The Dot-Com DBA Bust
We've all seen the dot-com bubble burst. Every week companies are laying people off. And
not just dot-com companies, but large companies like Cisco, Dell, etc. are making their staffs
This is just the start of this article. Many of you out there working with SQL Server probably
have stories to tell. Some probably are good, but many will be bad. I hope that those of you that
have been affected by the change in the economy since September 2000 will send your tales to
and I will compile them and update this article each week.
In 1998, my wife and I wanted to move away from the East Coast. She was working for a company in San Jose
and telecommuting and the dot-com growth was just starting. I had a great job with an established company, managed
the IT department, and was well paid. However, I was bored. I decided to look for a new job, anywhere and
eventually got an interview with a financial services dot-com in Denver. They were not really a startup in
that they had been around for 6 years, but they were still 30-32 people and trying to become an ASP before
ASP was a hot term. In most aspects, they were a startup, thought the VC money was gone and they were fluctuating
between red and black each quarter.
At first it was fun. Some long hours, but a young crowd, some good parties, and the dream of making some serious
money. I was hired as the senior DBA (total DBAs: 2), but they had lost their old DBA and network admin and I
ended up managing the network systems as well as being a DBA. After 6 months, there were some good prospects for
large customers, Red Hat was getting ready to IPO, and I was thinking that my company might IPO in a year.
In a year, I had earned 30k+ options and there were still good prospects that the company would get bought by someone,
but an IPO was a one-in-a-million shot. We had grown to 3 DBAs total and added a few developers. I was trying to
keep a horribly written database alive. A database I had inherited, but been unable to substantially change becuase
the company's core product was a VB client with embedded SQL. A burgeoning web app was being developed, but,
as usually seems to be the case, without much input from the DBAs. I was also starting to do some sales support
as a technical resource as well as trying to manage the network systems. The parties, free dinners, etc., were
starting to be diminished by the amount of work.
There was another downside to all the fun. The company's management had always been poor. Smart people with
good ideas, but unable to manage the technical business. I am not the greatest manager and I was deinfitely
overworked. The result was a new manager was brought in who instantly rubbed me the wrong way. Within two months, two
senior developers had resigned and I was next.
My Story - Part II
This was the summer of 2000 and the market was still hot, but definitely cooling. The idea of working for another
startup wasn't looking too good and with young children, I was thinking to go to work for a large company and
spend more time writing. I had resigned on a Friday without prospects, so I immediately posted my resume on Dice, Monster,
and a couple other places and then enjoyed a weekend with my family.
On Monday, one kid back in school, my wife at work, and our nanny watching #2, I decided to get some yard work done.
Over the course of 3 hours in the morning, I got a dozen phone calls and quite a few emails. Needless to say I
got little yard work done. Most of the rest of the week was spent returning calls and emails and lining up interviews.
It was surprising and a little overwhelming. With ten years of SQL Server experience, I knew there were jobs, but
I was stuned with how many there were.
One of the interviews I went on, actually the second or third, was with IQdestination.com, my current company. I knew
they were a startup, but I thought it would be a good practice interview. I ended up really liking the CTO as
well as the team. Eventually I settled on three choices, Lucent, Doubleclick.com, and IQdestination. Doubleclick was
too far of a drive, and I wasn't thrilled with the Lucent team, though I thought it would be the better job. so I took
It's been nearly a year. In that time, IQD went from zero turnover until December when one person was let go. As the
market started to crash, we received a few million of new VC money in October. In January, we had a layoff of six
people. Not too bad, and we were a little bloated, IMHO. The market continued to sour and our company of 50+ was reduced
by a third in a second layoff in early June 2001. I am not too worried, but you never know, and I like this job. I
like the people I work with and hope to continue here as long as possible. When I started, there were 3 developers and one DBA (me).
We grew to 8 and 1 DBA and cut back to 5 and 1 DBA. My responsibilites are:
- 1 SQL Server 2000 production server driving our website and internal site. 2 databases, both under 1GB
- 2 IT SQL 2000 servers matching the production server, 1 for development, and 1 for QA. A few other misc.
databases (bug tracker, release tracking, etc). All databases under a GB.
- 1 SQL Server 7 server hosting Goldmine CRM in one database (2GB), and Dynamics (MS, formerly Great Plains)
accounting software( < 1GB).
- Supporting development, assisting with web configuration and system architecture, and in general, being
insurance to be sure nothing breaks.
I was afraid of another startup, but overall, this one has worked out well. Ironically, doubleclick is not
too well, and while I am not sure, I would have guessed that if I had taken the Lucent job, I'd have already
been forced to move on. I still get calls from contractors and recruiters, but fewer all the time. Right now, I
am probably down to 2 a month.
Notes from the field
This section is a little bare, but I will be filling it in as I get some stories from various sources. I'll
keep updating and including stories from the real world and hopefully everyone will learn a few things and further
Brian is one of the regular columnists at SQL Server Central and here are his notes:
People always will need their data...good or bad market. The market right
now for a DBA is still healthy if you want to keep your job. If you leave
your job, I've heard many grumbles about having trouble finding a new job.
