SQLServerCentral Article

The DBA Dot Com Bust


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.

My Story

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

their career.

Brian Knight

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. 

Yes, I

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

or so.

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.

Steve Jones

July 2001


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