Late in the Day for a DBA

I first met Joe when I went to Woodworking evening classes several years ago. I saw him from across the room. He was at the lathe, turning a bowl. There was something about the careful, diligent way he was working that activated my DBA-dar. I approached him. “You’re a DBA, aren’t you?” I asked.

He looked startled and seemed briefly to consider flight. “Well, sort of…” he admitted, and stared at his shoes. I shook his hand warmly. “I’m a sort-of-DBA too.”

We became friends and it turned out that Joe worked for a large local company, as a SysAdmin-DBA hybrid. The company had expanded rapidly by buying and absorbing undervalued competitors, but with no idea of the horrible consequences inflicted on the IT people. To keep everything running, Joe had to tie together numerous disparate and incompatible systems. It required pragmatic botches, involving such things as CSV imports and exports, and much scripting. Nobody cared as long as the invoices went out. For the company, IT was a distraction from the main business.

Joe was a good worker; typically quiet and efficient. He got job-satisfaction by keeping an extremely orderly ship, but was happier to do things than to talk about them, and so he naturally gravitated to the bottom of the pecking order.

When the company suddenly had to reduce its payroll, they extended a generous early-retirement deal to their employees. Joe offered to take it and, to his surprise, they accepted. They had a junior staff member who could ‘keep the invoices going out’ in his place. Perhaps their confidence was rooted in the fact that Joe’s systems were so neatly documented, well-monitored and reliable that even when he had been away in the summer, any of the production staff had been able to keep things going, just by following his crib-sheets.

A few months after he slipped into retirement, Joe phoned me.

“Phil, I need your advice.”

“How’s retirement then? Doing all those projects you were too busy to finish when you were working?”

“Sure, it’s great. I’m busy repairing the roof, but my old company wants me back to do a few IT tasks that are bugging them.”

It turned out there had been a merger and they hadn’t been able to work out how to integrate the new systems into Joe’s reliable, but old and patched together architecture. He had agreed to go in as a contractor for a few days just to help out.

“The thing is,” he sighed “they’ve asked for my daily rate and I’ve no idea what it should be!”

I told him what it should be, and then jerked the phone away from my ear at his squawk of shock and panic.

“I can’t charge that!” he spluttered “It is considerably more than I was getting per week as a full-time employee!”

“That was slave labor, not employment. It’s time to claw back what is rightfully yours!”

“They’ll never agree to it!”

“Trust me, Joe. If they stirred themselves enough to contact you, they’re motivated enough to pick up the tab.”

Sure enough, they paid up like lambs. I was busy for the next few months on a job, and lost contact, but six months later, I bumped into him.

“Still enjoying retirement? Is the roof finally fixed?”

He smiled sheepishly “Actually, I paid someone else to do it. I’m back working full time for the old company…but this time on my contracting rate!”

Real-life stories don’t have a moral purpose, but I was cheered simply to think that in this case, Joe’s good work had been rewarded, even though late in the day.