I've noticed lots of hiring freezes, not necessarily hiring contractions.
Essentially my company like others are downsizing using the turnover
formula. I would for sure not jump this ship now in fear of having problems
finding a company that needs a DBA. Employeers know this and they're much
less likely to give raises.
Updates - 07-26-01
I started as a DB2 developer and moved to SQL Server around 1994. I then left for Expedia in 1998
and worked for a year before leaving for semi-retirement and to enjoy my family.
Last month, I joined a dot-com.
So after all the Dot Com fallout why did I choose a dot-com? My company has been around since
98, execs are all stable, have worked together before, they interviewed me
for a total of about 12 hours on the phone, in person, and they are
frugal when it comes to their spending. I'm certainly not fooling myself that
selling our product is a high margin business, but I do know that when a company
believes in technology and uses it to truly decrease costs they can be
successful. I remember when I was in college, I used to read Computer World
and Wal-Mart's IT dept. would be featured as making their competitive
difference. From what I see at Wal-Mart, now that's a low margin business. So
we'll see where this opportunity goes. I'm having a blast working with these
folks and having my hands in everything database related.
too know about not being asked for input as the Web Engineers go about
developing. I'm the only DBA here & there are 6 - 7 Web Engineers. So it
should be fun. 😉
The UK was just as much affected by the huge growth that was experienced in
the US back in the late 90's (LOL. I talk about it as if it was decades ago
and it's useful to remind ourselves that we are only talking about 2 or 3
years ago). One of the big things to affect us over here was a very very
big skills shortage, thus prompting huge supply of job opportunities. Not
only for DBA's but for anyone in the tech industry. Having solely
concentrated on SQL Server myself, I naturally only notice the SQL Server
roles that are going.
About May of last year I begun looking for a new role and, like you was
inundated with phone calls, job opportunities and offers. Ultimately I
settled for a small company, about 70 people or so, and was employed as
their only DBA in July 2000.
Here is where the problems for me, as a DBA, begun. Having being in
existance for about 6 years and having had no DBA to guide them, all of
their databases where a mess. No passwords on the servers, everyone from
the developers to the office cleaners had sa priveleges on the machines. Because
the whole business relied on these application no one would allow
the sa password to be changed on any server. I remember your advice to me
at the time was to prepare my resume and get ready to leave. This however
is another story and not really related to the downturn in the economy. Ultimately
I was indirectly forced to leave because of the economy and how
it affected this particular company.
Well, things aren't that simple. The economy at the time was starting to
take a small downturn. Rather than seek out another permanent role
I decided to freelance for awhile. I wanted to make absolutely certain that the next permanent role I
took was the right one. I did a small project for about three months at the
beginning of this year. At the time
when I was looking, I must admit to thinking that it was taking a bit
longer than I suspected. I put that down to the christmas period coming up
and things slowing down at this time.
Having done my three months in this role I got another one for a big
company, quite local to where I live so I decided to take that one up. This
time for 6 months. I think I might have been a little bit lucky with the
timing for this role (my current one) because where I would normally see
hundreds of job postings for SQL Server a year ago, I now only see about 50
I've currently been offered a permanent role from the company I'm doing my
current contract with and am seriously considering taking it. Although I
wouldn't say that things are bleak in the UK job market, I enjoy the role,
and it's a good company.
One thing worth mentioning is that in some of my roles I have had to conduct
interviews in search of prospective DBA's. In my previous role, I
interviewed about 15 candidates over a 3 or 4 week period. Let me tell you,
I have never been so shocked at some of the things these candidates came up
with. Supposed MCDBA's, or DBAs with 3 years experience, that didn't know
simple things like what types of backups could be performed with SQL Server.
The list is endless and I could probably write a light humour paper on
"Candidate Answers to Interview Questions".
The point I'm trying to make though is, that despite the downturn in the
economy and the large number of candidates, a good DBA will always find
work. Indeed, the reason I probably saw so many ill equiped candidates is
because all of the good DBAs where already happily employed.
Either way, the economy is not doing so well right now but there is still a
demand for good DBAs, and from what I've seen there aren't enough good ones
out there. At least, this is the situation as I see it in the UK. It might
be different in the US. Who knows, perhaps we shall start to see an influx
of DBAs coming over to the UK from the US.
As long as you don't take away my job I won't have any complaints. 🙂
There are still lots of prospects out there for DBAs. Not all companies have them, but they are likely to
keep one if they do. Most likely the DBA will survive longer than most other jobs. Of course, lots of that depends
on how many DBAs there are and how much work, and, of course, how the databases perform. Be sure you understand
that the perception of your value is tied tightly to how well your databases perform.
This is a work in progress and I hope that I will get some stories from the field letting me know good, bad, status,
etc. about what it is like being a SQL Server DBA.