The Ironic DBA—My First Year as a DBA [Part 3]

T-SQL Tuesday is a monthly blog party for the SQL Server community. It is the brainchild of Adam Machanic (b|t) and this month’s edition is hosted by Kerry Tyler (b|t), who  has asked us to write about “Learning From Others“.

I thought I’d join the party this month and throw my latest post into the mix since my entire journey over the last year has been learning from others in the SQL community.

Junior DBA

On September 17, 2019, I was given a promotion from Apprentice to Junior DBA. By this point, I had three daily check clients and one weekly check client in my portfolio. Despite the promotion, I was (and remain to this day) very much in training mode. The primary reason for the change in status was the fact that I was starting to interact directly with some of my clients.

Until this point I had been performing my daily server checks and sending my reports to Kevin. From there, Kevin would let the clients know of problems critical enough to warrant their attention. Once I became a Junior, I began to send my own reports to one client and interject in emails to others.

Honestly, this was a bit nerve-wracking at first. While I’m no stranger to emailing clients for work or business, sending emails of a highly-technical nature—especially within a field where I am still quite green—was completely outside my wheelhouse. Kevin has corrected me privately or clarified terms for clients when something I’ve written isn’t completely accurate. I’m okay with this because it not only aids our clients in getting the most accurate information, but it also helps solidify terms and concepts in my mind.

Since promotion day, I’ve added three more daily clients to my routine. Each new client brings another level of complexity and new experiences—including one client using replication, and another using Availability Groups.

Impostor Syndrome

Being so new and inexperienced in a job is something I haven’t had to deal with for a long time. To be honest, it’s a very strange feeling to be a middle-aged man about a year into a third career.

I was just getting settled into feeling comfortable calling myself a graphic designer after about five years of experience. When our design clients started drying up and I began learning about photography in the hopes of starting a photography business, I ventured onto shaky ground again. Thankfully, I discovered I was a natural at photography and became rather good at it in a short period of time. Despite all that, the business never got of the ground because I underestimated just how saturated the local market was, so it was a non-starter as a business (and why I don’t count it as yet another career).

Now that I’m a little over a year into the SQL Server world, I’m starting to find balance again. For a long while, whenever I met someone who asked me what I do for a living, I had felt like an impostor saying, “I’m a DBA.” I would sort of waffle and respond with something like, “Well, I used to be…and then I…but now I’m learning to be a DBA.” It’s only recently that I’ve felt confident enough to just flat out declare, “I’m a DBA.”

Comparison is a losing game, especially when you’re comparing yourself to those who’ve been in the game for 20+ years. In my months of dedicated training, I’ve spent a lot of virtual time around DBAs who have been in the business for a long time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing myself to them, but I constantly remind myself that I’m still new and haven’t discovered my area of specialization yet. The people I’m learning from typically have both experience and specialization in their toolbox.


The biggest challenge over the last few months has been preparing for the 70-764 Administering a SQL Database Infrastructure exam. About the time Kevin laid this challenge out for me, we discovered that Microsoft was retiring most of the role-based certifications in favor of a new framework.

To be fair, Kevin never required me to take the certification exam. He only wanted me to study and learn the material as the next step in my DBA training. Knowing myself, however, I asked him to set me a goal for taking the exam, which helps me keep my focus and move forward toward a specific goal. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft has decided to keep the pre-existing certifications and exams through January of 2021. Our goal is for me to take the 70-764 exam by the end of September 2020.

I’ve been studying long enough now that I’m starting to find and take some free online practice tests for the exam. I have access to the official practice exam which I’ll probably attempt in August 2020 to find my weak areas before scheduling the official exam. I’ve also found several flash card decks on the Quizlet website that were created by previous exam-takers. I’m spending some time each day reviewing and quizzing myself using these decks.

I fully expect to not pass the exam, and I’m okay with that fact—I’ll still give it my best effort. Again, Kevin’s goal has been for me to learn and grow as a DBA through both study and experience, not collect certifications. As I work through the practice tests I’ve found so far, my biggest takeaway is that there’s no replacement for experience. Several times I’ve been completely stumped by an exam question that would likely not cause a problem for a DBA with several more years of experience. But each time I’m stumped by a question, I go research it and learn the answer, thereby increasing my own knowledge.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have enough knowledge internalized by exam time to pass, but I’m not going to be terribly disappointed if I don’t. This is just another step on the journey to becoming a better DBA.

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

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