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Friday Philosophy – Why do I work with Oracle Technology? July 8, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.

As an Oracle Expert {*cough* bear with me, despite the lack of humility} I make a living based on my skills and knowledge about Oracle Technology. But why Oracle?

I was prompted to think about this as a side issue to a discussion within the OakTable network, about being aligned with companies – and it was suggested we are aligned with Oracle {my personal feeling is strongly that we are not – we are independent of Oracle Corp}.

How many people reading this blog woke up one morning and thought “Hey, I’m going to review all database technologies, work out the best one and work with that!” And then, after investigations, threw their weight behind Oracle? I certainly did not. I joined a company called Oracle UK almost as a way to escape my then management structure. I thought they were a teletext company {see the “about me” tab if you want a bit more detail on that}. I remain working with Oracle technology primarily because that is what I know the most about. It is by luck that I had stumbled into a technical area that went from strength to strength.

Don’t get me wrong, I think some Oracle technology is very, very good. Most of it is OK and some of it is, well, neither of those two. It is much better than the technology I came from (a language called MUMPS) which, though I still have fond memories of, I decided not to return to when the opportunity came up a couple of years into my Oracle life.

I think it is fair to say that I do not work within the Oracle sphere because I am dedicated to the Larry Ellison world vision {if I could work out what it is, but it seems to have less and less to do with a relational database and more and more about being the IT answer to all business needs, for good or bad}. I work in it because it is where I am and it is good enough technology to not demoralise me too much, plus there is enough work to pay for the cat food and the beer. I also suspect most of you are like me – you work with Oracle Technology because you woke up one day and realised that was where you were. Of course, this probably applies to 95% of people in 95% of jobs.

If I was to have the chance to choose my working career again, would I do the same? Would I work with Oracle technology? Well, it is one of the largest technologies around and so it provides a good source of work. It is probably not a bad choice if you are starting out right now. Actually, if I was to play this game again I would probably not be aiming for computer technology at all, I would hope to be brave enough to aim for what I really wanted to do and try to do medicine and become a surgeon {I did not as I feared my woodwork skills were so poor I would end up a GP, which strikes me as a bloody awful job} or stick with the genetics, which I still love. But if it had been IT? Hmmm, I think I would have gone lower level. I wish I knew how hardware really works. But then, how many jobs are there now in low-level firmware?

So I am in the world of Mr Ellison’s RDBMS and happy there. But importantly, I feel independent of Oracle. I can like what I like about the technology and dislike what I don’t and I can say which is which, just to link back to the topic of being aligned to a company. That is a small part of why I went back to being and independent consultant too. I do not feel obligated to support a company as they pay my wage. I suppose I feel obligated to be not-negative about a company that employs my services, but that can be another topic another day.



1. Kyle Hailey - July 8, 2011

As an Oracle expert as well *{ cough cough }* I never intended to get involved with databases at all which I thought were boring coming from a physics and mathematics undergrad. From undergrad at Cornell in upstate NY I did want to go to San Francisco and Oracle gave me that opportunity. I went to Oracle so I could live in San Francisco not for Oracle or for databases. Oracle has been a great company to work for and with. I do think database aren’t my schtick nor is SQL but I do like performance be it databases, SQL, stockmarket whatever and I do like graphics and Oracle and SQL have given me opportunities to work on graphics and performance and live in San Francisco and Paris for 6 years as well !

Do I agree with Oracles tactics and leadership – often no, but I give it to them, they are successful and I am continually impressed with their strategies and success and database kernel technology.

– Kyle Hailey

mwidlake - July 8, 2011

Hi Kyle,

I’ve only visited San Fran a couple of times, as has my wife, but we have never been there together! We both love the place though! One year we will holiday there.

Oracle have been brilliant in their marketing and sales, I have to agree with you that they have positioned themselves really well. The technology underlying it is good but, I suspect, not always the best. And lately of course (oh heck, for 15 years plus!} , they have done incredibly well by acquiring solutions that they could use. But it is a heartless corp. If you work in there, you need to have a manager who is rock solid behind you. That manager has to play the game incredibly well. Nothing counts but increased return on investment or perceived marketplace value counts. What happens when the return on investment falters as there are fewer markets to take over or you saturate a market?

So, I don’t much like the corp. But many of the people in the corp are top notch.

