Becoming a Production DBA – A Family Decision

I really enjoy my job. I became a full-time production DBA about 14 months ago and it has been an overwhelmingly positive move. I work for a good company and with a terrific group of people. Many days, I have to force myself to leave the office because I was so engrossed in a task and just didn’t want to set it aside.

But there’s something that not everyone might consider before taking on this job. If you have a partner, children, or both, taking a job as a production DBA is really a family decision.

Being on-call is potentially disruptive to your family schedule. And sleep schedules! My on-call rotation is two weeks on, two weeks off. In those two weeks, I have:

  • The usual alerts that can come in anytime day or night, the emergency fixes when someone deletes something that shouldn’t be deleted, etc.
  • A software release which requires that I get up at 3:45 AM once per rotation
  • Monthly server patching at 2 AM, if it happens during my rotation

Many years ago, I had a job where I carried on-call responsibilities and it was rough. Lots of nights and weekends. Then I got a decade-long break. Before I took my current job, I discussed the on-call requirements with my spouse a bit before accepting. I didn’t want to subject her to that again without making sure that she was OK with it. She is a very light sleeper, so any chirp from the phone is likely to wake her up (by contrast, I once put my phone three inches from my head and slept through multiple personal email alerts).

This job has the potential to impact the whole family, in both small ways and large. Chris Sommer (b|t) said one day in the SQL Community Slack that being a production DBA is kind of a blue-collar job. Shift work, etc. He makes a good point. I’ve adapted to the schedule and it’s not bad…for me.

But I’m not alone in the house and yes, everyone has had to adjust. Sleep has been lost. If an alert comes in overnight, my spouse wakes up too. We’ve scheduled family activities around the on-call schedule. Carried the work laptop all over creation “just in case.” Left the beach to handle urgent tickets. Skipped weekend morning outings. Stayed up late, got up early, missed dinner, or paused a movie to baby-sit a critical job or troubleshoot system issues.

It’s worth it though. After taking on the new role, my job security increased. My career security has increased. My work is more challenging, more interesting, and I have more autonomy than ever before. I look forward to going to work every day. I’m getting more involved in the SQL Server community. On average I’m getting home earlier than I used to, so I’m spending more time with the kids on weekdays. It hurts waking up at 3:45 AM once a month but I’m there to greet them when they get home from school.

Life is full of tradeoffs and compromises, and taking a job with on-call responsibilities involves a lot of those tradeoffs. Overall, it’s been a net win for me. Would I prefer to not have to deal with overnights and weekends? Who wouldn’t? But the positive changes that this job has meant for my career, my family, and myself make it worthwhile.

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