The Mythical MySQL DBA

I’ve  been getting more than my fair share of calls from recruiters of late. Even in this depressed economic climate where jobs are rarer than a cab at rush-hour, it’s heartening to know that tech engineers are in great demand. And it’s even more heartening to think that demand for MySQL DBAs has never been better.

My reckoning was confirmed by a Bloomberg news report about stalwart retailers suffering from a dearth of talented engineers. Bloomberg cited Target’s outage-prone e-commerce site as a symptom of, among other things the market’s shortage. One of the challenges old-timers like Target face is having to compete with Silicon Valley startups as a fulfilling and ultimately, financially rewarding place to work.

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to say for sure why Target.com keeps crashing, but I can speculate on a few possible scenarios.

For one, the handoff from Amazon may have been less than smooth, lacking proper documentation and so forth. It could also be that the handoff went to less experienced DBAs or perhaps, those more versed in the legacy technologies of Oracle and much less in the free-wheeling open-source ones like MySQL. Other reasons could be failures in capacity planning, incomplete or incorrect systems integration, or simply misconfigurations in the load balancer, replication of database and memory settings.

If any of these scenarios had been true for Target, a sound experienced DBA and/or operations team attuned to scaling and disaster scenarios should have been able to anticipate these outages and mitigate their impact. That is, if there were enough talented and experienced ones to go around. In fact, this shortage has been apparent across the pond for a couple years already

From our vantage point, we think there’s room for more individuals to specialize in this area. What we do see are developers or Unix system administrators that include MySQL experience in their bag of skills but few who can actually manage a database eco-system. Even in the Oracle space where there are a lot of career DBAs, many of them have moved over from the business side, so they lack certain computer science and engineering fundamentals and a pure science foundation.

Much of this boils down to universities not churning out enough engineers.  And the ones that do graduate are drawn to Startups; the coolest, smartest firms like Facebook and Google. If young college grads are gunning for the best job they can find, they’re likely to shoot for the sexiest most cutting edge technologies.  In today’s market that means programming jobs in Ruby on Rails or perhaps Node.js. Few would aspire to be in WebOps.

Dustin Moskovitz
Not too sexy for Ops

If I were to really go out on a limb I might ask if you’ve ever heard of Dustin Moskovitz?  No?  Oh he’s “the ops guy” from the original Facebook team and, with a net worth estimated at $3.5bln, the youngest billionaire in the world.  Did I imply that operations and database administration wasn’t sexy?

 

 

 

 

 

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  • chaitanya vinjamuri

    this is too good

    • hullsean

      Glad you enjoyed it Chaitanya. Are you an ops guy or manager yourself?

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  • http://twitter.com/OracleAlchemist Steve Karam

    Great article. As a long time Oracle DBA/Consultant/Author I’ve been putting a lot of effort into broadening my horizons over the years in anticipation of the DevOps and data frontier.

    Just a few weeks ago I posted an article called “Grow Thyself – Moving and Shaking in the Era of Data Dominance” ( http://www.oraclealchemist.com/news/dba-grow-thyself-moving-and-shaking-in-the-era-of-data-dominance/ ). A lot of long time IT professionals are rooted in their ways and intimidated by new technologies. My standpoint is that you don’t have to be an expert in every field but conversant in the language of fields. Whether it’s an Oracle person learning what NoSQL can offer or a PHP person picking up node.js, there are worlds within worlds in the ops sphere today.

    As a manager I plead and beg my team to learn everything they can; at least gain an understanding of what is out there. As a blogger I evangelize everything I can from MongoDB to deployment appliances to node.js to Riak to simply branching out into the tech world. As a professional I try to be as open minded and sponge-like as possible in order to play a lead role in pushing new boundaries.

    • hullsean

      Yep. Am always trying to “play around” with new technologies. NoSQL offerings like Mongo, languages and libraries like Ruby, Python platforms & content management systems, etc. The newer deployment technologies like puppet & vagrant, chef, cloud management platforms like scalr & rightscale etc. There’s soooo much new stuff happening.

      Btw, the link above seems to work on a desktop browser, but on mobile it added the trailing “)” so failed to bring your article. Here it is again:

      http://www.oraclealchemist.com/news/dba-grow-thyself-moving-and-shaking-in-the-era-of-data-dominance/

      • http://twitter.com/OracleAlchemist Steve Karam

        That’s the reason I started a series called Database Diversity (only MongoDB and Riak covered thus far). It was bad enough when Oracle DBAs would turn their nose at MySQL, but refusing to acknowledge an entire ecosystem is out of the question. It’s no wonder we are commonly viewed as obstructionist and part of the bureaucracy.

        Just today I saw this article which talks about how to deploy new Cloud solutions and overcome IT resistance. The fact that we have articles like this is a problem for our future. http://readwrite.com/2013/03/21/cloud-computing-4-ways-to-overcome-it-resistance

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  • http://www.itoctopus.com/ itoctopus

    Hi Sean,

    Actually, universities are literally hatching engineers all over the world, but the quality of these engineers is completely different from what it was 30 years ago. I know quite a few people who have a Computer Science degree but who can’t write a simple function, and I know many people who work in our domain without any degree (these people typically produce garbage code that may or many not work).

    I think universities need to be much more selective in their students and the curriculums must be much harder than what they currently are.

    • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

      Perhaps Bill Gates is the most notorious dropout that wrote bad code! :) That said I do know a few very good programmers that didn’t finish college. If I were to generalize I’d say it may be the only field where I’ve seen that regularly.

      • http://www.itoctopus.com/ itoctopus

        I knew you’ll bring up Bill Gates as an example of why education is not needed.There are exceptions – but the fact that we have so many people pouring into the system with no formal education (or with easy-to-get degrees) is not good for our profession and is hurting the mainstream economy (bugs/work to be repeated/project delays/etc…). A very-hard-to-attain Computer Science Degree should be a must to have a development job (I just don’t understand how large companies can trust people who haven’t even finished college with their data).

        • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

          I totally hear you. Those are edge cases. The majority are surely folks that are under-experienced.

          That said the shortage is surely a big factor. Hi-tech jobs far outstrip the talent available.