Database administrators have always been in high demand, but with Web- enabled applications leading IT agendas this year, DBAs are among the IT elite.
The database administrator is informally known as the "DBA," but DBA can also refer to the database analyst role. Increasingly, especially in smaller IT shops and start-ups, these two roles are merging into one, notes Ian Drury, CTO at sports e-tailer MVP.com.
Traditionally, database administrators are responsible for the overall performance of databases. They're "the bridge between applications developers and tech support," says Steve Dlubala, a DBA at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. His responsibilities include translating developers' requirements into database structures, designing tables, monitoring and tuning databases for optimal performance and archiving data.
DBAs who take on the hybrid role of database development, design and analysis also maintain and manage data models and participate in the applications development cycle, working closely with application architects to introduce new functionality, Drury says.
For pure database administration, requirements include a thorough understanding of relational database theory, direct experience with a relational database (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle 8 and Sybase are among the market leaders.) and a solid grounding in the operating system on which the database is running.
DBAs who are doing database design and development must also understand the fundamentals of data modeling, such as the pros and cons of denormalization � a way of structuring tables of data. At MVP.com, Drury seeks DBAs with three to five years of experience with "complex transactional databases, preferably in an e-commerce environment."
Database administrators are in such high demand that employers typically see certification as a nice-to-have. In the Windows 2000 environment, the key certification is the MCDBA: Microsoft Certified Database Administrator. But given the market penetration of SQL Server rival Oracle, the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)-DBA certification also deserves consideration.
Typical day on the job:
Dlubala's day is split between planned tasks and firefighting. He's typically involved in three or four development projects at a time, and spends about half his day focused on a few tasks related to one or two of those projects, such as integrating a table design with existing databases. He reserves a chunk of time for performance monitoring and tuning, and spends about two hours a day dealing with impromptu requests and problem-solving.
Career path options:
The most natural extension of DBA skills is to get more involved in database development, including data warehousing and data mining. Because DBAs work closely with applications developers, moving into development is also a viable career path. Another option is to move over to operations.
A survey of 300 IT executives by Information Week ranked database administrators among the top three most sought after IT professionals. At IT job search site ComputerJobs.com, the database systems skills section led the entire site with more than 15,000 jobs posted in early January.
Database administrators earn an average of $51,437 annually, according to SearchWin2000.com's interactive salary survey. Database analysts make an average of $60,919 annually, plus an average bonus of $4,800, for a total of $65,719, according to Computerworld's 14th Annual IT Salary Survey, published Sept. 11, 2000. The survey pegs average annual salary and bonus for database managers at $78,925.
For a look at projected salaries for DBAs in 2001, see the article "Where Are DBA Salaries Headed This Year," at our sister site SearchDatabase.com.
Best types of companies to work for:
Since DBAs are required in nearly all IT environments, the best types of company to work for will depends on what kind of role you seek. For jobs entailing pure database administration, larger IT organizations are more likely to segment the roles. If you prefer an opportunity to do a range of database-related work, including development, performance monitoring and tuning, and analysis, consider an e-commerce organization. If you're interested in data warehousing and data mining, retail, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, manufacturing and other companies with sophisticated customer relationship management and supply chain management systems are good choices.
This was first published in February 2001