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The future's bright for database pros

Globalization and stringent government privacy regs fuelexponential growth

"As databases get bigger, more people are needed to manage them."
- Phoebe Wu, Kaiser Permanente IT

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Michael McNeil, global privacy VP at Pitney Bowes, heads up a global steering committee.

Michael McNeil, global privacy VP at Pitney Bowes, heads up a global steering committee.

Sreeram Anandarao is a DB2 DBA on a tech support team at the Mayo Clinic

Sreeram Anandarao is a DB2 DBA on a tech support team at the Mayo Clinic

'If people trust you with their names, addresses and credit card data, you have a responsibility to protect that information," says Michael McNeil, who is VP of global privacy at Pitney Bowes. Data encryption, he says, is one of the biggest issues for database managers.

Cindy Zeng, database developer at Oak Ridge Associated Universities, agrees that it's a continuing battle to keep your data safe. "There's always a hacker out there trying to break into your system."

Romana Waheed, a Hilton Hotels DBA, notes that she recently completed an employee ID conversion "to secure employee privacy and eliminate identification by social security number."

Exciting challenges
The collection and storage of data is growing exponentially, as regulations like Sarbanes Oxley require companies to save years worth of data. The growing use of business intelligence and analysis can also mean storing lots of historical data for trend analysis. Sreeram Anandarao, a Mayo Clinic DBA, says he recently helped move nearly 400 Gb of data "from a source system to the staging area of our warehouse."

As new systems are developed, database pros are challenged with developing seamless links to legacy systems. "You want your customers to have a seamless experience when accessing their information," says Anne Armstrong, who manages database architecture at Walgreens.

Prem Saggar, a database application developer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, helps the agency's analysts access massive amounts of data. His biggest challenge, he says, is "laying the groundwork for highways to connect monster databases in separate locations within a short timeframe."

Growing involvement
DBAs are involved in every step of a system's lifecycle. Requirements analysis and data modeling, coding, testing and deployment of new apps, performance management and capacity planning are just the start.

Mayo's Anandarao notes that the demand for good DBAs will continue to grow as more and more departments and organizations take advantage of the data their systems maintain. "This is definitely a professionally rewarding and fulfilling career," he adds.

Walgreens' Armstrong reports that her staff has grown from twelve to twenty-two over the past seven years. She expects to add two or three more techies this year. "There's never a lack of new development projects," she says with a smile.

Know the business
It stands to reason that DBAs need to know what the system does as well as how it does it. They need to understand the internals.

But business and people skills are also essential. "To build a system that meets the customers' needs, techies must understand their line of business. Then they can translate business requirements into appropriate technical solutions," Armstrong explains.

Dell data modeler Shahrukh Jalal agrees. "It's the technician's responsibility to guide the customers in defining their needs. Once the needs are properly defined, the techie can show how technology can help get them there."

Pitney Bowes' McNeil also makes the case for business knowhow. "If you stick to the purely technical and functional, you limit yourself dramatically in terms of the value you bring to the overall business," he warns.

Michael McNeil: privacy and data protection at Pitney Bowes
Michael McNeil

Michael McNeil

Michael McNeil is VP of global privacy at Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT). He heads up a global cross-functional steering committee that develops and implements policies, procedures, practices and guidelines on how the company handles customer and employee data.

McNeil leads, manages and educates employees and data protection officers in more than two dozen countries in North America, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region. Obviously, compliance with local laws is as essential as meeting customer requirements. He's also responsible for deploying software tools for policy management, data encryption, marketing preference management and more.

Payment by credit card is a major part of the Pitney Bowes revenue stream. It's essential to encrypt and manage databases effectively to ensure the integrity of that data.

In fact, data encryption in accordance with payment-card industry standards has been one of McNeil's major concerns over the past few years. "Getting compliance and systems in place keeps me up at night," he notes wryly.

McNeil never planned to be a techie. He has a 1985 BS in marketing from the University of Illinois and a 1993 MBA in management from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL).

But early in his career he got involved with databases. As product manager at Ameritech (now AT&T;, Hoffman Estates, IL), he led the rollout of voicemail applications. It was his task to manage the team that implemented technology for the collection and management of data.

As the focus of the financial services industry changed to privacy and data protection, McNeil launched the initial privacy and IT security office at Reynolds & Reynolds (R&R;, Dayton, OH). R&R; develops ERP software apps that the automotive industry uses to run its dealerships.

