The Dilemma of DBAs

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The year of COVID19 pandemic, 5 of the DBAs in my company were let go. It came as a total surprise to me and others. There were couple of reasons for the shock. We were all supporting critical projects until the last day.   Anyway, we all went out in different directions. I am curious to find out where our journey takes us.

Some of us may become architects. Some of us may be known as Site Reliability Engineers, Data Engineers, and some of us may be still called  Database Administrators. I believe the DBAs are never strictly doing database administration work. DBA work involves bit of several tasks including programming, automating, research on network and hardware issues.

Several years ago when I was at the PASS Summit conference, and somebody asked me what I did. I said, "I am a DBA." The questioner was a volunteer from a non-technical field, and I had to explain what exactly my title meant. It was easy to explain what the title meant and all the responsibilities that came with it.

The dictionary definitions of “DBA” are wide and varied. I started researching a bit and found that there is a different DBA acronym used in Academia, Science and Technology, Biology and Medicine, and Computing and Telecommunication. To make it even more confusing, the acronym “DBA” is also used within Computing for a computer language and an associated programming environment designed to simplify the creation of 3-D video games –DarkBASIC (.dba format)! No wonder a non-technical person will wonder what a DBA means if it doesn’t come with additional explanation.

As any big organization grows, it accumulates more and more data. Then researches the way to handle the data and make sense of it, it may start using many current technologies available, such as Big data , Business Intelligence tools, and cloud computing. The technicians who are working for the corporation also learn and adapt, and start using these different technologies. Along with the new technologies, the existing systems need to be maintained for a long time.

This has made me think, should I call myself a DBA – Database Administrator anymore? I thought I was the only one having second thoughts about my title at work, until a colleague of mine called to discuss how the industry sees us if we are Database Engineers but not Database Administrators.

There is also the elite-sounding title of Data Scientist, the newly famous title  Cloud Engineer, Site Reliability Engineer, Automation Engineer and more. If your position as any of these titles is safe and you are enjoying the tasks you are doing, even if it doesn’t match with the title, you may not care what the title says. There are far more things to worry about and change in the world than your otherwise perfectly enjoyable work and title. It is best to think it over and discuss if you are planning to explore the other sides.

Recently, I applied for a database administrator open position. Duties listed for the position matched the work of a  database administrator. The recruiting manager of the fintech company spoke to me and checked on a few details and said the company is doing really good and hiring even in the pandemic time. Then after a few days I got a call for 2nd round of interview. Only database administrator manager on-shore spoke to me and said, “ready for database engineer interview?”

I was shocked a little but then thought my title says I am a database engineer at my current company, so I could interview for either position. The interview was mainly about database design and development which was not difficult to answer. Ended up giving several examples and conciously stopped explaining so he can ask more questions.  I did express my concern about the difference in actual open position name and duties listed for the position. I thought they would not get back to me and may find me more of an administrator based on my recent past experience. Instead, they came back with another round of written tests which were again easy to crack with my experience. So, either some companies are not sure who they need or if a person has knowledge of a position they do not know what to call it, they will keep interviewing.

I think not many people start their career as a Database Administrator. Several of us are programmers to begin with. If we like programming  it is easier to to update as a Database Engineer or Automation Engineer. As the definition says, Database Engineers typically design and develop on the data pipelines for analytics and reporting. Even though there is a huge demand for this right now, not all types of companies may need Database Engineers and Data Scientists.

Also the number of Data scientists required in a company is less than the number of Database Administrators(DBAs) and Engineers. Data Scientists and Database Engineers typically work on big data. Creating ETL or ELT pipelines and analyzing, predicting and reporting are the main expectations. Companies dealing with big data will definitely need these skilled workers.

When it comes to Database administrators, you will need them in most organizations. where  there is data and databases to keep them safe and secure and operational there are DBA requirements. For a person who enjoys any of these, there is plenty of work in most companies as a DBA:

  • scripting
  • query tuning
  • debugging issues when the database engine is not operating as efficiently as expected
  • keeping the system safe and secure
  • planning and designing DR for the database environment

Most of these skills are easy to adapt for cloud computing as well. If you ask me it doesn’t matter what the DBA title means, the person in the position will take care of the data in the company and if necessary do the work of a Database Engineer in which case, companies may change the titles to match with industry standards. If you see a person’s past experience, it should be clear if they can handle the tasks at hand or not.

Fellow data professionals, do you have the same dilemma about your title?

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