Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Data-Driven: Franck Pachot on Building a Career in Database Technology

Franck Pachot

Franck Pachot

Developer Advocate at Yugabyte

  • In the field of IT, things are constantly evolving, and learning continuously from others is the best way to stay updated.
  • Although concepts are essential, I am not a fan of formal education. It is more valuable to start working with databases and take the time to learn as you need it.
  • It is only worth pursuing certifications if you use them as motivation to guide your learning path. The certificate may not be beneficial by itself, but the knowledge you gain while preparing for the exam is invaluable.
  • Even though it may be challenging for beginners to get involved, being a part of the tech community is a must for a successful professional career. 
  • Always be curious, keep learning, and consider all possible scenarios. It’s important to take a scientific approach and avoid guessing when trying to solve problems.
  • AI will not replace query languages like SQL because precision is essential when analyzing data.

What sparked your interest in database technology, and how did you start your career in this field?

“I have always enjoyed working with databases. During my university internship, I had the opportunity to write an application using Oracle Forms. It was fascinating to look at the business requirements and build an application that makes it easier for the users. Additionally, my database teacher shared their research on Object-Oriented databases, which I found fascinating. Although they did not become mainstream, I loved considering those concepts. It requires great technology to structure data, store them, query them, and guarantee consistency even when multiple users access the same datasets.”


Your work experience is impressive, accompanying positions with some of the major companies. What key milestones have significantly shaped your career?

“It all started with my first job, where I built a small application using Borland Paradox. My manager suggested we build it using Delphi and an Oracle Database instead. At the time, the company was entirely IBM-focused, and this project was outside of the corporate IT department. However, my manager secured support from Oracle and Sun to obtain the necessary software and hardware for a trial run. As a junior employee, I set up a Sun workstation, installed Oracle, and configured all the network components for a client/server application. This was DevOps before it became a thing!

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work in various companies and teams, including development, integration, and operations. This diverse experience has enabled me to consider all aspects and listen to all users.

At one point, recruiters doubted my experience in production. To prove my knowledge, I obtained certifications such as the Oracle OCP exams. After that, I went on to pass the Oracle Certified Master exam. These certifications were valuable in helping me structure my learning and gain a comprehensive understanding of the product.

Recently, I achieved a significant milestone by switching to work on another database system, YugabyteDB. At first, it felt like I was abandoning all the extensive knowledge I had accumulated on Oracle. However, I soon realized that my skills were not limited to a specific product but included methods, concepts, and intuition. Therefore, I was not starting from scratch, and my previous experience with other databases would still be valuable.”


Throughout your career, what were some of the most significant shifts in database technology you’ve witnessed, and how did you adapt to these changes?

“I have been working with SQL for a long time now, and it’s great to see that what I learned in university can still be applied today despite the evolution of the language. One significant shift in my career was the move towards data warehousing workloads, which still used SQL databases but with different concepts such as bulk loading, partitioning, and star schemas. Another shift was towards NoSQL databases, but I didn’t fully embrace it as it lacked some of the features of SQL. Nowadays, SQL databases can be distributed, and that’s the latest development in my career, as I am now a developer advocate for YugabyteDB. I have also witnessed a big change in the industry where previously, the databases were managed by operations, and the DBA would dictate the rules. However, nowadays developers are taking the lead in decision-making, and managed services are being used to bypass the operations DBA.”


What’s Life as a Database Administrator?


What does a typical day look like for a database administrator?

“In the old days, the DBA (Database Administrator) was responsible for managing a few databases as if they were pets. They would arrive in the morning and go through the logs of the nightly backups manually. However, today, everything must be automated and databases are treated like cattle. This means that automation is key, and it is closely integrated with software development automation. Nowadays, a typical day for a DBA involves maintaining automation and spending more time with developers to ensure that the application design is optimal for performance and scalability.”


What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of working as a DBA?

“I’ve always had a fascination with databases because they are at the core of any enterprise. When you analyze the data model, you get a deeper understanding of how banks or retail businesses function. I also enjoy collaborating with end-users, which was part of my experience working on data warehouse projects. Proper use of databases can solve complex problems, but it also comes with a significant responsibility since production data can stay for years and must remain consistent.”


Could you share an insight or a common misconception about the database profession that you’d like to clarify for those outside of the field?

