DBA Call to Action: The Information Chase
February 21, 2003
Journey with me as I lay a plan to get rid of the endless piles of documentation and articles that continually bombards every DBA's attempt to stay on top of the database industry.
A key role of every DBA is to keep up-to-date on trends within the database industry. We have been told in the past to spend about one hour per day to do this. The problem is, not many DBAs know were to begin. In the past, my typical approach has been to subscribe to every magazine I could get my hands on. I would then proceed to read the articles by the typical tear and clip method. I would get the magazine, browse it fast, tear out the articles I thought I was going to read and then attempt to read them during my scheduled reading time, in between meetings, when I was on the road, or had down time.
Well, if you are like me, the magazines, articles, and documentation rapidly begins to stack up on my desk and I would get farther and farther behind. Once I forget to read one magazine I immediately find myself getting a few editions behind. After I begin this slide, I typically never pick that magazine up again. Sometimes I would actually get a couple of boxes or empty desk drawers and fill them up to clear my desk, trying to convince myself that I had gotten organized again and would start reading them again tomorrow. This never happened, and the articles would typically end up in the trash. I would at times keep the last few months of publications around; telling myself that about 3-6 months is really all that is current anymore anyway. And the cycle goes on.
A while back, I decided to break the cycle of magazine pile up and inefficient recall of truly important information. I would like to share some of the key things I have done that have helped me stay on top of the database industry.
Know What You Need to Know
One of the first questions that needs to be answered is: "Have you ever just sat down and read the manuals for the current database technology that you have been paid to administer or use?" If your answer to this question is a resounding NO, I would almost like you to stop reading this article, unsubscribe from every magazine, newsletter, newsgroup, and email list you are on and buckle down and read the documentation. Trust me; there is a lot of information in the documents that will slip you by if you don't ever read them. There is no way you can stay current or understand the technology you are trying to stay current in if you don't have a baseline for that technology. My number one guideline here is you must set aside time to read the documentation, then and only then should you start picking up extra periodicals and books. If you don't know already, the best place for Oracle on-line documentation is http://tahiti.oracle.com/.
Go Cold Turkey
Don't worry about straitening the mounds of magazines or articles you have on your desk. Just throw them away. The Internet should be your primary source of information and the backup for historical information. Are you really going to read those magazine articles if you put them in order in nice stacks, or worst yet, aren't you just going to take 3 to 6 hours trying to categorize everything. I know--I have done this and it never works. The piles just sit there until I throw them away. You end up with one foot in the old world that wants to read the stuff you have and another in the world where freedom lies and instant access reigns. Trust me, you can find the information you need. Plus all that stuff is outdated. Get rid of the 3 year old stack of Oracle Magazine you have on your desk, hey, they have it all on-line anyway. Don't think about it, just do it. It's hard, I know, but I was able to do it, so can you.
A truly liberating thing for me was to cancel and let go of my subscriptions. I still have a couple of magazines that I enjoy getting, but at one time, I had in excess of 30 subscriptions coming in. Once you cancel your subscriptions, you will no longer have to continually fill out those pesky surveys that you had to lie on anyway to get the subscription. On a funny note, I am getting much better service from our local post office and seem to get a few more smiles from the postman.
Have no fear--the web is here. You may feel like you have just given up a lot by throwing away all that extra paper and subscriptions that you have undoubtedly worked very hard to get. Let me be the first to put you at ease and tell you that the old paper trail is so archaic that you should never look back. Here are my three favorite reasons that should persuade you, and ease the pain.
Extra on-line content
I have only found one publication that does not publish the full articles from its paper subscription on its website. Almost all publish more on-line content in the form of extra articles, newsgroups, newsletters, downloadable tools for business and video (try that with a paper magazine). In addition, the content is usually categorized and searchable to help you find the information you really need fast.
You don't need to worry about looking for the most current information or the trends in the industry. Most sites will point you in the direction of what is hot, what is not.
Cut and paste
This one I love. As you find information, you can cut and paste, email, print, and file the information (on disk) as easily as one, two, three. This is the great thing about going truly digital for your information. Not only does it give me the information I need, it is also an instant filing system. Typically I will create a directory structure of the different areas I am interested in, cut the article, paste it into a document, title the document, and save it in the directory of choice. Be careful not to clutter up too many directories with loads of information. Try and keep one of my golden rules, that learned not too long ago. If you find information that can't help you immediately or in the near future, maybe two to three months don't save that information. You need to make sure that you can act upon the information you read and save or else it is of no use.
Ok, so you say you have to have something in your hands. Instead of having to print out something, try putting it on your Palm. I will do this when I am sure that I will be somewhere and away from my computer. This allows me to read just about anywhere and at anytime. Since I continually carry my Palm everywhere, why should I carry the extra bulk of printed articles? There are a few good products out there, just do the search on the web. I have had good success with Pdocs (http://www.thinkchile.com/alorca/pDocs/ ) and MobiPocket Publisher ( www.mobipocket.com ) . Here is a good place to go for a few of the software options (http://www.slack.net/~hermit/ebook/documents/page-4-4.html ).
Schedule Time to Read
This is truly the hardest thing to get done. It is paramount that you schedule a slot of time every day to read or research something. I will go a step further and suggest that the reading you do NOT be related to the current work task you may be trying to accomplish. This does two things for you. First, it keeps a true segregation between what is work and what is your scheduled reading time. Secondly, it keeps you fresh and open for new ideas, and keeps you well rounded. The amount of time you schedule for yourself is purely up to you. If you do not have a scheduled time, I would suggest a half hour to an hour at first. If it takes you awhile to get started and engaged, I would suggest starting at an hour, and then as you get comfortable, reduce the time if needed. Soon it will become a daily routine, which is what you want.