Since I announced my new job at Oracle, I’ve had more than a few friends and associates approach me about databases. They’ve always wondered just what it is that I talk about all the time, or perhaps they want to get their feet wet and want to know more about data in general.
I think this is fairly normal and expected, especially as just about everyone has some sort of interaction with a database. As an end-user or consumer, this is almost always a transparent relationship. You put in your ATM card, and money comes out. You don’t need to understand the database that stores your financial records and transactions – but it’s there. If you fall into this category, it’s enough to understand that data lives in ‘really big inter-connected spreadsheets.’ If you don’t want to install stuff or get your hands dirty, it’s safe to stop reading this now. If you just want to learn more about database and related technologies in general, then Wikipedia is probably a good place to start. Otherwise, read on!
If you are in a business or support role in your organization however, your exposure to the actual database may increase. You might hear someone say ‘Oh yeah, we build those pie charts for you from the database.’
Or maybe you have ‘people’ that run reports or answer questions on your behalf. So while you never directly touch the database, you’re aware that there is thing that stores all the data you rely on to run your business.
There are also many people out there that are running an application that employs a database – WordPress admins and MySQL anyone? – who may never actually touch said database directly – that’s not a bad thing actually.
Even if you’re not a techie, it’s not so hard to get your feet wet with a database. Kids are practically born with an iPad in their hands today – so I don’t think it’s too much to expect someone with the will to lack the skill needed to get started.
And here’s the best part – it can all be done for free!
Back in the old days, us techies got our DB geek on with something called LAMP. Linux + Apache + MySQL + Perl (or PHP) = everything you needed to build a web driven application for free, assuming you already had a computer. I built a web interface for developers to track their new build features using this application stack (substituting Oracle for MySQL) about 8 years ago, and its still in use today!
MySQL is still around, and is more prevalent than many people realize. If you have installed a bunch of applications on your PC, check your task manager – odds are you might have MySQL installed and running today.
And of course let’s not forget the ubiquitous ‘MSFT Access’ application. It’s desktop database provided with Office. If you have a Windows PC, you probably have Office. So if you want to play around with a database, why not give it a look-see.
I think the need to build your own custom apps today is becoming less fierce. There are so many free or low-cost apps available for iOS and Android that allow you to manage your music or photo collection, who needs to build their own system?
But maybe you WANT to build stuff, learn stuff, and grow your IT skills. Have you noticed that database professionals are experiencing some of the lowest levels of unemployment and the highest levels of compensation and career growth? A little bit of database know-how could be enough to really separate yourself from your peers in the Marketing or Social Media industry.
Just because Oracle is running in your company, doesn’t mean you get to touch it. Access to the database is generally restricted to those that have a business need. So, if your needs are currently met by a series of reports or ‘that smart gal that runs queries for you’ – you may need to fall back on setting up your own playground.
If you want to eventually get into that Oracle database though, why not run your own first? Oracle makes this VERY easy with their pre-built VirtualBox image that’s running Oracle database 11gR2 on it. It also has their application framework known as APEX if you want to get fancy and start building interactive websites based on your rotisserie league baseball database. Pre-Built Developer VMs for Oracle can be downloaded here.
If you really have that entrepreneurial spirit, you can also mess around with MySQL. You can download both the database software and a free GUI client to run on Windows and be up in running in a few minutes.
Once you get the gist of tables and rows – and the language used to query them, SQL – then perhaps can start building your business case to be granted access to your REAL database.
Some things to consider…