Ex-Military DBA

12 PM September 8, 2006

Currently, Dilbert is working with an ex-military type. It reminds of my first ever consulting engagement, where we had an ex-ASASR DBA. He was a bit like the character in the Dilbert strip, though quieter and more dangerous. His name was not David, but let’s pretend it was. Like the cartoon character, David had once been ambushed behind enemy lines and forced to call in an air strike. He remembers the planes coming over, and then woke up in hospital several weeks later.

David was great to work with, so long as you did things the right way: read the docs before asking questions, keep your SQL tidy, and don’t fraternise with the officers managers. David taught me – or caused me to learn – plenty about methodically diagnosing database problems.

He also had the constructive laziness that marks great programmers. His aim on starting a new position was to automate every scrap of database administration he could think of, eventually getting the system to the point where each morning he’d simply check that all the overnight scripts ran and then twiddle his thumbs for the rest of the day. After a few months of that, he would get bored, resign and find some other database to fix.

If there were more DBA‘s like David, the world would be a better place.

At times, when he was in the right mood, he would tell of some of his military experiences. There were other stories that he couldn’t tell, either because they were too painful, or because they happenned in places and at times where there were officially no Australians present. Any way I look at it, David was the most heroic man I ever met, or am ever likely to meet.

If I had to pick one episode that typifies the man, it would be the Monday he came in with a limp and a sore back. It wasn’t in his nature to boast, but with a little coaxing, we managed to get the story out of him.

Over the weekend, he’d been HALO parachuting with another ex-special air service solider and two of what he called “civilians”. According to David, HALO jumps were fun, but risky. World-wide 1 in 20 ended in a death, but Australian jumps were generally safer than that.

So David, his friend and the two civilians jumped out of the plane. The plan was to meet up in two, two-person formations before meeting up in a four-person formation. The civilians tried to meet, touching hands, but managed to knock their heads together instead. They both went floppy. Floppy is bad. One of the skydivers spun off sideways, the other just dropped.

Now, typically, skydivers taught that if a fellow parachuter is in trouble, you leave them alone to sort it out, rather than risk both your lives. In the army, though, they teach you proper rescue techniques, and how to go after your mates in trouble. I suppose that’s what comes of having to dig dead friends out of the ground every now and then.

David’s friend went after the spinning civilian, who, fortunately, was OK and able to open his own parachute.

David went after the other civilian. He dove a long way down, most of the way to the ground, slowed, judged his position carefully, and caught the unconscious man in one arm. He was then able to deploy his ‘chute, but with the extra speed and the extra weight, he pulled all the muscles down one side of his back, and landed fairly heavily anyway, which explained the limp on Monday morning.

The civilian regained consciousness 30 seconds or so after David got him to the ground.

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