I wrote this piece as a guest on Bradmcgehee.com for the DBA in Space competition. Republishing here.
A DBA (Database Administrator) is someone who takes care of your data. When you place an order on Amazon.com, it’s the DBA who ensures the order is permanently recorded in the database. If one of the computers at Amazon fails, and they regularly do, the DBA can recover the data. The DBA should be the person that prevents part of your order from getting lost because it’s incorrectly recorded, and it’s the person that makes sure that if you update your address, the change is recorded so your purchases reach the right destination.
A DBA makes sure that the transfers between your bank account and other accounts are completed in full, without allowing the deduction from your account to occur without the credit arriving in the destination account. DBAs try to ensure the data that appears on your bill is correct, and that if you change the name on your account, the change is reflected in your statement.
DBAs are like the local librarians, keeping track of all the various words and numbers in their library and knowing where everything is. They are the custodians of information in databases, trying to keep it all organized, intact, and available for access. DBAs are not perfect and they can make mistakes which result in the mistakes we occasionally find on bills or statements.
However, DBAs don’t act alone, and in many cases their job is directly affected by other people. The websites you use, or the applications on your computer or mobile phone, are written by developers that decide how you enter or read the information, and how the data moves into or out of the database. These developers sometimes do not have the proper training on how to store data to prevent mistakes, or how to clean data to fix incorrect entries, resulting in bad data outside of the control of the DBA.
In addition, the connections to databases are often managed by system administrators or network professionals who also deal with failures. When you cannot access your account on a website, it’s entirely possible the database is running and working fine; the problem is in the connection between the website computer and the database computer.
The DBA’s role is often taken for granted. If everything works as expected, it appears the DBA is not doing any work, or adding any value to their company. This may be why so many companies forgo hiring a DBA and expect their developers and system administrators to manage the databases. That’s not usually the case as the work a DBA does is designed to prevent problems, and be available to fix the inevitable issues that will arise.
The DBA is a preventative mechanic, working on your car every day and night when you aren’t using it, ensuring that it is working when you do need it. They’re the behind the scenes staffers that coordinate and organize the concert or play you enjoy, unaware of just how much work goes into providing you with an enjoyable experience. The DBA is the glue that binds so much of our technological world together, helping to ensure that all parts of the system know what should be built, sent to who, and when it should arrive.
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