Home > DBA, NoCOUG, Oracle > An Essential DBA Skill (Part I)

An Essential DBA Skill (Part I)

I have attended many interviews for Oracle DBA positions in my career and, with rare exceptions, always found that the interviewers set great store on knowledge of Oracle syntax. A big problem is that the typical interviewer usually only asks questions about those Oracle features that he or she uses on the job and is most familiar with. Any candidate who has not used those Oracle features is then automatically eliminated. In an interview published in the journal of the Northern California Oracle Users Group (NoCOUG), I asked Jeremiah Wilton the following question:

My daughter’s piano teacher likes to say that practice makes permanent, not perfect. Just because I’ve been a database administrator a long time doesn’t qualify me as a “senior” database administrator—or does it? Who is a “senior” database administrator? Do I need a college degree? Do I need to be a “syntax junkie?” Do I really need experience with Oracle Streams or ASM to claim the title?

In his reply, Jeremiah suggested that anybody with a few years of experience under their belt was entitled to call themselves a senior DBA, but he did not value years of experience and knowledge of Oracle syntax very much:

To me, senior means that you have used a lot of Oracle’s features, solved a lot of problems, and experienced a variety of production situations. Do these qualities necessarily mean that I will want to hire you? No. Of far greater importance than seniority is a DBA’s ability to solve problems in a deductive and logical manner, to synthesize creative solutions to problems, and to forge positive and constructive business relationships with colleagues and clients. For years at Amazon, we simply tried to hire extraordinarily smart people with a strong interest in working with Oracle and others. Some of Amazon’s most senior DBAs started with little or no Oracle experience. I believe that the focus on experience in specific technologies and seniority causes employers to pay more and get less than they could when filling DBA positions.

When a DBA candidate is interviewed at Database Specialists, the focus is on the candidate’s analytical and communication skills. The candidate is first given an extract from the Oracle alert log and asked to write a report discussing the Oracle errors listed in the extract. There is no expectation that the candidate has had previous experience with those errors, and the candidate is welcome to research the answers online; this mimics the approach used by real database administrators in real life.

The second exercise mimics a common event in the life of a database administrator—a critical problem that has high visibility and requires a number of participants. The candidate is given access to a lab system owned by Database Specialists and is asked to join a telephonic conference. To prepare for the exercise, the candidate is directed to a white paper—available on the Database Specialists web site—that discusses the problem-solving approaches that would be useful during the exercise. Participating on the conference call are members of the Database Specialists team, one of whom represents the customer while the rest represent other IT personnel such as system administrators. The customer describes the problem, and the candidate is expected to ask questions, diagnose, and solve the problem with the help of the other participants on the call. The problem is actually simulated in a lab database, and the candidate is expected to check the database and communicate the findings. The candidate is welcome to research the problem online, since there is no expectation that he or she has any experience with the specific problem that is being simulated.

Searching for information online is an essential DBA skill. Here is a little challenge to test your searching skills. I received the following email message from a correspondent:

From: [name withheld]
To: Iggy Hotmail
Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:21 AM
Subject: query

[name withheld] wants to know the author of this verse

“Small minds inquire, belongs this man
To mine own creed or kith or clan?
But larger hearted men embrace
As brothers, all the human race.”

Who is the author of the above verse, what is the correct text, and what is the larger context? The first correct answer will receive a copy of my book.

Click here for Part II of this article.

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Categories: DBA, NoCOUG, Oracle
  1. Gary
    November 23, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    “Metrical Translations from Sanskrit Writers: Trubner’s Oriental Series By J. Muir”
    [http://books.google.com/books?id=oayjIfGTF_sC&dq=Pandiatantm&source=gbs_navlinks_s] shows up
    “To consider, is this man one of our own or an alien is a remark of little minded persons but the whole earth is as kin to the generous hearted” on page 277
    It gives a reference to the Panchatantra v 38 (Bombay edition)

  2. November 23, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I doubt I’ll be the first to answer, but here goes. 🙂

    ” Small souls inquire ‘ Belongs this man
    To our own race, or class, or clan ? ‘
    But larger-hearted men embrace
    As brothers all the human race.”

    That may not be the fully correct text, as the original is Sanskrit, which I cannot read. 😉 The passage is from the Mahabharata, attributed to Veda Vyasa. It seems to be often cited in the context of criticism of the caste system, but that might be projection by later writers; I haven’t been able to find the passage itself in the translations of the Mahabharata.

    • Iggy Fernandez
      November 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm

      John, I’m certain the lines don’t appear in the Mahabharata. As Gary found, the poetic version is from an 1875 work by a Scotsman named John Muir. John Muir indicated that he was translating from a text called the Panchatantra (Panch = five, tantra = book) but Muir himself does not provide a complete reference; he provides the verse but not the chapter. The Panchatantra is a collection of animal fables and it would make it more interesting if we had the story from which the lines are taken. The information is available on the internet but requires a lot of sleuthing. 🙂

      • November 23, 2009 at 10:57 pm

        Looks like I found some mis-attributions, which is a good lesson on more thoroughly chasing sources. 🙂 I found the verse attributed to Muir, without source, then with the proper wording of the verse, found some material that quoted the verse and (apparently mistakenly) named Mahabharata as the source. After posting my comment and seeing Gary’s response, I dug some more and eventually found a mention of the Panchatantra.

        Thanks for the puzzle. It’s fun to have something to research that doesn’t immediately surface in the top 10 Google results. 🙂

  3. Iggy Fernandez
    November 23, 2009 at 10:31 pm


    That’s a really close answer. Yes, the original lines were written by John Muir, a Scottish Indologist. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir_(indologist)

    The lines were first published in an 1875 book titled Religions and Moral Sentiments Metrically Rendered From Sanskrit Writers. See http://books.google.com/books?id=Q5koAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1

    The correct text reads as follows. See http://books.google.com/books?id=Q5koAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA63

    Small souls enquire “Belongs this man
    To our own race, or class, or clan?”
    But larger hearted men embrace
    As brothers all the human race.

    The appendix says that this is a poetic translation of verse 38 of an ancient Indian text called the Panchatantra. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchatantra

    John Muir gives the following prose translation of the verse: “To consider ‘is this man one of ourselves, or an alien?’ is the thought of little-minded persons; but the whole earth is of kin to the generously disposed.”

    However the Panchatantra is a large collection of stories and the reference is incomplete; it is as if we referred to the parable of the good Samaritan in the gospel of Luke by the verses (29-37) but omitted to mention the chapter (chapter 10). Also, a dry reference to an isolated verse such as Luke 10:29 (“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?”) does not adequately convey the colorful context of the parable of the good Samaritan. Similarly, Panchatantra v. 38 is a dry reference devoid of the context of the colorful story from which the quotation is taken and we run the risk of misunderstanding the original meaning.

    John Muir also indicates that the lines are also used in other texts. It appears that are really a modified quotation from an older source text.

    Can you find the actual story from which John Muir is quoting and the older source text on which the quotation is based?

  4. Iggy Fernandez
    November 23, 2009 at 11:08 pm


    I read a fascinating study of a misquotation attributed to the 18th century politician Edmund Burke. At the end, the author offers these tongue-in-cheek suggestions.

    Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus. 🙂

    Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source. 🙂 🙂

    See http://tartarus.org/~martin/essays/burkequote.html and http://tartarus.org/~martin/essays/burkequote2.html

  5. Rajiv
    January 31, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    G. K. Chesterton

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