Like you, I do not do what I do because I love Oracle. I do what I do because I want to be better at what I do and I want to show others how to improve. It sounds a bit sappy but I don’t care, it’s why I stick with it.

2. jgarry - July 8, 2011

…woke up one morning and thought “Hey, I’m going to review all database technologies, work out the best one and work with that!”

I did. I even went to a local DEC user group meeting to say goodbye to my buddies (circa 1989). But it wasn’t so much the best technically (that would be Rdb, in my biased opinion at that time), as riding the coattails of the most aggressive marketing. There really wasn’t any evidence Oracle would eventually dominate so completely over the competition. When Larry bought the dregs of Rdb I thought that was the bargain of that century.

Ironically, a few years later I became most marketable as a cross-engine/platform expert, as people moved to Oracle/unix.

I had regrets of not sticking with the med research when I took my wife to the top local gynecologist and discovered she (the gyn, that is) went through the same undergraduate program I did, just after I graduated.

mwidlake - July 8, 2011

Good for you. I was working with DEC stuff back in 1989 and my one real regret of leaving the MUMPS world is I also left the VAX world behind. It is incredibly rare for someone to look at their career plan so I tip my hat to you.

Yeah, the med side of things. I’ve kept a tenuous link to it, I’ve worked with or beside the NHS a few times over the years (for non-UK people, the NHS is the National Health Service of the UK and perhaps the most brilliant implementation of social caring in the world, much hated by the current government). I then worked for 6 years for the UK side of the Human Genome Project and loved it. There have been bad points to working for “health” but one of the personal highlights was when an officious NHS clerk told me we could not make a timely appointment for my wife when she was quite ill, we would have to play by her officious rules. I reached over her keyboard, hit the key for “calendar next month” and told her to book it in. I’d worked on the system, she was lying to the wrong person. People like that should not be allowed anywhere near social care. Grrrrrr.

3. David Harper - July 9, 2011

I only began working professionally with Oracle technology about six months ago, although I’ve been writing scientific software for thirty years on various platforms and in a range of languages including BASIC, FORTRAN, Lisp and Java.

My earliest career plan was to be an astronaut. I was six years old, and it was the era of the Apollo moon landings. My parents didn’t have the heart to tell me that NASA only lets Americans become astronauts.

By the time I was old enough to make serious career plans, I was still fascinated by astronomy, and I was naive enough to imagine that I could make a living out of it. I did a Ph.D. in astronomy, and eventually managed to get a job as an academic at the University of London. I taught maths, astronomy and computing, and I’d like to think I was reasonably good at it. The students mostly managed to stay awake in my lectures, anyway.

Unfortunately, in those days, academics were judged only on their research output, and there was no reward or recognition for teaching. I think things may have changed recently, especially as students are now paying “customers” who demand value for their money. But I decided that I wasn’t cut out to be an academic, and moved on.

As luck would have it, the British government encouraged me to make a major career change from astronomy to genomics in 1998, when it closed the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge. I joined the Sanger Institute, and soon began using MySQL in a big way.

I’d like to think that I may even have played a small role in convincing you, Martin, that MySQL isn’t just a toy database system. But you, of course, get the last laugh, because I’m now in the DBA team that you led at the Sanger, and I can no longer avoid Oracle 🙂

mwidlake - July 9, 2011

Hi David,

“convincing you, Martin, that MySQL isn’t just a toy database system”
You certainly showed me it was capable of far more than just simple systems for a handful of users and that it could be made pretty robust! So I owe you a grateful “thankyou” for that. But in fairness, I think I introduced my MySQL training courses before you had really started working on me? So can I claim to have been slightly open-minded? 🙂

Don’t forget David, you would have been working with Oracle for 5 years by now if I had had my evil way with you. But you chose to stick with nice teams who fed you chocolate cake, and only joined the DBA team when I was safely gone!

David Harper - July 9, 2011

“But in fairness, I think I introduced my MySQL training courses before you had really started working on me? So can I claim to have been slightly open-minded? :-)”

You also went to the first MySQL user conference, back in 2003, and insisted on wearing a T-shirt which proclaimed “I’m an Oracle DBA” 😉

mwidlake - July 9, 2011

Oh I did, didn’t I? And people were still nice to me. A very good conference, that.

4. oraclenerd - July 9, 2011

Happenstance. Simple.

