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Your Road to Becoming a DBA: Laying a Strong Foundation

Knowing precisely how to start on your next adventure is tricky. With so many options and decisions in front of you, identifying what is the best way to move forward for you is vital.

Last week I received an email from a reader who was looking for some advice on how to start their own journey on the road to becoming a DBA. I found this really quite inspiring and it got me thinking about how to go about forging the path to being the DBA you want to be. It reads:

Hi John,

I follow you on twitter and have recently discovered your website. I personally think it is very motivating and has a great layout. I will tell you a little about myself to start off and also attach my CV.

My name is **** ****. I am 21 and currently work in IT & Telephony support for a travel agent. I have gained a lot of my experience within IT by self-teaching, online tutorials, books and watching people when they work.

I am very eager to fulfil my passion to become a SQL DBA, a few reasons why I am choosing this path to take in life. I think this would be a very challenging and motivating career. One at the end of a project you will feel somewhat great about what you have done. I think it’s a occupation where I would always be learning and a great profession to work up as junior to the top.

I was wondering if you could help me to fulfil my passion to become a SQL DBA, tips, any companies you know off that is willing to take me on as a junior DBA, giving me to time and proper hands on training I need to show them I could become a great asset to their company, Book, Quick course I could be taking.

I appreciate all the help you can give. I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this.

Best regards,

First, congratulations are in order for having chosen to pursue the path of the DBA. You’ve made an excellent decision and one that I have no doubt will be very rewarding should you so wish. You raise some great questions. Questions that I myself have had and I’m sure other readers have had too. I’ll try to answer them as best I can and perhaps other readers would also like to share some of their thoughts.

To avoid bombarding you super busy readers with too much content, I thought it best to break things up into a number of smaller, more consumable posts and so over the next few days I’m going to share with you how to create your very own path to becoming a DBA. We’re going to look at:

  • The importance of Laying a Strong Foundation
  • Why Gaining Experience is the Key to getting started
  • Books for the Aspiring DBA
  • Writing a Winning CV
  • How to Get Organised to Get Ahead

Here then are some of my own thoughts, that I wanted to share with you all here, on how you can go about building your own path to becoming a DBA.

Laying a Strong Foundation

As with any serious endeavour, you want to get yourself off on the very best possible start in order to ensure things can move forward optimally from thereon in. Becoming a DBA is naturally no different and there are couple of things that I personally consider important to creating a good strong foundation from which a DBA can grow.

  • What’s the primary responsibility of a DBA? - I’m glad you asked because it’s from here that all other things DBA should exude from. In other words, what is the point of a DBA and why would a company need one? You can find out exactly what I’m talking about in my post The Database Administrators Primary Responsibility.
  • Relational Theory – SQL Server and in fact all other RDMSs (Relational Database Management Systems) are built on the time tested concepts of relational theory. Learning relational theory will give you the fundamental knowledge you need to start to piece together what the majority of database systems are all about. Not to mention what fun can be had with Normalization. Relational Theory is a transferable skill and one that will give you an understanding that can be applied to most things database design you will do initially. In my opinion it is something that all good DBAs should know. You can learn most of this stuff from the Internet but I would suggest going out and finding a copy of a classic text, such as something that would be used for a University course, for example Database Systems by Connolly & Beg et al.
  • What’s the current Landscape Like? - To get ahead of the curve, start learning about the more recent developments in this space now rather than later or when you actually need to on the job itself. The professional landscape that we DBAs operate in is changing and at a faster pace than it has done for quite some time. A lot of DBAs already established in the field are resisting change, use this to your advantage and start building the skills that will be required in the future right now. Think cloud technology or NoSQL solutions for example. What are they? How are they different and when might you want to use them?
  • It’s Not Just About Databases – Sure being a DBA requires a good technical knowledge but that’s just one part of it. In order to be an Outstanding DBA your going to want to work on and develop a number of other desirable traits. See 10 Character Traits of Outstanding DBAs for more on this.

What do you think about creating a strong foundation as a Database Administrator?

Be sure to keep an eye out for part 2 to find out why I think Acquiring Experience is Key.

“I really hope you enjoyed this post. You can make sure to catch all my posts as well as content exclusive only to the blog by subscribing via Email or RSS. Thanks for reading.”

John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

John Sansom (Blog | Twitter) is a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) of SQL Server and publisher of the free SQL community ebook DBA JumpStart, an inspiring collection of advice for Data Professionals, written by 20 SQL Server experts. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor(MCC) award, John is a prolific blogger and can be found regularly writing about SQL Server and Professional Development over at www.johnsansom.com.


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