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The Skill Set of the Exceptional DBA

By Tony Davis,

In my previous editorial on this topic, I stated that the An Exceptional DBA is defined more by what they do than what they know. Judging by the responses, there is little disputing this fact among DBW readers. However, before we accept technical knowledge as a "given", and move on, I'd like to consider the question of what exactly an exceptional DBA does need to know.

When many people hear "DBA", they think "Production DBA", with skills covering all the "core" aspects of managing and safeguarding a company's databases and data, including such as backups and restores, securing data, performance tuning and troubleshooting, monitoring, auditing and so on. Alongside the Production DBA, is the Development DBA, who tends to look after the development and test databases, and is expert in all aspects of T-SQL.

However, there are many other areas in which the Exceptional DBA can and should specialize. Some of these niches, such as "database design specialist", are well-established, but others, such as "reporting / business intelligence specialist", or "high availability specialist" are newer and in increasing demand.

I would suggest that any Exceptional DBA needs:

  1. Sound knowledge of all "core" aspects of a DBA's job
  2. Inside-out knowledge of one chosen specialist area
  3. Adaptability

Adaptability is vital. Don't get too comfortable in your chosen niche, because technology, and the demands placed on the DBA, are changing more rapidly than ever. The exceptional DBA never stops learning new skills.

What do you think? Given the apparently bleak economic conditions, I'd love to hear what "hard skills" are the ones that will make a DBA stand out. How broad does that skill set have to be? I'm sure many DBAs have read job requirements for a DBA role and thought "is it really possible for a human to have these skills AND a family life?"

I'd like to thank everyone for their responses to my last editorial. I've posted a response here, and difficult choice as it was, picked Ian Massi as the winner of the $50 Amazon voucher.

The same prize applies this time – and I'll also have a few e-copies of Brad McGehee's forthcoming "How to become an Exceptional DBA" to hand out!

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