Sunday, 20 October 2013

How to start a career in Oracle at the age of 38

Getting back to IT could be  a "bad decision" for me.

After all, I could deceive myself of the illusion of "being an established journalist in a globally known media organisation;" same as many of my previous colleagues did and still do.

But you can not be dishonest to yourself; being "naturally" good at something is not the best that one can be. There has to be an element of "effort to fulfil a potential" involved.

So with the help of a true friend, I left it all at the age of 38, and started in a Telecomm software company; as an Oracle Developer/Admin ... well, "to be admin" to be precise!

I have to say that it didn't start out of the blue; I used to be an Oracle developer (8i) just before 2000 and an MSc in Database systems (2009); so it wasn't a field that I was completely out of touch with.

But in one sentence: It was extremely hard; so much so that it dragged depression's foot into my life and started to threaten my personal life. And that was despite being blessed with great colleagues and understanding managers.

What made it hard?

1. Myself! Obviously I was trying too hard for making the lost ground on learning, therefore I felt obliged to pay attention to EVERY single thing that was being said around me. Also coming form public sector, I was wrongly convinced that I'd be kicked out ASAP if I under-perform.

2. Having extremely talented and intelligent colleagues, and the fact that I wanted to perform like them there and then; although I've been away from Oracle for a decade.

3. Not getting enough/clear communication from my managers about what is expected from me; mainly due the force of -always imminent- release deadlines. I could also blame the first point (above) for not being able to fully apprehend the existing communication form my manager, which generally conveyed a message of sympathy.

4. Oracle is not the most straight forward software to deal with. A HUGE number of factors influence its performance and the presence of mind to pinpoint "the" main one in any circumstance, mainly stems from experience, rather than intelligence.

How can I survive?

1. Refrain from setting vague and all-encompassing goals (such as "being a great DBA") for yourself! Start with small and clear goals through coordination with your manager or senior members of your team.

2. Serialize your tasks. What you need the most at the start of this career is the focus; and trying to do more than one thing at a time would deprive you of that. Just remember that being focused is not generally easy when you're 38, anyway!

3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Try to clarify what's asked from you, and find out if there is a "preferred" way in the company for such a task. Try to establish the appropriate/expected deadlines explicitly, and eventually ask for feedback; whether it's task by task, day by day, or week by week.

4. If you haven't said in your job interview that you've got "10 years of Oracle DBA experience" while all you've done is "once or twice installing an Oracle database," you do not need to compete with your more experienced colleagues. Truly experienced people in Oracle tend to be humble and decent personalities (I had a great experience in OakTable World 2013 - Thanks to Kyle Hailey!, and I shouldn't forget my own colleagues). Ask them to guide you, and they will. In general it is extremely rare to come across genuinely knowledgable people who are jerks.

5. Do not expect yourself to know everything about Oracle; in fact the existence of ORA-07445s would tell you that even Oracle doesn't know everything about Oracle! Looking at the manners of big names in Oracle would teach you that even they (some with more than 3 decades of experience) still regard themselves as a student of Oracle.

Be prepared to be a scientist; not a technician!

p.s. Do not forget about the great Oracle community. What inspired me to revisit my decision to change career path was a tweet by Jonathan Lewis who asked:

Those are the questions that keep your brain alive, and remind you that you actually enjoy dealing with this thing the world calls "Oracle."

Thanks Jonathan Lewis.

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