Database Person 101

One of the things I do is assist with interviewing database people for roles. It’s usually where I already have a relationship and have worked on a project for a client. I recently hired a database person at a charity where I’d been assisting with Raiser’s Edge database support for the past few years.

The pandemic has made conducting interviews quite different. Zoom or Microsoft Teams interviews can be difficult to conduct, but they can also be beneficial since, in my opinion, interviewees are less anxious when they are not present and are not dealing with the pressures of travel. Some people experience the opposite, where they become more anxious when they cannot meet in person. Keep in mind that the interviewee wants to perform at their best for all parties.

However, I digress. The purpose of this piece is to discuss the onboarding process for new hires, what it’s like to join a team, and what you should try to consider. But before that, I would note that it has been challenging to find candidates during the pandemic. If you’re trying to hire, all I would advise is to persevere because the right person will come along. You should also be realistic about what you can offer, as I believe that remote working is here to stay and that database professionals do need some time away from the office to focus and do some of the “doing.”

Let’s get back to it. Although the individual I hired had experience with databases, they hadn’t worked on the particular database at this nonprofit, so as part of the onboarding process, you need to give them time to get up to speed. Keep in mind that not everyone learns in the same way; some prefer to read, some prefer to watch videos, and some prefer to just dive in. If you’re writing handover notes, consider whether making a video of a brief passage that can be utilised as training material or to explain something a little more technical would be the best course of action. The majority of companies offer current films for system overviews, and if you’re just getting started, YouTube is your buddy.

Training: Even while you want the new employee to become acclimated as quickly as possible, try not to schedule all of your training sessions or orientations during the first few weeks. Joining new organisations can be overwhelming for database professionals because most database professionals are introverts. I don’t mean this in a negative way; I’m just saying that meeting lots of new people can be exhausting and that trying to remember names and roles on top of systems and processes takes time. Create a strategy for the information your database person needs to know and make sure there is room for it.

I chose a half-dozen things for the person to learn each month for the first three months, and then a few of the more important things for the last three months of their probationary period. Which is a good point; I would always estimate that it takes approximately 6 months to onboard and embed a multifaceted database person; obviously, if your database person is only doing imports or selections, it can be much faster, but as a guide, that is what I would suggest. Everything will be fine if they arrive sooner.

When your new hire is no longer new, the honeymoon period is over, and they must work on their own. Hopefully, the following items are in place:

Task Management – They’ve found a way to manage their day-to-day tasks, whether it’s Outlook tasks, a separate calendar, or something completely different like Todoist or Trello.

Documentation – There are notes on what you’ve gone through that are saved in a location where you can refer to them or share them with other team members. This documentation should include process notes, your personal notes, and contact information. Using a programme like OneNote or Evernote, which allows you to save links to websites as well as documents and pictures, can be useful at times. You may also be able to embed videos if you’ve decided to create your own collection of how tos.

Projects List – Before you set out to change the world or annoy colleagues with the “This is how we did it at my previous job…” I’d make a projects list and a tracker for everything that happens on a regular basis, such as imports from JustGiving or Direct Debit Processing, and then look at the bigger projects / clean up type stuff that you might want to tackle when you have the time, such as Contact Types, Communications lists, or teams that aren’t using the CRM as well as you’d like. They are not 5 minute tasks.

Again, you can keep this separate from your regular day-to-day tasks, or you can keep it all in one place. Personally, I keep them separate because I would be overwhelmed by a long task list followed by a long list of projects I need to complete.

Finally, make time for self-learning and keeping up with what’s going on in the industry. Database professionals don’t have many options for getting help, coaching, or mentoring on a daily basis. So start with the Facebook groups; there’s a fundraising database group as well as Raiser’s Edge groups for the UK and overseas. Other CRM systems are available, and there are groups for them. However, I would say that many of these groups are places where people vent about their CRM system, sometimes for good reason, but you’ll need to wade through this or add a picture of your pet to cut through the noise.

You can, of course, look for people on LinkedIn and connect with them; who knows, we might even be able to hold events where we can put like-minded people in a room for a discussion – stranger things have happened!

Finally, this isn’t my typical type of post, so if you’d like to see more of this type of thing, perhaps about specific database challenges, let me know and I’ll keep typing; if this is completely off the mark or if I’ve missed something obvious, let me know and I can amend or leave this type of thing to people much more qualified than myself.

Here are some examples of common job roles on a database team in the UK charity sector:

  1. Database Administrator (DBA): A DBA is in charge of managing and maintaining the organization’s databases, which includes tasks like data modelling, storage, integration, and security.
  2. A data analyst is in charge of analysing data in order to extract insights and inform decision-making. Data cleaning, data visualisation, and statistical analysis are examples of such tasks.
  3. A data engineer is in charge of designing, constructing, and maintaining the infrastructure and systems that support the organization’s data needs. Data pipelines, data lakes, and data warehouses are examples of such tasks.
  4. A data scientist is responsible for analysing data and extracting insights using advanced statistical and machine learning techniques. Predictive modelling, natural language processing, and image recognition are examples of such tasks.
  5. Data Manager: A data manager is in charge of overseeing the overall management and governance of an organization’s data, which includes tasks like data quality, data security, and data privacy.

A database team may include one or more people in each of these roles, depending on the size and complexity of the organisation, or it may have a more specialised structure with additional job roles.