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Your Road to Becoming a DBA: Acquiring Experience is Key

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.

This post is part two of the series Your Road to Becoming a DBA, where I talk about how you can forge your very own career path toward becoming the DBA you want to be. You can find part 1 here where I talked about the importance of Laying a Strong Foundation.

Acquiring Experience is Key

It seems like all the opportunities that are available out there for DBAs require at least a number of years experience. Companies are not hiring folks that have no prior experience and then training them up to where they need to be. The dilemma of already needing a DBA job to gain experience but then experience is needed to gain a DBA job in the first place, is one that I have talked about before on the How To Become a SQL Server DBA area of the blog. You need to have at least the basics mastered in order to get your foot in the door.

So what’s a budding DBA to do in order to gain more experience? You need to learn, grow and build experience from other sources:

  • Forums – I cannot begin to say enough good things about how valuable SQL Server Forums are. Each day I will hit the forums to learn something new about SQL Server and you should too. They are an immense source of knowledge. If you know the answer to the posters question great, you can go ahead and share it so that others can benefit from what you know, whilst at the same time reinforce the knowledge in your own mind. When you don’t know the solution you can subscribe to and follow the discussions to ensure you learn it. You can find out my favourites in my Top 5 SQL Server Forums post.
  • Start From a Parallel Discipline – Talk to existing Data Professionals in the community about how they got started as a DBA and you will hear a lot of stories about how originally they were hired to work in a similar discipline, such as a System Administrator, Software Developer or maybe even the dreaded SAN Admin. These folks were given the task to look after/troubleshoot SQL Server in addition to their existing responsibilities and things grew from there. With this in mind one strategy for gaining more experience then is to reach out to teams in your existing company that are already working with SQL Server. Another possibility could be to use your existing skills to acquire a position within an organisation that is using SQL Server technology and to ensure your keen interest to make a lateral move is clear from the outset.
  • Certifications – There’s a lot of different opinion out there on how valuable these are. Just having a certification is not going to get you a DBA gig but they can get you to the interview and make you stand out from folks that don’t have them. Now I am a firm believer in the “learning” value of certifications but this only applies if you do it right i.e. actually learn the material and practice implementing it.To find out how to get the most from SQL Server certifications and really learn the material take a look at My Guide to Passing Exam 70-432. (Preachy Tangent: I’ve interviewed a lot of Data Professionals that have certifications listed on their CVs and guess what, I ask them questions directly relevant to the material covered and they had better know their stuff! We all know there are brain dumps out there to cheat your way through some of the certs but any half decent DBA with experience will see past such BS immediately. Don’t be that guy. By taking shortcuts you’re only cheating yourself).
  • Local Community Opportunities – The talents of a Database Administrator are always in demand. There are some great ways that you can give something back to the local community in your area, whilst at the same time developing your skills and bolstering the experience on your CV. In the UK for example, there are charitable organisations that often seek the support of the technology community such as iT4Communities or GiveCampUK.
  • Build Your Own Lab Environment – There are a lot of different features in the product and there are not many companies using them all. A great way to learn about the different features and gain experience is by getting your hands dirty and implementing them. You can even take things further by breaking the environment and then fixing it again, no really. Practice the different ways you can restore a database. What happens if you fail over a Mirrored database that is also a Replication Publication? Experimentation in a safe environment is a great way to learn. Get used to testing things, it’s an essential part of any robust development cycle used in the field.

What are some of your favourite resources and methods for acquiring more experience with SQL Server?

“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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