Doug Burns

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Moving Sideways

Sat, 2016-05-07 01:34
The past two years have seen a lot of change in my life :-
  • I moved to Singapore thinking it would be for a year or two at least and is now looking like it will be longer.
  • I started my first role as a permanent employee of someone else's organisation for the first time in around 22 years. (This was the one that most blew away those who know me well!)
  • I went back to being a Production DBA, having worked on general Oracle performance and development with dev teams over my 5 years of different contracts at UBS.
  • Pretty soon, I was heading up the Level 3 Production DBA team and doing less and less technical work because of the long list of other things I had to take care of. 
  • I only did it out of necessity (it was what the organisation needed at the time) but I started finding myself enjoying those new things more than I expected.
The last point is the main reason that I’ve been blogging less, not presenting so much at conferences and not engaging in any technical conversations outside of work. (However, there were still lots of them with smaller groups in the workplace, believe me! Even the 'blog posts' were replaced by very long internal emails.)

Ultimately that lead to me realising there’s little point me continuing as an Oracle ACE Director because it focuses on community contribution and, apart from helping to set up three sets of Singapore Oracle Sessions, I haven’t really been contributing. I’d already given up the Oak Table membership last year and always intended to give up the ACED too, but just hadn’t got round to it.

Having achieved a *lot* in my last role and working with a great team of people, I realised that the bits of it that I truly enjoyed have changed completely.

It’s true that my favourite work of all might be looking at and resolving Oracle performance issues on Production systems or even just explaining them, but that’s only a percentage of DBA work and particularly a team lead. Over time, I found that plenty of other people on the team could do the technical work (maybe not as well when it came to the performance stuff ;-)) but what it seems I’m really skilled at (and I suspect that this is at least slightly related to age, maturity and experience) is fixing problems with processes and helping people. It feels the same to me – something’s broken that needs to be fixed – but means dealing with people more and dealing with a wider scope of problem. As a DBA you should always be spending most of your time dealing with people as a key part of the job, but *just* dealing with people to the extent that you don't log in to hosts any more is another step on (or, as the post title says, moving sideways).

When I recently had a choice between moving even more into process and people management or moving back to a much more technical and strategic architecture role, I plumped for the one that only those closest to me would have imagined! Which of my peers would deliberately choose to refine change management processes or be on Production incidents in the middle of the night when they could be defining a banks database architecture in a nice cushy day job with lots of conference trips?!

Although the new role will be an extension of the old one, it's still a pretty big step – first time in 26 years or so working in a role which has nothing to do with Oracle! But I’m very excited about it and don’t dread missing Oracle at all. I can always come back to it if this doesn’t work out. I don't think being up to date on what additional parameters there are in 12c has been my forte for a while now!

My new job will be pretty wide-ranging and if I were to explain it completely it would not only be professionally inappropriate but I suspect aspects of it would convince people I've gone mad or am having a mid-life crisis! However, one aspect that actually drew me towards it and would send most of my peers running for the hills is that I will be a Situation Manager (one of a small team) on Major Incidents. In my most recent role, I found myself constantly helping with the incident management parts while the real DBAs did the work – each of us doing what we were best at. Imagine having that in your home at all hours of the day and night and yet Mads reaction was - 'you love doing that, don't you?'. Bless her ;-)

It turns out that I’m pretty OK at cajoling, organising and perhaps speaking slightly loudly at people during high pressure situations. Maybe it's growing up with an RAF Sergeant as a father or maybe, just maybe ...

I like to think of Mr. Wolf as the ultimate Situation Manager.

At least that model works well for me in *my* head ;-)

A Love Letter to Singapore Airlines

Thu, 2015-12-10 14:25
I used to be a Star Alliance Gold card holder from my extensive travel with BMI and other *A carriers. Eventually my travel tailed off a little and I dropped to Silver *just* before BA took over BMI and my *A status was converted to One World. Which was ok, because a BA Silver is in many ways similar to other airlines gold with all the lounge access I could need. The chances of getting or retaining a BA Gold card were about the same as those of me becoming a teetotal vegan, so I settled into my new position in life ;-)

However, it was a little disappointing and strange that I switched over to One World just before I landed a job in Singapore. In my *A days, everyone knew that Singapore Airlines were *the* top *A carrier (honourable mention to Air New Zealand) and so they always cropped up in any forum conversation about how best to use miles. Now I was in the perfect place to earn and redeem miles well, my new employer always uses SQ for travel but I was kind of stuck with my BA Silver and a whole bunch of miles and partner vouchers and the rest. To give you an example, when my new employer was helping me book our business class flights to move out to Singapore, you could tell they were a little confused as to why we weren't choosing SQ. Tier points, of course! ;-)

Don't get me wrong, BA are great and I've had some good rewards over the past few years, but my choice of loyalty program suddenly felt out of step with my life so I was considering a gradual cutover to KrisFlyer. But SQ never do status matches (as far as I know), so it was going to take a while. Making it worse was the fact that I've grown to like Cathay Pacific and so the temptation to stay put in OneWorld is stronger.