In that job, McNeil combined the privacy function with IT security. "Data protection is a hot item today, but back in 2001 this was new territory for a software organization," McNeil says, He moved to Pitney Bowes in 2002 as a VP of product management and development in the management services business unit.

In mid 2004 he was asked to lead a taskforce that Pitney Bowes was launching to help understand the legal and technical impacts of privacy on the business. The group would identify all databases, including location, type of data and how it flowed. Using this info, it would go on to develop core policies and procedures and recommend a best governance and management model for privacy and data protection.

Pitney Bowes took an approach to privacy and data security that no other Fortune 500 company had taken before. Although security is typically managed by a compliance officer or technical security pro, Pitney Bowes chose McNeil to lead the new initiative because of his broader perspective on business impact.

"They wanted to ensure that the implementation would be deployed throughout the organization and within the fiber of their business," he says. That work led to his current position.

McNeil is a life member of the National Black MBA Association. He became president of its Westchester/Greater Connecticut chapter this January. He is also a board member of the Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), and Pitney Bowes' chief spokesperson on privacy issues.

Anne Armstrong manages database architecture at Walgreens
Anne Armstrong

Anne Armstrong

"Privacy and data protection, volume and seamless integration pose the greatest challenges for DB management," says Anne Armstrong, manager of database architecture at Walgreens (Deerfield, IL).

Armstrong joined the pharmacy giant after earning her 1981 BS in computational math at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI). She's worked her way through various technologies and management positions, but she's never been a DBA. "This makes it even more important for me to choose talented people and develop really good relationships with them," she says.

Armstrong's team of twenty-two DBAs provides secure, viable and accessible database environments to support Walgreens' business systems and apps. The techies work directly with systems architects, apps developers, production support, business intelligence analysts and Unix admins. "The 'A' in DBA should stand for 'analyst and architect' as well as administrator," Armstrong declares.

Team members are expected to have or develop a full complement of DBA skills plus the ability to multi-task and prioritize. "Each of them is responsible for balancing production support tasks with new application development, infrastructure and architecture projects," Armstrong explains.

One of the team's biggest challenges is integrating legacy systems, the cornerstone of Walgreens' business, with innovative new systems. "Projects like these take longer to develop, test and deploy, but contribute to greater growth, profitability and customer service," Armstrong says.

Armstrong has been able to grow technically and professionally at Walgreens. In a formal mentoring program, she was matched with a division VP who went on to become the current president and COO. This helped her learn the full breadth of the company, contributing to her success as a manager.

When hiring, Armstrong looks for a good mix of technical, professional and interpersonal skills. "An effective DBA has to be comfortable reading a trace file, putting together project plans or leading a deep database design review in front of a roomful of people," she notes.

Chenxin Cindy Zeng develops database apps at ORAU
Chenxin Cindy Zeng

Chenxin Cindy Zeng

Working from her home office, Chenxin Cindy Zeng misses daily contact with colleagues at Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU, Oak Ridge, TN). "Having grown up in China, I would ask a lot of questions over lunch." Her friends helped prepare her for naturalization, she explains.

When Zeng's husband was transferred to Georgia, ORAU suggested that she try telecommuting. "I log on the company network as if I am sitting beside the other team members," she says. She also does a lot of teleconferencing, minimizing actual trips to Oak Ridge.

Zeng builds databases and develops interfaces and screens to input and update data, summarize info and generate reports. She works for payroll and HR, and also for folks in the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program.

While Zeng was earning her BA in economics and business admin at Jilin University in China, one Fortran course was her only exposure to computers. But when she got to the University of Colorado for her 1991 masters in economics, she found that the modeling she'd been doing manually was now computerized. "I was amazed at how quickly I was able to do calculations. I started taking courses in computer technology," she says.

Zeng worked in economics at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN), moved to database management, then joined ORAU as a system analyst and programmer, developing Access/SQL Server database apps.

She's seen for herself the opportunities in database. "You need good analytical and interpersonal skills to build a system that satisfies your customer's needs," she says.

Shahrukh Hussain Jalal models data at Dell
Shahrukh Hussain Jalal

Shahrukh Hussain Jalal

Shahrukh Hussain Jalal has the title of data modeler, but she also does data architect work at Dell Inc (Round Rock, TX). A data modeler focuses on translating the customer's needs into a system design, she explains, while an architect looks at enterprise data. "I keep in mind how the system I'm modeling and the data flowing in it will affect the enterprise data across the whole company."

