Companies, government agencies and various organizations collect and
store huge amounts of information. Someone has to oversee and organize all
that data. These people are called database administrators, or DBAs for short.
DBAs get the best use out of database software. They plan the database,
manage system storage and control who can access the database. They create
backup systems and plan the system's security.
You can find DBAs in computer consulting companies or in any organization
where electronic information needs to be stored and maintained. They might
run the database for a university, an accounting firm, a government department
or an insurance company.
"There are quite a few database administration jobs out there," says Melody
Stapleton. She's a professor of computer science at California State University,
"They're not as [numerous] as programmer jobs, because the database administrators
have control over the server machines for databases and there's only so many
of those machines. But there's lots and lots of applications, so it depends
on the company's infrastructure," says Stapleton.
"Very large corporations may have a number of database administrators --
they'll have kind of the head DBA and then they'll have junior DBAs below
Stapleton says the role for DBAs is evolving as cloud-based computing becomes
The "cloud" refers to a growing trend where companies and organizations
store their data off site. Instead of having data on their own servers, the
data is stored elsewhere and accessed online. This trend is changing the role
Database administration is evolving into something that could be called
"data operations," says Neil Hepburn. He's the education director for an information
"I think database administration is basically going to start going away
pretty soon because these databases are moving into the cloud," says Hepburn.
"I think a great example is Microsoft SQL Azure (a cloud database service)
-- you don't need a DBA as much as you did before, but you definitely need
someone to manage operational aspects of a database and be able to go in and
react very quickly.
"So a DBA spends a lot of their time now doing things like backing up
and making sure that the server can scale (handle more data), and they spend
a little bit of their time doing optimizing queries, and helping data architects
and developers access the data," says Hepburn.
"But I think that that role will move [to] being more reactive -- being
able to react very quickly and not really spend time mucking around with things
like server hardware and backups."
The education you should get depends on your long-term goals. Options include
a two-year community college diploma in computer science. Or you can do a
four-year university degree in computer science, computer information systems,
business administration, math or commerce.
"More and more universities are beginning to introduce curriculum that
has to do with database administration," says Stapleton.
Do you need a master's degree to get a job as a DBA? "No, not at all,"
says Stapleton. "I think a bachelor's degree in a program that has the database
administration courses would work great for an entry-level database administration
"You want to have some kind of IT or computer science degree," says Hepburn.
Although you may learn a good deal about database systems in a four-year
degree, not all technical degrees teach the specific skills of a DBA. That
can be learned in a shorter course or on the job. But a degree gives you a
greater knowledge base and better options for the future.
Generally, if you have a master's degree, you can start a little bit higher
in the company rather than in an entry-level job. Business courses are also
"The more you can understand about how that business itself works and
what the actual meaning of that information is, [the more it will help you]
know how you sort of architect and design these IT systems," says Hepburn.
If you are already working in the IT field, and you want to learn specific
databases thoroughly, you can get certification through the software creators.
This gives a person the professional standing that many companies look for.
It can also lead to a jump on higher-paying jobs.
Oracle has the most widely used database system in the world. You can become
an Oracle certified professional, specializing in using their database. The
certification involves courses (available across North America) and technology-based
training. Many people take this training part time while they are working.
Microsoft has a similar training system. It's called the Microsoft certified
database administrator training program.
"A good database administrator needs to understand data modeling, data
architecture," says Joyce Norris-Montanari. She's with the Rocky Mountain
Chapter of the Data Management Association.
"They need to understand team dynamics, so they need to do something in
project management and understand those types of teams, and they need to learn
SQL -- so some of the Microsoft classes in SQL may be good, or Oracle SQL
classes, besides just knowing the database management system."
DBAs are often well paid. But they work hard for it.
"If you were looking at somebody with a two-year degree and they had some
good certifications maybe around Microsoft or Oracle products, I think that
you could definitely come in at $60,000 or $65,000 to start," says Norris-Montanari.
"They are paid well," says Stapleton. "There's a lot of responsibility
on their shoulders. Frequently, [in case] a database goes down, the database
administrator needs to be on call all hours of the night.
The more experience you have as a DBA, the higher you can climb into the
better paying senior or management positions.
DBAs can find themselves working in a wide array of businesses. They may
want to learn more about the sectors they can specialize in, be it banking,
education or anything else.
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