Anyway, I've said enough to merely touch on my intense geekery about airline loyalty programs and, for that matter, airlines and air travel in general.

However, the experience of last week has convinced me that Singapore Airlines are unparalleled in their customer service. The fleet and on-board service are already great, even in Economy (really - Europeans should try a dose of Far Eastern mid-haul travel to see the difference), but Customer Service is such a difficult thing to get right and SQ absolutely knocked the ball out of the park!

I'm terrible with names and remembering them but, in any case, there was such a large team of people over the course of 3 and a half days that were almost uniformly excellent, professional and warm that I'm not sure I want to single anyone out. I will pick out a few small examples (in order of the time they happened) but I'm not sure that will communicate just how happy everyone I know was with the customer service.

- I was constantly having struggles getting out of the terminal for a smoke and, on one occasion, I asked one of the senior ground crew how I could get out and he walked me out personally, dealt with security and stood there while I had a smoke, so he could then help me back into the terminal. He was a smoker too, so he understood, but he didn't have one himself. Absolutely not his job, but just caring about different passengers needs.

- At every single turn (and the passengers discussed this several times amongst ourselves), the airline made the right decision, at just the right time and so it always felt like we were ahead of the game. They couldn't change the situation or unblock the blockages but once they realised there was a blockage, they simply found a way around it. They didn't pussy-foot about and there was only very rarely a sense of "what's happening here?". Even in those moments, it was really just about the airline trying to work out for themselves what was happening.

- There were very few changes in team members. Where we went, they went. When we were able to sleep, even if it was on the floor of the terminal, they weren't. When we were able to sit and relax in the hotel, they were still chasing around trying to make plans for us despite having no sleep themselves. Whatever challenges we experienced, they experienced worse because they couldn't have a seat, grab a nap, get a shower or whatever either and not once did I get any sense that it bothered them. They must have been *shattered* with tiredness and they never let it show or gave even a hint of this not being their favourite work experience!

- When the Regional Manager turns up to deliver a short speech to passengers who haven't seen a bed or a shower in over 50 hours and is basically telling them that there's no quick end in sight and they *applaud* you spontaneously during your speech and at the end, you know you're doing this thing right. Embarassing though it is to admit it, and I suspect my extreme tiredness was a factor, I was practically wiping away a tear! In retrospect, I realise that it was because they seemed to genuinely care about our predicament. It's difficult to define the difference between this and fake customer care but it was clear as day if you were there. He then hung around until every single passenger had asked whatever weird and wonderful questions they had and answered them with calm authority and honesty.

- The free food was endless and of great quality, despite my personal preferences. Not your European - here's a voucher for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Instead - here are three proper meals a day at the right time. I'm guessing this was very important to most people, particularly the large number of families among the passengers and in the end (as you'll see in another blog post), they moved us at one point from one hotel to another, just so people could eat and wash.

- As soon as it became clear that MAA was shut down for days, they made a (heavily caveated) promise that they would try to organise some extra capacity out of Bangalore as the fastest way to get us home. They had to work with the air authorities on this, they were in the midst of every airline trying to do the same, were operating to tight timescales and were honest with us that it was starting to look unlikely and so spent hours trying to rebook people on to other flights to Mumbai and other routes. But they came through. They promised they would try something for us, they worked on it and worked on it until they made it happen and they got people home.

I can't emphasise enough how fantastic SQ were over my 85 hour (read that again - 85 hour) trip home. If it was just me saying this, then it would be personal taste, but a bunch of extremely tired passengers with a wide demographic all seemed to agree whenever we discussed it or I heard others discussing it. The interesting (but really unsurprising thing), is that I also found my fellow passengers understanding and behaviour far above what I've ever experienced in a situation like this. Mmmmm ... maybe when you treat people well, they behave well?

