Becoming a DBA

  • Steve Jones - SSC Editor

    SSC Guru

    Points: 715809

    Tom Brown (6/23/2009)


    Cute photo Steve - your daughter?

    Yep, at about 16 months, just learned to walk, started to dance, hasn't slowed down in 7 more years 😀

  • ChrisMoix-87856

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7288

    I think that the best thing to do is to "Act as if" (a la Boiler Room). I don't mean misrepresent yourself or lie. I mean do your homework, get certifications, learn as much as you can from the people you work with, take stretch assignments, etc. Find ways to contribute. Act like you already are a senior DBA as far as your work ethic goes.

    Before you realize it, you won't be a junior DBA anymore. At least that's the way it was with me. I was a systems engineer who managed several databases and then other DBAs were asking me for help. It takes a lot of work and a lot of study, though.

  • Steve Jones - SSC Editor

    SSC Guru

    Points: 715809

    I think certifications *could* help, but they don't, at least not as they're configured. They'd need to be more practical, with a variety of things to solve.

    However Jay has a great point. What level of "ready" to we need? Some of us don't need a highly skilled DBA, some do. The mechanic analogy is great. I let the Grease Monkey guys work on the Prius, not the 911. And that's fine. There's guys I'd let change my oil that I wouldn't necessarily want to perform other maintenance.

    A DBA is like many other jobs. There is no great standard, and I'm not sure where to put one. Instead I want someone that can competently do the job I require. And no matter what experience they put down, no matter which letters they put after their name, in the end it will come down to me having some confidence in them after an interview. I can't simulate a call with the production db down from an array failure at 10pm and see what they do. I can ask the question, but ultimately I need to give them the chance if I think they are capable and hope they do the job.

  • GSquared

    SSC Guru

    Points: 260824

    I just took a pair of online DBA tests the other night. Both were focused on database development. Both had a lot of questions that I really wanted to select "None of the Above", but it wasn't available as an option. It was quite obvious that the people who wrote the test questions were academics, not professional database devs, just from the wording and the answer options.

    Many would have resulted in heated discussions on the intellectual merits of the author if they had been in the QotD section of this site, and in several cases, Steve would have had to clarify the questions, modify the answers, and reward points.

    The test on SQL 2005 had 39 questions, and 14 of them were on CLR, including one that didn't directly indicate it was about CLR, but where the "correct" answer was to spawn a thread in your trigger so that the trigger wouldn't hold up the main transaction. Based on Microsoft's own data on CLR adoption, that's WAY too heavy an emphasis on CLR, at over 1/3 of the questions on the test.

    Tests are only as good as the people who write them.

    I've taken a number of such tests over the last several years, and I've yet to encounter one that could tell me whether I had the skills necessary to take a job of Senior DBA.

    One certification exam I took (but never paid the fee for the cert), half the emphasis on the exam was on issuing commands to SQL Server via the command line interface. I don't know about other DBAs, but I've yet to need to know those, in 9 years of being the only DBA (senior, junior or otherwise) for three different companies. If I ever do need them, I'll look them up at the time. Amazingly, even with not knowing ANY of the answers to half the questions, I scored better than 90% of the people who take the exam. That's a Brainbench cert exam for general DBA duties.

    So, I have my doubts about certs/exams giving any real measure. Theoretically, they could, but practically, I don't see it.

    I'd also have to say that the qualifications for a DBA, senior/junior/middle/whatever, are going to vary depending on the needs of the company.

    A small company that has a single SQL Server instance on a single virtual server which is just used for nightly ETL is going to have very different needs from a company with dozens of highly transactional databases on dozens of actual servers that are housed on different continents. And so on for everything else. Plus, it's going to vary based on whether the "DBA" does any T-SQL coding, and CLR coding, or just server admin/monitoring, or some combination thereof.

    So, what makes a person a senior DBA? I'd say they would have to have and demonstrate all the skills necessary to handle the database(s) and server(s) of the company involved. Junior would be someone who would need significant supervision to handle those, and middle would be someone who can handle parts of it without supervision but not all of it.

    Does that mean a senior DBA doesn't need to look stuff up or ask questions online? No. It means they can handle the general stuff without doing so, and only need to do so in unusual circumstances. And "unusual" better not include "restoring a crashed database from backups", even though that had also better not be "usual/daily", if you know what I mean. The senior DBA should be able to do that kind of thing easily, but the databases better not require it very often.

    - Gus "GSquared", RSVP, OODA, MAP, NMVP, FAQ, SAT, SQL, DNA, RNA, UOI, IOU, AM, PM, AD, BC, BCE, USA, UN, CF, ROFL, LOL, ETC
    Property of The Thread

    "Nobody knows the age of the human race, but everyone agrees it's old enough to know better." - Anon

  • notquitexena

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2654

    ChrisMoix (6/23/2009)


    I think that the best thing to do is to "Act as if" (a la Boiler Room). I don't mean misrepresent yourself or lie. I mean do your homework, get certifications, learn as much as you can from the people you work with, take stretch assignments, etc. Find ways to contribute. Act like you already are a senior DBA as far as your work ethic goes.

    Before you realize it, you won't be a junior DBA anymore. At least that's the way it was with me. I was a systems engineer who managed several databases and then other DBAs were asking me for help. It takes a lot of work and a lot of study, though.

