How to Become a Database Administrator – A Complete Career Guide
In this Guide:
4 steps to become a database administrator
What is a database administrator?
What does a database administrator do?
Database administrator job description
Database administrator skills and experience
Database administrator salary
Database administrator job outlook
With the rapid growth and advancement in information technology in the late 20th century, businesses were accumulating reams of data for historical records. At first, few saw the value of this data, but soon it became widely understood that organizations were amassing an extremely useful and valuable resource. Once that realization spread, the construction, storage, manipulation, and management of huge databases became a pivotal function in every organization. Database administrators were at the very heart of this new reality, as they still are today.
Database administrators are information technology professionals that ensure the optimal storage and access to an organization’s data. This is done by ensuring software programs are designed, managed, and maintained to permit rapid access whenever and however needed by authorized personnel. Database administrators also work with cybersecurity professionals to safeguard the data from unauthorized access and damage. Alternatively, database developers are responsible for the design, programming, and construction of new databases. Some organizations treat these two posts as one job, but for the purposes of this discussion, we have separated them as distinct careers. A career guide for database developers can be viewed here.
This guide provides an overview of the database administrator role and lists the steps required to begin and maximize a career as a database administrator. Included is a detailed list of job responsibilities, background, education, and experience required to be successful professional, as well as salary information, and the future outlook for the database administrator job market.
What is a Database Administrator?
Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is a database administrator? In essence, database administrators (occasionally known as DBAs) have ultimate responsibility for designing and maintaining all aspects of an organization’s data storage facilities.
Database administrators are often tasked with building a new database from the ground up, beginning with the design and construction of application specific customizations to a database platform, and the implementation of the new database. This would transform the role into more of a database developer, with which its often combined. Data input and accumulation methods and protocols must be designed, access permissions granted and monitored, security protocols put in place and monitored, data integrity constantly analyzed, damage repaired, backup methods determined and maintained, program updates implemented, new data sources and data points integrated into the existing database, and new reporting requirements satisfied.
What does a Database Administrator do?
Database administrators are responsible for the storage, organization, presentation, utilization and analysis an organization’s database and database management software. Whatever the information storage needs of a company are, a database administrator strives to meet them. This can include setting up new computer databases or integrating data from old systems to new systems. A good database administrator also needs to respond to the (sometimes constant) change of informational needs, whether it be new types of data being accumulated or different reporting or presentation needs of management. The database administrator must adapt the database software to accept new data points and produce new reports whenever necessary.
Responsibility for maintaining a fully functioning database also lies with the database administrator. Database administrators must regularly perform routine tests and modifications to ensure that a database is performing and running correctly. If a problem occurs, a database administrator must analyze the programs and hardware to determine the problem, and then perform the necessary repairs or alterations. Database administrators also must monitor access privileges, any unauthorized use, and making changes to permissions when required. Coordinating with infosec staff members, database administrators also must update security measures as internal security protocols are adjusted.
Four Steps to Become a Database Administrator
Step 1: Education
Database administrators must be knowledgeable of all aspects of designing, organizing, and maintaining information storage needs for any particular company. A strong generalized background in relational database management systems, including an understanding of structured query language (SQL), is a basic prerequisite for all database professionals. More specific and advanced database skills and knowledge are required to operate specific platforms, including various Oracle products (such as the open source MySQL environment and Oracle itself), Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2 and more.
Database administration job openings will usually require an undergraduate degree. Degrees in information technology are the norm, and probably the most appropriate course of study. Bachelor’s degrees in computer science, engineering and even business administration can also gain a candidate entry into database management. Taking as many courses in database administration or management as possible will make the college transcripts more attractive to prospective employers. This may include coursework in several specific database packages, such as Oracle, IBM AS/400, SQL, and ETL. Some employers will hire entry-level database administrators who have a two-year associate’s degree in database administration, or possibly even a certificate in database management or a related IT subject. Some certificates can be acquired even before or during college. And a trade association for IT professionals in training is also available for students – CompTIA Student Membership.
