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Overview

Sometimes finding solutions to Oracle problems can be overwhelming. An Oracle DBA, or any other professional technologist for that matter, does not need to know everything about a given technology. You just need to know how to find solutions to your problems. It should come as a great relief to know that whatever your skill set is in Oracle at this moment, it is adequate to solve any problem. That is a pretty bold statement to make about technologists new to Oracle. Granted, those DBAs further along may be able to solve problems more quickly but make no mistake, if you can spell Oracle I am going to show you how to do the rest!

This article is not just for green DBAs. Regardless of your experience is in Oracle, you are about to be given the keys to expand your Oracle knowledge far beyond its present boundaries.

In The Beginning

Way back in the information dark ages of the 1980's, if you came across a technical obstacle, the most obvious methods available were similar in some ways to the methods available today: Technical Books. Talk to your peers on the job. Talk to vendor support. Discuss at user group monthly meetings. Discuss the issue with peers over online services. In the 1980's this meant BBS's and FIDONet mail. In to the 1990's it evolved into services like CompuServe ©, AOL © and the like. Today’s list of resources includes these and many more, thanks to the Internet.

The cost of using 80’s and early 90’s era resources was prohibitive so you needed to learn how to get the answers to your questions very efficiently.

Take CompuServe for example. On CompuServe there were forums on most of the technical topics of the day. Each topic had a system administrator paid to answer your questions even if other CompuServe users could not. These jobs were very in demand, so the system administrators tended to be some of the most knowledgeable people available.

Furthermore, if they did not have the answer themselves, they would be able to find it simply by talking to the corresponding technology's book authors or directly to the vendors. These were resources that many users did not have access to at the time.

This level of support came at a cost. In addition to dialup costs, if no local phone number was available, the hourly charges were pretty hefty at the time. In some cases companies were spending hundreds of dollars a month for each account. An entire market arose for tools that could cut the costs of using CompuServe. One such tool was TAPCIS. TAPCIS would allow you to create pseudo scripts to automatically choose the menu options you needed and automate the upload and download of forum messages. Yet even with tools like TAPCIS, keeping costs down was still a great challenge. It was essential that you got the answer to your question on the first pass.

It was in that environment where I learned this: how you ask a question has a direct bearing on both the speed and the quality of the responses you receive. These basic tenets remain true today. Make the title/subject short and meaningful. Include your item’s version, OS and your current patch level. Be courteous and professional. Do not try to impress anyone with your knowledge of the topic. In fact, it is far better to ask the question as if you were a newbie.

It's All in the Title

Your title/subject should be short and sum up your message at a glance. Good Title Examples:

  • Importing Nested Tables
  • Online Table Redefinition and Privileges
  • UTL_FILE_DIR Parameter Max Size

Bad Title Examples:

  • Not Working
  • Help
  • Why Me!!!

Hello

Centuries of works by the foremost writers on the human condition make one thing very clear: you want to be nice! This does not mean you have to write a paragraph expressing how great today is or what an honor it is to be participating in this incredible electronic wonderland. A simple Hello will do.

What Version?

Perhaps the most time consuming part of a the process for your potential helper is trying to extract enough information about your environment to make an educated guess at a solution. This usually means determining the core facts about your Operating System and Oracle product. Therefore you should communicate this information in your first sentence.

Don't Be a Expert

Many technologists help their industry colleagues because they enjoy contributing and making contacts. Some feel a sense of obligation to help others who are coming up through the ranks, as they themselves once did. If it is Oracle Support then they are paid to help. Regardless of their reason for responding to your query, you will get far more assistance if you do not come off as being an expert. The quality and number of options does seem to be related to how humble you are when asking!

It should also be pointed out that you should read the manuals and seek the common online sources first! In fact, stating that you have waded through the Oracle online documentation but still do not grasp a concept can be very useful - it will evoke more sympathy, and more responses.

Ask a Question About the Answer

Ask your question in full expectation of receiving an answer. In some cases I have seen individuals only use online resources to "prove" they are useless. This goes back to careers in complexity. The fact is that there is a glut of Oracle professionals out there, happy to collaborate with you on solutions to your problems, and qualified too! We are in fact drowning in an ocean of Oracle resources.