So, Seah Chee Chian and your team ... You should be extremely proud of yourselves! But I mean the whole team, working selflessly over hours and days and showing genuine care for your customers, which is so rare. I'm not a fan of low cost airlines in general - each to their own - so the small difference in fares has never been a question for me and it's at times like this you remember you get what you pay for! However, I can put Singapore's efforts up against any full-fare airline I've ever flown with and I can't think of one that would have handled things as impressively. I just always knew I could count on SQ to take care of me.

You have a fan for life!

P.S. All of this and having the best airport on the planet (SIN) as your hub. What more could I ask for?

P.P.S. I was obviously delighted to get any seat on any plane going back to Singapore to be home again with Mads. So when I was asked whether I was happy to be downgraded to Economy it wasn't a long consideration, but I'll obviously be reclaiming the cost of that upgrade. I mean, the experience hasn't changed me *that* much! ;-)

P.P.P.S. ... and you would think that such a glowing tribute to such an amazing airline might, you know, increase my chances of an upgrade one day. (See? Ever the frequent flyer! LOL)

My Indian Adventure - Part 1

Wed, 2015-12-09 08:29
Last week I had a small adventure and wanted to record some of the events before I forget them and to take the opportunity to praise both the good people of Chennai and the stellar staff of Singapore Airlines. You'll find nothing about Oracle here and unless you're a friend or my family, probably not much to care about, but those are the people I'm writing this for.

I suppose it began the previous week when we received a travel advisory ahead of my short two night business trip warning us of fresh rains and flooding risk in Chennai. I asked my boss if it was really a good idea for us to travel, particularly as I had to be back on Wednesday morning for my partners birthday trip to Phuket. But the decision was made and so I found myself in a somewhat wet Chennai on Sunday night. 

However, other than some occasional rain and the residual effects of earlier flooding - Chennai has been living with this for a while now - the business stuff went well and I woke up at 4am (jetlag) on Tuesday, looking forward to travelling home that night.


Sitting in my final meeting before travelling to the airport, one of the attendees suggested that we break up the meeting as people were getting 
calls from home to tell them that their homes were being flooded! So we broke up, the office cleared out and we phoned for the car to come from our hotel 25 minutes away. Estimated time of arrival 1-2 hours! Oh well. I'd be pushing it to make my flight, but would probably be fine.

We waited and after the first hour I stood outside with an umbrella, sheltering under a 
concrete archway until I'd venture out with the brolly at each possible hotel car sighting. It also gave me an opportunity to smoke outside but under the brolly. However, after an hour of this, I was absolutely drenched and my feet and trousers were soaking. Just me being an idiot as usual, but I would come to regret this more and more as time passed later. Soaking clothes were not ideal for the trip to come and I'd packed extremely lightly!

The car turned up at 6:15 and so began our journey to the hotel and then probably time for a quick beer, dry out a bit and then on to the airport.

We eventually arrived at the hotel 1:45 later and I was starting to panic because Chennai Airport (MAA) is one where arriving 2-3 hours before departure is definitely a good idea. Don't get me started on Indian airport security! I was 3:15 away from departure so after switching to another car to give our poor driver a break, we set off immediately. The next hour and 15 minutes were frankly chaotic and worrying as we passed roads that were now rivers, with cars almost under water and the wake from our own car more like that generated by a boat. Despite a very hairy ending to the drive, we made it to the airport 2 hours before departure and I breathed a huge sigh of relief because I knew I'd probably make it home now.

Except Singapore Airlines wouldn't check me in because the flight was going to be seriously delayed, the situation was changing all the time and they didn't want us stuck air-side. The incoming plane had been diverted to Bangalore (BLR) because MAA runway was closed. If the runway could be reopened, then they would fly the plane in from BLR, board us and we could fly home but it was clear there'd be a long delay in any case. I made the decision it was best to stick around as I really needed to get home but what sealed it was that there were now no rooms at all in the hotel I'd checked out of. I could share my bosses room, but that was the best on offer and all taxis had stopped operating from the airport anyway.

After an hour or two, the flight was cancelled and the runway closed until 6am. Singapore Airlines immediately informed us what was happening and organised hot airline style food and a blanket each. The food was the first of many South Indian meals I was to face over the course of the next few days and those who know me well know that means I was condemned to mild hunger! LOL. Fortunately I had a giant bag of Haribo Gold Bears I could dig into occasionally ;-)


Though the blanket was ok, sleeping on the marble floor of an airport terminal with your rucksack as a pillow and a thin blanket is never going to be an enjoyable experience and I think I managed about an hour. Others who had managed to 
commandeer seats and benches seemed to fair better. Here was my slot - always go Business Class, folks! ;-)

I wandered up and down the terminal aimlessly (and there really isn't much else to do in MAA), occasionally trying to get out of the terminal building through security 
so I could have a smoke. Did I mention how I feel about Indian Security guys? Really, just don't get me started on them!

