A Q&A between Jonathan Gennick and Michelle Malcher
Are you a DBA? Larry Ellison wants to eliminate your job. I heard him say so at OpenWorld. Artificial Intelligence. Machine Learning. Autonomous Databases. Typewriter and Computer used to be job titles, but today those words refer to objects. Database Administrator will someday be an artificial intelligence bot. That’s Larry’s vision. Are you ready for that future? Or will you still be trying to make a living as a Typewriter?
JG: Tell us Michelle, what are the trends you see converging that will upset and change the role of the DBA?
MM: Once again, there is a discussion around the administration of the databases and what purpose is a DBA going to serve. Migrations to the cloud, which provides automation and provisioning of database environments with very little effort are facts that are threatening what DBAs do. The Oracle Cloud is providing a database that will use automation to perform self-checks and patching to keep the database healthy, performing well and secure. Also, there is not a shortage of data, in fact, there is even more rapid growth of data expected with new devices and internet of things collecting data points.
JG: Can you gives us a few examples of DBA tasks today that you believe will disappear completely within the next few years? Or maybe “completely” is too strong a word, but what are DBAs doing routinely today that will largely be automated away?
MM: One example will be creating databases. This is very quickly becoming a push button activity and on-demand service. Whether it is in cloud or on-premise, databases will be created with standard configurations, backups and high availability options. Requests for data refreshes and backups are the tasks that disrupt the day that can be turned into self-service or automated jobs such as building out a development environment with refreshed data or performing health checks for configuration changes and standards.
JG: So the idea that we will customize every little detail like we did back in the day by editing init.ora files – remember those? – is going out the window? Has the need for that sort of down in the weeds customization gone by the wayside?
MM: Yes, of course I remember editing quite a few parameters. The problem was that these parameters should have been reviewed every new release to see whether they were still needed. As workloads and hardware have changed so have the configuration needs. There is definitely a need to understand what workload is being migrated to a cloud environment, and some workloads will need special attention, but the majority can migrate and move toward standardized deployments. So going down into the weeds for most of the databases is gone, and it really needs to be adding value to keep those few databases with the customizations.
JG: Where do you see the opportunities for DBAs who want to remain with their current employer rather than be consolidated into working for cloud providers? Am I wrong in thinking that traditional DBA skills will become more and more outsourced as organizations divest themselves of technical talent?
MM: The DBA tasks are going to be automated, but the skills are not. There are skills in working with data and teams that become very valuable for the company. Companies are looking to classify, integrate and harness the data they have, and the skills that DBAs have developed over the years will help them do just that.
JG: Michelle, it sounds like the DBAs job possibly becomes more interesting then. Is that right?
MM: Jonathan’ that’s exactly right. The administration tasks will be more automated to free up the DBA to focus on data analytics, security and integrations to support the business. And if the tasks of creating databases and providing the scripts for backups and administration processes are areas that still interest you, the cloud providers are looking for these skills to write processes and test the provisioning to support self-service and on-demand environments.
JG: So the traditional DBA never quite vanishes then, but that traditional role will be more typical of service providers than of corporate database customers. DBAs that remain in a corporate environment will end up focusing more on these new roles around analysis and finding value in corporate data. Is that how you see the future playing out?
MM: I believe that you will see DBAs, who work at cloud service providers, and they will perform many of the traditional database administration tasks. These DBAs can also be on-premise and create databases in private clouds. There will be cloud DBAs who work more with application teams and how they are using the data and databases in the cloud. Other DBAs will transition to other roles that leverage their data and security skills.
JG: What are the types of DBAs that you see as being relevant in the future? Is there a fork in the road? And should current DBAs be thinking about which new direction they want to take?
MM: DBAs definitely need to be thinking about the direction they want to take. It is more than just a two choice fork in the road. They have several options to consider from Cloud DBA, developer and security roles, data integrations and analytics to Big Data DBA. Do they like working with developers and is there another language they want to learn as they help developers pull in the data sources? There will be Cloud DBAs that are writing the automations and testing the provisioning of the databases for the on-demand services. They will also be making sure that the backups and high availability processes are configured and working as planned. Security is another important role for the future DBA, that they can join the security team to protect data and look at detecting abnormal behaviors to keep the database secure and reduce the risk from unauthorized access.
JG: What are the key skills that DBAs should be looking to develop in order to preserve their options and remain relevant?
MM: DBAs have developed skills that continue to make them an integral part of the business. They understand process, details and probably know where several of the company’s data assets are being used and accessed. These skills help them to transform into either a new role or a new way of provided databases on-demand and cloud services. Communication and relationship building are skills that will need to continue to be developed. Other options are learning about Big Data, additional security processes and development of data APIs for use and integration. Continuous learning are ways that DBAs can preserve their jobs and remain relevant.
JG: Let’s talk about communication and relationship-building for a moment. Would you say it’s fair that DBAs should begin taking a more business-focused view of their work? Is it a good idea to become actively involved in the employer’s mission so that one is seen as driving profit?
MM: Well, Jonathan, I would hope that this is something that has driven the DBA in the past too. It definitely is more important now to take a more business-focused view. There are so many opportunities to add value with data and the relationships that have been developed while working as a DBA, and as these shifts happen, there should be more time to focus here and become more actively involved.
JG: When it comes to big data and so forth….Michelle, there are so many technologies to choose from. How is a DBA to decide where to begin learning, and what technologies to focus on?
MM: I would pick one that you know is in the company you are employed at. If there are integrations that are currently happening, then getting involved in those is a great way to learn more and reach out to the other teams. User groups are another place to learn more and see what technologies others are using. Oracle has integration with Hadoop so there is another possible place to start. One of these three options should help get you started.
JG: Michelle, thank you for this interview. Please mention your book one more time, and let readers know what the book provides them and why they should pick up a copy.
MM: Thanks Jonathan, this is a very important topic to discuss and I hope that DBAs are excited about the transitions that are coming. It is why I wrote a book, DBA Transformations: Building Your Career in the Transition to On-Demand Cloud Computing and Extreme Automation, to highlight the options for DBAs and how to get started. Thanks again for the discussion.