This editorial was originally published on Feb 20, 2015. It is being re-run as Steve is traveling to SQL in the City - Los Angeles.
I saw this question pop up on the forums: Where do senior DBAs land finally? It's an interesting question, and for people that are searching for the next challenge, I would guess that they're interested in an answer. Here's what I think:
There is no landing, senior or not. There are only stops along the path of your career.
As you gain experience, and talent, you will have both more, and fewer, choices. If you expect to constantly gain salary, you will find that harder and harder over time. That's the nature of any business. The best artist/athlete/programmer/whatever will reach a point where they can't necessarily raise the market price for their services. The more you want to get paid, the fewer people that will afford you.
If you look at money as a measure, you will be disappointed at some time. Not that money isn't important, but I recommend you keep things in perspective. Money is important, but as you earn more, I would hope that value would start to diminish.
At the same time, the challenges and opportunities at a job may matter to you. If you always want a harder problem to solve, a more complex system to manage, you'll find the same limitations at some point. Fewer and fewer extremely complex (or very large) databases exist. You have less choice if this is important to you.
Some people are restless and want to look for new opportunities on a regular basis, no matter what their situation. If that's you, I would think you should consider consulting, either with a company or by yourself. Which you choose probably depends on your tolerance for the non-technical parts of a business, as your own consulting business will have lots of non-technical work to manage.
Some people value stability, and if you value that highly, you'll sacrifice some challenge and excitement. However stability is very relative these days, and you need to keep that in mind. You always work for yourself and no job is guaranteed for the rest of your career.
I have moved back and forth from consulting to FTE, and like both, but I tend to value the co-workers I have and environment more than other things. I have to enjoy going to work. I find the DBA/developer job to be pretty much the same in most places, but my co-workers make the difference.
It's good to investigate and consider other options, but don't think of this as the game of Life, with a few choices and an ending point. There are many paths, many directions to go. Some routes may cross, but many do not. You choose the one that matters to you, but don't be afraid to cross to another one if you find yourself wanting.