Performance work is a great career as everything change over time and with each change comes new performance challenges. There are always things to do and things to learn. Good performance work can save the company and put your kids though college. Yay!
Bad News… The Path Is Not Easy
This is a hard skill to learn as the knowledge required is diffused throughout many different sources. Let me explain…
First, performance books… Some are built on very difficult math that most people can’t do and most problems don’t require. They unnecessarily discourage many people. Many books focus on a specific product version, but you don’t have that version in your computing world. There is often no performance book for a key part of your transaction path.
Turning to manuals… Almost all manuals focus on a specific version of a technology and were written under tremendous time pressure at about the same time the engineering was being completed; thus the engineers had little time to talk to the writers. The manuals ship with the product. The result is that these books document, but they don’t illuminate. They explain the what, but not the why. They cover the surface, but don’t show the deep connections.
Should you accept the bad news, stop reading here and give up? I don’t think so. There is hope. Hear me out…
First Of All, Don’t Worry About The Math
For 99% of the performance work out there you don’t need to use complex performance math equations. The most complex formula I used in 25+ years of performance work is the one that approximately predicts how the response time will change as the utilization of a resource increases:
R = S / (1 – U)
If you can replace S with the number 2 and U with the number 0.5 and calculate that R is equal to (spoiler alert) 4, then you have all the math you need for a long career in performance.
Mine Low Grade Information for Gold…
RTFM (Read The ‘Fine’ Manual)
If your company just bought an UltraBogus 3000 (see picture to left) to handle your peak load then read the manuals cover-to-cover. You’ll be surprised what you find.
Sometimes what you find is a limit that is better discovered now than when you blindly hit it at the seasonal peak. Sometimes it is a question you never thought to ask. Sometimes it is a way to make your job vastly easier – even the worst product has some good features. You have to mine a ton of ore to find an ounce of gold.
You’ll (hopefully) be doing this job for years, take 15 minutes a day and chew your way though the manuals.
Lastly, reading the manuals teaches you the vocabulary you need to use when you call tech support. If you want to talk to their wizards, first you need to convince the people who initially take the call that you’re not an idiot.
Read Performance Books
I wrote one that I think is generally useful and there are many others that will illuminate particular problems and show different ways of solving them.
They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but there is good stuff to be found there. Especially if the company is buying, try reading the ones with scary looking equations. Push yourself into unfamiliar territory. Even if you can’t understand it, having it on your bookshelf will intimidate your enemies. 😉
If you want to be a performance guru then be all you can be. Read.
Search and Connect
Search engines are your friend. If you have a problem with X-technology, then it is highly likely that someone else has too. Ask simple questions and see what comes up. A lot of it is low-grade information, but sometimes you find just the hint you need.
LinkedIn has groups that are focused on every conceivable technology. Join a few a see if you can find a rich vein of information. There is also CMG and websites focused on performance like PracticalPerformanceAanalyst or PerfBytes to explore.
Now comes the tough part…
After you explore the sources above there are still many things of great importance you still won’t know. Performance work is in many ways a skill you teach yourself with the help of others. You have to dive in, like an explorer on a new planet, and try to make sense of the computing world you stand upon. I’m often asked: Where do I begin? My answer is to pick a small performance-related thing that interests you and deeply explore it. As you explore, you’ll find other mysteries. Don’t worry about them, just put them on the list. Once you master the first thing, go for the next thing on the list. Over time you’ll have more and more helpful things to contribute and your job will mutate into a performance job. Most performance people start as something else (like a programmer or a sys admin) and slowly move into the performance field. You don’t have to know it all day one. Actually, you never know it all and that is what makes the work interesting.