Template for Oracle Support Questions

1. Short and meaningful subject.
2. The first sentence should include: OS name, OS version, Oracle 
   version and major patch level.
3. State you question concisely.
4. Guide readers toward your answer by narrowing the scope.

Example:

Subject: dbms_stats and Concurrency

Hello,

On a Solaris 15 system running Oracle 11g R2 (11.2.0.3)  I need to gather
statistics on a large table.  I usually run this type job at night but I
would like to run this during the day on this particular table.

Performance load aside, does dbms_stats.gather_table_stats() lock the table or
hinder access to it in any way while it is running?

Thanks,

Michael

Consider the benefits of such a message: You start in a nice and inviting way. You can easily search for it in the future, as the title sums up concisely what you're looking for. You do not have to go back and forth with every respondent, confirming what OS, Oracle version and major patch sets you're using. You do not come off as an expert. In this example, we qualified it subtly with the words "Performance load aside". This is subtle but very effective, as we direct the reader to focus on the particular aspect we are concerned with. In short, you have made it easy for anyone who knows the answer to respond!

Join the Club

Let's consider a different industry for a moment.

Look at the studio musicians for a particular era. You quickly realize that there is a small set of players who seem to be on everybody's albums. In the 1970's for example, some of the core members of this "club" were: Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Eric Gale, Ralph McDonald, Tom Scott, Russ Kunkle, maybe about two dozen others. These guys were on every third album, it seemed. Don't take my word for it, go look!

The same is true of any industry. It is true of computer technology. For the programming language Clipper the club included: Craig Yellick, John Skelton, Jon Kilburn and Antoine Polatuche. The point is that there is a seeming finite set of predominant industry movers and shakers for any technology. Though very knowledgeable, they do not necessarily know every single aspect of the technology, but they have created a track record of success where ever they go.

Back to the music industry! If someone wanted to produce a record in the 70's, drummer Russ Kunkle was a "go-to-guy". He was not the most technically advanced drummer but, he could achieve success at recording drum tracks in an amazingly consistent way. Thus he became a sought-after member of the "club."

THAT is the club YOU need to be a member of with Oracle!

So who is in the Oracle club? This list of course is growing all the time. For brevity 's sake, the short list includes: Thomas Kyte, Donald K. Burleson, Jeff Hunter, Justin Cave, Dave Hunt and Jonathan Lewis. Now you know who some of them are. Do they know who you are? Why not?

Zen Mind

The Zen saying goes, "In the beginner's mind there are endless possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are none."

I am currently, happily, an Oracle Certified Engineer. In my IT career, I have been a Novell System Administrator, Microsoft MCSE, UNIX/LINUX System Administrator, and a programmer in various languages. In all these areas, I can safely say that I was green in most of the disciplines when I began.

So how does one get from green to vanguard? Do you need a high I.Q.? Great intellect? A degree from Princeton? A parent on the Board of Directors?

No, no, no, no!

Everything you need is within your power.

Take my experience with UNIX for example. When I took the job as a Sun UNIX Administrator I would only have considered my UNIX skills to be average. What I did was find out who were the most knowledgeable Sun UNIX administrators on the planet.

The first stop is always the vendor. We were paying for support so I simply used it. I would of course look in vendor manuals and talk to colleagues when I had problems, but inevitably I would run technical issues by Sun as well. I found, in some cases, the in-house gurus had a very linear and polarized view on how Sun UNIX worked.

Sun's support however was impersonal. They offered solutions that were not based on a personal preference. They simply offered options to get me a solution based on their knowledge of the product and their resources. I also asked the same questions on professional forums which Sun UNIX administrators like myself tended to frequent.

The end result was that in two years "I" was considered one of the go-to-guys for the company. Notice I did not say most technically astute. I was able to find multiple robust answers to their problems more quickly and thoroughly than some of the shop "gurus". In some cases the "gurus" saw talking to Sun as an insult or demeaning. My solutions, however, were based on industry best practices that were proven to be stable according to industry peers (the Sun UNIX "club").

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