DBA Call to Action: The Information Chase

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.

Subscription Nightmare

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.

Go Web

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.

Current information

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.

Go Mobile

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.

James Koopmann
James Koopmann
James Koopmann has fourteen years of database design, development and performance tuning experience. In addition, he has extensive database administration experience in Oracle and other relational databases in production environments, specializing in performance tuning of database engines and SQL based applications. Koopmann is an accomplished author with several technical papers in various Oracle related publications such as Oracle Magazine, Oracle Professional and SQL>UPDATE_RMOUG. He is a featured author and database expert for DatabaseJournal, a member of the editorial review committee for Select Journal (The Magazine for the International Oracle Users Group), an Oracle Certified Professional DBA and noted speaker at local Oracle User Groups around the country.

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