SQLServerCentral Article

Career Advice for DBAs


Career Advice For DBAs

Updated in June 2001:


I get emails quite often from DBAs, mostly from junior DBAs

or those new to the field, but occasionally an intermediate level, all of whom

are wondering where should they focus, what skills are required, etc to be a

successful SQL Server DBA. Since I am only a SQL Server DBA (for now πŸ™‚ )

I can only try and give my opinion from this viewpoint. I suspect that for

Oracle, DB2, MySQL, or any other DBAs, the outlook and career advice might be

quite different.

Before I begin, let me say this is only my opinion and not

backed up by statistics, facts, or anything other than my experience. One of

these days, I will update my resume to a detailed vitae so those who read my

work may better understand what experiences have shaped my opinions. But for

now, this is what I think.

Update:I updated this article in May 2001 as the economy has changed quite a bit in

the past six months. I am including the original Outlook in May 2001 along with "hot skills". After

these sections I have included an update that reflects my update in the current market.

The Outlook in November 2000

As I write this, SQL Server 2000 is a little over a month

old and represents the fifth evolution of the product from Microsoft (those

being, IMHO, v4.2x on OS/2, v4.2x on Windows NT, v6.x on Windows NT, v7.0 on

Windows NT, SQL Server 2000 on Windows 2000). I have seen the product grow and

evolve from a low-end client/server database for workgroups to the current

record holder of the TPC-C benchmarks. Now I know what benchmarks are worth, but

this is still an impressive feat.

SQL Server is still making inroads as a low cost RDBMS that

is easy to administer and develop applications against. While the recent

changes to the licensing model may change this, for now it is a very

inexpensive, yet widely adopted technology. It is very easy to install on

anything from a desktop to a multi-processor server and the inclusions of many

wizards for most tasks make it simple for anyone to create and setup a database

(I could probably teach my eight year old to install the server and create a


The ease of developing applications in VB and other 4 and

5GL languages with their wizards and templates also enable rapid development of

applications and prototypes using SQL Server. I have seen quite a few Internet

startups begin developing applications using SQL Server because it was much

easier for the developers and network administrators to setup and begin working

with. I have never installed Oracle or most of the popular RDBMSs. I did

install MySQL and that was pretty easy, though I have not developed anything

against this. I will say that I think regardless of the truth, the perception

is that SQL Server is very easy to install and administer (though there is

still skill required to do this well).

Enough of the marketing speak and a little disclosure. I do

not work for Microsoft, and do not receive any compensation from them. I do own

their stock, think it is a good company and they develop good, widely accepted

products that have provided me with a great career. I have not had the need or

much of an opportunity to develop on Oracle or other RDBMS, but would be happy

to if I get the chance. The bottom line is that there are more than enough jobs

with SQL Server, so do not worry about job security.

Skills That Are Hot

Today’s DBA should be a jack-of-all-trades and a

master-of-one (SQL Server). Understanding how a network operates and computers

communicate is important in the era of distributed applications and

multi-server transactions. The Internet and World Wide Web are used in so many

applications that to support and troubleshoot applications really requires

knowledge of the differences between an Internet application and a

client/server or local LAN application. I really think that the skills the MCDBA

requires are good to learn. If you pursue this certification, it will behoove

you to really learn about the Operating Systems and the network as you study.

If you get a certification without understanding the concepts, you do more harm

than good to everyone in the industry.

There are also a number of areas in SQL Server that are

growing rapidly. XML has really started to gain in popularity and I see more

companies everyday starting to incorporate this technology into their

applications, especially inter- and extra-net applications. You could spend

quite a bit of time in this area if you like dealing with the exchange of data

and the challenges in making this work.

Data warehousing is growing extremely fast according to most

of the press that I see. The incorporation of the Analysis services and Excel’s

OLAP capability are really increasing the adoption of this. If you enjoy

working with lots of data and using statistical techniques to analyze this

data, you could probably make a twenty-year career in this field.

Of course, there are a number of people who enjoy the

challenges of administering a server or two, getting four or five β€œnines” of

uptime and troubleshooting problems in real-time. Not too many people like

this, but it can be a challenge and I still enjoy developing administrative

solutions (see my series on automating the gathering of information).

Lots of Talk, What’s the Advice?

