Training from a MySQL DBA’s Perspective

Jul 2, 2013 / By Andrew Moore

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I’ve been pondering the next step in my training path; what do I want to learn or improve upon? You see, here at Pythian we’re encouraged to be the masters of our own progress. If you’re ever lucky enough to be on my side of the Pythian fence, you will see that there are provisions in place that facilitate your growth, personally and technically. One of these provisions (yes, there are more) is a budget available to employees to structure their own development. In my experience, this is a unique perk, and I don’t think anyone here would rather not have it. As a MySQL DBA there’s always something to learn. New versions, new versions of forks, techniques to tunes, techniques to automate, troubleshooting best practices, and then the whole mathematical background to it all. I hold the opinion that training is essential and comes in many forms. This article touches on the importance of formal training, but I think that as a MySQL/Linux Administrator, every day is a day for learning. There’s a chorus of superb writers offering their advice for free on the web, and this is a great a start to a career-spanning training course.

Training as an expense to the employer

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see why managers or companies are sometimes against training. Maybe budget simply does not exist or the department is under-resourced. It can be expensive to attend a training course. Onsite training can be costly and Offsite training can run into the thousands. There might be a need to expense travel, accommodation, or food, adding more cost to the total. Then someone has to cover workload whilst there is a reduction in productivity in the office. Training also doesn’t mean that a 5-day course will instantly make an SME. It will take time of application and practice of the insight to show the training’s worth. Training and practice are tightly coupled, as described throughout the path of the ‘Dreyfus Model’.

The Dreyfus model

The original Dreyfus model describes 5-stages of skill acquisition, beginning with the Novice and reaching the Expert. The notion that skill is acquired through formal instruction and practice. I first learned about the Dreyfus Model when reading ‘Pragmatic Thinking and Learning’ (http://goo.gl/vV9SY). When traversing the chapters of introduction to the Dreyfus model, it felt like a few things were falling into place and I was bringing context to some ideas about learning I was having at the time. I love to learn, and learning about learning is a concept I hadn’t really appreciated until a few years ago. But I digress.

Allow me to (re)introduce you to the Dreyfus model. This is one of those concepts that makes a lot of sense when you skim through it. I dare say it’s full of holes, but as a general yard-stick, I’m happy to believe it’s top level ideas.

The Dreyfus model introduces 5 stages (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_model_of_skill_acquisition);

      1. Novice
      “rigid adherence to taught rules or plans”
      no exercise of “discretionary judgment”
      2. Advanced beginner
      limited “situational perception”
      all aspects of work treated separately with equal importance
      3. Competent
      “coping with crowdedness” (multiple activities, accumulation of information)
      some perception of actions in relation to goals
      deliberate planning
      formulates routines
      4. Proficient
      holistic view of situation
      prioritizes importance of aspects
      “perceives deviations from the normal pattern”
      employs maxims for guidance, with meanings that adapt to the situation at hand
      5. Expert
      transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims
      “intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding”
      has “vision of what is possible”
    uses “analytical approaches” in new situations or in case of problems

More informal overview here:
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/10/getting-smart-about-the-hierarchy-of-smart.html

Why spend on training?

Well, there is more then one reason. As you might expect, it’s hard to have experts in every corner of your office. It is a bad idea in practice too. I consider a mix of team members from all 5 stages of the Drefus model to be a healthy place to be. I would say that experts need the novices to ask questions nearly as much as novices need experts to answer them. I believe that it’s hard to call yourself an expert in something until you can effectively teach and are open to the idea of bestowing your knowledge to those around you seeking to learn.

As hard as it is to have experts in every field, it’s also hard to have proficients in some fields at all. Hiring for some technologies can be profoundly difficult if the skill is rare. So what can you do? Training can be the answer. Seeking out training for a certain topic will help to retain and refresh the interest of your employees. It would be foolish to underestimate the importance of investing in your team. Showing your team that the company wants them to progress, mature, and become specialists boosts morale and motivation. As the saying goes, “a happy team is a productive team” and on the flip side, “bored people quit”. It doesn’t finish there though. Once you’ve trained on something, the natural itch will be to apply the new knowledge. Useless knowledge renders the training a waste of time or could inspire a letter of resignation so that employee can practice elsewhere.

It’s important to have context and plans for the training you’ve invested in. Training could be the catalyst in growing a novice into an advanced beginner or a competent into a proficient. These evolutions may have a direct impact in the team and your service overall. Training can lead to certification in many paths . This may be a tangible outcome that can help justify the training itself.

Cost of not training

What could it cost your organization to lose a bored employee? Firstly, someone considering leaving your company will rack up $ with business/account knowledge handover. Productivity drops two fold with another employee sitting with the departing employee to transfer projects and knowledge. HR meetings, exit interviews, removal of accounts, returning of kit and re-purposing it, gardening leave is policy in some places… The list goes on. Then you need to find a replacement. Odds are you have capacity requirements. You’ve got a search on your hands to replace this engineer with someone with likewise experience and skill set. This is not an overnight process. Now you’re paying agency fees. Maybe you have an internal talent acquisition team on the case whilst they could be growing your team instead of replacing missing bricks. It’s pretty likely that the market rate for the talent you’re losing has increased by a few thousand since you hired them. The difference here might even be the cost of training and a follow up pay increase? Wow…headache, heartache and the bottom line is that this could get expensive.

Instant Experts

It’s no secret that there are a lot of companies seeking MySQL expertise right now. Training is a path to growing that resource from within. You might have an engineer adopting a role outside of their remit and training is a necessity to shore up some holes in their knowledge. To jump from rung to rung, up the stages of the Dreyfus model requires a source for the knowledge. If that expertise doesn’t exist inside your organization it would be an intelligent move to look to someone with that bandwidth. Oracle, Percona, FromDual, and SkySQL are where much of the expertise lives. They all offer training around the globe. For those of us in the UK, Percona are running two intense courses this month on “Scaling and Optimization for MySQL” on Monday & Tuesday, 15th – 16th of July and “Operating and Troubleshooting for MySQL” on Wednesday & Thursday, 17th – 18th of July. Visit http://www.percona.com/training/order/london-jul-2013 for more details, or leave me a comment and I’ll put you touch with someone who can give you a greater level of detail.

Parting thought on training

As an employee, you should seek assurances about your ongoing development. Make it known that you have targets and are looking for assistance to reach those goals. Asking these questions could help determine whether a position is for you in the early stages of negotiations.

Further reading:
http://www.percona.com/live/mysql-conference-2013/sessions/mysql-training-cost-or-investment

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