I was an administrative assistant (secretary) “managing” a bunch of Access databases. My friend ran an IT shop at the local blood bank and offered me a job writing reports.

My first day I was “handed” a tnsnames file and sql*plus and told to get started…I was working with something called Oracle. I had never heard of it before that day.

Not a day goes by now that I’m not thankful for Larry and what he’s created…his empire has allowed me (and countless others) the opportunity to make a great living and solve interesting problems with Oracle software. LIke you though, I am not a fanboi, not all their software is top notch (don’t get me started on OBIEE 11g) and I don’t always agree with their tactics; but no “one” is perfect.


5. Neil Chandler - July 10, 2011


I did have a choice of my primary combination of RDBMS/Unix platform when I left IBM Mainframe Assembler 370 Programming behind in 1990. I chose Oracle/AIX over Ingres/Infomix/Sybase or DB2, or Solarix, HP-UX, Sequent, DG, etc, although I have worked on all of those and more besides. I picked Oracle as I thought it was the best tech at the time (I had already worked on DB2 and SQL/DS on the mainframe prior to that, and the hierarchical databases IMS DB/DC and DL/1 prior to that.)

Just typing that makes me feel old. Right – back to work, on Oracle, on a few AIX clusters, at my current client. On a Sunday. Some things just don’t change.



6. Narendra - July 11, 2011

{I did not as I feared my woodwork skills were so poor I would end up a GP, which strikes me as a bloody awful job}
Are you kidding? Thousands of grand of money as salary and all you have to do is prescribe paracetamol or recommend to bigger hospital. And now with “revolutionary changes”, a GP would be in control huge funds… 🙂
BTW, I started liking databases and what wonders they can do only after I had been a typical “ignorant” front-end programmer for almost 7-8 years and most importantly when I started reading AskTom. All credit to Tom for making me interested in learning about database and learning oracle, in particular. Given chance, would I like to look at (almost) all database products before I can make my decision? Yes, but, to be honest, I am not that bright guy so it would take my entire lifetime to make an informed decision but I am happy I chose Oracle (produce not company). I feel great that I chose IT because I am associated with Oracle. Besides, it always makes me feel good to take the side of “David” (i.e. databases) in the war against “Goliath” (i.e. Middle-tier, Java, bla blah…)

7. Boneist - July 11, 2011

I fell into working with Oracle quite by accident; I was a systems tester (and then later the support contact for my dept as well), in a dept that used Oracle. Coming fresh from a maths degree, I had no clue about databases or programming (proper programming, I mean – pouring over lists of BASIC from the manual trying to figure out why Othello wasn’t working doesn’t count, I’m sure!).

The moment someone showed me how to join two tables together, that was it – I was away! A few years later, and they offered me the chance of becoming a developer – VB or Oracle, and I jumped at the Oracle path. I much prefer SQL to PL/SQL though!

8. Larry - July 11, 2011

you still have a cat, you lucky you ?
I only do it for the beer

mwidlake - July 11, 2011

Hi Larry,

I thought I asked you to stop bothering me?! I am not going to agree to run your core server tech business no matter how often you ask.

Besides, my cat says anyone using “anonyMouse” to surf the net, like you, could not be a proper cat-caring person…

Enjoy the beer.

9. Walter - July 11, 2011

I have been doing Oracle for almost a decade now and finally realized my passion lies in finance/investments. The difference I noticed with Oracle is one just has to think within the box whereas finance covers a lot more aspects. Lot more complex than databases or maybe that’s just me. I am sure people out here who have moved to upper management might understand what I am trying to say.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I still love Oracle and using it to my advantage in finance, however if one wants to strike it rich(super) then having your own business makes much more sense. Then again it depends on what one is looking for, satisfied with.

mwidlake - July 11, 2011

Hi Walter,

I have to say, I can’t agree with you but then everyone is different. Personally, I find finance/investment bores me to tears. I can’t but help feel it sucks more out of society than it puts in – You basically either lend money and get more back, simply for the act of loaning it, or you are taking part in a more or less complex gamble. You might end up with more money but at the expense of someone else not as good (or as lucky) at the game as you. It’s all about getting more money, with only the most tenuous link to actually doing something or achieving something. I sit in the camp of doing something with visible results and being paid reasonably for it.