As a DBA, I find the work to be the same at most every job

that I have had. The work is pretty much always standard RDBMS stuff and the

pay is about the same at most companies that are looking for a senior DBA. So

how do I choose a company? I look for a good team environment, people I like, a

fairly low-stress job, few database servers and good management. I am fairly

far along in my career. I have more experience with SQL Server than most people

who interview for the same jobs as me. Lucky for me, in this economy, I can

pretty much pick and choose.

My advice for those getting starting in the SQL Server world

is threefold. First, you need to develop a solid foundation in SQL,

specifically T-SQL, but try to stick to ANSI standards as much as possible.

There are lots of resources in the Internet and some great books out there (see

my book reviews). Also send your code to colleagues and friends and get their

opinions on how it looks.

Second you should understand SQL Server itself. Again, use

all the resources you can and read and learn as much as possible. Columns like

this one are good places to learn, but be sure to learn what Microsoft

publishes first. This will give you a solid foundation from the people that

have written the product. I would bookmark these sites and read everything on


www.sqlservercentral.com (You're already here and

registered. Take advantage of all we have to offer.)

www.microsoft.com/sql (read all the


www.mssqlserver.com/faq (the primary

FAQ on the Internet)

www.sql-server-performance.com (the best

source for performance information)

I also have some book reviews you can check out. A number of

columnists on the Internet do the same. Most SQL Server books contain about 80% of the

same information. So spend a few minutes browsing and pick one that seems easy to read.

Also, be sure you experiment with what you are reading. Follow the

examples and write some of the SQL code in the articles and see what happens.

Setup your own experiments to understand what the author is writing about to be

sure you understand. Many times you will read differing points of view on the

same topic. Both authors may be correct, or one may be wrong in your

environment. If you do not do some R&D and testing, you may not find out

which it is until something breaks.

Lastly, continue to learn more about different technologies

and skill areas to learn what you like as well as round out your knowledge

base. I firmly believe one of the main reasons for my success is a strong

background in networking and software development before I started working with

databases. It has helped me solve problems and develop innovative solutions (I

think) because of my understanding of the whole environment outside the


The Outlook in May 2001

Since I wrote this article in November of 2000, the economy has soured, there is talk of

recession, and it has been many weeks since I have gone without seeing at least one dot-com

company either fold or layoff a substantial number of employees. In fact, my wife's company

laid off quite a few people, a dot-com that employed a good friend of mine failed, and I have

some (slight) worries about my company going under. Internet.com, for which I previously wrote

articles, has restructured, laid off a number of staff, and lost my services.

So how does the job market look for SQL Server Professionals? Well, this site launched with

myself and a few other talented professionals. This past Sunday, I saw 2 SQL Server DBA positions

in local companies in Denver. The current count of DBA positions from a random sampling on the Internet


  • Monster: 200+
  • Dice:1000 +
  • Just SQL Server Jobs:337

I didn't check all these jobs, but on Dice and Just SQL Server Jobs, most appear to be DBA positions. If

I narrow my search to Colorado (where I live), I get 1 (Just SQL Server Jobs) and 24 (Dice). Not great, but not bad, though

hopefully I will not be performing any real-world testing anytime soon. The positions

still appear to be spread out around the country. The salaries also appear to be what I expect.

The news media has made a big deal of the layoffs and failures, but


The main point in all of this is that you should pick the

area that you are interested in and spend time working with it. Take some time

and develop β€œpet” projects that incorporate the technologies you want to learn.

Most managers will allow you some leeway to β€œresearch” a technology that is

related to your job. Who knows, maybe you will come up with a solution that no one thought of. Most of

my ASP experience was gained during such projects where I hacked around and

built an administrative subsystem for myself that saved quite a bit of time and

allowed me to distribute functionality to end-users that needed it (like in

administering users).

I firmly believe after ten years in this industry and a few

more in others, that you should choose to do what you like. You will spend more

time at work than at home. So you better enjoy that time. You will spend more

time with colleagues and co-workers than your spouse and children. It had

better be worth it. No amount of money or benefits can make up for the time you

lose with those you love. Keep that in mind. I enjoy and think I am well paid for

hour 1 through hour 40. However, I could not put a price on and do not think m employer

could pay me enough for hour 50 through hour 60. Those are almost always reserved for my


Steve Jones

dkRanch.net June 2001

Return to Steve Jones Home



β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜…

You rated this post out of 5. Change rating




β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜…

You rated this post out of 5. Change rating