They say that DBA’s are people who put other people into two categories: People who put people into two categories, and people who don’t. I think lots of us put people into categories, not just DBA’s.
I’ve run into a couple of "types" of DBA’s – or any other IT profession for that matter. Some people (I have a preacher who is really good at this) can take very complicated things and explain them in a basic way. In fact, Einstein is supposed to have said "You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." Only when you understand something, really and truly understand it, can you make it easier for others to understand – at least at the level they need to understand it. In another interview, Einstein was said to have explained to a non-technical audience about the fact that time can be different for two people like this: "Time is different based on which side of the bathroom door you’re on." That word picture immediately conjures up what he’s talking about, at least at the level you might care about.
I’ve known some DBA’s who do this well. They follow standards, document things, and generally perform an amazing amount of work to make the whole data infrastructure look seamless, trouble-free, and simple. They are patient, they take their time and explain things to both managers and propeller-hats at the levels they can understand. They make complicated things simple. Keep in mind that this is the harder path – and benefits others more than self.
Then there’s the other kind. This DBA has learned how to do this or that, does it their own way, doesn’t document and scoffs at "standards". I’ve inherited systems from these folks and it’s basically a reset of everything to know what’s going on. They remind me of the BOFH (look it up) from Jurassic Park that had the system so screwed up no one could figure it out. They make complicated things complicated, believing that this adds to their value. Their systems work, but only if they are there to "Captain Kirk" the thing into submission. They do things that benefit themselves more than others.
Most of us would rather be around the first type of technologist. But it’s interesting that I’ve seen the second type as a highly-valued resource – especially by the management team. They think the second type is "really smart" because what they do looks – you guessed it – complicated. The first type of DBA that makes everything look simple isn’t valued as highly because they’ve taken the time to make things clear and well run. It looks simple, so it isn’t highly valued.
If you’re a manager, you can find out which DBA you’re working with very quickly. Just ask: "How would you make things better around here?" If the answer is self-centered, you’re not working with a wise DBA – skillful perhaps, but not wise. If they pause and think the question through, and come up with a suggestion that helps not only themselves but the rest of the team and the organization at large, then promote that person as soon as possible. Those kinds of people don’t come around very often.