Database Administrator Interview | CAREERwise Education

Database Administrator Interview | CAREERwise Education


O.K. Let’s get started. You’re currently working as a Chief Information Officer. You’re currently working as a Chief Information Officer. But previously you held a position as a Database Administrator. As a Database Administrator what kind of things made up a typical day for you. I worked a lot with the development staff. In defining what they needed in terms of data structure and data to feed their applications development. My role primarily was in creating the table structures for them that would support their development initiatives. Pulling data from legacy systems or transferring data or building data sets for them to use in their applications. Ensuring that the data was secure. Setting up the security rights for the users. Ensuring that only the right people had the right access to the right information, etc. I got a lot of opportunity to work with departments to understand how they use data to make decisions. And to help them understand what the data says about their piece of the organization. So for example I would meet with them to discuss how we could possibly give them information regarding trends in their area. Or, um, what the impact of certain changes may have been and how it shows up in the data So that I could present to them some information that they could use. I built a lot of scripts to do nightly batch processing so there was some coding involved. I helped build some of the reports that were used for the Universities decision making processes, basically. What kinds of decisions did you have to make in that position as a database administrator? My role was pretty flexible and so I had a lot of .. you know reign to make decisions as long as obviously you bring them to your boss and make sure they fit in to the scope of what the unit’s trying to do but, a lot of the decisions I was able to make related to how we could best help other departments do what they needed to do. And the ways we could interface with them and what we could provide to them to help them do their jobs better. In relation to technology and data in general. So for example if I was meeting with a department and they were talking about a process implementation they were trying to make or a process improvement for example. I would be able to decide what information we could feed to them through their data systems. To help them make better decisions regarding the impact of the process change. or the way to get measurements for how well things were working before they made the process change verses afterwards for example. So part of my job was to bring some of the projects that we worked on into the department by being at the table, having the discussions and listening to other peoples needs and being able to share with them ways that we could assist them in doing what they need to do. Plus my job was very heavily involved in helping to decide what technologies we used, what database tools we used. What applications tools would work better with our databases. That sort of thing too. What experiences and skills helped prepare you for the position as a database administrator? The route I took to get to the database administrator role was a bit unconventional. I started out as a graphic designer at the Artise School in Minnesota. One of the parts of that job that really became beneficial in terms of my database administration position. was the interviewing that I had to do of users when they needed a project developed. So, for example, we would do brochures and posters and booklets and things like that And I would have to interview the customer. And ask them – and get from them – “Who’s your audience?” “What are you trying accomplish with this? What’s the message that you need to portray with this publication?” “What paper do you need?” I mean there are all kinds of different things that we needed to flesh out in order to figure out what the end product was going to look like. And from that experience I learned how to ask questions and to get the information from the customer regarding what their goals were. That was very beneficial later when I needed to meet with department heads or instructors who needed information To help define not just what they need but what they’re going to use that information for. So that we can make sure what we get them meets their needs. The other thing that was really helpful to me was I got my Undergraduate Degree from Metropolitan State in Computer Science. And that program that I took was very heavily programming oriented. And so through my experience with development I ended up taking some of those skills back to my job and I started doing … tinkering with some development work related to our constituent database. As part of my job with graphic design I also had to take care of the mailing list and who the constituents were who were going to receive these publications. And so I was able to use those skills to improve that process. But also to play with the data and learn about the data through the development process. Long term a database administrator job is not usually in a traditional setting a hugely development oriented position. You may have to write triggers or PL SQL or something But it’s not the same thing as having to develop applications. But those skills that you learn as a developer, the logic based implementation of the program. The questions that you ask. Just having had the opportunity to play with the data through the development application … or the development process. And then along with the interviewing skills were really the primary things that I brought along to that job that were useful. How did you learn these skills? Well as I mentioned I received my undergrad degree. But I also did a lot of playing around on my own. And learning on my own. I read quite a few books. On the topic specifically of Oracle I worked on my Oracle Certification. I was able to get my Oracle OCP which is Oracle Certified Professional Certification and through that process I had to read a lot of books in order to take the exams. The exam isn’t exactly necessary but the reading was very good in terms of learning. Most of the vendors have educational packages that you can download from their sites. to play with their software. So I did that both with SQL Server and with Oracle products. And I had them on my home machines so while I was reading the books I was also playing with the technology and learning that way. As I mentioned earlier I used my programming skills to try to help me on my job when I was doing the Graphic Design position. But through that process I was able to start looking at the raw data and playing with the data And you know, so some of it was through my experience at work and some of the work related hands-on