What Counts for A DBA – Logic

“There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who will always wonder why there are only two items in my list and those who will figured it out the first time they saw this very old joke.” 

Those readers who will give up immediately and get frustrated with me for not explaining it to them are not likely going to be great technical professionals of any sort, much less a programmer or administrator who will be constantly dealing with the common failures that make up a DBA’s day.  Many of these people will stare at this like a dog staring at a traffic signal and still have no more idea of how to decipher the riddle. Without explanation they will give up, call the joke “stupid” and, feeling quite superior, walk away indignantly to their job likely flipping patties of meat-by-product.

As a data professional or any programmer who has strayed  to this very data-oriented blog, you would, if you are worth your weight in air, either have recognized immediately what was going on, or felt a bit ignorant.  Your friends are chuckling over the joke, but why is it funny? Unfortunately you left your smartphone at home on the dresser because you were up late last night programming and were running late to work (again), so you will either have to fake a laugh or figure it out.  Digging through the joke, you figure out that the word “two” is the most important part, since initially the joke mentioned 10. Hmm, why did they spell out two, but not ten? Maybe 10 could be interpreted a different way?

 As a DBA, this sort of logic comes into play every day, and sometimes it doesn’t involve nerdy riddles or Star Wars folklore.  When you turn on your computer and get the dreaded blue screen of death, you don’t immediately cry to the help desk and sit on your thumbs and whine about not being able to work. Do that and your co-workers will question your nerd-hood; I know I certainly would. You figure out the problem, and when you have it narrowed down, you call the help desk and tell them what the problem is, usually having to explain that yes, you did in fact try to reboot before calling.  Of course, sometimes humility does come in to play when you reach the end of your abilities, but the ‘end of abilities’ is not something any of us recognize readily.

It is handy to have the ability to use logic to solve uncommon problems: It becomes especially useful when you are trying to solve a data-related problem such as a query performance issue, and the way that you approach things will tell your coworkers a great deal about your abilities.  The novice is likely to immediately take the approach of  trying to add more indexes or blaming the hardware. As you become more and more experienced, it becomes increasingly obvious that performance issues are a very complex topic. A query may be slow for a myriad of reasons, from concurrency issues, a poor query plan because of a parameter value (like parameter sniffing,) poor coding standards, or just because it is a complex query that is going to be slow sometimes. Some queries that you will deal with may have twenty joins and hundreds of search criteria, and it can take a lot of thought to determine what is going on.  You can usually figure out the problem to almost any query by using basic knowledge of how joins and queries work, together with the help of such things as the query plan, profiler or monitoring tools.  It is not unlikely that it can take a full day’s work to understand some queries, breaking them down into smaller queries to find a very tiny problem.

Not every time will you actually find the problem, and it is part of the process to occasionally admit that the problem is random, and everything works fine now.  Sometimes, it is necessary to realize that a problem is outside of your current knowledge, and admit temporary defeat: You can, at least, narrow down the source of the problem by looking logically at all of the possible solutions. By doing this, you can satisfy your curiosity and learn more about what the actual problem was. For example, in the joke, had you never been exposed to the concept of binary numbers, there is no way you could have known that binary – 10 = decimal – 2, but you could have logically come to the conclusion that 10 must not mean ten in the context of the joke, and at that point you are that much closer to getting the joke and at least won’t feel so ignorant.