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Is the role of the DBA really changing radically?

By Phil Factor,

The role of the DBA is changing, sure, but much of what you read about these trends is due more to IT people being clearer about the use of the terms 'DBA' and 'Developer'. All that the bloggers and industry 'experts' are doing is noticing that we are beginning to be more precise in describing the role of the 'data guy'. They mistake language change for industry trend.

Job titles such as 'data scientist' are increasingly used, but that doesn't mean that these people never existed before. They merely lurked under the DBA umbrella. In the City of London, we called them 'Rocket Scientists', which didn't help. Likewise, we suddenly have BI specialists, but look at their CV/Resume and you'll find that they were once just had the job title of Developer or DBA, whilst doing much the same work.

The term 'DBA' has been the despair of the IT industry, particularly IT recruitment, because there has been so little consensus as to what, precisely, it means. It covers a multitude of roles, throughout the lifecycle of databases, encompassing business intelligence as well as data management and data strategy within organizations.

One of the most irritating confusions is to mistake a production DBA with a database developer. I, as a database developer, work closely with production, or operations, DBAs but I acknowledge that they possess database skills that I shall never hope to understand or acquire. Likewise, I'd get more success teaching many of them ballet than database application development. Even the business focus is different. For me, delivering high quality database applications as quickly as possible to the precise requirements of the business means everything. For them, the broad perspective of maintaining IT operations across a range of interdependent services is everything.

I smile when I read the pronouncements of industry pundits that DBAs are increasingly becoming part of development teams. All that has happened is that organizations who imagined that all DBAs should work in DBA teams no matter what their real role was are now, in response to the publicity around the DevOps movement, identifying database developers as such and moving them where they should always have been. This doesn't affect the core Database Administrator. Many large organizations actually resist doing any development work, on the reasonable grounds that it isn't their business. They buy in database systems such as accounting, warehousing, HR, CRM, budget management sales, or payroll 'off the shelf'. If development work is required it is commissioned from third parties. Despite this, these organizations still need a substantial team of database people right across the spectrum of roles, even if their Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software is cloud-based.

Of course, in any organization there always have been changes in the jobs that are required to exploit database technology, but you're not going to spot industry trends by just counting up job titles.

Phil Factor

 
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