One of the questions I ask in every interview these days is “How do you participate in the DB2 community and keep up to date on new features in DB2?” If I am hiring for a more junior position, this might morph into “What sources do you use to learn about DB2?”. I sometimes worry that this is or will be interpreted as fishing to know if they read my blog. It really comes from a different place. This question comes from a place of knowing that DB2 knowledge is not a static thing. It is my firm belief that no expert knows everything, however they do know where to look for answers, how to approach a problem, and who to ask. This question aims to determine if a candidate knows where to go when they have a question and if they help others.
The DB2 Community
I think that the DB2 community is a special thing. I know a whole host of people who don’t blink at spending 15 minutes or even an hour discussing a technical problem, brainstorming, or reaching out to contacts on behalf of another without the least promise of profit in it for themselves. I and others who are still rising within the DB2 community do our best to mentor those who come behind us. I often prioritize supporting someone new over knowledge gaining when choosing conference sessions.
I don’t think this is true of all technical communities out there, though there must be others with this sense of camaraderie.
There are a vast number of ways to participate in the DB2 community, to fit a vast array of communication styles and personality types. My preferred methods are blogging, Twitter, and presenting at and attending conferences and user group meetings. Some prefer running user groups, volunteering for the various committees at IDUG, answering questions on forums, or other methods of participating. To me, the key thing is not how you participate, but that you realize that there is something to gain from some method of participation, and that everyone has something to give in one of these ways.
Improving DB2 Knowledge
Information technology is not a field where you can learn something and then rest on that knowledge. Information technology demands that you grow and change and learn new things. This is certainly true of DB2. DB2 changes drastically over time. I remember before db2pd, when db2top was separately installed from AlphaWorks, even before online LOADs were possible. The shift in DB2 just in my 14 years working with it has been great.
How do I keep my knowledge up to date? I read a lot. What do I read? I investigate things in the IBM DB2 Knowledge Center – the amount of detail there if you really dig is amazing. I read developerWorks articles and the IDUG Content blog. I follow other bloggers on Twitter so I know when they have something new. The Twitter DB2 community passes around and comments on articles from a wealth of sources. I go to conferences. Once you’ve been a DB2 DBA for more than 5 years, conferences are the best source of education because they cover such a vast variety of topics in such great detail. My favorite sessions are the panel sessions – not because of the experts (though I could listen to Berni Scheifer, Matt Huras, Steve Rees, John Hornibrook, Dale McInnis, and others for as many hours as they would like to talk), but really for the questions. What else is on others’ minds? What problems are they facing? I learn new things to think about from these sessions. At conferences, I also can focus on a particular topic that I want to – one year it was SQL writing and tuning, another BLU performance, yet another HA and DR. I also like the podcast The Whole Package Cache and the webcast The DB2 Night Show. Even if the topic is not something that I think of as one of my focuses, I still learn.
Contributing to the DB2 Community
Writing a weekly technical blog is HARD. Especially the first two or three years. I don’t expect people to display the same level of commitment that I do. But once you’ve been a DBA for 10 years, you should be giving back. Whether this is simply an occasional technical article or presenting to user groups or answering forum questions, by the very fact that we are human beings, we have an imperative to help our fellow human beings. In the words of the famous Bill and Ted “Be excellent to each other.”
Fallacy Number One: “My ideas and knowledge aren’t profound enough to be worth sharing”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to my first presentation was coming up with a topic. I was always wowed by the speakers I saw and their profound insights and approaches. Then I realized that MY topic wouldn’t be earth-shattering to ME, but it might be to others. When you present on something yourself, you rarely see it as profound or insightful – but to others without your specific knowledge or approach, it may be.
Every time I tell someone the most popular blog article I’ve ever written, they are shocked. Was it my one of my excellent articles on BLU? Was it my article describing how to determine the relative impact of recommended indexes without adding the indexes? Was it the description of how to use a locking event monitor to analyze locktimeouts and deadlocks? No. It was and always has been How to Catalog a Database. Shocking that something so simple would be so popular? No, not really. It appeals to a larger audience. It’s not just top-notch or rising DB2 DBAs who need it – it is application developers and system administrators and others who work without a dedicated DBA. That one post alone has been viewed over FORTY THOUSAND times since I wrote it. And it is not an outlier. My second most popular post of all time is How to Find the Size of a DB2 database.
Am I the only one to write about these topics? No. There are dozens if not hundreds of other explanations of how to accomplish these simple tasks.
What this means is that any DB2 DBA who has been working with DB2 for more than 6 months has a wealth of knowledge that others are eager to share. Everyone has something to contribute.
Fallacy Number 2: “You have to be an expert to write about a topic”
Do you have to be an expert on a topic to write about it? Heck, no. One of the reasons I love writing the bog is that I have to do research for most blog entries. Whether it’s getting my facts straight by visiting the IBM DB2 Knowledge Center, digging through old conference presentations or notes, searching to find what others have written about on a topic, or experimenting to understand or display how something works or doesn’t, I often learn a LOT from doing my homework for a blog entry.
I enjoy reading blogs by beginners sharing their struggles and what they do and do not know because it helps me know what to write about, what to present about, and what questions to be ready for when working with clients. What originally goaded me to actually start this blog was seeing someone I was mentoring starting their own beginner/learning style blog, and thinking “Hey, I trained him. If he can blog, I can blog.”
Fallacy Number 3: “I couldn’t come up with new ideas to write about week after week”
This is really only a problem if you blog weekly, like I do. There are many opportunities to contribute only when you want to, such as writing for developerWorks, guest blogging for one of the DB2 bloggers out there, or reading/contributing to forums only as time allows.
The fact is that every writer has periods of writer’s block, including me. I have times when I don’t want to write. I have times when I can’t think of a topic. But over the years, it has gotten easier and easier to come up with topics. Looking to my day-to-day work is my best source. What did I accomplish this week? What did I fail to accomplish this week? What challenges did I face? What error messages did I see? What did I discuss with my teammates or clients? What basic topics have I not covered yet? Did you miss the two DB2 Haikus I wrote a couple of years ago? Those turned out to be fantastic creative exercises to get me past a particularly sticky period of writer’s block. When motivation becomes a serious problem, it is usually when I haven’t been to a conference for a while. When I go to a conference now, people thank me for my blog, and that really motivates me, because it reminds me that it’s not just me typing away on my laptop at Starbucks, it is me changing other peoples’ lives by making it easier for them to become technical experts themselves.
There is no excuse
There is no excuse for not participating in the DB2 community, for not learning, for not contributing. I have missed several weeks of blogging in the last few years. Was I always in a slow period at work with extra time? Heck, no. Do I do nothing but work and blog? Heck, no. Do I work for an employer that lets me dedicate time to this blog? Well, maybe if I asked, but my blog is mine, and I do it only on my personal time. Do I blog because I have no social life or family? Heck no – I’m the mother of two young boys and married to a fantastic man for 17 years. I do not neglect them to make this happen. Are there things that would make me stop for a while? Honestly, yes. I lost my mother after a painful 7-month illness 7 years ago. Had I been blogging at that time, I would have stopped for that period because sometimes things are too much. But there is no excuse for year after year to not contribute.
So if I interview you someday and ask you how you contribute to the DB2 community and keep up your DB2 skills, what will your answer be?