How to Become an IT Executive (Especially if You're a DBA)

Posted by Ben Weiss on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 @ 09:06 AM

By: Ben Weiss

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Even the most successful technical professionals might have some advice for their earlier selves when reflecting on their life experience.

Take for example Kevin Kline, Director of Engineering Services at SQLSentry, veteran Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and former president of PASS.

Sure he’s a published author, prolific blogger and coveted speaker, but getting to where he is now required an evolution in the way he percieved IT.

In fact, when I recently asked him how he would advise his earlier self if the opportunity to do a 'transaction rollback' arose, he had a quick and precise answer: get closer to business processes and understand that IT isn’t just IT but a platform for solving organizational problems.

With that mindset, Kline makes the bold assertion that IT professionals - especially those in the database world - become the best suited leaders of an organization.

But don’t take my word for it. Read on for Kline’s full explanation regarding how he’d advise an earlier version of himself:


“I tailor this message a little more for those with database jobs compared to developers or network/exchange admins.

I’ll give you a short answer and a longer answer. The short answer is learn as much as you can about the organization you’re working for.

If you’re working for a cardiology association, try to learn as much about cardiology as you can and about the discipline of being a physician and diversifying your knowledge. That’s the short answer.

[Check out our guide 'How to Avoid a Database Heart Attack: Three Lessons in Technical Excellence from Observing Open Heart Surgery.']

Here’s the longer answer which provides more context.

There is no person in the IT organization better suited to become the executive … the leader … the CIO, than the data people … the database managers, the database administrators and database architects because they work the closest with the information an organization lives and breathes for.

kline quoteIf you talk to a network admin, they don’t care that it’s a cardiology association. It’s all just TCP/IP process for them.

You talk to the exchange administrator and it doesn’t matter if it’s email for physicians or email for truckers. It’s just email.

But, if you talk with a database administrator, the data for a radiologist is going to be enormously different than the data for a cardiologist.

The radiologist is going to have all kinds of blob … X-Rays and MRIs that will be stored in his/her database. So this is paramount. Knowing what the business is about is paramount to being exceptional at the job.

In my experience, when I took the time to learn what the business side cared about, I realized it was a disservice to think IT is just IT.

Actually, IT is 1 of 100 ways that we can solve business problems. There aren’t IT problems. There are business problems that are solved with IT solutions.

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June 27th at the SQL Server User Group

meetup where we'll present 'Personal

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So by knowing what the business problems are, you as a technical professional are not only able to elevate the quality of service you provide but make a difference with new ideas.

Understanding this, I realized that I was closer to the business than 90 percent of my colleagues.

So, if you get to know the business and work on your communication and soft skills, suddenly you become the most promotable and the most valuable  IT person in the business because not only do you understand the IT side of things, but you know why that data is so important. You know why choosing NOT to engage in a big, new IT program is going to cost millions of dollars.

That’s what makes the 9-to-5 technologist imminently promotable and that’s the advice I would have given to the earlier version of myself.

That you can contribute beyond IT.”

Related Article: 5 Lessons in Personal Branding from SQL Server MVP Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline, SQL Server MVP, SQL Sentry, Personal Branding for IT Pros, Database Administration Jobs in New York City


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Topics: Database Administration, IT Leadership, SQL Server