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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.


1. Mathew Butler - April 8, 2008

That Sydney course would be Performance Diagnosis 101, November 2003. I think it was the first one immediately after the release of Optimizing Oracle Performance.

I know, because I was on the same course ( I sat at the back next to Steve Adams ).

What I found so amazing about that course, was that it made so many things in Oracle “make sense”. I also sat in wonder as I was able to dig into the trace analysis and make sensible conclusions about the cause of performance problems, whilst Steve Adams (and others) read 4 or 5 levels even deeper into a systems behaviour based on the same data. My eyes were opened to the real value of systems instrumentation.

This, and Jonathan Lewis’ Performance by Design course are two of the best I’ve ever attended. Should the opportunity come up I’d definately attend them both again


2. Richard Foote - April 8, 2008

Hi Mathew

That’s the one !!

I sat on the LHS at the back with Pete Sharman. Cary gave me a bottle of wine for helping out but you probably wouldn’t have noticed me as I usually just sit quietly and unobtrusively 🙂


3. SeánMacGC - April 8, 2008

Hello Richard, is your number 5 one Larry Ellison perchance?


4. Mathew Butler - April 8, 2008

I think Pete was branded in a black and red Oracle shirt. I remember a bottle of wine presentation. That, and the high quality of technical information that came both from the presenters and attendees.

I wish Cary/Jeff would schedule something in London.


5. Alex Gorbachev - April 8, 2008

I have the same feeling about Cary’s book – I felt I was already going the right path before I read his and Jeff’s book and the book made everything clear, black on white. It formalized and sorted everything that I had in my head regarding performance tuning.

Tom’s seminar in Munich was the first formal (or I should say organized form of) education I attended. He is also the one who started blogging bug inside me.

Jonathan, for me, is associated with the perfect teacher, an ultimate example for any teacher and tutor. I just can’t imagine it can be done better.

IXORA is the first website that showed me the depth of Oracle and its complexity. I’m also grateful to Steve for Oracle-L moderation.

Oracle-L has tremendous influence on me and it should actually be the most influenced pseudo-person, if I can put it this way, but my number one is Olga. You haven’t meat her… yet. 😉


6. Chris Adkin - April 8, 2008

It’s interesting what people define to be a ‘DBA’, the five people you have meentioned are indeed titans of the industry are you would be hard pushed to find anyone with more knowledge and experience than the five people you have singled out. I myself, despite being well below the people you have mentioned in the food chain am more focussed on performance and internals like the people you have mentioned. However, there are some DBAs that don’t attract the limelight so much, because they focus on less glamous work such as being experts with RMAN, DR etc, and the like. One of Tom Kytes answers in response to a question posed to the his Ask Tom web site was; what are the most important functions of being a DBA, his response was that the most important thing was something along the lines of getting backups and your dr regime right because this is the one area the DBA cannot afford to get wrong. So although the five people you have mentioned are almost peerless, there are a lot of unsung heroes out there and an argument to be made that perhaps these people are more akin to database technical architects than DBAs.


7. Gary - April 8, 2008

Interesting to see your number 1.

The most influential DBA would be the one who influenced the ones who influenced you. One choice would be Dr DBA, Ken Jacobs.

On the other hand, there’s one DBA who would certainly be a controversial choice and who is significant figure in the industry. A Moriaty to your Holmesian figures in the list above. Hmmmm..


8. Slater - April 9, 2008

I got a feeling that the last DBA in your list will be you.


9. chris stephens - April 9, 2008

My guess is a dba who isn’t exactly known for scientific rigor and who has been the figure against which most or all of the other 4 previously mentioned Oracle professionals have spent considerable time debating various ‘rules of thumb’ or blanket type statements.


10. SF - April 9, 2008

I suspect the last DBA to be a kind of anti-pattern – for which, from what I have seen of you, I can only think of one person …


11. Mohamed - April 9, 2008

When I exclude the 4 persons you mentioned above, I see only one person who has a big influence on you:

David Bowie 🙂


12. Sidhu - April 10, 2008

Nice post Richard…

& 5th DBA, i second Chris 😉

He is………:D


13. Noons - April 10, 2008

stuff the 5th, I want to hear the “Rupert the Rat” story!


14. Richard Foote - April 10, 2008

To Chris Adkins

I totally agree with what you say. I’ve spent the last 20+ years of my life working with many many “unsung” heroes.

The other point I would make is that you don’t necessarily have to be an “expert”, a “guru”, a “titan” (all terms I dislike as they’re so often abused) or an author to be a really really good DBA (or anything else).


15. Richard Foote - April 10, 2008

Hi Noons,

If you come to my seminar in Sydney, I promise to tell you all about Rupert over a few beers. Note the beers will be mandatory 😉


16. Richard Foote - April 10, 2008

Hi Slater

Well done 🙂


17. Log Buffer #92: a Carnival of the Vanities for DBAs - April 11, 2008

[…] is one of the heroes singled-out for tribute Richard Foote’s thoughtful piece, The Top 5 Most Influencial DBAs In My Oracle Career, the fifth of whom remains a mystery for the time being. A worthwhile discussion […]


18. kk - August 30, 2016

#5 must surely be Donald “The Don” Burleson


Richard Foote - September 1, 2016

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