Performance Reviews and White Papers

Everyone except HR is  cynical about the entire process of performance reviews. Joel on Software summarized many of the problems and Kathy Sierra blogged about a memorable review.

Quick digression: I think this is the first time I mentioned Kathy Sierra in this blog, which is a shame. She wrote the most enjoyable and inspiring blog I’ve ever read, and then she stopped blogging in very disturbing circumstances. Everything she wrote is gold – both the content and the presentation. If you decide to head over to her site now, you have my blessings.

Anyway, I also had lots of problems with my performance reviews.  Not with my ratings, but with the “points of improvement” I got from my managers over the year. All the suggestions fell into one of two categories:

  1. Things I was improving anyway – Mostly technical knowledge, but also various forms of “be nice to coworkers” and “don’t embaress your manager in large meetings”.
  2. Things I could not improve – “Be more assertive with developers” appeared on my review few years ago. I’d love to be more assertive with many people, but after years of struggle I’m ready to admit: I’m shy and quiet, but I make up for it with other good qualities.

So, it ended up a bit useless – those suggestions had very little impact on my behavior the next year.

This year, my manager did something brilliant – he gave me suggestions that were both original and exciting. Stuff I didn’t think about doing, but once he said them I was all ready to go.  Suggestions like – write a white paper, give a presentation, get OCM (!). I’m ready to admit that this is the best manager I’ve ever head, maybe with one exception. “Give a presentation” is much more exciting than “Improve communication skills”.

So, now I’m tossing ideas for white papers around in my mind and I’m going to share them here, so maybe I can get useful feedback:

  1. How to use one of our company products to manage Oracle better: I’m actively using four of our own products to do my job, and I really love two of them. I’ve seen how some of our customers use these products, and I think I can give lots of good ideas and suggestions that will be helpful. I am a bit worried that our marketing is not very technical, so the existing white papers are all about how to improve things like business strategies, not how to do a better day to day job.
  2. How to manage the DB for one of our products – Its about a specific product which is DB intensive. I’ve been the production DBA of this product on a SaaS environment for three years now, since we are hosting many many customers on very few servers, I can be pretty sure that I’ve seen every performance bottleneck that this product can create, and have quite a few suggestions on how to make this productg *sing* – from architecture to producing quick reports. I’m just a bit worried that this will send me on a collision course with the developers.
  3. Technical paper related to Oracle but not to any of the company products. The kind of things that I enjoy reading about – how to monitor a specific feature, comparing performance of few methods of doing something, internals of X, use cases for Y. If your are reading this blog, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – Everyone else has been doing this for years. This is the most exciting idea. Being a DBA, I find Oracle itself is more exciting to me than our own products. This is also the idea that scares me the most (another hint that I should do this) – this has been done so well by so many good people, that I fear trying to jump to a bar that is set so incredibly high.

Reader comments are even more welcome than usual. Especially if you are one of the guys that helped setting the white paper bar so high 🙂

Rob Van Wijk of OTN fame posted the 3 funniest OTN threads of the last year. Don’t miss!

Crazy DBA wrote a holiday post that I completely identified with. Well, except for that I don’t have children and never tried understanding women. Other than that, his post could have been written by me if I was the more positive type.


5 Comments on “Performance Reviews and White Papers”

  1. moshez says:

    All of your white paper ideas are “how tos”. Have you thought of about a more descriptive whitepaper? “Differences between Oracle versions” (I know nothing of that — it might be boring or not), “SQL*Plus Gotchas”, stuff like that?

  2. Peter Scott says:

    Part of writing the paper is about getting buy-in from others. Speak to the marketing people and outline your ideas, they might go for a technical piece as it could be seen as raising the bar on their normal output; likewise speak to the developers about writing on improving the performance of what is out there now, they might be glad that they could space to concentrate on new stuff rather than fix-up slow code.
    Speak to your manager and get the company’s view on contributing outside on general topics, if it is positive put in a proposal to write a piece for OTN

  3. Rob van Wijk says:

    “This is the most exciting idea. Being a DBA, I find Oracle itself is more exciting to me than our own products.”

    You answered your own question with these two sentences.

    And about that bar: you can turn it into something positive instead of scary. It is a chance to explore a feature in great detail and to thoroughly test the feature about which you are excited. And when you are finished writing, you can always ask someone whom you know is proficient at the chosen topic, to review the paper.

    Whatever you decide, good luck!


  4. prodlife says:


    Thanks for your reply. Asking someone else to review is a great idea, which I should have thought of myself.

  5. […] Good managers can make performance reviews a positive experience. […]

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