OPPORTUNITIES IN DATABASE
You have to know a lot to work
"Business requirements change all the time. We're always analyzing existing data or a specific field." - Amber Arthur, Walgreens
"It's critical that the information keeps flowing. There's no downtime for databases." - Vijay Patil, BNSF
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Databases have come a long way since the time when knowing one programming language was plenty and a DBA was responsible for just a couple of internal warehouses.
Now almost anyone with a computer has access to a database. But accessibility has actually boosted the importance of the DB admin. Bhudevi Reddy, a senior Oracle DBA at PricewaterhouseCoopers, notes that while new databases may seem to be self-tuning and end-user accessible, the accessibility is really thanks to the hard work of DBAs who implement the new features. "You have to know a lot to be a DBA," says Reddy. "This isn't something just anyone can do."
Shanker Panchavati is a lead DBA with Pitney Bowes
In 1979 Shanker Panchavati graduated from Osmania University in India with a BS in math and an MS in applied statistics. Then he went job hunting. "Back then there weren't all that many jobs in the computer field," he says.
He landed at a government agency as a programmer working with shipping cost optimization. In 1985 he joined a global telecom consulting company in India, responsible for apps development and consulting. He was a project manager working with clients around the world.
In 1988 Panchavati moved to BellSouth International. His work in telecom product development also involved worldwide travel; later, at PTT Telecom in the Netherlands, he was a project lead and database consultant. He came to the U.S. in 1996, first working as a senior DBA for a chemical company in Connecticut.
He joined mailstream company Pitney Bowes in 2003 as a lead DBA. "I support mission-critical Oracle databases for a variety of business applications," he says. For example, he's responsible for "click stamp online" which interfaces with eBay databases to print electronic postage for shipping. "If you sell something online through the auction you can use a Pitney Bowes solution to print the postage," he explains. He's also working on mailstream web visibility, a project which will offer larger customers an in-depth analysis of their account information online.
Over the last twenty-five years Panchavati has seen database management change in productivity, automation and security. "In the old days it often took two people to run a single database," he says. "Now a lot of things are automated and self-correcting, and one person manages twenty-plus large databases."
He feels that security must become an even more important priority because of cyber crimes and new regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002. "We are the guardians of data and we have to protect it. We have to keep it structured but safe," he says.
Panchavati has also seen changes in how people use databases. In the past only trained computer professionals used them, but now "Everyone is using them in one way or another. Most of the popular Internet sites have large databases behind them."
Easier access to database information has allowed companies to become more global in scope, and the global language of computers has led to a diverse workforce within Panchavati's department at Pitney Bowes. "In my group of twelve people we speak six different languages. There's a lot of diversity overall in IT," he says.
Cathy Soloway: senior data management at Perot Systems
After company changes and various buyouts, Cathy Soloway decided to leave the banking industry. In 1998 she joined Perot Systems Corp (Plano, TX), a business solutions company, where she's now a senior data management specialist. Her husband works for Perot as a desktop engineer.
Soloway began her working life with a 1974 BS in business education from Arkansas Tech University, and completed a masters in vocational education at the University of Arkansas in 1988. She started as a high school teacher of everything from basic typing to computer programming.
After fifteen years she took her education experience to Signet Bank as a corporate trainer. "I started with PC training and transitioned into systems," she says. Then she learned Oracle and moved into database work. "I tried SQL Server and got hooked," she recalls with a laugh. "From then on I've done almost exclusively SQL Server work."
Before she transferred to Perot Systems she worked on an eighteen-month project, moving forty-five division databases from Oracle to SQL Server. "I made it work in a cost-efficient manner, and it's still working today," she says. "It saved the company quite a bit of money."
Her job with Perot Systems has been good. "It's offered a lot of challenges and a lot of freedom to do creative things."
One of them was creating a database best practice guide for SQL Server support at Perot Systems. She's followed it up with a monthly newsletter.
Currently Soloway is working with a customer who has almost 500 database servers. "We're responsible for backup, any changes going on with the server, and making sure it's performance ready. I often troubleshoot with the customer, going through parts and pieces on the server and figuring a solution to make it perform."
One thing you should never do with databases is try to cut corners, Soloway advises. "If people would step back and properly architect the system, they would get much better and longer performance from their hardware."
Reena Gupta is a DB2 Unix DBA at State Farm Insurance
Reena Gupta was born in Calcutta, India, grew up in Kuwait, and returned to India to get her 1986 bachelor of commerce degree from Delhi University (New Delhi, India). She went to grad school at Bradley University (Peoria, IL) and completed an MSCS in 1990.
