DevOps Institute

[EP109] From a DBA Jerk to a Collaborator!


Join Eveline Oehrlich and Grant Fritchey, Product Advocate at Redgate Software, to discuss product advocacy, collaboration, and leadership.

Grant has worked for more than 30 years in IT as a developer and a DBA. He has built systems from major enterprises to distributed systems to small boutique companies. Grant writes articles on various data-related topics for SQL Server Central and SimpleTalk. He is the author of multiple books including, SQL Server Execution Plans and SQL Server Query Performance Tuning.  He develops and presents complete structured learning plans to teach Azure, AWS, and other data-related topics to developers and other IS personnel. Grant is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP and an AWS Community Builder.

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Narrator 00:02
You’re listening to the humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the skil framework.

Grant Fritchey 00:17
We still focus first on tech. And it’s, it’s really hard to get into the idea of like, okay, yeah, that’s important, right? It’s very important. But if you really want to do this stuff, you’ve got to have communication skills to

Eveline Oehrlich 00:33
welcome to humans of DevOps podcast, I’m evolutionarily Chief Research Officer at DevOps Institute. Today’s episode is titled, from a DBA jerk to a collaborator. We know, well stay with us, I think you’re gonna enjoy that. Because today we have a very special guest, Grant Fritchie is with us. And let me tell you about Grant. Before we give him the open mic to tell us a little bit more about himself. So grant is a product advocate advocate software, he has worked for more than 30 years in it as a developer and a DBA. He has built systems from the major enterprises to distributed systems to small boutique companies. So you can see he has lots of experience, he writes articles on various data related topics for SQL Server Central, and simple talk. He is the author of multiple books, including SQL Server execution plans, and SQL Server Query performance tuning. He develops and presents complete structured learning plans to teach assure AWS and other data related topics to developers and other it or is personnel use a Microsoft data platform MVP, and the AWS AWS community builder. Welcome grant to our podcast today.

Grant Fritchey 01:59
Oh, thanks a lot for having me. I love this podcast.

Eveline Oehrlich 02:03
I am glad you are here. You know, I have been a DBA. Myself. And that really, when I read your, your introduction, when we found you that really caught really caught my eyes, because when I was a DBA, right out of graduate school, at a very large tech company, I felt very much the same. So let me quickly share what Grant had said about himself. He said, I proudly wear a nickname, The scary DBA. I got that in part because people just find me generally intimidating. And in brackets, not sure why. But also, in part because I was a jerk. I was one of those DBAs that developers rightly complain about. So that’s the first part of what caught my eyes. And then he said, and he of course, he’s here now, but I’m quoting now, I’m all about teams collaboration, and focusing on that fact that everyone within the organization really does have common goals. So quite a turnaround, right? So give us a little bit more insight on those two statements grant.

Grant Fritchey 03:20
thing? Well, me I’m I am a slow learner, I freely admit it. But back in the day, when they you know, there’s a joke, everyone cracks, you know, what’s a DBAs? Favorite word? No. You know, I really kind of live that life. I really did. And it hurt me. I mean, it actually made it more difficult for me to to do things well within the organization I was working for. And I learned while I was there, that, you know, you get better results if you work with the people that you need to work with. And the fact is, is that we actually do all need to work together. And it you know, it was a hard lesson, but it’s one I picked up on and ran with, to the point now where I just I focus first on collaboration, I would much rather I would much rather talk to people and and figure out things that are going to make us both happy and you know, make it possible for us all to achieve the goals that we need to achieve rather than, you know, I’m right, you’re wrong kind of approaches. And it’s, you know, it’s turned things around for me in a big, big way. I mean, I’ve been much more successful since I adopted that.

Eveline Oehrlich 04:36
So as a product advocate, that is of course very different from a DBA being a DBA in an IT organization. Tell us a little bit about what does a product advocate? Do? What does I used to be a an evangelist, it sounds a little bit like that. But tell us a little bit about what does the product advocate actually do?

Grant Fritchey 05:00
You kind of nailed it. My initial title was evangelist, ah, absolutely, they just slightly changed it. It’s the idea is the same Redgate software in this instance, makes database development tools and database management tools, and cross platform, a whole bunch of stuff. But the key here is that as an advocate, I don’t want to simply teach you Red Gate tools, what I want to teach you is why you may want to go to Red Gate for your tools, because it’s more important you understand what it is that we’re doing, how we do things, the way the underlying database systems work, and the way you know the interactions occur and the automation methodologies that you have available. All of that stuff is more important than simply showing you how to use Redgate tools. And so my goal is, and my remit from the company is to do a lot of teaching on general topics, you know, DevOps as a concept, you know, database performance tuning as a concept, you know, stuff like this, as opposed to straight up, you know, here’s how you use our tools. Funny enough, after I teach that, then I go, Oh, by the way, our tools make all of that easier. And so here’s ways that can improve. You know, what you do through the use of our tools, but we focus first on education.

