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Thoughts on DBA Professional Development

As a DBA, we have a lot to work on and also we have a lot to learn about. The asset that makes us as a DBA is our professional knowledge and skills, and as such, from time to time, we need to review our knowledge/skill portfolio and how we want to invest ourselves (time / energy) into managing this asset.

To me, in general, there are two directions,

  • go deeper into one field, such as db engines, t-sql techniques or SSAS / SSIS etc, or
  • go broader to understand not only the database itself but also the ecosystem of the database.

There is overlap in the two directions, but they are different in essence. For “go deeper” direction, we will focus on one topic and spare no efforts to become the specialist of this topic. For “go broader” direction, we will spend 20% of our energy to know the 80% of the topic (of course this 80% is much easier to master than the remaining 20%), and we will try to be familiar with as many fields as possible to be a “generalist” DBA.

The scenery of the career path in the two directions may be quite different in that we may look for or be offered different opportunities, and thus harvest different joys and satisfactions (/ pains as well).

I always feel that to have a successful DBA team to tackle various challenges, we need a mix of these two types of DBAs.

The specialist DBAs can provide much needed insight to solve the most difficult questions, such as how much CPU usage reduction have we achieved in the whole system by changing the order of an index column sequence, and why, with the proof of quantitative data and theory explanation.

The generalist DBAs can be put into almost any technical environments to solve majority of problems, one key advantage of the generalist DBA is that this type of DBA may do good integration of various components of the database ecosystem, and may come up with innovative solutions toward a specific problem, such as using SSIS as a database administration platform for multiple server management.

Personally, I feel each DBA may experience / try one direction at different career phases, partly because of work requirement and partly because of self interests. In theory, the destination of either direction will be the same spot — a DBA specialist in every field of SQL Server technology.


Posted by John Sansom on 22 August 2011

Hi Jeffrey,

You've touched on a very interesting subject here and one that consider for most people comes down to which path they think will deliver the most value for their career. Certainly not a black and white comparison given our specific individual circumstances as Data Professionals can often vary widely.

An interesting post, thanks for sharing.

Posted by Steve Jones on 22 August 2011

Interesting thoughts, Jeffrey. I think that most of us end up as generalists in many areas, but hopefully specialists in one or two. The more advanced people I know tend to have some exposure to many parts of the product, and very deep knowledge in a few areas.

Posted by 106919046 on 29 August 2011

Hey Jeffrey.SQL and Database stuffs are really touch to me.But I have to be connected with it because of my work.

Most of the time I tried to seek help from some management tools,as [URL="www.todo-backup.com/.../advanced-server-backup.htm"]easeus todo backup advacned server[/URL] or something. But I do really hope I can be a professional.

Anyway, nice article to share.

Posted by mark.cusano on 29 August 2011

Interesting topic of discussion, Jeffrey.  I've been a DBA for eight years now and a "slash DBA" for seven of those years.  It wasn't until this last year that I started to realize, from reading articles and work experience, that even more senior or lead DBA's don't know everything about SQL Server.  What I find enigmatic is how hiring companies want a DBA that knows everything in-depth and garnished off with some in-depth knowledge of something outside of the DBA role.  

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