Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oooohhh... shiny!

I went to last year's Oracle Open World. I'd always wanted to go, but having been a consultant for so many years, those opportunities don't always come your way. In my experience, companies will spring for their own employees to go to Open World, but "no way" to that lousy, overpaid consultant who probably won't even be here next week. That leaves it up to the consulting company, whose take on things is usually, "If you don't already know everything they're talking about at Open World, then why did we hire you? Get back to work!" But since I work for a good consulting company, they offered me the chance to go.

Open World is a blast. If you're a geeky Oracle person like me, it's a complete nerd-o-gasm. First of all, Oracle's always announcing the "next big thing" – this year, it was the Oracle Linux kernel (perhaps the subject of a future post) and the latest in Exadata. Then you have your session speakers, most of which are pretty good. The technology booths full of people trying to sell you stuff are always cool. Of course, best of all is all the free swag you get. I came home with more techie junk than you can shake a datafile at. Let me tell you, it takes some mad ninja skilz to nab 11 t-shirts from Open World and get them home. I had to throw away all my underwear just to get them to fit in my luggage (don't ask me how the flight home was...).

Of course, the real focus of any Open World is same as that of a lot of the software industry – better, faster, stronger, more. Newer and shinier. What you have isn't what you need. I can't fault them for this – they need to keep selling stuff to compete and to stay in business, and innovation is a huge part of what we do. Progress is good. But sometimes a DBA needs to distinguish between something that represents progress and something that represents a big ol' pile of shiny.

I talked last time about how being a good DBA means having a healthy dose of skepticism. That has to apply to "new feature-itis" too. Part of what I do involves evaluating new technologies. Not only do I have to evaluate the tech to verify that it does what it says it does, I need to assess that its benefits are worth the time, risks and cost of adopting it. As an evaluator, there's an implied trust with my employers that if I recommend a shiny, new feature, it's because it will benefit their interests – not necessarily mine. I haven't seen it often, but I can remember working with more than one DBA who didn't share my take on this. I've come to expect non-technical people to fall into the whole "Look! Shiny!" thing when it comes to new tech. But some technical folks in positions of authority see new tech as way to 1) pad their resume ("why yes I've worked with feature X, I helped bring it into my last company"), or 2) make them indispensable, since they adopted it and are the only ones who understand it. When I was a newbie DBA, I knew a senior DBA who did just that - repeatedly. Everybody could see it, but nobody was in a position to do anything about it. Then, he left and the rest of us were put in the position of having to support this big, expensive, shiny nightmare.

Flying along the bleeding edge can be a bumpy ride. Resist the urge to pad your resume at the expense of your employer. Otherwise, your big ol' pile of shiny might become a big ol' pile of something else.

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