So I work as a database administrator, which is often something that confounds people who aren’t in IT… if I try to explain to them what I do, their eyes glaze over like a Krispy Kreme donut, and I realize I have to back up and introduce things in a little simpler way, so I usually start off with the sentence:
“I piss off electrons all over the world.”
And that gets them laughing, then I can tell them what I really do.
And the thing is, I work for a consulting firm, but I rarely, if ever, see the front end of the applications we run, or work on or build. I see domains, and servers, and databases.
My life at work consists of solving problems, pissing off electrons, and trying not to do the same to people.
For the most part, this is a good set of priorities to have.
As a DBA, you do your best to keep from making mistakes, right? You want your users happy, you want your electrons just slightly irritated, and you want your data to be as perfect as it can be.
It’s hard to see what all this looks like on the front end until you actually see it, and then it’s like being a doctor and seeing symptoms, and intuitively understanding what those symptoms mean.
And, surprise surprise, I have a story about that.
So some years back I had to go to the doc to go over some test results.
When I checked in, they asked all sorts of other questions, like, “Have you ever gone under another name? Have you ever lived at this address? And on and on and on…
I’d been at this place before, they already had this information in their system. There was no reason for them to be asking me these questions.
So I turned the tables, and asked them why they were asking me all these questions.
It turns out someone was in their system with my birthdate and my SSAN…
So the good thing about this?
They noticed it.
The bad thing?
Well, – let me just take you through it – and see if you can figure it out…
The receptionist made a telephone call to fix the problem.
I was ushered back to see the doc, the nurse asked what medicines I was on. This was unusual since it was in their system, but she took all my records and entered them into the system. Sometime later, the doc came in and wanted to compare my records, current to past, and so on, but there was nothing of my medical records after 2007, meaning there were several years of records missing.
What do you think happened at this point? Take a guess, then keep reading.
I put two and two together, and because of the strange series of questions I’d been asked initially, I’d paid attention, and had made a note of the security guy’s name and number, and asked the doc if he wanted me to call, because, “It’s what I do”.
He, still trying to figure out what was going on with the keyboard, said,“Sure.”
I picked up my cell phone, called the number I’d written down and asked to talk to the guy whose name I’d written down below that.
His response: “Oh, I was trying to fix that and must have pushed the wrong button by mistake.”
I just let the silence hang in the air for a little bit while he realized what he’d said and who he’d said it to…
…and then I took off my patient hat, and sitting there in the doctor’s office, put on my DBA hat, cracked my knuckles a bit, and told him to let me talk to the person who was fixing the problem because by golly it was GOING to get fixed, and get fixed right then.
I was connected to the person who was fixing the issue, and explained that I was (ahem) SITTING IN THE DOCTORS OFFICE WHEN MY RECORDS DISAPPEARED, and would she kindly make them bloody well reappear.
She said she could merge the records, said it would take till the end of the day.
Have you ever had to project an air of calmness when it was the last thing you wanted to do?
Yeah… that’s where I was.
I tried to explain to her that I was still (ahem) SITTING IN THE DOCTORS OFFICE, WITH THE DOCTOR, WAITING TO GO OVER RESULTS, and would appreciate it if she could fix that long before the end of the day, like before I left the office, since I was there in the doctor’s office, and we were about to make some pretty significant decisions based on those results.
She said she’d work on it, and I gave her my cell number and told her to call me when she was done.
In a triumph of the anti-nerds, the doc got out a huge pad of paper and a marker and drew on it to show us what he remembered of the information he’d seen before it was deleted, and was most of the way through that when my phone buzzed.
It was the gal from IT who had worked on un-futzing the records.
She said it was fixed. She’d merged the records (her words).
The doc logged into the system again, and all my records were there.
Both he and my wife were impressed.
So we got those things taken care of, I went in later and found that in the results of the merge, my meds showed up twice, (once from the original, once from when the nurse recorded them after they were deleted).
So we (well, they) had to fix that.
I had a little chat with the IT folks at the hospital after that to get them to understand that there were folks out here who knew what was going on in there and what it meant.
And it needed to be fixed.
Because, I realized, as much as I tell people I just piss off electrons, those electrons mean something to someone.
And they have to be accurate.
And it got me thinking…
See, while I was pretty annoyed that the problem existed (it’s not that the whole situation wasn’t already stressful enough), it was an amazing learning experience, to step out of the role of being the patient and tell the doctor who was about to try to fix me, that he needed to let me do my work, in his office, so I could fix his problems, so he could see what he needed to see in order to fix mine.
Yeah, I had to look at that paragraph a time or two myself.
I wondered how long it would have taken if that had happened to someone else right then, because seriously, who else would have been in a position to know what had happened and what it meant?
I’m still a little baffled by it all, and I think that’s okay.
I started looking around at the projects the company I work for does (I work for Avanade, a consulting company), and it always astonishes me what all kinds of things we’re involved in – the stuff I rarely see, but affects people’s lives in ways that are big and small, from the drinks you might get on a flight across the country to buying a motorcycle to, even figuring stuff out at the doctor’s office.
And it makes me realize that I don’t want to piss off the electrons at all.
I want to keep them very, very happy.