A number of certifications for database administrators are offered by some of the biggest names in tech, like IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. Most of the vendor-specific certifications available are dedicated to the platforms offered by these three companies because they are by far the most popular database software producers today. Some of the certification programs for specific software frameworks include:
- Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA)
- Microsoft MSCE Certified Data Management and Analytics
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Data Management and Analytics
Oracle has multiple certifications and multiple expertise levels available for each certification. IBM also has several certifications available, primarily for the DB2, and various levels as well. Even if a current job doesn’t require knowledge of Oracle or Microsoft database programs, future opportunities may, so it’s always a good idea to expand technical horizons and enhance the resume with more certifications.
Vendor-neutral certifications, those not tied to a particular database software product, are not plentiful, but there are a few available. Some examples are:
Several colleges and technical schools also offer similar vendor-neutral database administrator certificate programs, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificate programs.
Step 2: Career Path
Entry-level positions are available for candidates with a bachelor’s degree, and sometimes even an associate’s degree or database administration certification. Sometimes called associate database administrator, these entry-level positions can kick off a career in several directions, not just database administrator. If database administration turns out to be the favored path, it can also lead to advancement into these careers:
- information systems manager
- computer systems analyst
- data or database architect
- database engineer
- database developer
- chief information officer
Step 3: Build a network of information technology professionals
As with nearly every profession, networking among industry professionals can be an invaluable aid in building a successful career. This may be especially true in computer science professions due to the constantly changing technologies. Networking and being a member of various industry trade associations can provide countless opportunities to keep current, including conventions, seminars, and other educational offerings often afforded by such organizations. Some of the trade associations relevant to database administration include the following:
- CompTIA Professional
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology (IACSIT)
Step 4: Keep up with a changing world
Database administrators must always be acquainted with the latest of innovations in computer programming and database frameworks in order to be effective managers of data storage facilities. The abovementioned trade associations provide excellent access to advancements in technology, as will networking with other professionals. Keeping tabs on the latest announcements and product introductions from the primary database management framework providers, including IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, will mean no surprises with what’s available on the market. Professional certifications may also require period refreshing as products and technologies evolve, so it’s essential to update certifications whenever practical.
Database Administrator Job Description
As the lead caretaker of all things database, a database administrator’s responsibilities will include the following:
- Install, configure, troubleshoot, and maintain a database system
- Monitor and optimize system performance using index tuning, disk optimization, and other methods
- Perform regular tests to ensure optimal database performance
- Manage databases and permissions
- Replicate and backup databases to ensure data integrity is maintained
- Perform database mergers when a company transitions to a new system
Database Administrator Skills and Experience
Job openings for database administrators list requirements for applicants that typically include the following:
- Strong written and oral communication skills
- Analytical thinker
- Problem solver
- Familiarity with one or more of the following relational database frameworks
- Knowledge of configuration management tools like ETL, BI, Puppet or Chef
- Understand and formulate meaningful business metrics
- Experience working with high-volume data platforms
- Understand cloud storage and communication protocols
- Knowledge of project management disciplines and methodology and change management
- Experience with disaster recovery methods
Database Administrator Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a database administrator is about $96,710 as of May 2021. But experience and expanding skills can increase earning power considerably.
For instance, entry-level database administrators may earn closer $48,880 — the salary the BLS says the lowest 10% earn annually. However, with the top 10% earning more than $151,400 every year, there may be plenty of opportunities for growth.
Likewise, different geographic locations foster different salary potential for database administrators. In Boston, the annual mean salary is $116,720. But in Trenton, New Jersey, the BLS’s top-paying metropolitan area by mean wage for this career, the mean salary is $123,540.
Database Administrator Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), database administrator jobs (which is often, but by no means exclusively, combined with database development into one role) are expected to grow 10% per annum between 2019 and 2029 due to the high demand for these professionals across a variety of industries. Information gathering and utilization is more than a growing trend, it’s an essential part of business survival in the 21st century.
Marketers and business leaders are now finding ways to garner much more information from service users and customers, especially from online venues. And the trend of amassing and leveraging more and more data is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Database administrators (DBAs) will be one of the primary beneficiaries of this voracity for information and its many advantages.
Gain the skills and necessary degree to pursue your career as a database developer. Explore various programming trainings, data science degree options or bootcamps and take the next step in your journey. Your future as a database developer awaits you!
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for database administrators reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.