In the Field

Database Professionals: Still the Hub of the Technology World?

What’s the same, what’s different, and what to do next in a hybrid reality

By Leslie Steere

January/February 2019

Oracle Magazine took advantage of Oracle OpenWorld 2018 to catch up with leaders from several key Oracle user groups and communities. In the first of a series of articles based on our conversations, Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) President Ray Smith shares his thoughts on the changing job of DBAs, success strategies for moving to the cloud, and the importance of standardization.

Founded in 1993 with a mission to represent “the voice of Oracle technology and database professionals,” IOUG has a long view on the ever-expanding world of technologists who bet their careers on Oracle.

Evolving Job Roles

“You’ve got to continue to hone your skill set. The best thing DBAs can do is keep current on their learning,” says IOUG President Ray Smith. Stay involved with user groups. Read technical articles. Attend technical conferences such as COLLABORATE. In addition, he says, database professionals must “have a mindset aligned with the business. They have to look for positive business outcomes, and this can be challenging when you’ve been trained to focus entirely on the technical outcome.”

Top of mind for Smith are the challenges currently facing database professionals, along with the need for automation and standardization. “Because to me,” he says, “that’s where Oracle Cloud will really shine. DBAs need some relief from all that they have to do, because nobody is a pure Oracle DBA anymore.”

These days, says Smith, “whether it’s MySQL, Hadoop, an open source database, or a competing relational database, there are too many other things that the DBA is responsible for, and there are a lot of challenges for balancing their efforts. So the more automation and the more standardization, the better.

“I see that as one of the benefits of Oracle Cloud—that some of the things are going to be removed from people’s plates,” Smith says. “High availability, disaster recovery, all those things that can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money—if you can have someone else responsible for that, it gives you time to do all of those other things: to manage all the interfaces, to take care of not only the Oracle database but all of the other responsibilities, and to continue to learn and develop on all of those platforms.”

Standardization and Automation

“Standardization is the very basis of being able to do automation,” says IOUG President Ray Smith, and automation is key to productivity. You’ve only got so many hours in a day, he says, “and you’re probably on call that night, so you want to get as much packed into your day as possible. Reduce the non-value-added tasks such as adding more disks or doing a manual backup. They have to be done, so automate them. Get that stuff out of the way so you can do more value-added things such as integrating databases or apps.”

That said, today’s reality for many is a hybrid cloud-and-on-premises world—which provides, says Smith, an opportunity for user groups such as IOUG to talk about key elements common to both of those environments. “All of those fundamentals—they haven’t gone away,” he adds. “We’re still talking about security, availability, and tuning, whether we’re on Oracle Cloud or whether we’re on premises.”

In addition, says Smith, in the hybrid world, “there are a lot of interfaces that need to be worked and other database types that need to be learned and managed. To me, that’s the challenge today: It’s not just how can I do my Oracle databases best; it’s how do I do everything else.”

Another challenge—or opportunity—for database professionals is connecting their work to business outcomes. DBAs are schooled to care about the technical outcome, “but there are business outcomes that are directly related to their activities,” says Smith. “Can I make this faster? Can I work with this particular group to improve performance in this particular aspect of our application? Can I train people to do things better? All of those improve business outcomes, but it’s not something that the heads-down kind of DBA has been doing. If you’ve been sitting in your cube for 15 years writing shell scripts, getting out there and actually talking to people is a challenge.”

Reducing Risk

This is a hybrid world and will continue to be one for at least 5 years—maybe 10, says IOUG President Ray Smith. “So we’ve got to have things that are as reliable, safe, and easy to do as possible. If Oracle Cloud fits that definition, that’s great. If an on-premises solution includes Oracle Enterprise Manager, great. Any means to make it less risky. Reduce risk by reducing variability of your shell scripts, your inputs, your platforms—anything to reduce risk.”

How to adapt? “At IOUG, we’ve been telling folks for quite a while that this is something they’ve got to do,” says Smith. IOUG’s EVOLVE program, for example, provides support including webinars and tracks at the annual COLLABORATE user conference that encourage technologists to “step back for just a second, stop being a technician, stop thinking at the command line, and think about how you as a professional fit into the business, how you fit into the success of your company,” says Smith.

It’s a growth opportunity, he adds. “When you start thinking in those terms, it’s like, ‘Ok, I’ve heard all this about standardization and working with other teams. Maybe I should get more involved with the DevOps opportunities. I’ve been handling this by myself, but maybe I could reach out to others.” Database professionals may feel as if they are “the center of the technology universe,” says Smith, “but you can’t do it all by yourself.”

Next Steps

WATCH the Ray Smith video.



Photography by Oracle Digital Media Production