A developer I work with, whom I respect a great deal, reminded me of this truism today. I'm not sure who came up with the original, but they deserve credit wherever they are:
“A good system administrator is a bored system administrator.”
As a DBA, this really rings true for me. Being a DBA should not be a thrilling job. Within reason, there should not be myriad surprises, nor a roller coaster ride, wondering what will break each day. There should not be numerous 2 AM calls or frantic fixes. If there are, then I think it means one of two things: either I am not getting the resources needed to do my job well and so my hands are tied, or I am not being proactive enough to prevent unexpected issues from popping up. That doesn't mean there are never problems, but a problem should be something you really could not have anticipated.
A sort of corollary I've found is that a good admin's job is only really exciting in this way at the beginning. If you get hired on as a DBA, you probably step into a dire situation where the systems need your help, and urgently. But after you've been there a while, things ought to be brought under control. Recurring problems should be truly and permanently fixed at the root cause, so that they don't repeat. Monitoring should allow you to see problems coming, instead of users calling you after things are already ugly. Recurring, mindless tasks should be automated, freeing you to do other, more valuable work.
If it's not possible to make progress in this way, and most of us have been there at one time or another, it can be because the organization simply refuses to provide the resources (be it hardware, time, expertise, or change) to bring an out-of-control system into line. If that's the case, you might be doomed to be “thrilled” on a daily, or nightly, basis. I am lucky enough to work for a great organization where I get that support, and as a result have been able to make the systems there a lot less “exciting” over the past year or two.
Another sysadmin from my past put it this way: “If you see me, if you need to know who I am, then I’m not doing my job right.” A little extreme, but I get the sentiment.
I am happy to say I have been really busy lately, but all of it (knock wood) building new apps and systems, and not too much fire fighting. But then, maybe I just jinxed myself…
So – go forth and make boring systems!