DBAs and the Career-Life Balance

Reprinted from my editorial in Database Weekly.

I know a lot of DBAs who make SQL Server the focus of their life. In many ways, if you want to be an exceptional DBA, and stand out from the crowd, you don’t have a lot of choice about devoting a lot of time to your career. There are many reasons for this. For example, the nature of the DBA’s job often requires working long hours, working weekends, and being on call 24/7. Then there is the need to continually increase your knowledge, especially as SQL Server continues to become more bloated with features with every new release. And if you are involved in volunteering for the SQL Server community, time commitments can be huge.

Of course, there are many careers other than being a DBA that consume a lot of time, so the question I want to pose to you applies to many different careers. And the question is: "Are you focusing too much time on your career to the exclusion of doing other important things in your life?" For example, is it more important to attend a SQL Saturday, or go to the park with your family? Is it more important to keep up reading the latest blog posts, or to relax and watch a good movie? Is it more important to download SQL Server 2012 on your home computer and learn it than working on a hobby that you enjoy? These are all difficult questions that DBAs make on a daily basis.

In the SQL Server community, I know of a handful of DBAs who seem to be able to do it all. They are exceptional DBAs who excel at whatever they do, and at the same time, they also seem to have a non-SQL Server-related life that they enjoy. They have the best of both worlds. In other cases, I have seen DBAs who work very hard, devoting virtually all their time to their career, shining brightly, but only briefly, before burning out, and you never hear from them again.

Of course, most of us fall between these two extremes, and we are constantly trying to figure out how to best balance our career with our life. But this is not an easy task, Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to ask for advice on how you balance your career and your life. Share with us the problems you have faced with this balancing act, and how you have successfully resolved them. Or, perhaps if you are still figuring out how to balance everything, and you haven’t figured it out, feel free to share your problems so that perhaps others may offer advice. I know that I still have a lot to learn about this topic, and I am eager to learn from you.

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4 thoughts on “DBAs and the Career-Life Balance

  1. Early in my career I learned that there are real emergencies and psuedo emergencies. Sometimes it can be difficult distinguishing the two. If it is an emergency at home or work it has to be handled. If it is a non-emergency then it has to be handled as well but not at the cost of home or work depending upon where it is occurring. For the additional items, in my case family wins, career comes in after. When my family was younger it was easier in that they went to sleep and I went to work on certifications and those items that you want to get to at work but aren’t high anyone’s list except your own. As we have all gotten older I tend to do it in the mornings before work and over lunch time. I love the pass 24hours in that it really helps me at least see what is going on in the community and as my youngest child slows down on the nights of the local sql server meetings I hope to re-involve myself on that front. In between everything, I try to talk with my wife and go for walks. I actually try not to look at email when I am with my family.

  2. I am a Jr. DBA of 2 years. I dream of one day becomming a Master Certfied SQL Server MVP. That being said….. I’m a married mother of 2. My girls are 12 and 14 and keep me running all over the place. Some nights I leave work at 4:30pm and dont actually make it home until 9:30pm (running the kids to their various activities). Couple that schedule with being oncall one third of the year leaves you with one frazzled Jr DBA.

    My family hates the amount of time I spend working, but when I back off of the number of hours I put in at home I notice my success at work diminish.

    I have grand plans for my career, but I have no plan on how to get there. I feel like I need the road to becoming an excellent DBA mapped out for me. Right now my knowledge of SQL Server is broad and lacks depth. There are so many areas to study… where does one start? Security? Performance?

    Once I have a plan how do I fit it into my already busy life? And how long can one go without real “free” time?

  3. Kimberly, I have long ago given up trying to know everything about SQL Server. Before my daugher was born, I had lots of time to study and take certification exams. Today, like you, I don’t have much spare time. So I have decided to specialize, focusing on DBA Adminstration and SQL Server internals. Pick an area that you enjoy and try to focus on that as you have time.

  4. Here’s my .02 worth…

    We all need to read this. Period. http://www.amazon.com/What-Matters-Most-Living-Values/dp/0684872579 This has been very helpful to maintaining a work / life balance for me.

    To Mark’s comment: I got burned on this my first Christmas as a DBA, shortly after I graduated from college. My parents were coming from out of state to spend the holiday with my family and me, and I was given a project that I knew very little about with a deadline (or so I thought) of the first Monday after the holiday. I cancelled my vacation time and went into the office (this is pre-VPN) and worked hard to get the project done. Later, I found out that this wasn’t a critical project and that I should have waited until after the holiday weekend. Great opportunity to build relationships with my family lost forever!

    Lesson learned: make sure you understand what constitutes a real emergency, deadline, etc., and, don’t be afraid to push back (within reason) if there is a conflicting personal commitment.

    99.99% of people I have associated with understand that we all have work and personal lives. If I know there is a conflict between work and personal time, I’ll raise the flag as soon as possible to get deadlines and commitments rescheduled if at all possible to avoid problems, hard feelings, etc. in the future. I’ve never had an employer or team get upset with me for standing up and addressing these potential conflicts if I do it far enough in advance, and as long as I make it up to them later.

    One thing I try to remember is there is a time and a season for everything. Right now my family requires more time from me than they will in the future, so I invest time in building relationships with them now that we will value through the rest of our lives. In a few years I’ll have more time to devote to my career, hobbies, etc. and can focus on those aspects of my life at that time.

    Something else I’ve done is trying to have open lines of communication with my family. They understand that there are times when I won’t be available / at home in the evening like I usually am because of other commitments (on call, big project, production down, etc.), and I try to make it up to them after the crisis has passed. And ALWAYS follow up on your promises to make the time up to them!

    No one wants to remember their spouse / parents as someone who was always gone / stuck in front of the computer / reading a book, etc. instead of spending quality time with them. Admittedly, it’s like juggling chainsaws, but I think it can be accomplished with a bit of forethought and planning.

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