How do I launch a career in Database Administration

How Do I Launch A Career In Database Administration
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Priyadharshini GS

Published on August 31, 2015


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Every industry relies heavily on databases. From traditional professions, such as medical, legal, and real estate, to high tech companies, like Google and Apple, the use of databases is what allows businesses and those in these professions to track a wide range of data. An entire body of knowledge has developed around the need to maintain and track data. Database managers, typically called database administrators or DBAs, handle system backups of all data so that information is not lost in the event of a power outage, natural disaster, or any other unexpected problem.

The regular responsibilities of DBAs include securing the data, both from hackers and corruption, making sure data is available to users (usually based on the user’s access level), and ensuring data is presented in a way that is easy to review and pull into reports. DBAs often know several different computer languages, especially the different types of SQL (such as MySQL). Higher level DBAs are responsible for developing newer database systems to help companies meet their growing data needs.

The Advantages of Being a DBA

There are very few positions that as much variety in managing databases as a DBA: Database Admins handle DBs of various kinds, written in a host of languages, and used for a number of different applications. You can safely move from one field to another with no hassle.

For example, a DBA can work in Manufacturing, Insurance, Healthcare, and Banking & Finance over the course of a career. Preference is frequently given to those who have experience in a particular type of database management.

What Are The Various Database Admin Roles?


Certified, qualified DBAs generally work in one of three different roles:

System DBAs

The most common types of DBAs work with systems. System DBAs work with the physical aspects, such as configuring the database, patches and upgrades, backups and restores, automation, maintenance, and disaster recovery.

Development DBAs

A development DBA works with the structure of the database, such as the database model, design, and data definition language generation, coding (particularly SQL), working with developers, and pre-production work.

Application DBAs

Application DBAs are the most specialized. They work for larger companies that require 3rd party software, such as Oracle and PeopleSoft. These large applications require dedicated personnel to install, update, patch, clone, clean, and perform other regular database activities.

There is some overlap between these three DBA types, making it easier for those in the profession to switch between the positions based on interest and experience level. In 2012, over 118,000 DBAs were employed, across a diverse range of fields and career levels.

What Are The Stages In A Career As Database Administrator?

As one of oldest fields in the tech industry, there is a clear, linear path for a DBA that is based on experience. Most companies require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology before they will consider a candidate. Here is a typical career progression path for a DBA:

Entry Level

You will need to get a degree in computers; typically information management is preferred over general computer science. Daily tasks at this level include getting familiar with the system and helping users go through the data. You will learn how to maintain the database and what is required to keep it secure.

With a bachelor’s degree, the average salary for entry level DBAs is just over $59,000, making it one of the highest paying entry-level positions in the IT industry. Entry level DBAs are also eligible for the usual perks for the high tech industry, including bonuses and profit sharing, as well as usually being employed full time by companies so that they also qualify for benefits. In 2014, those in the entry level position earned up to $8,000 in bonuses and between $500 and $9,000 in profit sharing.

To progress to the next level, most companies require several years of experience. Getting a database system certification can help you stand out from other candidates. If your experience does not include managing others, you might want to get a certification and consider taking on more responsibility at work as this will be required in the next phase of the job.

Mid-Level

Those in mid-level positions typically have considerably more experience than those in mid-level positions for other less technical fields. While most careers, like those in nursing and accounting, use the mid-level to mean several years of experience, mid-level DBAs not only need experience, but will also manage teams and groups. Their work is considerably more varied than the work of those still in the entry level, with higher levels of stress. As a mid-level DBA, you will be designing and refining databases to meet the changing needs of your company.

According to the US Department of Labor, the median pay for a mid-level DBA in 2012 was $77,080. Most DBAs have begun to specialize in a particular type of database by this point in their career, with application DBAs earning the highest wages. For example, Oracle Database Administrators earned the most at nearly $120,000 a year. However, these roles are also most likely to be contractual, which means they have fewer other benefits.

Senior Level

A senior level DBA is typically in a CTO role and requires years of experience. The best way to stand out for this high level position is to have an outstanding track record that demonstrates successful management of both IT elements and database systems. While there may not be any certifications for this role, it is expected that senior level personnel stay up to date with the latest in new technology.

Over 50% of those employed as senior level DBAs in 2014 had between 10 and 19 years of experience in the field. In this position, you will be expected to develop new and improved ways of working with the company’s strategies for both databases and other forms of technology.

The median salary for this level is $98,461 a year. During 2014, senior level DBAs earned up to $15,000 in bonuses and between $1,000 and $14,000 in profit sharing.

Career Outlook

If you want a stable job that pays well, this is one of the best fields to go into for a career. Based on 2012 data, the US Department of Labor estimated over 15% job growth for this field through 2022, considerably higher than nearly every other field.

With considerably greater job stability and an established career path, being a DBA offers the kind of job security that is on par with more traditional positions. As a tech field, it offers many of the challenges and an identical scope for personal improvement to what is typical in the industry. It also offers many of the traditional benefits, like health and vision, along with the tech benefits of bonuses and profit sharing.

As companies grow and expand, the need for DBAs has also risen. This gives DBAs more flexibility in the field they choose, as well as making it more of a job hunter’s market. The vast majority of DBAs across the three levels expressed satisfaction with their jobs, largely because DBAs are in high demand, and will continue to be so. 

About the Author

Priyadharshini writes on Project Management, IT, Six Sigma, & e-Learning. With a penchant for writing and a passion for professional education & development, she is adept at penning educative articles. She was previously associated with Oxford University Press and Pearson Education, India.


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