I was hearing rumours from home that Singapore Airlines were flying a plane in and we would be able to get out so I stuck with it but, ultimately, it became clear that the runway was closed and was going to be closed for some time at which point Singapore stepped in and took control of the situation. They cancelled the flight and organised a bus to the Hilton Chennai where we wouldn't be able to have rooms (there were really none available and they offered to pay the costs of anyone who could find one) but we could at least get some food and get away from MAA. It was yet another great decision as MAA was starting to descend into chaos. After a surprisingly easy and short bus drive, we found ourselves at the Hilton but I wasn't sure how much of a benefit being able to stay in Ballroom 2 for hours was going to be.

Over time I came to realise it was a great move when I started hearing reports of what a car crash the MAA terminal had become. We also had wifi for a few hours, which meant I was able to contact Mads so she could start rebooking our trip to Phuket for the next day, in case I was going to get back to Singapore in time. Our original Wednesday departure was clearly a no-go by this stage.

It also helped that we could now get some decent coffee and biscuits and Singapore and the Hilton could start serving up some really pretty good hot buffet lunch. All South Indian food, of course! But then, what else should I expect really? LOL

But at least there were chairs, and power sockets, and some wifi and even occasionally a little 3G, but Chennai's communications infrastructure was slowly but surely disappearing into the surrounding water! I could go outside, try to find reception, smoke, chat to the Singapore Airlines staff who were taking care of us and two of those trips outside will stay with me for a while. (Note that although the flooding doesn't look too bad here, this was definitely one of the better streets and it got much worse later ...)

The first was when I was smoking with one of the SQ guys (hopefully not something that's disallowed, but I'm not handing his name over anyway! ;-)) and I asked him how he thought things were looking. He showed me a video he'd taken of the runway area and my heart sank. It was a lake. A big lake. With waves and stuff. He told me that realistically, nothing would be flying out of MAA any time soon and my heart sank. At the same time, I settled into the idea that this was going to be a long trip and maybe it's something about my military upbringing but I knew that we'd just have to put up with whatever was coming and we'd get there in the end.

Besides, the next visit outside cheered me up no end. As I was passing the time, smoking and day-dreaming, a commotion broke out in the crowd in the street with people running and pushing and laughing and shouting and I genuinely thought there was a mini-riot breaking out.

We all rushed over to see what was going on and then I realised, but I didn't get a photo of it! The crowd were grappling with a large fish! It must have been a good 2.5-3 feet long and fat. Absolutely not a tiddler! As they caught it, they all ran back up the street, laughing and celebrating with their prize. 

Catching fish in the street with your hands. Now *that's* flooding!

More to follow ....

Announcement: Singapore Oracle Sessions III

Wed, 2015-07-01 09:01
Yes, it's that time again although I decided we should delay it a little while when I realised we could take advantage of the visit of Lucas Jellema to Singapore!

The date is set for 14th July so there's only a couple of weeks to go. Here is the agenda (SingaporeOracleSessionsIII.pdf) and a map (SOSMap.pdf) to help you get to the venue which is very handily placed near Bugis MRT. All that's required to register is to email me at dougburns at Yahoo.

Thanks to Hemant and Lucas for offering to present and to Vikki Lira of the OTN Oracle ACE team for agreeing to sponsor the event. As Hemant is an Oracle ACE and Lucas an Oracle ACE Director, the evening will have a truly ACE feel added to the usual Singapore vibe.

Can't wait!

P.S. Yes, I never did post a review of SOS II. That's how busy I've been lately :-(

Singapore Oracle Sessions - Beginnings

Fri, 2014-11-07 20:31

Last Monday evening we had the first Singapore Oracle Sessions - an informal meetup of Oracle professionals thrown together at the last minute by a few of us.

Morten Egan (or as I believe he is called in Denmark now - The Traitor ;-)) mentioned to me months ago that if there was no user group when we arrived in Singapore, then we should start one. At the time he was the current (now retired) chairman of the Danish Oracle User Group (DOUG, strangely enough) and, as I've presented at and supported various Oracle user events over the years and am an ACE Director, it seemed fitting that we should try to build something for the Singapore Oracle community.