As for thinking in and out of the box, I’d say I often have to think out of the box to do my work in IT, though of course many of the problems in IT are caused by people thinking well outside the box when it would have been fine to stay inside it all the time:-) It all depends on what you are trying to achieve this week

Walter - July 11, 2011

>>Personally, I find finance/investment bores me to tears
Well, that is one of the reasons why more than 90% of the population is not rich.

>> you are taking part in a more or less complex gamble
That’s the most common misconception about investing, as in our Oracle world “myths about troubleshooting or whatever you want to call it …”

>>You might end up with more money but at the expense of someone else not as good (or as lucky) at the game as you
Once you understand how economy works, you will realize how inaccurate that statement is. Hopefully you are not mixing zero sum game. Everybody stands to benefit during times of economic expansion.

>>I sit in the camp of doing something with visible results and being paid reasonably for it.
Investing doesn’t mean you throw money at Wall Street or other financial exchanges. One can finance the poor and needy as well, lots of initiatives to finance people who want to stand on their feet in Africa, Asia and other poor continents/countries. I take no offense as you seem to have been misinformed by TV/media, who can blame you for what’s going around.

>>I’d say I often have to think out of the box to do my work in IT..
That’s what I used to think before, once you step out of this thinking one stands to benefit alot more than just thinking in terms of IT.

>>It all depends on what you are trying to achieve this week
This is the only thing that I can agree with and the addition of not only week, month, years to come!

mwidlake - July 11, 2011

As I said, everyone is different, it’s not personal, finance is just not for me. Not unless there are some interesting technology challenges to making your finance system work, that is.

>>I take no offense as you seem to have been misinformed
Maybe you should be a tad offended (I’m smiling typing this, it’s all friendly) as I’m not completely misinformed, I know a bit about CFDs, commodities, leveraging through derivatives and, of course, hedging. And as you say, we need finance and you can direct it towards situations where just a bit of fincancial fluidity can move people and groups out of bad situations. But finance is absolutlety nothing without manufacturing. If no one is building tractors and ploughing fields, there will be no stock markets (and yes, I understand that finance aids manufacturing)

But if you want to really want to have to think out of the box, maybe you should drop finance and go into science. You’ll almost certainly not get rich though!

Walter - July 11, 2011

Martin –

Hey, if Larry didn’t have the sense of business, investing, vision then there wouldn’t be Oracle and no oracle blog either. You are smart guy you get my point,where I am trying to go with that.

Well I do come from Science background and have seen both sides of the world 🙂

10. David Harper - July 11, 2011

At the risk of attracting the scorn and derision of the hardcore Oracle experts who frequent Martin’s blog, I’m going to proffer the heretical observation that I regard myself as someone who is currently working as a DBA who happens, occasionally, to work with Oracle. I actually spend most of my professional life at present looking after around 100 MySQL instances of varying sizes and configurations.

Learning the ins and outs of Oracle is an interesting and enjoyable challenge, but I also like to keep myself up-to-date about developments in the broader aspects of IT. It’s possible, for example, that I may return to software development one day, so I spent some time last week reading about the new features in the upcoming (and long overdue!) new release of Java.

I also like to keep up-to-date about developments in astronomy. I don’t expect ever to return to astronomy as a career, but one of the side benefits of working at the Sanger Institute is that I have access to leading journals such as Nature and Science, where I can read about the latest research results.

Will I still be a DBA in ten years time? Who knows? I spent ten years as an academic/professional astronomer, then ten years as a software developer, so maybe in ten years time, I’ll want to try something completely different.

For now, though, I’m still working my way through a half-metre high stack of books about ASM, RAC, RMAN, … 🙂

11. Gaius - July 14, 2011

Actually that pretty much is what I thought 🙂

mwidlake - July 14, 2011

Hehe! Nice one Gaius. So you are one of the few people who sat down at some point and planned their career. Is the blog banner a reference to the work of “The Prodigy”, BTW?

Gaius - July 14, 2011

Indeed it is. But also that I am pursuing some radical technical ideas, that the mainstream DBA world is not quite ready for yet 🙂

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim I planned my career, in terms of, I dunno, what rung on the corporate ladder I wanted to be at by what age. But I knew I had to specialize in something, I didn’t want to be just chasing buzzwords and never building any real experience, like so many people around me. It might even have been a toss of a coin which of the two items on my shortlist I went with…

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