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DBA Value

By Steve Jones,

I ran across a blog post from Brad McGehee on the worth of a database administrator in the current market. Now the numbers are trailing, meaning they were compiled in the past and then recently published. With the changes in the economy over the last month, things might be different, but I wouldn't necessarily expect the relative differences between DBAs and say, system administrators, to change much.

I'll admit that one of the reasons that I got into database work was the salary. I worked as a system administrator almost two decades ago for a large company and was learning how to administer a new system based on SQL Server. The DBA that came from our corporate office to show us how to run the system was a Sybase/SQL Server DBA and after talking with him, I learned he was earning $90k/yr in 1991. That was quite a sum then, and still is now, so I set about learning everything I could about SQL Server.

It's paid off for me and I hope for you as well. But is a DBA any more valuable to a company than a developer or system administrator? They get paid like they are. Sure, there are always cases where there is a DBA making less that those other positions, but on average it seems to me that most of the time the DBAs receive better than average compensation. And the differences seem to widen with experience, meaning that those talented individuals with more knowledge are proportionally even more valuable.

I'm not sure that's really the case. Instead I think that we have a bit of a supply/demand curve at work here. There are less DBAs than developers or system administrators, and while you can just declare yourself a DBA because you manage to fire up SSMS and execute a query, it becomes obvious fairly quickly your lack of knowledge if you haven't spent significant time working with the tools. More so than it does Windows or Exchange tools.

Visual Studio and development tools are different, and I know quite a few DBAs that are lost within those environments. A great developer is worth their weight in gold, but there are few of them, great ones aren't often needed, and it's easy to get started in development. Many people like the job, so I would venture to guess that most corporate development positions have a glut of applicants and it's rare that those types of applications require lots of skill to build.

I'm not saying those aren't good jobs, or that DBAs are more valuable, but they're rarely hired, they are hard to find, and there are few of them. Add to that it's a complex job that requires thinking differently than you do in many other jobs mean that the salaries are often a little higher. If we consider the need to protect and secure the data and information in a company, it's no surprise that we see DBAs paid very well.

Whether they provide that level of value for their salary is another story. Hopefully you try to do that every day.

Steve Jones


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