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The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias

The random ramblings and rantings of frazzled SQL Server DBA

The Importance of a Mentor

When I am asked how I got to where I am in my career, or how to make the transition to being a DBA, I usually have to think about my answer before I respond.  I realize that most people won’t be able to follow the same path that I took to get where I am.  This is not to say that I am special, or I did something extraordinary to get where I am today; I am, as I have admitted a number of times in the past, where I am through a great deal of being in the right place at the right time.  However, one of the things that I tell any aspiring DBA, and even people in the military that ask how I got where I am as fast as I did, is that they need to find a good mentor. 

It doesn’t matter what aspect of my life that I look back on, I always find that I had a mentor, and in a lot of cases multiple mentors, that provided me guidance, challenged me with new things, and offered advice on how to handle situations that I wasn’t yet equipped to deal with personally or professionally at that time.  In the past eight months, the importance of good mentorship has really stood out to me in my career, both as a DBA and as a soldier in the Army, primarily because I have had to look outside of my immediate resources for mentoring.  For most people, I’d say that the idea of a mentor is someone that you can readily communicate with, generally through direct face to face interaction.  However, the higher you climb in the professional ladder, the less likely it will be that you have this kind of luxury. 

Up until January, I had always had a mentor that was immediately available to me in my place of employment.  When I made the transition into a Senior DBA role this year, one of the trade offs I made, although unknowingly, was that I no longer had a person senior to me, and at the same company that fulfilled the role of being my mentor.  Through circumstance however, I found that I had a number of mentors inside of the SQL Server Community, that were fulfilling the role that had previously been filled by a local person, despite being hundreds and even thousands of miles away from those people.

One of the things that I recently realized in the last week is that finding a mentor isn’t necessarily hard to do.  The only requirement sometimes is that you be willing to express your frustrations, problems, and shortcomings to someone else.  A mentor can sometimes be anyone willing to just listen to your problems and offer a level headed solution that looks at things from multiple perspectives.  For example, I found a mentor in a good friend of mine, Buck Woody, who has taken the time out of his day on numerous occasions to listen to my problems and offer ideas about how to resolve the issue, often in ways I had never even considered.  Another notable mentor during this time frame has been Brent Ozar, who also not only answered a consistent barrage of questions and problems, but has also consistently challenged me to take on new challenges and learn how to do things that I never would have otherwise.  I have also had other great mentors from the community assist me during the last few months, not the least of which have been Glenn Allan Berry, Andrew Kelly, Andy Leonard, Paul Randal, Arnie Rowland, Adam Saxton, Bob Ward and numerous others that should be listed.

If you are reading this post, you no doubt have some form of mentor whether you realized it prior to reading this or not.  If you have a mentor, I challenge you to make use of them to enhance your skills as a DBA and professional in today’s market place.  If after reading this, you realize that you don’t have an active mentor in your career, seek out someone that can provide you advice, guidance, as well as challenge you to learn new things that you might not otherwise gain experience with in your day to day work.

Published Friday, September 03, 2010 7:30 AM by Jonathan Kehayias



Jeremiah Peschka said:

Truer words were never spoken.

I've been really lucky to have great mentors like you and Brent. The best thing to me is that not only am I learning from smart people, but every single person who has mentored me in some way has become a great friend.


September 3, 2010 7:16 AM

Chuck Rummel said:

Great post!

I think I've had similar past experiences with having good mentors for a long time, all people who I worked directly with.  It's reassuring to read that when you felt you didn't have an immediate mentor anymore that you were able to find others even if they were on the other side of the country.  I will have to start doing the same.  Yet another benefit of community involvement.

September 3, 2010 9:19 AM

DaniSQL said:

Great Write up! Remember you are a great mentor yourself to a whole lot of people including me by way of participating in forums and sharing your knowledge in your blog.

September 3, 2010 9:32 AM

Brent Ozar said:

Wow, I'm honored, sir!  I push you because I know you're smart as hell and you can do whatever you put your mind to.  I look forward to seeing you tackle the MCM!

September 4, 2010 9:15 AM

Sanjeev Jha said:

How do you find a mentor? What if your department is small enough that you are running a one person shop? How do you go about asking some one to become their mentor? I need a mentor...I'd love to have a mentor to guide me and challenge me and not to do work for me.

September 10, 2010 9:25 AM
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