Pay Yourself First

The biggest problem I see is the huge number of DBAs who have let themselves fall behind. Live in interview mode, and pay yourself first, and you won’t fall behind!

I’ve done a ton of interviewing in my career, both as the interviewee, and as the interviewer.  The biggest problem I see is the huge number of DBAs who have let themselves fall behind. How does this happen?

Middle of the pack

Once you’re a more or less established DBA, you have yourself a job, and you go in every day and you do your duty.  You back up what you need, do the restores you need, fix replication, look at a couple bad queries, and set up a new server for the latest project.  You’re busy as hell at work, and there’s no end in sight to all the tasks and projects and problems.

That’s the problem with being a DBA these days: you’re always swamped with problems. (The real reason is that companies are absolutely dedicated to not taking data seriously, but that’s another article entirely.)

Losing ground

So you work, and you get further and further behind the learning curve because there’s no time to do anything for yourself: no time to learn anything new, pick up a book, watch a tutorial, or even practice what you already know.  You’re always putting out fires!

Then, when it’s time to interview for a new job, you find yourself cramming in the last couple days to try to bone up on your knowledge.  Speaking as someone who’s interviewed a lot of DBAs: this definitely shows! Anyone who conducts any amount of interviews at all can tell when you’re just barely recounting something and when you know the topic cold.

Live in interview mode

Okay, I have a radical, two-step plan for your professional development. Here we go:

  1. Stop cramming for interviews like you’re trying to pass a test.
  2. Live in interview mode.

Interview mode (n.) – The practice of conducting your daily work life as if an interview could happen unexpectedly, at any time.

Take time to study every day.  It doesn’t matter how much, but I think 30 minutes isn’t too much to ask.  Even if you’re not studying to interview, your skills will get rusty when you don’t put them into practice for a while. Chances are, your company won’t ever give you the time to do it, so you have to take that time yourself.

Pay yourself first

Every day when you come in to work, take 30 minutes to work on something for you.  Learn how to do partial restores.  Learn how to set up an Availability Group.  Learn how to add a primary key to a table using T-SQL.  Learn XML, or JSON, or HTML.  It doesn’t matter.  Pick something up that you want, or something that you know you lack.

I call this paying yourself first, which is actually a financial term:

Pay yourself first is a phrase referring to the idea that investors should routinely and automatically put money into savings before spending on anything else. –

When it comes to your career, make sure you routinely and automatically put time into your development before spending it on anything else.

When someone comes to your desk and asks you to do something, tell them that you’re doing your daily checklist, and you’ll be with them in a few minutes.  (People at work don’t understand that daily checklists are dumb out of style, so they’ll leave you alone.)  Your company won’t give you the time to do this, so you have to take the time.

Study first thing in the morning, before things get started. Once the day really gets going, it’s hard to even remember studying, much less to find the time.

You may not be able to do it every day.  There may be some days when you walk in and there’s some emergency that honestly takes priority.  That’s okay, take care of your emergency.  But outside of that, there’s very little that can’t wait 30 minutes, especially when you’re “doing you’re checklist to make sure things are okay”.

So take some time to be good to yourself before things get crazy every day.  Improve yourself, live in interview mode, and pay yourself first.



Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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