Jalal completed a BS in management science and statistics at the University of Maryland in 1994. The program required business as well as technical courses. "This was golden to my education," she says. "You can easily learn a language or a tool on the job, but knowing how business works is a critical advantage."

She did systems engineering in the DC area until 1999, when she married, moved to Texas and landed a job at Dell. She's found nearby Austin to be a diverse and multi-cultural city, and Dell a growing company that addresses the needs of its diverse employees.

At first her work was purely technical, but then her manager gave her a project that involved managing a virtual team of twenty people who didn't report to her. "To do my job, I had to communicate with VPs and directors across the company," she recalls. It forced her to grow professionally.

That was a good thing, because good interpersonal skills are so important for a data modeler, she believes. You serve as an integrator between many groups, see the whole picture and recommend the best fit. "You help your company move forward within its industry."

Phoebe Wu heads DB at Kaiser Permanente
Phoebe Wu

Phoebe Wu

As a database manager, Phoebe Wu heads the national system strategy database team within the enterprise application services/information management services group at Kaiser Permanente Information Technology (KP, Los Angeles, CA). Her team of thirteen employees and four contractors supports several hundred application developers and about a hundred applications in a variety of DBMS environments.

Wu's group does database admin for many of Kaiser Permanente's national systems environments: PeopleSoft HRIS, CRM and finance, national pricing system, California membership, broker sales commissions and lab systems. "I am constantly in meetings or on the phone to negotiate, brainstorm and resolve issues," Wu says.

She earned a BA in Taiwan and a masters in mass communication at California State University-Fresno. An early job as a research analyst involved a lot of computer work, and this intrigued her.

She completed a CS certification program at a University of California-LA extension, and it qualified her to join food processing firm Gerawan Enterprises (Fresno, CA) in 1982 as a junior programmer. She's worked as a techie ever since, but doesn't regret her liberal arts background. "I think I'm more creative and have a broader vision in system design because of it," she says.

Wu moved to Union Bank in Los Angeles, and spent eight years there before joining KP in 1991 as a senior DBA. She has supported many online transaction processing (OLTP) apps and some data warehouses.

She worked with IMS and DB2 on the mainframe, then ventured into distributed systems and learned Oracle. "When I ran out of exciting things to do technically, I decided to give management a try," she says with a laugh.

She joined KP because she thought creating IT systems to influence healthcare delivery was a noble goal. "And it is; I still believe it," she says.

Romana Waheed is a DBA at Hilton
Romana Waheed

Romana Waheed

As DBA for PeopleSoft at Hilton Hotels Corp (Beverly Hills, CA), Romana Waheed's job is to keep the Hilton databases functioning effectively. She's the primary support person for HR and payroll, and "If the system fails our employees won't get paid," she says.

Waheed is theoretically on call 24/7 but she doesn't get paged very often. She may work late at night, though, when she has an important project or upgrade going. The idea is to avoid disrupting production by keeping her systems available to users. "The year-to-date availability of my systems has been 100%," she reports proudly.

A team of nine DBAs supports Hilton's systems, including reservations, sales and more. Each member has a primary and a secondary area of responsibility, and Waheed's secondary area is PeopleSoft financials.

Much of her work involves routine maintenance, backups and performance tuning, but Waheed still finds it exciting. "Every day is different," she says.

She earned a bachelor of engineering in CS at Karnatak University and studied ERP and PeopleSoft at Shreyasoft Technologies. Her father was working in the U.S., but wanted his daughter to finish her studies in India.

She moved to the U.S. in 1998, consulted for a while, then joined Hilton as a DBA. "They wanted someone with a technical background who also knew the applications side to support their PeopleSoft systems," she explains.

At Hilton, Waheed was recently praised by the SVP of HR for her work on converting employee IDs from social security numbers to a new structure. More than 250 million records were updated. The manager thanked her on behalf of all Hilton employees for making their identities more secure.

Sreeram Anandarao: DB2 DBA at Mayo

Sreeram Anandarao

Sreeram Anandarao has been a consultant for most of his sixteen years in IT. But after seven years at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN), he accepted a permanent job as a technical specialist in 2002. "That was when I officially transitioned into an application DBA," he says.