Then she joined State Farm Insurance (Bloomington, IL). "I started as a programmer, writing programs and queries for databases," she says. Soon her manager recommended her for a more technical position. She learned database programs like SQL server and Unix, and now she's a DB2 Unix DBA.
Programming languages and computer technology seem to come naturally to Gupta. "State Farm has a lot of complicated applications and data designs, and I kind of built my own expertise," she explains.
At any given time Gupta may be working on eight or ten different initiatives. "We have limited resources, so we do both development and maintenance," she says. She helps develop new projects and create new databases, and she's also responsible for maintenance and troubleshooting.
Right now she's building a WebSphere environment within the database, working on mutual funds maintenance and installing a new directory. She also takes a hand in upgrading: "We're currently testing all the existing applications," she says.
She loves her work. "There are a lot of challenges and never a boring moment."
Ed Rust, Jr, State Farm chair and CEO, notes that the company "values all people and their different perspectives, skills, experiences and opinions.
"Diversity isn't a program, it's a state of mind," he says. "Our large and diverse group of associates strengthens the organization. It helps ensure our future."
Amber Arthur is a data modeler with Walgreens' data warehouse.
Amber Arthur has been with Walgreens (Deerfield, IL) for two years. "I wanted a data modeling position in healthcare because it's a dynamic, ever-changing field and requires a more complex dimension of modeling."
Arthur works in Walgreens' pharmacy benefit data warehouse. Currently she's doing a specific ramping that will lead to a major rebuild of the database. "We're working on data quality issues and establishing standards for the warehouse to work more efficiently," she explains.
Arthur has a 2000 BS in applied math with a French minor from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. In college she did internships and volunteer work in her subject. She even assisted a BDPA high school computer team. "I liked that technical side, but I also wanted to work in a business environment," she notes.
In her five years in database she's already seen how quickly technology changes, along with the needs of the end users. "Business requirements change all the time, sometimes because of federal mandate," she says. "We're always analyzing existing data or a specific field."
Based on her experience, Arthur sees business management needs becoming even more complex in the future. "We're always looking to improve our methodologies and develop new ways to design data warehouses," she concludes.
Bhudevi Reddy is a senior Oracle DBA at PWC
Bhudevi Reddy's first job in the U.S. was with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC, Tampa, FL). After two years as a contractor PWC hired her directly in 2001.
Reddy got her BSEE from the University of Madras, India in 1991 and took a job in marketing. Her next job was as a management trainee in a computer company. "I wasn't sure this was what I wanted to do, but when I started work it began to interest me. Database management is exciting because you aren't doing the same things all the time. You learn something new every day."
She held a variety of positions in India and Europe before coming to the U.S. in the 1990s. Now she's a senior Oracle DBA at PWC. There are seventeen DBAs at the company, divided into three teams. Reddy's team handles financial apps.
"We monitor and build the databases on a daily basis," she says. "We work in the background, responsible for backups, maintenance, new projects when they kick off, and capacity planning."
Most of her time is devoted to project planning, which may require four or five meetings a day. "A lot of the actual work is done from home, at night and on weekends, since when we're working on the system no one else is able to access it."
There are always projects in process, she says. "Some are in the planning stage, ongoing work is being done on others." When a project reaches a critical stage everything else takes a lower priority. "Of course almost every project is critical," she explains. "You can't have downtime."
There will always be a need for DBAs, Reddy thinks. "I'm in Oracle, and whenever they come up with a new update it's meant to be self-tuning. But you have to have the ability and knowledge to use the new features. You have to know a lot to be a DBA."
Vijay Patil is a DBA for BNSF Railway
Vijay Patil got interested in databases while working in a manufacturing job. He has a 1986 BS in engineering from Karnataka University and a 1989 MS in engineering from IIT Kharagapur, both in India. But as engineers, he and many of his colleagues found their work involved databases that interfaced with scientific languages like Fortran, Pascal and C++.
Eventually he moved out of engineering into IT. In 1996 he came to the U.S. for better job opportunities, and recently became a citizen. He worked as an IBM consultant for Visa, Lehman Brothers, Payne Webber and Exelon Energy, and joined BNSF Railway (Fort Worth, TX) in 2002, first as a contractor and then as an employee.
As a DBA, Patil is responsible for organizing company data to support its customers. "On any given day there are 40,000 people using our large technology infrastructure," he says. BNSF databases track all the company's locomotives and freight cars. "It's critical that the information keeps flowing," he says. "There's no downtime for databases."
