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Top 5 Most Influencial DBAs In My Oracle Career (“Heroes”) April 8, 2008

Posted by Richard Foote in Oracle General, Oracle Opinion, Richard's Musings.

When I was at OpenWorld last year, I was asked by a couple of people a question that’s been asked of me quite a number of times before. Who has been the biggest influence in my career as an Oracle DBA, just who has had the biggest impact in shaping the Oracle DBA I am today.

It’s actually a really difficult question to answer because it first assumes I actually know exactly what sort of DBA I am, which I’m not sure is entirely the case. It also assumes that “this shape” is fixed, which it isn’t. I literally learn new things about Oracle on a daily basis so I’m continually evolving and developing and “growing” as a DBA.

The answer I generally give surprises most when I give it but when I explain my reasoning, it generally makes sense and they accept where I’m coming from. So I thought I might share the top 5 Oracle DBAs who have most shaped and influenced this Oracle DBA I am today.

Reducing what is overall quite a massive list of influences to just 5 is a really really difficult process, but these 5 are probably the most influential in not just what I actually “know” about Oracle, but more importantly, how I actually go about continually learning and growing and developing as a DBA.

Four of them in no particular order are:

Steve Adams. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve a number of times and the most important thing he taught me was just how much I actually didn’t know about Oracle !! Initially, I looked at Oracle as simply being this “car” if you like, that had an “engine” and had a thing you did to switch it on and a thing you turned to make it go where you want and if you did these things every now and then, this “car” ran that little bit better (or so it seemed). However Steve made me realise that Oracle was actually made of lots and lots of little parts and that an “engine” was actually made of lots of different components that worked together and the more you knew how these components actually worked and interacted, the easier and more effective one would be in tuning and finding what might be at fault. However, he didn’t just know that this bit was a “starting motor”, he went way way down into knowing what all the little bits ‘n’ pieces were that made up the “starting motor” and the “distributor” and the “CD player” and pretty well every part of the whole “car” !! And not just for this model of Oracle, but for pretty well all models dating back to almost when Oracle began.

Steve really opened up my eyes into appreciating all that there really was to potentially learn about Oracle, the importance of having some understanding of the nuts ‘n’ bolts to be effective and that no matter what, I will never, ever, stop learning and relearning how Oracle actually works. I will never have the knowledge that Steve has about Oracle, I will likely never get close but he gave me the drive and ambition to at least try. He’s also a fellow Aussie so deserves additional bonus points 😉

Tom Kyte. I’ve only met Tom once very briefly at OpenWorld last year. However, I feel like I know him so well thanks to his fabulous Ask Tom website. Tom has probably taught me more about Oracle itself than just about anyone but he’s also taught me something far more important as well. Tom taught me the importance of “proof”, how to demonstrate and actually “show” how Oracle works and functions. Rather than just saying 1+1=2, he can actually demonstrate that 1+1=2, why it’s so and give me a script that I can run and test and modify so I can learn why and how 1+1=2. Most things in Oracle can be illustrated in this manner and these skills have been a huge influence on not only what to believe, but in how to determine and investigate things for myself. If someone claims 1+1=3 but doesn’t have the capabilty to show why it’s so, then in my experience there’s a very good chance that 1+1 doesn’t actually equal 3 afterall.

Also, Tom’s books are among the best Oracle books I’ve read and really showed me what a good Oracle book actually looks like. Basically Tom taught me “how to fish” and I’ve been catching fish in the Oracle Ocean for most of my career thanks in large part to Tom.

Jonathan Lewis. I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan and showing him the wonders that is sunny Canberra a few years ago. Jonathan, like Tom and Steve knows more about Oracle and the internal workings of Oracle than I will ever hope to know. The Oracle knowledge this man has is amazing. 

The core, the brain even of the Oracle database is the CBO and very often when Oracle is “sick”, it’s directly related to the CBO not doing what it should be doing or not doing what you think it should be doing. Jonathan reminds me very much of a really really good doctor or surgeon who not only is able to quickly diagnose a specific problem with one quick glance of a “medical chart” but is able to get in and successfully perform the necessary surgical procedure with no fuss, ensuring the patient makes a quick and successful recovery.

Jonathan taught me the importance of correctly diagnosing a problem in order to apply an appropriate solution. He also highlighted just how complex the CBO really is, how important it is to actually understand how the CBO (and Oracle in general) works and why it’s vital to correctly understand and interpret the various costs and behaviours in order to apply an appropriate solution. Unless you understand the hows, the whats and the whys, unless you really understand the problem, you’re not really in a position to apply an appropriate solution. Jonathan never guesses, rarely assumes and if he does, it’s an educated guess and he’ll explain his reasoning for making any such assumptions.

This “discipline” of his and his process in diagnosing a problem has been extremely important in determining how I look at a problem. If I don’t know what’s actually going on, if I don’t understand the root cause of a problem, then how can I expect to solve it successfully.

Cary Millsap. A few years ago, I attended a class of Cary’s in Sydney where I had the opportunity in turn to explain the wonders that is Rugby League over a few beers. He’s notable also as being one of the very few people to fully appreciate my (somewhat infamous) “Rupert The Rat” joke …

During my time at Oracle, one class I never particularly enjoyed teaching was the Performance Tuning course as I felt really uncomfortable with the contents and the manner in which the topic of database tuning was addressed. Method C wasn’t a process I ever felt comfortable teaching. Although I had been focusing on the wait interface for quite some time, for me, Cary’s (and Jeff Holt’s) book Optimizing Oracle Performance was the first time I read a book specifically on performance tuning where I said, “Yes, yes that’s it”. Cary’s book and his teachings so perfectly articulate the importance of knowing exactly where time is being spent when poor response times are problematic, so one can focus on a solution that will actually make a difference. Again, understanding “what” the problem is by knowing where all the time is being spent. Again, the “don’t guess when you can know” principle. It’s a process I successfully apply again and again in diagnosing database problems and Cary’s focus on Method R has been very influential. Besides, anyone who appreciates Rupert The Rat deserves a special mention 🙂

The final person in my Top 5 list is most certainly the most important and significant in determining how I’ve evolved over the years into the DBA I am today. It’s possibly a somewhat controversial choice and there may be some who would possibly disagree. However, in my opinion, this person should likely be in everyone’s Top 5 list (big call I know) so I’ll leave the identity of this last person for my next post.