Working at Pythian: 3 Months In

Posted in: Technical Track

Well, in the “notes from the front line” part of this post….

I have been a MySQL DBA at The Pythian Group for three months (and 2 days) now. At most companies that is the probationary period, and I am still here, so that is a good sign…..

So, after three months, how do I like it? Glad you asked!


    1. I am basically a consultant for about 10 different clients — there is always DBA work to do (I do not have to fill in sysadmin stuff like at previous jobs)
    1. I am paid a salary and do not need to worry about finding new clients, nor health insurance, etc.
    1. Teams are small, so you get to interact with a few coworkers regularly and often (there are about 60 DBAs, which would be unwieldy if we all worked without a team structure).
    1. I have already gotten to work with at least 2 technologies (including Cluster) that I have wanted to work with, but had not had the opportunity to in previous workplaces. I have learned a lot and continue to learn.
    1. People care about each other, and that starts at the top. Paul Vallee, President, has a philosophy that in any negotiation, both parties should be happy. He cares about the company doing a good job and having happy employees. Having his company do well means a positive cash flow for the most part, but that is not to the exclusion of all other things.
  1. Pythian encourages independence, and trusts DBAs to plan and do their work, with the help of the team leads. I have not had a “boss” tell me what to do, but I have had reminders from my team lead of my priorities.

  • Everyone is very helpful — nobody feels put out if you ask for a second set of eyes on something or you have a question. In fact, questions are encouraged. So even though independence is encourage, dependence is not discouraged.
  • I get to book “overhead” hours — which count towards my 40 hours per week — to blogging, podcasting, preparing and delivering presentations — to conferences, user groups, etc. I am going to blog and podcast and run the Boston MySQL User Group anyway, so this really gives me incentive to do more.
  • That being said, Pythian is not interested in owning what I produce, just more that I am associated with working there — my contract specifies that they own my blog postings, and that the Pythian site is where my main technical blog posts go, but I also have specified that I retain full distribution and publication rights to my blog posts, in case I ever want to use an example I blogged about in a book, or allow others to do so — and so I can syndicate my work to Technocation and the blog on Pythian’s position is that if I podcast on company time, I should mention Pythian as a sponsor (but they do not want a commercial!) and if I write and deliver a presentation on Pythian time then I should mention that I work for them. (I am very happy with this arrangement, and I have often said I would not want to work for Google because I already spend time on independent projects, and I want to retain ownership of them.) Paul Vallee is very good at coming to agreements in which everyone is happy.
  • There is good coverage for overnight on-call from the offices in Australia and India.
  • There is an on-call rotation; as a MySQL DBA I found myself being effectively always on-call. Here, anyone on the team can handle the pager rotation, so I am not always on call. Huzzah!
  • I enjoy working from an office that is completely separate from my place of living. I am grateful to Pythian for setting up a Boston office just for me, although I am also glad we are hiring more DBAs to work in the Boston office. We are still allowed to work from home as an exception to the rule (many people worked from home yesterday due to the icy snowstorm), and of course you need to be able to work from home when you are oncall. But I really benefit from having my work space different from my living space.
  • A full-time employee such as myself works 40 hours per week, so if I book 40 hours in a week I am done. Comp time is thus built into the system — if I do maintenance at 4 am for 2 hours, I can leave an hour early twice that week, etc. Of course, this is assuming I have met all the other deadlines I have set for yourself, that I have no meetings, etc.
  • I have had very few meetings, maybe 2 per week for an hour each.
  • I do not have to travel, but can if I want to. This is great as I am a very big homebody and do not want to travel more than 10% of my time, yet still like the consulting feel of working with many clients.
  • I can ask my teammates if they will help me on an issue or do it for me. We all do the same work, so when one person’s load is light they will ask for more work from their teammates, and when one person’s load is heavy, they will ask for help and get it.
  • The benefits are excellent. True floating holidays are wonderful — because the company is international, I can do things like work on Boxing Day (when the Canada office had off) and not worry about taking the time around July 4th off, as most of the company does not celebrate US Independence Day. Likewise, I did not bother to take President’s Day or Martin Luther King, Jr. day off, but I will be taking time off for Passover.