The fact that the Oracle ACE Hemant Chitale works for the same company and that the ACE Director Bjoern Rost would be spending a few days at my place before continuing on to the OTN APAC Tour was too much of an opportunity. After a short chat on Twitter we decided to bite the bullet and I started researching venues and contacted some of the locals. We only had 6 days to arrange it so it was either brave or stupid!

As it came together and (through a few very good contacts) we had more and more attendees registering it started to seem like a reality and eventually Bjoern, Madeleine and I found ourselves walking along to the Bugis area on Monday, hoping for the best. Despite some initial problems finding the venue, we arrived to find the extremely helpful Sean Low of Seminar Room who took excellent care of us. 

Within the matter of 15 minutes or so, 33 of the 36 or so who had registered were safely settled in their seats (including my other half Madeleine who *never* attends Oracle stuff!) for my brief introduction during which Sean insisted I try out the hand-held microphone.

My big Sinatra moment (Not)

My big Sinatra moment (not).

First up was Bjoern Rost of Portrix with "Change the way you think about tuning with SQL Plan Management" which, as those who've seen me present on the subject at Openworld, BGOUG or UKOUG would know is a subject dear to my heart. However, Bjoern seems to have had much more success with it than my failed attempts that were damned by literal values and Dynamic SQL. (I've since had a little more success, but mainly as a narrow solution to very specific problems.)

Bjoern and attentive audience

As you can see, the room was pretty full and the audience very attentive (except for a few people who appear to be mucking around with their phones!). They weren't afraid to ask some interesting and challenging questions too, which I always find very encouraging. 

Early in Bjoern's presentation we suffered what I would say was the only significant disappointment of the night as both the drinks and the pizza turned up early! It was nice of the delivery companies not to be late, but my stupid expectation that 7pm meant 7pm ensured that I was standing at the back of the room surrounded by obviously gorgeous pizza that was slowly going cold, not knowing whether I should stop Bjoern in his tracks or not. Manners dictated not (particularly as there were so many people in a small room) but the pizza experience later suggests I was wrong. Lesson learned! (Note that I had to ask others about the pizza as it's on my extensive list of things I don't eat.)

What obviously didn't go wrong at all was the social interaction between all of the attendees and speakers. It probably helped that there were a few attendees from some organisations and that people from different organisations had worked with each other in the past but it's a *long* time since I've felt such a vibrant energy during a break.

Attendees enjoying pizza and conversation

I was on next, presenting on "Real Time SQL Monitoring" and apart from a few hiccups with the clicker I borrowed from Bjoern and a couple of slide corrections I need to make, I think it went reasonably well and people seemed as enthused by SQL Mon reports as I've come to expect! With that done, and a quick smoke (I *love* organising an agenda :-)), it was time for Morten with his "Big Data Primer" 

Morten doing his thing

I think this might have been lots of peoples favourite presentation because it wasn't just about Oracle and Morten packed in plenty of the humour I've come to expect from him. Better still, it seemed to work for a quite cosmopolitan audience, so good work!

Afterwards he said a few words asking for people's feedback and whether there was a desire to setup a local user group or just continue with these informal sessions (sponsors permitting) and all of the feedback I heard later showed that people are very keen for a repeat run. 

Overall, Monday night felt like a great success. 

The passion and enthusiasm of the attendees was very encouraging and reflected in the subsequent feedback which has been consistently positive but also thoughtful so far. There's no question that a decent minority of the local Oracle community are looking for regular opportunities to hear decent speakers on subjects that interest them, meet and discuss issues with each other and also offer to present themselves, which is a great start for any Oracle User Group.

Strangely, I discovered a day or so later that there are already plans for a User Group and the Singapore launch event is next Wednesday. Coincidentally this is only 9 days after SOS! You can look into the APOUG website here and a number of colleagues and I will attend the launch event. I suppose it's a small shame that it's an APAC-wide user group, rather than specific to Singapore, which the number of attendees at such short notice would suggest Singapore can justify, but I'll be interested to see what APOUG has planned.

Big thanks for Alvin from Oracle for endless supplies of fine pizza and Bjoern Rost of Portrix Systems for the room hire (I bought the drinks, which some would say was appropriate but I couldn't possibly comment) and thanks again to all the attendees for making it a fun night!

I didn't notice until I was about to post this that Bjoern had already blogged about the evening and I think he's captured it perfectly.