As the Internet grew, so did the need for 24/7 data availability and database management, Patil believes. "Knowing one database is no longer sufficient. It's very important to keep up to date with technology, and to keep abreast of legacy systems that still need to be supported."
Besides his busy schedule as a DBA, Patil gets involved with BNSF diversity programs. He's especially active with the railroad's Asian American network, which has taken on extra importance as BNSF looks into markets like India and China.
Patti Cook is a program manager with the Coast Guard
While Patti Cook was a student at Arkansas State University she began to experience problems with her vision. "I put it down to being tired from studying," she says, but it was actually night blindness: retinitis pigmentosa.
"Toward the end of my time in college I was seeing a lot worse than I used to," she recalls. She finally had to stop driving, and to re-evaluate her career choices.
She decided to take the civil service exam. This was the early 1980s and the IRS was just beginning to computerize. "They were looking for people who weren't afraid of computers," Cook says. "I loved computers, so it seemed like a good opportunity."
She found that she really liked programming and also enjoyed working on training manuals. She spent more than twenty years with the IRS, focusing on its HR division, then went on to work on a Homeland Security project that involved both the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
"That happened right around the time of Hurricane Katrina," she says. "My role at TSA was to be the efficiency expert, making sure we were as cost efficient as possible."
When a vacancy came up at the Coast Guard (Washington, DC), she jumped at the chance. She began there last fall with the title of "HR specialist IT," which involves serving as a program manager on the front end of the HR system.
"I really like being involved in the operational side," she says. "I like being able to see the whole picture. You can complete things on a departmental level."
Her partial blindness has actually had certain benefits in her work, Cook reflects. For example, her lack of peripheral vision means that when she's concentrating on the screen she's not distracted by anything else, she says with a smile.
The future, she believes, will bring database systems that are even faster and possibly more Web-based, and have a greater focus on security.
Kevin Mattingly: VP and DBA manager for Wachovia
"When you are blind, you have to have a good memory," says Kevin Mattingly, VP and shared services database admin manager at Wachovia (Charlotte, NC).
Mattingly uses assistive technology in the form of speech software to read programming language. But while sighted workers can see the entire screen at a glance, Mattingly can only read one line at a time. That's where memory comes in; he remembers the lines he's already seen. "Logic is important, too," he says. "You've got to be able to navigate the screens and the files."
Mattingly also finds a Braille printer useful. "If you're working on a specific code you can print it out and read the code that way. But speech software has been my major tool. Once they got the manuals in text format so I could search them, life got easy!"
Mattingly originally wanted to be a musician. "But what if it didn't work for me? I decided the best thing was to learn something else as a backup."
So he spent 1981 taking a year-long computer apps course through Crossroads Rehabilitation Center (Indianapolis, IN). Then he found a programming job with Columbia House (Terra Haute, IN), meanwhile taking time to record some music and play a few gigs around the Midwest.
"Music is a great field but you can struggle putting groceries on the table," he says. His musical involvement did teach him to be more independent and, at the same time, interact with people better. These strengths have served him well.
Working with computers turned out to be a fine alternative career. The largest problem he finds with being blind is the limit it puts on his ability to get around. "It would be hard for me to be a consultant, for example, because you're moving all the time. On this job I've worked in the same building for eleven years, and I know my way around very well."
Before joining Wachovia, which was First Union at the time, Mattingly worked for Kimball International (Jasper, IN), where his bosses discovered his aptitude for picking up new apps. He'd been advised to learn new technology whenever he got the chance, and he jumped at the idea. He proceeded to learn Unix and Oracle, and Wachovia gave him the chance to expand his new skills.
At Wachovia today, Mattingly is responsible for development and maintenance of shared services, database services and architecture. He manages teams of DBAs who support HR, finance, core banking systems, customer information and image processing, among other business sections.
As a manager, he's not as hands-on as he used to be. "If I start digging into the technical pieces I can't manage as well," he says. "I have to stick to my own job and let my people do their best work."
OPPORTUNITIES IN DATABASE
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
|Automatic Data Processing, Inc
|Business outsourcing solutions
|BNSF Railway Co
(Fort Worth, TX)
|Deloitte Services LP
(New York, NY)
|Audit, tax, financial advisory, consulting services
(New York, NY)
(New York, NY)
(Redwood Shores, CA)
(Albuquerque, NM; Livermore, CA)
|Sandia National Laboratories
|Banking, brokerage, insurance, investment, mortgage, trust and payment services and products
|U.S. Coast Guard
|Wright Express Corp
(South Portland, ME)
|Payment processing and information management services for the vehicle fleet industry
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