    1. The independence factor works well for me, but it is hard to train junior DBAs to have good judgment and work independently.
    1. Clients are not always perfect and do not always want you to perform best practices.
    1. I have not had much time to blog or podcast because I am doing so much DBA work. (But I am enjoying it, so it is kind of a really annoying downside, because I really just want more time, as opposed to working less).
    1. When you are on call, you are on call for your entire team’s clients, so you are pretty much guaranteed to be paged. Overnights as I said earlier are covered pretty well by the Australia and India offices (and soon the Prague office!), but until the Dubai office gets much bigger, I have to plan a ‘stay-at-home’ weekend when I am oncall.
    1. Because Pythian USA, Inc. was incorporated when I was hired, there were learning curves and delays with logistical things like direct deposit, reimbursement, etc. Those are all worked out now, and the next steps are working on health care and 401(k), and I will advocate for a T-pass program (public transit) as they already have deals for parking spaces. I know it will all happen, but I want it all and I want it now, and this is all a result of the fact that I am employee #1 in the US.

And of course, Pythian is looking for more DBAs. As it says on the top of our blog page:

Pythian has openings for MySQL and MS SQL Server DBAs in each of our offices in Ottawa, Canada; Boston, USA; Dubai, UAE; and Hyderabad, India. If you are a MySQL and/or SQL Server DBA and would like to evaluate this opportunity, please send us your resume with an introductory paragraph to


Interested in working with Sheeri? Schedule a tech call.

8 Comments. Leave new


Just for curiosity, when you say “pretty much guaranteed to be paged” what do you really mean? How many calls per night?
In one of my previous DBA jobs normal on-call week were: 2-3 phone calls during the weeks and 3-5 calls during the weekend (“horror” ones were 10 calls scatterd during week nights and more than 10 during the weekends).


Sheeri Cabral
March 7, 2008 1:37 pm

Frank, that’s a great question, I should have clarified. I’d say there are 2-3 paging issues per weekend, and perhaps 1-2 per evening, but the evening ones I rarely have to deal with as we have coverage in Australia and India for those, and those folks take oncall during their days, which equate to our nights.

Ronald Bradford
March 9, 2008 8:36 pm

congratulations, it doesn’t take long for 3 months to come along.

It’s very important that all employees are motivated to make the environment, location and work the best possible and it’s great to hear it starts from the top with Paul. This is really necessary for a work place where you want to go to work each day.


Artem Russakovskii
March 19, 2008 8:34 pm

What happens when you get 2 or more calls at the same time at night? Do you queue them up in your own internal queue, start working on them at the same time (eek!), or call someone else for help? If it’s the first case, how do you explain to the client that you’re busy doing other stuff?


To offer a second perspective, I’ve worked at Pythian for nearing 3 years now, primarily in the MS SQL team. I agree with what Sheeri states as the pros. We tend to get a lot more pages on our team though: 3 pages a weekend would be a dream. A typical weekend for us will yield closer to 30 distinct pages (and numerous recurring ones). It’s not a question of whether you will get paged, but of whether there will be any uninterrupted periods of sleep.

Yes, sometimes the pages come in at the same time. It’s a judgment call then, we try to prioritize the pages, and if more then one are real emergencies demanding attention, then hopefully we can find someone else available to help out.

I feel that there is a basic functional difference between managing SQL Server, and managing MySQL or Oracle. The time needed to maintain a single instance is less, because most functions are very simple, but the number of times that action is required is more frequent. So we take on more databases (currently we are actively monitoring 149 instances), and that means more pages.

Maybe I’ll say more on that in my own blog some time.


I can weigh in at least on the paging front. I have been with Pythian for almost 2 years doing evening oncall work.

Andrey and myself take evening (for Nth America) oncall. We are based in Sydney, Australia which is GMT+10 or GMT+11 depending on daylight savings.

I take the whole range of clients, using Oracle, Microsoft SQL server and MySQL databases. Andrey handles Oracle based clients.

The times that I get multiple pages at once happens on a regular basis. You just get good at triaging the issues.
As Babette said, you become an “Enlightened” DBA. You prioritize the important stuff and the less important stuff can wait.

Whilst Andrey and I normally handle most of the work. As I mentioned in a old blog post here, we can call on any Pythian DBA, so if we need a specific DBA or specialist we can ask them to come online and help out.

My role is much different to your average Ottawa based DBA. Most DBAs only take oncall pager for either a week straight (during their day only) or one day per week
and one weekend per month.

Have Fun

Alex Gorbachev
March 27, 2008 5:07 am

I feel that there is a basic functional difference between managing SQL Server, and managing MySQL or Oracle. The time needed to maintain a single instance is less, because most functions are very simple, but the number of times that action is required is more frequent.

As Ron says – SQL Server is easy – “try left click… doesn’t work – than it’s right click… in the exceptional cases double-click”. But man the fingers must hurt!

Sorry – couldn’t resist! ;-)


Question about India office..

Are the DBA’s in the India office only used for on call support?


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