Once experienced, is it better to be a consultant or full time employee?

Thanks very much in advance for your response!!!
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