Dear SQL DBA: Dealing With a Lack of Control

This week I discuss a question that I’ve gotten in many forms over the years – a lot of the scenarios are so specific that it’s hard to keep them anonymous, but they can be generalized as a bigger problem: how do I deal with being responsible for things that I can’t fully control?

DBAs have huge responsibilities, so this is a common, frustrating scenario. In this episode, I talk about a few times that I’ve experienced this in my own life, what techniques didn’t work, and what strategies were more effective.

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My notes for the session

Everyday Dilbert moments

The Bug Nobody Caused

Committing to an SLA I couldn’t meet

The Case of the Weak KPIs

Techniques that haven’t worked for me

“This is not my responsibility”

If other people keep tagging you and saying “you’re it”, just saying “not it” or “I’m not playing this game” doesn’t stop them from continuing.

Techniques that can work

First: chill

Being responsible for things you can’t control frequently triggers stress

Stress triggers knee-jerk responses

  • Knee jerk responses don’t go anywhere
  • Not taken seriously
  • Generally don’t have thoughtful, supporting data

You need to be more strategic

Find a way to de-personalize the issue

Think outside your current role

If you were the CTO of the company, what would you want to see happen?

Don’t limit your thinking to what you can do now

Do what you can

Outline and document the limitations to what you’ve done

“Here’s what I can do for you” (even if it’s to try to help escalate)

Sometimes… sketch out an approach to narrow the gap

Even if it’s not you who could carry it out

Ask for help to narrow the gap

Who do you think could help make this happen?

Raise the flag high when needed

Security risks

Risks of data loss

Ethics breaches

3 Comments. Leave new

  • I manage a data warehouse against a production environment that solely exists to run our SaaS web application (as opposed to a ERP or other vendor system implemented for multiple customers). This creates some challenges to say the least, because they don’t often think about how updates to the data model may impact the data warehouse, nor do they have anyone that truly understands relational database design or serves in a data architect role. As a consequence, in the past, they showed little to no concern about re-engineering entire tables to support a new feature, not understanding that this may impact my ability to track and report over time. I also rely on them to extract data from the production server, and they don’t always stick to the agreed layout. Although we are located in the same city, we are separate teams that work for different organizations, so it’s a challenging environment to manage.

  • paul.kemner
    May 21, 2018 9:28 am

    I wonder what strategies might work for discovering if these situations are in place before taking a job.

  • This podcast really spoke to me. We have had SPIDs opening transactions and taking very long naps. I have created jobs that kill long running code. The team responsible for the code has been reassigned to a different project, and the team inheriting the legacy code is swamped with their own work and has no idea what to do with it. Excellent discussion, and a perfect example for my every day life lately!


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