T-SQL Tuesday #56 – Assumptions

T-SQL Tuesday is a recurring blog party, that is started by Adam Machanic (Blog | @AdamMachanic). Each month a blog will host the party, and everyone that want’s to can write a blog about a specific subject.

This month the subject is “Assumptions “. If you want to read the opening post, please click the image below to go to the party-starter: Dev Nambi (Blog | @DevNambi).



 
This months topic is about assumptions. A few years back, I worked in a team that consisted of mainly .NET developers. Every time we mentioned “I think so…”, “I assume it works like this…” or “I think we should…”, one of them used the quote: “Assumption is the mother of all f*ck ups!”, which is a quote from the movie Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. But he was right. The moment you assume something, it’s going to blow up in your face in the end.

 
I tested it, and it works
Working for larger organizations should mean they are more prepared to certain things then smaller organizations. But I’ve seen large organization being badly prepared, or just plain unprepared. They assume their processes work, or they will never encounter failure at all.

One of the companies I worked for, took backups every night. Full backups. Of databases there were between 100 GB and 500+ GB… And they never tested a restore… Why? They used the default maintenance functionality with “Verify Backup Integrity” enabled, and they never needed to restore a database before. So they only took backups because management wanted that. They didn’t understand why, because their processes never failed, and would never fail in the future.

But one day, it wasn’t their processes that failed. A LUN went offline during the ETL process, and SQL Server naturally detected that. SQL Server put a database into suspect mode, because of database corruption. But because there were no backups, they needed to move to plan B: process about 2+ years of data (stored in XML files) again.

Eventually I solved it and recovered the database without the need of a restore, but it scared them. They now saw why they needed backups, and why they needed to test the restore on a regular basis. But they forgot about it after a few days, and we never got the time to change the maintenance processes or test any restore. After that, I made the best choice possible in my opinion: I found myself a new challenge.

 
If you don’t know what you’re talking about…
Another example of assumption I have seen a lot over the years, is people explaining stuff to other people, without any proper knowledge about a certain subject. I can recall a conversation between me and an intern. He was a .NET developer, and had some questions about how a T-SQL feature worked. Another junior BI developer started laughing, when the intern asked his question. “What a stupid question, everybody knows the answer to that!” he said. Kind of irritated by that, I asked him to provide the answer to that question. He didn’t want to. I asked him again: “you answer the question, because you laughed about it, and I want to hear the answer from you.”

He started to stutter, and he explained the functionality all wrong. When I explained it the right way, the .NET intern thanked me, and walked away with his new knowledge, ready to bring it into practice. The BI developer wanted to continue the discussion. “You’re all wrong! That feature doesn’t work that way!”. I nicely told him, that I used this feature on a daily basis, and that he was wrong. The discussion went on a little more, but I stopped the discussion by telling him: “I’m doing this for a number of years now, and working with SQL Server is what I do. You just started, and wrote your first query a few months ago. If you find any resources that show me being wrong, I’ll be happy to quit my job. Until then, please don’t explain T-SQL to other people if you don’t know what you’re talking about.”. Until this day, he never got back to me on this discussion.

 
I don’t need to check that!
Another great assumption you’ll see in several companies, are IT people that trust their own automation a little bit too much. The rule in IT is that if you need to do something more than once or a couple of times, you need to automate it. Automation is a good thing, and it can save you time. But who checks if your process doesn’t fail? You don’t want to build a system, that checks another system for you. One of the things I’ve seen is a developer that created an automated process, that checked a log table on a database server, and mailed new errors to the developer. Looking at this, it’s a perfect solution. You don’t have to monitor the log table by yourself, but an automated process does that for you.

At one moment, an application seemed to fail. It threw exceptions, and the end-users weren’t able to do anything with the application. The developer was called, and he told the users to contact the system administrator, because it must have been a server- or hardware problem. The system administrator called the developer after a few minutes, and told him the server and hardware were in perfect condition. The developer insisted his software wasn’t failing, because he didn’t receive any errors by email. But after a quick check, the developer came to the conclusion his automated process failed. The developer lost a lot of credits because of this attitude. As you see, this is another example of an assumption that went wrong.

 
Never stop asking questions
One of the most important things I wanted to show you with this blog post, is that if you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to ask someone. The same goes for processes, tools, functionality, or any other question you want to ask. If people mock you for asking questions, they are the ones that are wrong. You’re just trying to learn and grow, so don’t feel bad about yourself!

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