Future of SQL Server DBA Role

  • I would like to know what certifications or paths to choose in order to move. Assuming SQL server is here to stay but since more of the stuff is getting automated and out of the hands of the DBA...what is the best course of action to take? Should we specialize in AWS vs Azure etc.? I've recently understood DBA should also work in configuring CI/CD pipelines, terraform etc. It is getting crazier and crazier day by day and learn these things quickly is becoming even worse as every other day new stuff comes in and the DBA is supposed to be well versed with. I would love to enlighten myself with what the community feels and maybe try and get some sense as to what to do next or how to move ahead.

  • Predicting the future is something I'm pretty bad at. Could something completely eliminate the need for a role that resembles that of the database administrator? Sure. What does that look like? Not a clue. I sure haven't seen it yet.

    This is a very big, broad, exciting (for certain values of exciting) field of endeavor. The need for someone who specializes in data management, query tuning, recovery, high availability, efficient data movement, server management, cloud management, and integrating it all into automation through some type of DevOps approach, hasn't diminished at all. Yes, the focuses have changed. A lot more cloud than before. Shifts in technology (the coming death of SSRS for example, no, I don't know anything, guessing) are constant. You cannot simply learn for a year or two and then kick back, secure in the knowledge that you'll be employed for 20 years based on that knowledge.

    That said, no, I simply don't see the job going away. I do think a little specialization will serve you well. For example, early in my career, I focused on database internals, query tuning, database design, database development. I left server management to people who cared about the default size of the page on a disk (I don't, making stuff up). That knowledge & skillset is still very much in demand. However, I've expanded, as well as hedged my bets, by bringing in lots of automation, especially around deployments of databases through DevOps-style mechanisms. I'm also pretty conversant in Azure & AWS (although, again, specializing, RDS & Azure SQL Database, not VMs in the cloud). I've also been adding an additional database system, PostgreSQL, to my skill set since more and more organizations are multi-platform, I want to be ready.

    The future is about picking a combination of narrow focus (internals) and broad focus (automation & cloud technologies) to ensure you're employable. Then, learn, learn, learn. Practice, practice, practice. And keep watching the technology, because it's going to shift.

    I will say, don't try to learn it all. I couldn't run SSIS right now if you paid me a lot of money. Same goes for a whole slew of the other data movement technologies. It's just not where I've chosen to spend my time. Which means, there are jobs I wouldn't apply for because that was a requirement. But that's always going to be the way. Some jobs you qualify for, some you don't.

    As to certificates... I'm not a fan. If you're either a) extremely early in your career and desperately need some marks on your resume, certs are a good choice, b) working for a company that wants to partner with Microsoft/AWS/GCP/Whomever then getting certified helps your org. Otherwise, the certs don't do much beyond structure your learning, which, some people fine helpful. If you're mid-career and don't need a cert to support your org, I'd avoid them. Just do the learning.

    The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood... Theodore Roosevelt
    The Scary DBA
    Author of: SQL Server 2022 Query Performance Tuning, 6th Edition and SQL Server Execution Plans, 3rd Edition
    Product Evangelist for Red Gate Software

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