What Counts for a DBA – Discretion

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I was looking at the list of topics I have talked about in my “What Counts for a DBA” posts over the years, and a topic really stood out as a topic I have not touched. To be fair, it is really the most essential aspect. One aspect that, if not truly understood and taken on by the DBA (and really any user with superpowers on any computing system), significant problems are going to occur. It is often discussed that data is power, but this is 100% not the attitude you should have if you are the keeper/protector of the database. 

As an administrator, you will no doubt find yourself accessing information that interests you. No matter the business, there will be juicy details you may (hopefully) accidentally see. I remember when I was new in the industry as a programmer, the people I first worked with joked about knowing things because they had access.

For example, I have never worked where salaries were public knowledge. Whether that is good or bad is not a topic here, just the fact that as some of us were discussing whether we made enough (guess the percentage of people perfectly satisfied with what they earned working for a non-profit 25 years ago… it is precisely the same as today, if that clues you in.) One of the administrators in the discussion said, “Do you want to know what people make? I have access to that information.” I didn’t, I was happy where I was, and I didn’t want to know this information. Which was a complete and utter lie. Of course, I wanted to know, but I also knew that my feelings about my job probably would have changed if I found out. In retrospect, I should have said something to management, but this was a long, long time ago, and people were far more lax about security. I was green, and our college classes did not discuss security and ethics much.

Like most administrators, I had access to a lot of data in my previous position, far more than I really wanted responsibility for. Thankfully I didn’t have access to any really dangerous data; that was someone else’s job. 

If you are a good administrator, you would never think of divulging any information you know, and you do your best to only look at what you should (like when that data is part of bug research). It is very much a position of trust and one of the reasons a DBA can be a really good friend to talk to if you have personal problems. We may know where some of the bodies are buried, but we know to keep those details private from others!

The discretion it takes to not share information you know has helped me as I have worked on many program committees and as a Microsoft MVP. I am given a lot of information, and I must always verify whether any information I have received can be shared. After the many NDA events I have attended, I am sometimes almost afraid to mention that SQL Server exists (I am only just south of kidding). Of course, I do know that is not the intention of the NDA. Still, I do spend a reasonable amount of time when writing to make sure that I can find references to what I am blogging about if I am not completely sure. Loose lips sink ships, as the old saying goes.

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Louis Davidson

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Louis is the editor of this Simple-Talk website. Prior to that, has was a corporate database developer and data architect for a non-profit organization for 25 years! Louis has been a Microsoft MVP since 2004, and is the author of a series of SQL Server Database Design books, most recently Pro SQL Server Relational Database Design and Implementation.

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