Reflections of an Accidental DBA

Image   I am sitting at my desk on my second to last day of work at National Guardian Life.  I have very little to do these next two days, not that there was much to do in the months leading up to now, but all of my responsibilities have been transferred to a co-worker.  We’ve gone over the backup plans, the maintenance plans, the SSIS packages, and all of the configuration files therein.  I have a little time to sit back and look back at what I’ve accomplished here.

I started at NGL over 9 years ago as a Reporting Analyst.  Basically, my job at the time was to run AS/400 queries and dump the data into Access databases.  The transition into this job was seamless, because I was doing exactly that in Minneapolis when my family decided to move back home to Madison.  About a year into the job some of my Access databases were nearing their size limits, and I started looking for alternative solutions.  We had SQL Server 2000 sitting on a server, its sole purpose supporting the database for our Citrix remote logins.I had worked briefly with SQL Server 7.0, and since I had been exposed to it I was given permission to start moving my data to SQL Server.

Late in 2004, or early 2005, I don’t remember which, my company went with a suggestion of mine to change the way our agents received their reports.  At that time most of our agent reporting was via bursted AS/400 reports that were mailed out weekly and monthly to our several thousand agents across the country.  One of our Marketing analysts and I started building a datamart in SQL Server.  Presto, an Accidental DBA is born.

I knew nothing about backups, recovery, or DTS.  I barely new what a primary key was.  What are system databases?  What the heck is a precedence constraint anyway?  So many new concepts, and so much data being stored in a system I knew very little about.  This was all brand new to me, but something told me that this was what I wanted to do.  So, I started reading.  I installed SQL Server on my own machine so I could play with it.  Within a year my co-worker and I built up the datamart, I brought Crystal Reports and Business Objects into the company, and by the end of 2005 we were saving the company thousands of dollars by publishing reports online rather than having them mailed to the agents.  Our internal managers liked it too, because they no longer had to sift through piles of their own printed reports – they could go online and look at a whole variety of reports.

Sometime in 2006 I finally convinced the company to upgrade to SQL Server 2005.  I had been to a launch event for it sometime prior and it looked really cool.  Integration Services.  Reporting Services.  Analysis Services.  Nice and shiny.  They gave me the green light and I went to Chicago for some training.

I am in Chicago, resting after a long day of class and a good dinner.  I get a call on my cell phone.  It’s a guy in our server room telling me the box that SQL Server is on has just crashed.  Major hardware failure.  The box is toast.  Our agents can’t view their reports.  The tech says he can build a back-up server, but he’s afraid the data is lost.  I tell him that I’ve taken backups of the databases.  So, the IT guy rebuilds a server for me and he slaps the SQL Server 2000 installation disk into the CD tray.  I remote into the new server (from Chicago!) and start installing SQL Server.  All is going well.  I restore each of the databases and we’re good to go.  It’s 2:00 am, I’m tired, but feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I do one last check to look at the DTS packages.  What DTS packages?  They’re not there!!  Where are they??

Don’t panic, I tell myself.  They have to be somewhere.  I can’t find them.  Not on the new server, not on any shared drive, and I can’t get them from the old server.  Where did they go?  The light bulb suddenly goes off above my head.  I remembered from the class that SSIS (and, DTS before that) configurations were housed in the msdb database.  Of course.  I installed new system databases by default, so I didn’t have anything yet in msdb with regards to the DTS.  Thankfully, about a month before, I backed up msdb for practice and moved that backup file to a shared drive.  I grabbed that, moved it over to the new server, and restored it.  I pray that this worked.  My fingers are crossed.  Success!  I am awesome.  To heck with the expense report, I reach into the mini-bar in my room and grab the tiny bottle of Crown Royal.  It’s now 3:00 am, I am exhausted, but there is also a great sense of relief and accomplishment.  I saved the company, I tell myself.  Well, maybe not that extreme, but it’s right then and there I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

In the years that followed we migrated to SQL Server 2005, I re-wrote most if not all of our DTS packages in SSIS (I didn’t want to import them, I wanted to learn Integration Services outright. What better way to do that than actually creating new packages).  I’ve set up backup plans and recovery plans and maintenance plans.  I’ve tuned queries and stored procedures.  We replaced connection objects within SSIS packages with configuration files.  I laid out a plan to upgrade to SQL Server 2008 R2 in a clustered environment.

I’ve grown so much as a DBA since coming to NGL.  I started attending PASS conferences, SQL Server Saturdays, I joined our local user group (MADPASS), and I started reading blogs.  Got myself a Twitter handle (@BadgerBully).  I start meeting very knowledgeable colleagues who soon became good friends.  I’d list them all, but the list is way too long, and I don’t want to slight anyone by leaving them out. I have learned so much from all of these, but because I’ve done as much as my current company will let me do, there is so much more to learn.

So, that one late night in Chicago was my defining moment.  I went from being an Accidental DBA to a true DBA from the confines of a downtown Chicago hotel room at 3:00 am, 150 miles away from my office.  I leave my company in good hands, with a good, solid database infrastructure.  I’ve done all I can do here, and I am looking forward to new adventures and a lot more responsibility at my new job.  I am excited.  I’ll miss some of my co-workers, but in this electronic age, they’re not very far away, and I’ll still have all my SQL Server friends just a tweet away.


About Gill Rowley

I live in a Madison, WI suburb, working as Owner/President of White Knight Data Solutions. I like hunting, fishing, working out, my boat, my motorcycle, playing with my rescued bull terrier Lola, and gourmet cooking. Oh, yeah, and I play men's fastpitch softball, and chess. Let that sink in. :-)
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2 Responses to Reflections of an Accidental DBA

  1. muaddba says:

    Nice, Gil! Looks like you packed a whole lot of learning into a pretty short timeframe. I remember my first time truly saving the day, too! It’s a fond memory. Enjoy the new place….will they let you wear jeans?

  2. Pingback: Career Change | Gill Rowley

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