What is a Database Administrator today?

  • Comments posted to this topic are about the item What is a Database Administrator today?

  • As you noted, in different organisations they have had very different perspectives on what a senior DBA is/does.

    Hard depends on what a business expects you to do. SQL Server 2012 is a huge product compared to SQL Server 6.5.

    On SQL6.5 you had to do a lot of stuff that has either gone away or been replaced by an infinitely simpler alternative. It was possible to cluster SQL6.5 but you had to know your way around the Windows registry to do it. You had to be a lot more sensitive to the underlying infrastructure than you can get away with today.

    On the other hand if you are expected to cover the breadth of SQL2012 then Jeez that's a lot.

    Then there is the role beyond SQL Server. Perhaps your role is as a data tech expert rather than just a SQL Server DBA. I think it is possible to have a much broader role these days in terms of tech and data.

    I also think that if you have a "this is what I do and this is all I want to do" attitude you are at risk of becoming obsolete.

  • Our organisation traditionally had two SQL elements, one dealt with setting up databases, permissions, managing the introduction of thrid party system databases into our environment, clust performance etc, whilst the other SQL element dealt with managing data extracts (ODS, SSIS, DTS), along with managing the databases for our locally built applications which involved a lot of SP (T-SQL) script writing etc.

    A few years ago they merged both elements into one team. However it has become apparent that the skills are really very different. As a result they are now on the cusp of splitting them both out again into separate teams where the SQL DBA looks after the clusters, backups, permissions, setting up third party databases etc and the SQL Developers handle the SQL script writing, SSIS packages, ODS creation etc.

    There is a lot of confusion about what a SQL DBA should be doing as this is often confused with SQL Developer work which I believe is a different role. This confusion is really happenning at the top level in organisations where team structures and job roles are decided.

  • Over time I've learned that the role seems to encompass various disciplines, not just traditional DBA type tasks. In fact todays' DBA seems to have/require a massive skillset including production DBA skills, Dev DBA/DB Dev skills, BI Dev skills (SSRS,SSIS,SSAS for MS types) as well as having some .net/java/programming skills for good measure.

    I've only worked for companies with sub 1000 end users, and in these sites we didn't have the resource in the Data team to have people focussed purely on one area of responsibility, and so I deliberately cross trained new data team members as hybrids in both Production DBA/DB Dev/BI disciplines. This kept their work interesting and gave more flexibility in the team.

    Of course in a much bigger organisation having specific people to be "production DBA" or "Development DBA" might be necessity, but in my experience a hybrid approach works very well.

  • This issue exists throughout IT. Just ask a developer/programmer/software engineer etc 😉

    Different companies have different structural setups both with regards to IT infrastructure and team responsibilities. Also it depends on what is outsourced/insourced, offshored/onshored, on premises/in the cloud etc.

    Then there is the inconsistencies in the terms used to describe roles...[can opener replaced into the draw ;-)]


    -- Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen...they're everywhere!!!

  • OMG, this is exactly what I went through when I was contracting, so I stopped contracting... I'm now doing one thing (well many things in relation to) SQL Development and BI. Which is why I decided to find a perm job, do one thing and one thing well. I was told once by a professor: "You can be a 'Jack of all trades, and a master of NONE' if you want. " 😀

  • Gary Varga (12/6/2013)

    This issue exists throughout IT. Just ask a developer/programmer/software engineer etc 😉

    It's not unique to IT, but it does seem to be a bit more acute there, likely due to the fact that in terms of business organization, IT is still very new as compared to functions like HR, Accounting, etc. Many roles that were once rolled into one position (because that was pretty much all that was needed at the time) have diversified due to the maturing of the IT field as a whole.

    Part of me wonders if there isn't some marketing strategy with regard to job titles as a bit of a psychological "filter" for applicants.

    Just my $0.02 from over here in the cheap seats of the peanut gallery - please adjust for inflation and/or your local currency.

  • I prefer the role I appear to have slotted into. Whereby I set up the databases (design and develop), give staff permissions ie access levels, set up audit logs / procedures / triggers. Set up data management information on the company KPI's. Backup and restore databases. Do a little php programming for web forms. Set up and maintain main systems. I have network people to install the servers and hardware etc. So I appear to have developed into the things I'm strong at and which I prefer. Luckily I have people working with me who prefer to do other things which I either haven't got the knowledge or inclination.