Anandarao works for Mayo's revenue cycle reporting/analytics tech support team. His specialty is design and support of a revenue cycle patient accounting data warehouse. It includes data modeling, DB2 database admin and tuning. "SQL and application performance tuning have always been my strengths," he notes.

On the job he works with team members, end users, user managers, systems DBAs and programmers and other source-systems teams for the data warehouse. Besides his tech skills, the job calls for "the ability to handle lots of pressure," he notes.

Anandarao earned a 1987 bachelor of technology in electronics and communications engineering at Regional Engineering College (Warangal, India). He received a master of technology in computer engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur, India) in 1990.

His first job was as an analyst/programmer for India's largest consulting firm, Tata Consultancy Services, working with DB2 on an IBM project.

He relocated to the U.S. in 1994 to work on an assignment for Complete Business Solutions, a Michigan-based consulting firm. The project was a client/server pilot system for North Dakota's Department of Health and Human Services, and he did it all alone in less than a year.

It took almost five years to get his green card. "I was fortunate to have a stable contracting job for all that time," he says.

Anandarao is happy working for Mayo. "Even though I do not have direct patient contact, the IT solutions we deliver will eventually help the clinic's patients," he says.

At DIA, Prem Saggar is an apps developer and more
Prem Saggar is an IT specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, (Washington, DC). The DIA was interested in him even before he completed his BSCS at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in 2002.

But a DIA job requires top-secret clearance and usually takes a year or more to complete. "My access to data was limited until my clearance was finalized and I passed a polygraph test," Saggar recalls.

Today, his main job is programming large-scale enterprise systems for the DIA and other intelligence agencies. It involves consolidating information from one system to another, and he writes software to interface multiple databases with many datasets. "The databases have to talk to each other so people can get relevant information," he explains.

One of the most significant projects he's worked on is an intelligence melting pot that can be accessed by folks with top-secret clearance in many agencies. DIA, CIA, NSA, NGA and others have bought into it. "This was a massive move in the intelligence community," he says. He was promoted from GS-7 to GS-13 in his first year and has earned several in-house awards. In an environment that tends to move slowly, Saggar has learned how to get things done.

Prakash Srinivasan is SVP and senior tech manager at BOA
Prakash Srinivasan

Prakash Srinivasan

Prakash Srinivasan, SVP and senior technology manager at Bank of America (BOA, Charlotte, NC), manages a group of DBAs that provide end-to-end database solutions to one of the bank's lines of business. The solutions provided, he notes, are "world class."

Some of the projects involve specific lines of business, others are company-wide initiatives. The group's efforts must complement other initiatives across the enterprise, Srinivasan stresses. "For that you need an overall company view."

Srinivasan has a 1990 BS in physics from Loyola College and a 1993 MBA in MIS, statistics and accounting from the A.M. Jain Institute of Management, both in Chennai, India. His interest in process flow led him to database work. "I like to be challenged technically," he says.

He started as a mid-level DBA supporting banking and manufacturing systems. In 1996 he moved to BOA as a senior DBA contractor supporting trading systems.

Srinivasan appreciates the growth opportunities at BOA. He likes the business insight he's gained from formal mentors and his managers, who coached him on daily as well as long-term activities.

BOA recognizes employees in its technology division with an annual award of excellence, and Srinivasan was a winner in 2005. "That was a great acknowledgement of my work and a wonderful career booster," he says.


Susan Clark is a freelance writer in Hewitt, NJ.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded organizations.

Company and location Business area
Bank of America
(Charlotte, NC)
Banking and financial services
Cerner Corp
(Kansas City, MO)
Healthcare IT
Enterprise software and IT services
Defense Intelligence Agency
(Washington, DC)
Federal government agency
Deloitte Consulting
(New York, NY)
Dell Inc
(Round Rock, TX)
Computer hardware and services
Hilton Hotels Corp
(Beverly Hills, CA)
Lodging and hospitality
(Santa Clara, CA)
Business performance management software
Kaiser Permanente
(Pleasanton, CA)
Information technology
Mayo Clinic
(Rochester, MN)
Medical research and services
MGM Mirage
(Las Vegas, NV)
Entertainment, hotels and gaming
(Oak Ridge, TN)
Nonprofit university consortium
Pitney Bowes
(Stamford, CT)
Office technologies and services
Walgreens Co
(Deerfield, IL)
Retail pharmacy

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