Eveline Oehrlich 06:26
Love that. I do like the advocate title better than evangelist. I, let’s like go in there. Because we’ll have that conversation over a cup of coffee or an adult beverage when you come visit me. All right, so great. So we all think we know what collaboration is. And, you know, if I go out here, and I asked some of our folks, hey, what do you think about collaboration? They say, Oh, yeah, it’s very important. But what does effective collaboration actually look like? What would you say?

Grant Fritchey 07:01
Well, honestly, that’s hard. Collaboration is not difficult. It’s easy to say, you know, oh, well, we’re all going to work together, we’ll, you know, we’ll sing Kumbaya, we’ll have a coffee, you know, and off we go. But in reality, what’s going to happen is that, you know, speaking strictly from a DBA standpoint, for a second, the development team is going to walk up and say, Hey, we need sa privileges? Well, your, your answer is going to be no. Right? But But what your answer needs to be to be collaborative is to say, Well, why do you think you need these? And what is it that you’re trying to do? And let me figure out how I can help you deliver whatever it is that you need to do, rather than simply say, No, it’s all about achieving understanding with the people that you’re working with. That’s why it’s hard because it, it’s frequently very difficult to go for understanding, especially when someone walks up and asks for something that you simply can’t give them. Maybe, even if you wanted to. So like essay privileges on production. So it, you know, I mean, it does get hard to figure that out. But but it really is all about communication and understanding. That’s the driving to collaboration. And until you’re working first, on your communication, understanding skills, you’re going to have a harder time with your collaboration skills.

Eveline Oehrlich 08:32
Now the challenge is, and I remember that, when, of course, I was, you know, I started out in support on the HP 3000. Now that gives away which company I worked for, I guess. And then of course, I became an ingress an Oracle DBA. We never had, we never really had time to collaborate, it felt like I was always in a rush. I had to go do whatever I needed to do to whatever. We did data warehouses at the time. So strip the data, blah, blah, blah, right? It feels like the time the challenge of being very reactive makes it very difficult to collaborate. Would you agree with that?

Grant Fritchey 09:16
Oh, yeah, 100%. I mean, the more reactive your situation is, the less you’re going to be able to collaborate because collaborations, communication, and communication takes time. And that’s gonna slow things down a bit. But that’s also why you want to be looking, I mean, we’re sitting here talking on the humans of DevOps podcast. That’s why you want to be looking at stuff like automation as a mechanism to free up some of your time to find methodologies that are going to make it so that you can focus on the more important aspects and not simply be reacting to non stop little bushfires everywhere.

Eveline Oehrlich 09:55
Yeah, I agree. So we do a Every year, we do a fairly large project around skill building, we call it upskilling. It, we just actually just finished the report, it’s in draft, and it’s with a beautifier, meaning a marketing person who knows how to make it pretty. But in that research, it’s based on survey data. And there we found that collaboration and cooperation is ranked as the biggest skill gap across a tea. That’s the first piece of data and all while at the same time our survey respondents voted that collaboration and cooperation is the third must the third must have skill behind diversity and inclusion and problem solving. So of course, problem solving. Yes, that is a something we do. I think people go into it because we love to solve problems. But again, one end, it’s the biggest skill gap. On the other end, it is the number three must have. Why is it so difficult? What stands in its way? We talked a little bit about toil or right waist at the time, the challenge? What other things stand in its way to be such a difficult or such a big skill gap today?

Grant Fritchey 11:24
Well, I think it’s, I think it’s down to the way we approach it. A lot of the stuff we do is we focus first on technology. And we ignore the fact that it’s got to be humans first, right it, you know, how to Donovan Brown put it it’s people, people process products in that order. Right. So people first, then your process, and then your products. And I think that we tend to reverse that, you know, we’re nerds, right? I mean, I and what do I care about, I care about really cool tech, and really cool solutions, and really cool mechanisms, new code, and all this fun stuff. And we forget about the fact that it is all about humans, and it’s people that we need to communicate with. And what we don’t do is work on those skills, those those soft skills that allow us to collaborate to allow us to communicate. And I think that that’s why it’s such a huge gap. And I also think that’s why it’s the third most important thing. But funny enough, we put it behind what, you know, not diversity, that’s great, but we put it behind problem solving. What’s what’s problem solving? Well, that’s all about doing the tech. So you know, we still focus first on tech. And it’s, it’s really hard to get into the idea of like, okay, yeah, that’s important, right? It’s very important. But if you really want to do this stuff, you’ve got to have communication skills to

