Fixing SQL Problems: Do you Know too Much?

Here’s a thought-provoking thesis: Too much knowledge can distort your perception, even when fixing SQL problems. I’m not entirely sure I can prove or even adequately elaborate on this idea, but here goes. 

Fixing SQL Problems

Lessons from Comic Books

In my youth, I was a fairly invested collector of comic books. Even now, there are still three or four printer paper boxes somewhere with around 500 comics (I’ve long since sold the valuable ones). I got most everything involving Batman, and it’s easy to see the influence of some of the earliest of my comics on Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. (For the record, this is primarily Frank Miller’s Year One storyline in Batman 404-407.) I recently rewatched that film and texted a comic book-collecting friend about it.

We swapped a few more texts about the strengths and weaknesses of Nolan’s two other Batman films. While 2008’s The Dark Knight was a massive success, I still have concerns, summarized as “too much going on.” You could say I was disappointed. On the other hand, I thought The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 was a wonderful conclusion to the story arc and tend to prefer it to The Dark Knight.

While my friend has similar concerns regarding that movie, he thinks Rises is worse because of the way the villain Bane is portrayed. In other words, the comic book Bane doesn’t come across in the film, so for him the movie is flawed from the get-go.

Applying the Lesson

But (and here’s my point): My “comic book days” ended before Bane’s comic book introduction (1993). With no prior knowledge of the character, the movie didn’t have to match my perception. I didn’t have any reservations about the character.

In a similar vein, I’ve never read the Harry Potter books. I find the movies, after the first two*, to be great fun. I’m guessing some rabid fans of the books are likely not happy about any number of things in the movies. Their knowledge gets in the way of their enjoyment. I frequently reread The Lord of the Rings and wish Peter Jackson had done some things differently in his films because I know the story inside and out.

So, what does this have to do with SQL Server…or anything useful? Sometimes our knowledge and experience can get in the way of approaching something with an open mind. Our knowledge and experiences create a bias, a predisposition. If you have to fix SQL problems you could get stuck if you rely only on past knowledge. For example, if we have encountered “Problem A” before, our natural response is to resolve it the same way. But what if this is actually “Problem K that resembles Problem A except….”?


At SSG, we frequently encounter this “bias” in our consulting. For example,  the infrastructure team instinctively throws more hardware at performance problems it finds. That may remedy some issues, but often it’s more effective to get under the SQL Server hood and see what’s up. Or, developers keep tweaking their code, not realizing the issue lies with the database. These responses happen most often (almost exclusively) when there isn’t a DBA on the team. In contrast, as database consultants, we don’t spin our wheels trying to diagnose something. We’re able to quickly zero in on the heart of the matter and get things fixed.

It’s wise to temper expectations when going to the movies. Likewise, we should withhold judgment when approaching a SQL problem, new or not so new.

* I have nothing against the first two movies. They are just more about setting the stage and are more “kiddie” than the following installments.

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