“Many people have a stereotypical view of the DBA as an old, gray-haired person working alone in a basement on a text-only screen, who is always at odds with the developers. Although that perception may still exist, fortunately, things have changed. Today, the DBA can be a great help to all software development teams by assisting the solution architect in selecting the right database service, aiding the data modeling team in creating a database schema that can evolve while maintaining data correctness, and supporting the developers in setting up development and test environments and optimizing their queries.”


What core skills do you believe are essential for database professionals today, and how do you see these changing in the future?

“Always be curious, keep learning, and consider all possible scenarios, including exceptional ones such as race conditions or hardware failures. When you decide to add an index to improve query performance, it’s important to think about how it will impact other queries. For example, you should consider how new inserts will behave with an additional index and whether it will increase the size of backups. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to reproduce problems and build small test cases. You can also use database instrumentation, like execution plans, to gain a clear understanding of how things work. It’s important to take a scientific approach and avoid guessing when trying to solve problems.”


Tips and Advice for Aspiring Database Professionals


What initial steps should one take to pursue a career in database technology, and how can one determine which specialization fits them best?

“Today, I think that it’s essential to have a basic understanding of data modeling, access patterns, and declarative SQL to start working with databases. It’s also important to understand the underlying technology, such as how databases are versioning the changes or locking data to prevent corruption from race conditions. There are some excellent open-source databases with strong community support, such as PostgreSQL. To get started, install one, experiment with it, and try to answer beginner’s questions on forums. This will prepare you to tackle more advanced problems.”


How do you see the integration of AI and machine learning with cloud databases shaping the future of cloud technology?

“When using AI to query a database, there is a significant change in mindset. SQL is a deterministic language, which means that the same query on the same data will always produce the same results. Although there have been some recent additions to SQL that allow for approximate results, AI takes this further. However, AI will not replace query languages like SQL because precision is essential when analyzing data.”


From your experience, how can professionals best prepare themselves to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of cloud technology?

“It’s interesting to note that while the cloud may abstract some hardware concepts, it’s still important to understand and learn about them. Virtual networks still require knowledge of network addressing and routing, which is even more crucial when it comes to securing and isolating them. Even virtual storage services still show the visibility of throughput and latency. Although databases can be installed with a single click or command, using them is not always straightforward. One significant change is in cost management. Unlike in on-premises settings where you provision infrastructure for the next years and use it without worry, in the cloud, it’s necessary to control resource consumption on a daily or hourly basis.”


How important are networking and community involvement for database professionals?

“My professional life underwent a major transformation when I began interacting on forums, speaking at conferences, and writing articles for blogs. In the field of IT, things are constantly evolving, and learning continuously from others is the best way to stay updated. Even though it may be challenging for beginners to get involved, being a part of the tech community is a must for a successful professional career. Think about how difficult it is to create your first resume when applying for your first job. Imagine contributing to a few open-source projects – it would provide you with excellent and valuable experience. These contributions do not need to be at a high level. Even improving the documentation shows how you can be a valuable team member in an enterprise.”


Finally, what is one piece of advice you wish you had received when starting out in the database and cloud technology field?

“Initially, I didn’t realize the importance of automation and containerization tools. I could automate and isolate using shell scripts and good rules and conventions back then. However, with the rise of cloud computing, these practices had to be industrialized. This meant I had to learn tools like Docker, Kubernetes, and Terraform. Looking back, it would have been great advice to learn these tools even if I didn’t need them then, as they proved crucial in the future.”


Reader Q & A with Franck Pachot


“I was lucky to work with a database well instrumented and well-documented, so I didn’t find it stressful. Then I’ll put a 5.”


“If you’re interested in learning about databases, try experimenting with them to understand them better. Keep in mind that databases are an invisible part of IT, different from building a new mobile application with a fancy user interface, but they are a crucial component of many businesses.”


“Although concepts are essential, I am not a fan of formal education. It is more valuable to start working with databases and take the time to learn as you need it. This may require a shift in mindset for hiring companies. Rather than looking for candidates with high degrees and years of experience, they could find the most motivated juniors and allow them to contribute to open-source projects and attend meetups and conferences to increase their knowledge. It is an area that constantly evolves. It is not a technology you learn once and use based on what you learned years ago.”


“Obtaining cloud practitioner certifications is an excellent way to gain knowledge in various modern IT practices. Additionally, cloud vendors offer these certifications at an affordable price. Each cloud vendor has specialized exams if you wish to specialize in databases. However, it is only worth pursuing these certifications if you use them as motivation to guide your learning path. The certificate may not be beneficial by itself, but the knowledge you gain while preparing for the exam is invaluable.”


Franck Pachot

About the Author

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