    I agree that training and certification are important, but there is a saying I have had to remember through much of my career:

    "They don't always ask about ability or inability, but about availability."

    Sometimes you are just assigned the work and you sink or you swim.

  • Manie Verster

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7020

    I am reading all the comments here and I am amazed. Every CV I have sent out so far looking for a better salary come up short because I don't have any qualifications and/or certification. So, is that only in South Africa that qualifications/certifications are so important or do I get it wrong.

    :-PManie Verster
    Developer
    Johannesburg
    South Africa

    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. - Holy Bible
    I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times. - Everett Mckinley Dirkson (Well, I am trying. - Manie Verster)

  • blandry

    SSCarpal Tunnel

    Points: 4761

    For years I have been a frustrated advocate of better defining what a DBA is in the industry. I think this is the one position out there that is so nebulous that each time we have gone looking for a DBA I have shuddered at the long process of finding the one we need, and the hours we waste interviewing people who (in my view) are not even close to being a DBA - but think they are a DBA for reasons such as; "I have written some Stored Procedures", or "I know how to do a backup", or "I have done a couple integration projects"...

    Speaking as someone who hires DBAs, I find certifications completely useless. I am not impressed by them, and I have found more value in the "McGyver" types who learned or self-taught themselves than I have ever found in someone who essentially paid MS or some other company to say "yeah, he knows his stuff". If I have to go to war, I want a soldier who has seen the battlefield, not someone who read about and answered some multiple choice questions.

    The last time we hired a DBA we did something we had not done before and I think its a good thing (at least for us it is). Then, and now we are requiring our DBAs to have "average knowledge of Visual Studio". Yesterday SSC posted a good article on VSTS DB version (Visual Studio Team System, Database edition) - I highly recommend it - but nowadays I think a DBA has to have at least average knowledge of Visual Studio, and over time I think MS will be intertwining VS and SQL Server much more so this kind of knowledge is becoming for me, "part" of what defines a DBA.

    If someone wanted to become a DBA, I would recommend study in all facets and features of SQL Server, but also suggest parallel study of Visual Studio. Knowledge of VB.NET or C# would be required for our company. I would also suggest the person find a good mentor because obviously, this is a great deal of knowledge to take on and better to have someone who can guide you than to go it alone.

    I also like the concept of "junior DBA" as I believe that SQL Server and VSTS show that these tools are becoming more and more complex, yet more vital to operations, and with so much to learn, the idea that someone would be tutored along before they become a Senior DBA sounds very good, and very sensible to me.

    There's no such thing as dumb questions, only poorly thought-out answers...
  • jeff.stanlick

    Old Hand

    Points: 328

    I was once the person asking that question, "How do you get a job as a DBA?". A mentor who'd been a DBA for quite some time replied, "You have to be a DBA before you can get a job as a DBA." At the time it seemed a very Kung Fu-like answer, and this Grasshopper didn't know what he was talking about. But, he was right. You have to do the work of a DBA (backup schedules/restores/disaster recovery/HA/performance tuning/etc.) and then after having learned from the mistakes along the way you're ready to actually be a DBA.

    On the topic of certifications, I think many people don't find them really useful is because of the way the computer industry does certifications. Back when I was doing Java programming, my boss decided it would be good for the department if we were all Sun certified programmers. After much memorization we all passed the test. Was I a better programmer because of it? No, but I could recite to you how the compiler treated different data types. Yet in other industries the act of getting the certification makes you better at your trade.

    For example, my wife is a licensed psychotherapist and to get her license she had to not only complete her degree, but a field practicum, pass a test that basically said she knows enough to be allowed to learn more, spend 3000 hours after that learning her trade under the direct supervision of another licensed therapist, and then pass another examination before a board of other licensed therapists, before she was granted her credentials. In order to keep that license, she has to complete 30 continuing education credits every 2 years. This is similar to the "Master" Electrician who was first and apprentice and then a journeyman before they could take their exam for the Master credential. Real world experience is the only way to truly get better at what you do. Until the computer industry changes their certification model, there will be those that scoff at those certifications.

  • Manie Verster

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7020

    I just received my Simple Talk newsletter and the editorial was about "The Exceptional DBA - a Developer's Perspective" by Laila and I quote a piece from her editorial here.

    "There are a few times in my developer career where I can honestly say I received help from a DBA. Some DBAs are approachable, and more than willing to advise on problem queries, and show you clearly where you went wrong. However, I can count many more times when a DBA has been unapproachable and unhelpful - occasionally condescending and obstructive. How many times have I heard a DBA say "no" to a developer based on some vague "company policy issue" or on what he personally does and doesn't like to allow in his databases. Is it any wonder that developers stop listening to you or try to bypass you?"

    Now, I don't want to start a DBA vs Developer fight here and I know Steve's article was not about being an Exeptional DBA but talking about becoming a DBA. I think part of becoming a DBA or any other job for that matter is to listen and be helpful. I am a developer trying my best to do a DBA's job which I am not really qualified for and as a developer I have to sometimes sit and listen to the users and their requirements and sometimes they come up with very good ideas and if I don't listen then those ideas get lost along the way. That is one "qualification" that a lot of people can learn.

    :-PManie Verster
    Developer
    Johannesburg
    South Africa

    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. - Holy Bible
    I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times. - Everett Mckinley Dirkson (Well, I am trying. - Manie Verster)

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