    I agree with an earlier comment that you can't be jack of all trades and I would definitely want to be the master of one (or 2) which I clearly am specialising in.

  • Titles are meaningless, particularly in IT. I've had DBA titles where I never performed a backup/restore and I've had Developer and Architect titles where I spent way too much time with FileGroups, Snapshots, Replication, etc.

    To the Business a DBA signifies a person who can get them reliable information when they ask it.

    To the Developers a DBA is their worst nightmare.

    To the Network OPS a DBA is the person who thinks they know more about networking than they do (and we often do :cool:). We at least are savvy enough to plan for the fact that no network yet has been up 365x24x7.

    To Recruiters a DBA is their meal ticket!

  • What should the job duties of a Senior Database Administrator (DBA) be? If you started a new job as a Sr. DBA what would you expect to be doing and what would you not?

    It really boils to: From an organizational perspective, what is the database?

    Is it just the logical model, objects, and data; or is it the hardware, network, SQL, and ETL processes too?

    Strictly speaking, I think the DBA should be someone who manages the objects and data within one or more databases, but not necessarily the system administrator of the server instance or operating system. Also, one can be the administrator for database [Sales] but not the database [HumanResources], even if both are contained in the same server instance. For example, administrating the PeopleSoft, SharePoint, and MS Exchange databases can be a specialized full-time job by itself, while the proprietary databases built in-house that support the organization's line of business are something else entirely. In the SQL Server, this would be a member of the DBO role, perhaps with some additional granted permissions so they can manage jobs, view execution plans, etc.

    Ideally, the system administrator (members of SYSADMIN role), should be confined to a much smaller group of people who manage the hardware, operating system, and networking environment. In a large organziation, their role is at the enterprise level, and they should not necessarily be familiar with the data model and processes any database. Their job is to make sure the databases are available, secure, and backed up.

    If someone is expected to wear both hats, then their job description should include both Database and System Administrator.

    "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Instead, seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

  • The size of your organisation/company is also very relevant as mentioned above. When in a small organisation, whatever role you have you will always have to wear many hats.

  • In the two DBA roles I have held, it has been company size that dictated the scope. Working in the smaller of the two companies, I was employed as a DBA but the role also included db development and front-end VB programming. The variety was great but I wondered what it would be like to simply be a 'DBA'. In my current role in a much larger company, I am more of pure DBA doing installations, optimisations, and looking after SQL, SSRS, and a little bit of SSAS. The job title is a more generic 'SQL Server Specialist' which seems appropriate.

    I do try get involved with what the developers are doing (out of interest and trying to save myself work later) and feel it is possible to be proficient in numerous aspects of the product, particularly as the years go by... 🙂

  • In 19 years (7 of them as consultant) of working with SQL, I think only once did I only do one part of what many describes as a DBA (and that was at one of the top 5 banks by size). In most places, where my title has ranged from Client Servers Applications Specialist (this was when most companies where just introducing SQL 6/6.5) to Senior SQL Database Architect, I have mostly been "the SQL guy", if it had anything to do with SQL, it was my responsibility to get it done (or to find the right consultants to get it done if I did not have the needed experience).

    As some have said, titles are pretty meaningless. Maybe in larger organizations they make some sense just to make sure people know who is in charge....

    The job today is a magnitude harder in some respects (i.e. much wider experience needed), but also a LOT easier in some ways (disk management, oh what a joy that was in 6 and 6.5, and 4.21 but I luckily just had a few months of exposure to it).

  • I do all the traditional Database Administrator tasks and then some, which includes the following. A little database design for custom database needs, as well as a little bit of development for a front end to manage the data. I also do a lot of SSIS for extract and load to a database warehouse. I like the change every now and then for some development, because just Installing, Backing up, Restoring and Upgrading database servers can get a bit boring and a change in the norm is welcome.

  • I prefer the "Jack of All Trade, master of none" verses being a so-called expert at 1 or 2 things. Keeps things from getting stale or boring.

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