Narrator 12:57
do you want to advance your career and organization, we can help you do that. DevOps Institute offers a wide range of educational experiences for you to begin your upskilling journey. Whether you’re looking for a defined path to certification, exploring the latest in DevOps, or connecting with the large community, we can help you develop the specialized skills needed for the future of it. And it won’t just be good for your career. It will also make you indispensable at work with our lineup of industry recognized DevOps certifications, digital learning opportunities, and engaging events, you can connect with our network of experts and expand your potential today, visit DevOps and join our community now.

Eveline Oehrlich 13:42
You know that? That is, of course, music to my ears, because when I introduce myself to my family, friends, in what I do, they roll their eyes and they go, Oh, you code. Like, I mean, it. That means I code No, I don’t code. I can code. But I talk, I collaborate. I research, I do human things. I have a lot of EQ, I have a lot of passion. I have a lot of conversations. And sometimes they’re just like, startled, they don’t understand because they think that when you are in it, you are a nerd and you code. Yes, we do that some of us do that. Most of us have done it and right. That’s part of it. But I think that is a big misconception we have and therefore we stay in that little in that little cubicle because there was an additional detail when we looked at the training or the upskilling. What organizations and team members set in the survey response what they were focusing on is technical skills. Right? So might it goes exactly to your point so can you This is something you know, personal postal question for me to you. Do you think people can learn how to collaborate even if they’re not good collaborators? Or you are one of them? You? You said you, you said you were a jerk, obviously, because you were thinking you were a joke, but probably you weren’t. You just had a job. But you learned how to collaborate. So it’s possible to collaborate, right? To learn. It’s possible.

Grant Fritchey 15:23
Yeah, I think it really is possible. And I talked about my scary DBA nickname, because I kept that one. I don’t talk about my other nickname, which was a play on my name. You know, my name is Grant, and the other nickname was rant. Meaning I would go off and scream and yell, because people did stupid stuff. It really is possible to learn, but you do have to focus on it. You have to it’s one of those almost like, acknowledging that you’re an alcoholic. Right? It’s the beginning to solving that problem. Well, acknowledging that, you know, yeah, I was a jerk, right? I really was. That was the beginning of the solution. And, you know, it’s just understanding that you just can’t be, you can’t be mean to people you kind of have to be, you kind of have to be kind to really make things work. Well.

Eveline Oehrlich 16:18
That gets me into the next question. So what have you found works best to foster that as yourself as a, as an individual contributor? You said, be kind, what other things Tips Tricks, do you find helpful? To, to know or to test yourself? Am I a good collaborator? Anything? You you can remember? You did?

Grant Fritchey 16:42
Yeah. Oh, yeah. I love this one? That’s a great question. The one thing I learned, learned us again, a long time ago, is a really hard conversation and a difficult conversation in that moment where like, you need to influence somebody, you know, and you’re trying to collaborate, use their language, to figure out the way that they talk, figure out the way that they communicate, are they? Are they more of a tell person or more of an Ask person? Well, if they’re an Ask person, and you’re a tell person, change the way you communicate to theirs, you know, ask them questions, could move them towards where you need to move them, and use their language. So if, if you’re a DBA, go and learn some development language, understand how source control works, understand some of the details behind compiling code, and you don’t even get get the language that they use. If you’re a developer, same thing go the other way. Why are DBA so obsessed with backup? I mean, get, get a little bit of an understanding of their language and use that language when you communicate with them. That’s a that’s a huge step forward in terms of getting collaboration going. Because if you’re if you’re using a more common language, it’s much easier than to see the other side and find those places where, oh, hey, I can help you. Not I’m simply standing in your way or stopping you or trying to find a way around you, I can help you. And it makes it much easier to have that communication and that conversation.

Eveline Oehrlich 18:18
What about a leader? Because we all know, but we all know leader. So yeah, let’s leave it at that. But what can a leader do when he or she sees their challenges within their team? Or between two individuals or whatever? What What are your thoughts there?

