The Ironic DBA—Don’t Be Afraid of the Climb

Welcome back to The Ironic DBA Files, a series where the newbie DBA on staff at Dallas DBAs chronicles the ups and downs of fast-tracking a new career as a DBA.

Yes, my blogging pace has slowed somewhat, but I’m back with something to share. Last time I wrote about getting back to basics and reinforcing my knowledge of introductory SQL Server concepts. This week I want to go in the opposite direction and share why I think you should regularly push yourself out of your comfort zone.

The view from the top is worth the climb.

Climbing Sucks

I’ve mentioned before that I love mountain biking—I’m not great at it, but I love getting out on the trails. Unfortunately, I also have very low heat tolerance, and so I was almost completely off my bike for the majority of the Texas summer—about 2.5 months. I did sneak one ride in before the worst heat abated about 3.5 weeks ago, but it didn’t end well.

I’ve been able to get back out and do three or four trail rides a week for the last three weeks. The trail I’ve frequented is one of the closest to my house, though it’s not a favorite. There’s not a lot of elevation at this trail, but after so long off the bike even gentle slopes were tough to climb at first. To make matters worse, I’m overweight, have some significant balance issues, and absolutely suck at climbing.

Fast forward to just last night where I went out and rode a different trail—the same one that hadn’t gone well 3.5 weeks ago. This trail is not the longest or hardest in the area, nor does it have the most climbing, but it’s been my nemesis since the first time I put down tires on its dirt. I have a less than 50% completion record at this particular trail, so I’m determined to conquer it.

Last night’s ride was pretty good. I completed the entire trail for the first time in months, and set some personal records on a few segments along the way. But here’s the coolest thing about the ride. At one point I made it to the top of climb that’s typically pretty tough for me and took a quick water break. I immediately noticed that the climb had felt easier than expected, but I figured that was due to intentionally choosing easier gears than usual. I was pleasantly surprised to look down at my gears and realize that I was 9th gear when I thought I was probably in 6th or 7th. (For those who don’t ride bikes, the lower the gear number the “easier” the gear.)

The time I’ve been spending getting back to trail riding regularly is already beginning to pay off. I’m back to feeling comfortable on the bike, my fitness level is increasing again, and my ability to ride harder, longer, steeper trails is gradually improving.

Climbing is Awesome

Tim Chapman presenting “Troubleshoot SQL Server Like a Microsoft Engineer”

“That’s great,” you say. “Good for you. But what does this have to do with SQL Server stuff?” I’m glad you asked!

I recently attended a fantastic one-day workshop that was made possible by my local PASS group, the North Texas SQL Server User Group. After the huge success of this year’s SQL Saturday Dallas, and in particular the response attendees had from Brent Ozar’s (b|t) performance tuning pre-con, the group decided to bring in Tim Chapman (t) in for a one-day workshop entitled “Troubleshoot SQL Server Like a Microsoft Engineer.”

I was looking forward to attending even though I knew the vast majority of the class was probably going to be over my head. I’ve advanced fairly rapidly in my SQL Server knowledge since beginning this journey a little over four months ago, but the reality is I’ve only got four months of experience. That’s actually far too little time and experience to make the most of a class at this level. So why bother attending?

Learning is a climb, sometimes a very arduous climb. Just like some of my trail rides, there are moments when I can’t reach my learning goals and have to take a step back and start over. Some days the learning is smooth and the climbing is easy, boosting my confidence and my progress. Some days, the climb is hard, but not as hard as expected due to the work I’ve put in previously.

It’s for this very reason that I wanted to attend this workshop, and the same reason I’m currently working my way through Brent Ozar’s Senior DBA Class. Both are way over my head and deal with issues I won’t have to worry about being directly responsible for any time soon. But the classes make me climb and reach for a goal. Such classes make me dig deep and recall everything I’ve learned so far and apply it as best I can. Such classes expose holes in my current knowledge set and help flesh out a trail map for what I need to learn moving forward to become the best DBA I can be.

Sometimes the climb sucks, but getting to the top is awesome. Onward to the next peak!

Troubleshoot SQL Server Like a Microsoft Engineer—A Review

As for Tim Chapman’s class itself, let me give you a quick review and share my thoughts and takeaways from the day.

First up, I didn’t know what to expect walking into the class. Still being somewhat new to all this, I sort of expected the class to rapidly accelerate to light speed and beyond to leave me grasping for whatever small tidbits I could glean. That never happened.

Tim is an excellent presenter, but beyond that he’s an excellent teacher. So many technical people who are very smart, know their stuff, and have years of experience often don’t realize just how far beyond the average newbie they really are. But not once did I feel like the class was moving too fast for me to keep up, and a great deal of this is due to how Tim broke everything down logically, built concepts upon one another, and didn’t make assumptions that everyone in the room knew more than they really did.

Having said that, there definitely was a certain level of foundational knowledge required in order to make the most of the class, and thankfully my studies thus far proved to be enough. There were a few concepts and pieces in SQL Server that I’d never heard of before (namely triggers and forced query plans), but by and large I was familiar enough with SQL Server, relational databases, nomenclature, and SSMS to never get completely lost.

In a nutshell, here’s what Tim covered in roughly seven-hours-worth of sessions:

  • An Overview of Troubleshooting
  • Queries and Waits
  • Extended Events
  • Query Store
  • Most Common Problems

One of the most encouraging things Tim shared as a new DBA was this concept: “Often, there are 5 or fewer things to look at for a server to solve problems. Like the Pareto Principal: 20% causes 80% of the issues. Today’s Goal: Identify and master the 20%.”

This is why so much of the class was understandable and relate-able. The truth is, to know how you fix the other 80% of problems possible in SQL Server means you’ve either gained years and years of experience, know how to ask Google and StackOverflow the right questions, or both. Stay in the DBA field long enough and you’re sure to run into something rare, an edge-case that very few people have seen. But beyond those edge cases, the vast majority of the problems we see are repeated regularly. Getting a grasp on these underlying issues that regularly rear their head will help me be a solid DBA while giving me the foundation to troubleshoot those rare issues.

Big thanks to Tim for helping me put together a more direct path to follow on my self-guided learning. If any of you reading this ever have the chance to take this class from Tim in the future, I highly recommend it. I’d like to sit through it again myself sometime in the future when I’ve got more knowledge and experience in my tool kit.

Also thanks to NTSSUG for investing in your members and bringing Tim in to teach us. I’m looking forward to more opportunities in the future.

That’s all for this post. Join me next time for the next episode in The Ironic DBA Files.

Follow me on Twitter at @SQLandMTB, and if you’re into mountain bikes come over and check out my site NTX Trails.

The Ironic DBA Files

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter

%d bloggers like this: