Home > Articles > Data > SQL Server

SQL Server Reference Guide

Hosted by

Keeping Your DBA/Developer Job in Troubled Times

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

Many technical professionals started their career by turning their hobby into their life's work. Perhaps you don't think about your job as something as grand as "your life's work," but stay with me a moment or two and we'll talk more about that.

At the time of this article, the United States and many other parts of the world are going through a tough patch economically. Simple economics says that when people don't have as much money available to them (or are just not willing to spend it), they don't buy as much. When they don't buy as much, companies can't sell as much. When companies can't sell as much, they don't have a lot of money to grow, or even worse, they have to shrink. One of the first places they shrink is in payroll, or jobs. One of the types of jobs they might reduce is Information Technology, and well, that's where the DBA or Developer comes in. This logical progression causes a lot of us to worry when financial markets face a downturn. But there are some concrete things you can consider if you're in this situation.

In my experience, the Database Technologist field (I'll just say DBA from here on out to mean both Administrators and Developers) is remarkably recession-proof, as far as that goes. What I mean is that within the IT department, there aren't that many DBA positions, and it's certainly a necessary part of the organization, so the job itself is pretty secure — provided you're any good at it. (More on that later.) In fact, one reason quoted by many DBAs as to why they like their job is that they feel it is one of the safer positions to be in within a company.

That isn't to say I've never seen a DBA let go — it does happen. But I will say that I've never seen a good DBA laid off without cause, unless the entire company sinks. At that point of course, all bets are off anyway.

Even with that relative safety, you always have that nagging fear when the pundits start wailing about the economy that you might be without work for some period of time. In this article I'll explore some ways that you can calm this fear, and keep your job — even when there isn't a global economic crisis.

The order of these steps is important. I've arranged them so that if you make a decision in the first section, it affects the second and so on.

Decide You Want to Stay

This might sound a bit harsh, but would it really bother you to lose your job? OK, most of us aren't financially independent, meaning we have to work — but let's put that aside for the moment. Do you enjoy what you do, and where you do it?

The first part of that question is one of the most important. Do you enjoy what you do? I've met quite a few technical professionals that are at least good at their jobs, but they don't really get excited about the technology any more. They just show up for the paycheck. If that's you, perhaps the thought of losing your job should be taken as an opportunity to look for something new. Hey, we're at work more than we're just about anywhere else — you should find something that excites you and go for it. If you're thinking, "sure, but I have a lot of time invested in my career so far, and I can't take the money hit if I go entry-level in some other job," then perhaps you need to sit in a quiet place and think that through. If it's true, so be it. But you might find that a little less money at work is worth being happy every day.

Or perhaps you do enjoy what you do — you just aren't that thrilled doing it at your current location. You love the tech, but you're not exactly thrilled to go in to your office every day.

In both cases, use the time you have now to get ready for your next phase. In the case of starting an entirely new career, well, that's another article. The point is that you can start researching what makes you happy now, while you're still employed, and you can use the time to evaluate your budget and your lifestyle. Here's a tip: Start with your hobbies. I've found that if you do something you like, you'll eventually be very good at it, through sheer practice.

If you're not happy with your location, then use the time to look for another place. You might think "Wait, this article is about keeping your job in tough times! If the times are tough, who would be hiring?" Listen, every business at its core is about the people. Other than the government, there's no single source for anything. You can find another company in your industry or an entirely new one. And those companies, even the ones who are laying people off, are still looking for good people in the right positions — if they are smart. In fact, really smart companies are looking for people in those tough times, knowing that some great workers might be forced to leave their company because of the downturn.

So how do you pitch yourself to another company, whether you're leaving tech or staying in?

Find Out What Your Organization Needs

I once worked at a large company as a "Data Architect." The role was an advisor to the CIO for database (and data storage) strategies. I got the job by telling the CIO that if I didn't make my salary for the year back in one month, I would leave on my own, with no hard feelings. He agreed.

The first day I asked everyone I could find in IT what the biggest headache was. The response was that licensing and compliance was a mess — we weren't sure how much Oracle, SQL Server and IBM DB2 we were really using, and what we weren't. I called the various vendors, spending an hour or two on the phone with each, and arranged a meeting. I found out they all had programs that would help us — and within a week I found out how we could consolidate some licenses and get better deals on others. I saved the company two times my salary in that first week — and my job was secure.

Now you might not be able to do the same thing, but you can ask around like I did to find the big problems your firm faces. You'll find that the higher up you go, the more general the problems are. You might not have access to be able to change the things the CIO cares about, but you can certainly start with your manager and his or her manger to determine what is important to them.

Once you find that need, work a little extra to ensure you're helping to fix it — and pass your work to your boss, and on up the chain. Your management will be thrilled that you're taking the initiative to go after the big problems, as well as just doing your day to day job.

If you're thinking of changing careers or just companies, then ask people at those firms the same questions. Find out what they need, and when you interview, tell them how you could help. In fact, it's a great interview tactic to ask the employer what their biggest challenge is — you'll surprise them that you're thinking that far ahead.

Stay Close to the Customer

Every organization, regardless of whether it is non-profit or for-profit, has customers. The lifeblood of the organization, if it is to survive, is to service these customers. What that means is that the most important thing, to everyone in the company, should be the customer. You should work very hard to find out where you fit in to that structure, and leverage that as much as you can.

If finding out what the organization needs and doing it is important to your bosses, finding out how to help the customer, as directly as you can, is important to the top levels of the organization. When the time comes to winnow out the field, you will absolutely be the last the go if the customers love you.

So your job is to find out how you can interact with the customers — blogs, forums, user groups, whatever it takes, and then put in a little extra effort in those areas. It's best if the customers mention this to your bosses, but if they don't you should. In fact, it's best if you pass your thoughts past your boss first to make sure you don't violate any company policies.

Keep Your Skills Sharp

This might seem the most obvious part of the article. Once again, make sure that you have answered the other questions first — otherwise, what are you learning more about? It's best to invest your time in learning the skills that will help you solve the company's problems, or that help you deal with customers.

Of course you have the normal channels to learn — classes, books, and websites like this one. But you can also learn a great deal from others. It is vital, especially when you're faced with a possible job loss, to network. You should seek out as many people as you can that you feel have some knowledge that you need. Then offer to help them in some way — with something you know or something you can do.

In all cases, target your knowledge. Don't waste time learning something you won't use to keep your job — at least not right now.

What If You Lose Your Job Anyway?

So what if you do all this work, help the company, work with the customers and do your job well, and you get laid off anyway? You need to do two things: Start looking, and keep working.

Hopefully you've built up a network of friends in the technical profession, and now is the time to talk with them. Send out e-mails (using your personal e-mail address) stating what happened, and what you're good at. Include things that are both general (databases) and application-specific (SQL Server). Attend as many conferences, user-groups and any other professional gathering you can, and make sure you have cards with your information on it so that you can be contacted. It's a numbers game at this point.

Every day, make it a point to visit at least 5 places where you can talk to someone about getting a job. This is easy the first couple of weeks, but if that turns into a month, it's easy to busy yourself around the house and stop looking. Don't! Every day, get up, get dressed, and get out there.

You should also keep working. I know, you've lost your job, but you should find a volunteer organization, your church, or somewhere else that you can put in time in your profession. It looks good on a resume, it can lead to more leads, and it keeps you sharp at what you do.

As I mentioned, most DBAs came into the profession because they enjoy what they do. If you fit that mold, then recapture the joy that made you play with technology — even when you weren't getting paid.

One final thought: if you're good at what you do, and you think you can do it well for anyone, don't count out working for yourself. That's another article as well, but going it alone can be the most thrilling and terrifying thing you've ever done, and you might just find out it's what you should have been doing all along.

InformIT Articles and Sample Chapters

There are other resources here at InformIT that can help you with your career. Check here for a good series on this.

Books and eBooks

Moving Your Career Up the Value Chain: Building Specialized Development Skills in a Global Economy (Digital Short Cut), by Stephen B. Morris. In the workplace, you move up the value chain by acquiring and applying relevant new skills and knowledge and then using them to rapidly solve difficult problems. Moving Your Career Up the Value Chain teaches concrete methods of evaluating your current position and striking forward to make improvements. There are always areas in our lives where some improvement is warranted. Moving Your Career Up the Value Chain will help you find those areas and make the necessary improvements to propel your career to the next level.

Online Resources

There's a great portal for career building here.