Jan 072011

When a building is designed, one of the main requirements is to have an appropriate foundation, and a larger and stronger building requires a larger and stronger foundation.  A one-storey house, for example, requires a much simpler foundation than an 85-storey office building.  The deeper the foundation is, the higher the building can be, and the more resistant it is to outside forces, such as strong winds.  The foundations are hidden from the casual glance, but are absolutely crucial to the success of the building.

Careers, particularly in SQL Server administration, are much the same as a building.  You must first create a solid foundation of skills, and, like a building’s foundation, these may not be visible.  This will include both technical knowledge and "soft"skills, such as:

    · The Windows operating system (including monitoring)

    · File system knowledge

    · Knowledge of networking protocols

    · Scripting basics for automation purposes (e.g., Powershell)

    · Server architecture

    · Storage technologies and I/O concepts

    · Basic Windows/Active Directory security concepts

    · Interpersonal relationships and communication

    · Knowledge of table structure and basic SQL syntax

    · Data backups, restores, and recoverability

    · SQL Server security

(I hesitate to put SQL Server Internals in here as they are a foundational skill for more in-depth SQL Server work, but at a much deeper level, and requires the other foundations first.)

You’ll notice that there is not a lot on that list that is specific to SQL Server.  At the heart of it, a database administrator is a specialised system administrator, and requires similar base skills as a Windows sys admin, with the addition some database knowledge.  At the least, a DBA needs to be know how to configure security, query and change data, and provide a measure of data protection in the forms of backups.

The analogy with a building breaks down a little when you realise that, unlike building construction, you don’t have to complete your foundations prior to working on the "visible" parts of your career.  This is a good thing, though.  You can get started with a DBA career without knowing much about Windows Server, and your limited knowledge will be sufficient to keep you from blowing over during normal weather, but will be inadequate if you attempt to configure a clustered SQL Server deployment.

This holiday period is a good time to reflect.  If you made any New Years Resolutions, after a week they’re either sticking or they’re shot, so you can reflect now without having to worry about the stigma of frequently broken New Years Resolutions hanging over your head.  What areas of your foundations are a little shaky, and could use some attention?  Which SQL Server features would you like to focus on this year, but would require an improvement in the foundations before you can really understand it?  As an example, if you want to improve your backup speeds, you may need to improve your knowledge about I/O throughput to your SAN before you can confidently use SQL Server’s backup performance enhancements (compression, striped backup files, etc).

Personally, I need to improve my knowledge of SANs, and more up to speed with the features that they can bring to the table, and the basics how each of these features work – enough to understand the pros and cons of each feature.

So, get to it. Build those foundations stronger and become a rock!

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