As a Microsoft SQL Server database administrator (DBA) for more than 15 years, I've learned many lessons -- a few too many the hard way. One in particular, though, has helped my SQL Server DBA resume and career more than others, and it has little to do with technology: learning to "speak" business.
Virtually everything we do as IT employees ties back to the business in one way or another. We're either solving a business problem or enabling a business to capitalize on an opportunity. The key is understanding how we impact business outcomes and then articulating it to our business peers.
Learning to speak business simply means communicating effectively with our peers so they understand how our work directly contributes to achieving the organization's goals. Speaking business, however, requires a significant shift in thinking for many of us on the technical side.
I'm not saying that as a DBA you have to understand all of the data in the databases, but you should understand your business and its objectives. Having some business knowledge helps boost your SQL Server DBA resume and makes you a better DBA because it allows you to help identify, plan and implement technologies that support the business. You become more of a strategic asset.
For example, we've all had to refactor, augment or develop a new report for a user, but have we asked about the significance of the data? Who's using it and what is it being used for? In doing this, there may be an opportunity to adjust the report to further increase the benefit to your organization. I've often seen requests for many similar, separate reports. By understanding users' needs, you might consolidate reports by including slightly more data that satisfies a broader base of users, thereby decreasing the management overhead of your reports.
SQL Server DBA resume boosted by better communication skills
With some business understanding, communication with your stakeholders and customers will probably improve significantly and quickly. Once we enable better communication with our non-technical counterparts -- who may also influence tech spending -- we'll have more influence on the things we know need to be done and the things we want to do, such as upgrades (SQL Server 2014 is right around the corner!), redundant hardware and better high-availability and disaster recovery strategies, just to name a few.
These are activities every DBA needs to do, but they are often seen as expensive, which makes them challenging to justify, unless they can be tied back to the organization's goals. We all know the value of staying current, but it can sometimes be hard to articulate in business language the need and potential benefits of an accelerated budget.
For example, your company may not have an adequate high-availability strategy for one of your critical databases. Let's say the database is on SQL Server 2005 or 2008, and you recognize the value of leveraging AlwaysOn Availability Groups, which will require an upgrade to SQL Server 2012 or 2014 (when it arrives). That's a costly venture, but it has the potential for significant returns. To make your case, you may be tempted to highlight the technical benefits, but you'll probably be more successful if you write a short proposal focusing on the business benefits and then review them with your stakeholders.
I used to think of IT as the engine behind every business. As I've climbed the corporate ladder and spent more time in a lot of different businesses, I've changed my thinking considerably. Though IT may be the engine behind some IT services businesses (like ours), I would say, for the most part, it is the transmission. IT is what takes the power and puts it to the tires on the road, connecting power and moving the car -- or business -- forward.
What do you think? Has adopting more understanding of your employer's business ever helped you? Has it ever hindered you?
About the author
Chris Presley is a SQL Server Consultant and manages the Consulting Division at Pythian, a data management consultancy. He has been a DBA for 15 years. His most recent blog posts can be found at http://www.pythian.com/blog/author/presley/.
This was first published in November 2013