Here’s my big “DUH” statement to kick things off with: The information technology world is one of constant change. Shocking, I know! For most of this, it’s why we love the business. There’s always something new to learn and fresh challenges to solve.
But it’s also a world where the old things don’t go away. I’m sure many of us have stories of having to keep some Access application afloat or supporting a legacy website that had most of the back end hard coded. When companies make investments, they want to get the most of that investment that they can, which means platforms will stay around for years because it’s to resource intensive to replace things that are already working.
This is especially noticeable if you work in a company that grows by acquisition. Rarely do different company’s have the same systems, so every acquisition means having to adapt to a new set of software. I’ve had to deal with acquisitions in every job I’ve worked in, and through that period, I’ve had to support 5 different database platforms. My focus has always been on SQL Server, but I’ve had to learn to adapt to these other technologies in order to support either a migration, a legacy application, or a proof of concept system.
So what am I getting at here? Mostly, that it’s important to not become to focused or attached to any one platform, particularly when it comes to databases. Only the very lucky will work with one only SQL Server (or another database system) for their entire careers. Here’s a couple tips to keep in mind so that you don’t short circuit yourself when challenged with a new system.Be Flexible
If a new technology comes into the company, don’t be afraid to take it on. As far as databases go, you have a couple things working in your advantage. While some of the underlying mechanics may be different, such as storage and memory use, many of the fundamental concepts are the same. You’re still going to have tables, keys, and indexes. You’re still going to need to take backups, update statistics, manage access. Chances are that this is most of what you will be required to do to support a new platform, so don’t be intimidated by how “foreign” a new system might be.Be Aware
The next stage beyond flexibility is awareness. How many database systems can you name? Three? Four? Even if you just know the names of some other systems, you’ll have an edge. Take some time and research what else is available. Once you know some names, you can then take it a step further and get a general idea of the capabilities of these platforms, as well as what separates them from each other. If you can get to the point where you can describe a platform in a paragraph, not only will you be more comfortable learning to support a new system, you can also provide high level feedback on transitioning a platform into your enterprise.Be Ready
Don’t get blindsided by a new situation. If you can get ahead of the game and at least have cursory knowledge of how to do things in a different database system, your life will be a whole lot easier. Expand on your basic knowledge and take time to figure out how to do some of the basics, like:
- Taking a backup
- Creating a database
- Importing/exporting data
You never know if or when you will need to do any of these tasks. You don’t need to be a certified expert, but if you take the time to at least experiment with other platforms, then you won’t feel like you’re floundering for a life preserver when a new acquisition gets thrown at you. If you don’t know some of the basics when you have a new database thrust upon you, make it a priority to learn these things first, taking all the basic tasks you perform on the database you’re familiar with and find out how to do them with the new technology.
As data professionals, we are expected to do our part for the company and take on these new challenges. Don’t be afraid of having to adapt to other database solutions. From my perspective, this is a great way to be the hero for your department, simply by taking a little time to get ahead of the game. And by knowing more about other technologies, you are also prepared to help plan your company’s acquisition and integration efforts, ultimately furthering your career and preparing yourself for the next stage.