Grant Fritchey 18:38
Okay, so let’s let’s break leadership and management and path. Yes. And then and let me try to answer that question. Because I am a wretchedly horrible manager, I tried moving into that area, and I’m really, really bad at it. So I’m not going to try to advise anybody on how you manage collaboration. But as a leader, you know, whether a team leader, a technical leader, you know, a thought leader, I mean, there’s a lot of leadership you know, there’s there’s that whole business possibility versus personal responsibility, personal responsibility, a leader, someone who’s looked up to thought upon as you know, oh, yeah, that’s the person who runs stuff in our organization. That’s the first go to person. Leaders have to set the example. They can’t be cracking jokes about you know, stupid developers or anything like that. You You’ve got to be setting the the kind of communication you expect people to do. Second thing you have to do is bought those moments where there’s conflict, and where and when you can rope the people together and get them to, you know, who communicate with you. Hey, what’s the deal? What Why are we having conflict here? Why aren’t we cooperating and figure that bit out? Um, I’ve done it multiple times from a technical standpoint, you know, when people are no, no, no, we need to go left. No, no, no, we need to go right. And you sit them down and go, Okay, well, hang on, we can’t do both. So what is the right path and work it through them on that it’s, it really is still back to communication. But as a leader, your goal is you’ve got to set you’ve got to set the, you know, the tone that everyone else is going to follow.

Eveline Oehrlich 20:27
I’ve heard this phrase, casting the shadow. I think it was during my time at forest or where we did a great workshop of casting shadows, in terms of of leaders. All right. Excellent. Love that. One more question. So this is, of course, touching on our favorite or so favorite topic on the pandemic, right. So we won’t be tucked away in our home offices forever. And we were using and getting back to offices slowly. Some are not. Some are. Yeah. But my question is, what would you say has changed in terms of collaboration since the pandemic?

Grant Fritchey 21:11
That’s also a great question. So I’ve been working remotely, my, the company’s headquarters are in Cambridge, England, and I live in Oklahoma. And so I’ve been working remotely for 12 years. And when the pandemic hit, to my whole thing was well, hey, you know, Don MacLean, welcome to the party pal. You know, it’s great to have you now in my boat, where now you’re, you no longer have those hallway conversations, you no longer have that fast, fast, effective face to face communication. I think the big thing coming out of the pandemic, now that we’re coming away from it, I think the big thing is, is that a lot of people have a better understanding of the difficulty of remote communication and remote work. And as we move into this more hybrid environment, we all tend to think of, oh, you know, Peggy’s going to be sitting at home, how do we bring her into this conversation better? And because they’ve all experienced it now, whereas before, you know, I’m going like, hey, please, no one’s listening to me. No one’s listening to me. Now, they all feel that way meant no one listened to me when I was remote. And so I think that I think that’s roping a lot of people into a better path.

Eveline Oehrlich 22:35
That is a great one. Yeah, that makes me think of I have to find that tonight. That was a great video, I have to look at it YouTube, it is a funny one where a variety of folks are in a meeting. But they’re not in a meeting in the space. They’re like calling in from different places. It’s a it’s a, it’s a comedy, 10 minutes, laughing about making jokes about that past of where you felt like you. I’ve been home office since I would say 20 years. And every time I’m in a meeting, I wanted to say something. Nobody listened. And this is exactly what I feel now is like I’m part of it. So that is that is one great outcome, if I can say that that’s an oxymoron. But one great outcome of the pandemic, right. Excellent. Well, Grant, this has been fantastic. I have one more closing question has nothing to do. Well, maybe it does. What do you do for fun?

Grant Fritchey 23:33
Oh, I love radios. I am a amateur radio operator. And I love playing with radio tech. And I do all kinds of crazy stuff with it. From analog work, to digital work, stuff inside the house stuff outside the house. I’m not even going to try to bore anyone with all the details. But I love my radios and I play with them a lot. How

Eveline Oehrlich 23:56
my colleague at Forrester, my former colleague at Forrester was or is still in that he actually put a tower next to his house. Do you have a tower?

Grant Fritchey 24:05
No, not yet. Right now. Got a couple of small antennas outside. But I’ve been looking at bigger one. For my wife.

Eveline Oehrlich 24:16
There we go. I was just going to say the spousal unit will need to approve I can understand that. Well, this has been a great conversation. Grant, thank you so much for joining me today on humans of DevOps podcast.

Grant Fritchey 24:28
No, thank you. I really appreciate it. Like I said, this is a great podcast. I listened to it.

Eveline Oehrlich 24:35
Great. Thank you. Humans of DevOps podcast is produced by DevOps Institute. Our audio production team includes Julia Pape Daniel Newman, Schultz and Brendan Leahy. Shout out to my teammates. I’m humans of the Rob’s podcast executive producer Evelyn earlyish. If you would like to join us on a podcast please contact us at humans of DevOps podcast at DevOps Please No, I did not misspeak, any of that. I’m Evelyn earlyish. Talk to you soon.

Narrator 25:08
Thanks for listening to this episode of the humans of DevOps podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong

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