type of things Some of it was through classwork. Some of it was through playing and reading on my own. I’m curious, what is the best way to enter this occupation? I don’t know if there’s a best way per se, but there’s different, multiple different ways. I’ve seen a lot of people become Database Administrators who first start out as Developers. Very similar to what I did where they’re in a development position first. And through that position they take on more and more responsibilities related to the data. And at some point either get a certification or they move within their organization into that area. There’s other positions besides database administrator positions that also have a lot of responsibility for working with data. And some of those positions are really good entry level ways to get into the database administrator role. By working with data that relates to one specific application and not data in general but through working with that specific application they get the experience of working with data that they’re able to take to another level with them. Certainly certifications are always beneficial and additional training, taking classes, being involved in learning, either reading, getting a degree, a degree is always a good, usually the database administrator positions are some of the top technical positions that you have in your departments. And because of that they usually do require some sort of higher level education. Not necessarily a bachelor’s degree but some certification or some higher level learning that goes along with them. And there are some very good programs out there that weren’t available a few years ago that specifically focus on things like Information Systems, Information Development, Information Design, that kind of thing. So those programs are always useful if you’re interested in the field as well. How can someone like myself determine if I have “what it takes” to be a good database administrator? That’s a good question. We’ve just gone throught the process of hiring a database administrator So I’ve had a lot of time to think about this lately. One of the things I’ve realized is that, technical skills are very important and obviously the more technical you are and the more technical skills you have the better. But in a database administrator position there’s this unique need to be both creative and analytical. So you need to be able to see the big picture and how the data fits into the big picture what your institution is all about or the project you’re working on. But you also need to be able to look at the actual details in the records. And to make sure that the data returned meets the needs. To be able to identify any anomalies in the data. That may not have been expected. To work with issues like data integrity. And you really have to be a fine-grained person to have that thought process to think in detail to do some of that work. It just became really clear through these processes of hiring people that there’s a certain personality that fits into that mold and it’s not really for everyone. The kind of person who doesn’t like to sit at their desk for long periods of time analyzing data, for example, probably wouldn’t be a good fit. So you need to really look at what do you like to do? What are the kinds of things that make you happy when you’re at work. And if they’re real people oriented types of things that require you to be away from your desk and sitting at your desk for long periods of time isn’t going to make you happy then it probably isn’t the kind of work for you. If you have good technical skills and you like to utilize those and being alone and focusing on your work is what you like to do then it’s probably a good fit. What parts of Database Administration do you find exciting and/or boring? The best part of the job for me was the end result of what I was able to present. When I could see that the data I provided for users helped them make decisions. Or really answered their question that was really exciting for me. I loved the integration work that I did with other systems. Some of the work required taking legacy data And transforming it so that it worked in our current systems. Or so that it formed current processes. And that was really fun, being able to do that kind of work. Most of the job was very exciting to me. I loved the work. I loved the focus of it. I loved being able to really understand the business and how things were done. Because in order to do the data work and provide the data that’s needed for the institution, for example, in my case, to make decisions. You really have to understand how the business is done. How does the data get in there? What are the processes for the data being entered into the system? And what questions does that data answer or can that data answer? So I really got to know the business of the University. Which as a big picture thinker I just loved. I mean I know how we do financial aid and we process admission applications. And how registration gets entered into the system and all of that. And that was great. Being able to understand the full business. Every job has its tedious tasks that are boring and you know they’re not … you have to do them because they’re part of the job. But they’re not the parts that you like and you know this job has that too. Some of it becomes the repetitive things. The managing user accounts was really something that became tedious after time because it’s the same thing over and over and over again. But it gives you opportunities even when you’re looking at those processes to say “How could I automate this? If I didn’t have to do this?” That was what led us to creating our automated account process creation is because I got sick of creating user accounts manually. So you know – one thing can lead to another. You got to take those boring things and you need to look at them and say “What could I do to make this either something I don’t have to do anymore?” And I don’t mean handed off to somebody, I mean transform the process. Or more efficient so that I don’t have to spend as much time doing it. So those are opportunities to improve. And every job has them not just database administrators. O.K. For my final question, what is the best career advise you’ve ever been given? And who gave it to you? The best career advise I was ever given was from my father. And his advise was “Make yourself useful.” And I’ve found that to be incredibly helpful in a couple of ways. One is, what he, what I think he meant by this or the way I interpreted it is to take what you’re good at and make that available to other people within your work environment. And use your strengths to help other people do what they do. And that was the best career advise I was ever given. Great. Thanks a lot.

Danny Hutson

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