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How to become a database administrator: A cheat sheet

If you want to pursue a career as a database administrator and don’t know where to begin, here’s your guide to salaries, job markets, skills, and common interview questions in the field.


Image: iStockphoto/Suwat Rujimethakul

The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things devices has sparked a digital transformation revolution in the enterprise. Some four out of five information technology professionals believe digital transformation initiatives are crucial for an organization’s survival.

This data is only useful, however, if it is appropriately analyzed, which is why 71% of organizations plan to increase spending on data analytics in the next five years. To get the most out of the data, organizations must form a cohesive data strategy that aligns the data analyses with the company’s goals. One of the most well-known job positions at the heart of data management is a data scientist, who is responsible for analyzing the organization’s information.

More about Big Data

The majority of the world’s data has been created in the last few years and is showing no sign of slowing down. IDC predicts the world’s data will grow to 175 zettabytes in 2025. To get the most out of the data, organizations must form a cohesive data strategy that aligns the data analyses with the company’s goals. One of the most well-known job positions at the heart of data management is a data scientist, who is responsible for analyzing the organization’s data.

SEE: 5G: What it means for edge computing (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

While data scientists have topped Glassdoor’s list of the best tech jobs in America for the past five years, database administrator-related job positions—which often go overlooked—also occupy room on that list.

Database administrators, those who store and organize the organization’s data, are just as important to a company’s data management process. The job position even ranks No. 2 on the US News and World Report of the top 10 best technology jobs in the world.

To help those interested in the industry figure out how to launch a career in database administration, we compiled the most important details and resources. This article will be updated on a regular basis. It is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: How to become a database administrator (free PDF).

What does a DBA do?

Database administrators work within an organization to determine the most efficient and effective way to store, organize, gather and process data, according to TechRepublic Premium’s Database Administrator Hiring Kit. Some of these responsibilities include managing and maintaining the database structure, installing server software, configuring database servers, securing the organizational data, and backing up the data to prevent unintended loss.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides (TechRepublic)

The duties of a database administrator frequently involve working alongside or in coordination with other data analysts, ensuring the right people are able to access necessary information within the database, according to a Zippia report.

Some DBAs specialize in tasks that can be divided into two groups: system database administrators and application database administrators, Zippia’s report said. System database administrators focus primarily on the technical and physical portions of the database, which includes installing upgrades and fixing program bugs. Application database administrators specialize in more specific applications and are able to write and debug programs, the report added.

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Why is there an increased demand for DBAs?

The demand for database administrators is projected to grow by 10% from 2019 to 2029, a much faster rate than the average for all other occupations, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Overall, the growth can be attributed to the increased need by organizations to collect and store data effectively.

The increasing popularity of database-as-a-service is expected to increase employment of DBAs at cloud computing firms in the data processing, hosting, and related services industry, the BLS report said. The continued adoption of cloud services by small and medium-sized businesses that do not have their own dedicated IT departments is expected to increase the employment of DBAs in this industry.

Specifically, DBAs can expect significant growth rates in the data processing, hosting, and related services industry (17%), as well as the computer systems design and related services industry (20%) within the next decade, the BLS report added. With the growing popularity of database-as-service and cloud services, both industries need people who can properly organize large amounts of data on large databases.

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What are some database administrator job roles?

Here are some of the most common database administrator job roles, according to Indeed for Employers.

  • Database administrator
  • SQL database administrator
  • Data administrator

Starting out in a DBA role, IT professionals have a wide range of career paths to choose from, according to Zippia’s Working as a Database Administrator profile. Database professionals can be promoted to lead administrators and then senior administrators, but the knowledge of database administration can also be applied to other IT positions.

Many DBAs go on to be data analysts, technical consultants, business analysts, information technology managers, technical consultants, project managers, senior software engineers, senior information systems engineers and more, Zippia’s report noted.

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What skills are best to learn to become a DBA?

Database administrators are typically expected to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering or management information systems, according to Indeed’s database administrator job description. Some organizations prefer the candidate have a master’s degree in computer science, focusing on data or database management.

SEE: Programming languages and developer career resources coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Baseline skills necessary for a DBA job include knowledge of database structure and theory, an understanding of disaster recovery and backup procedures, familiarity with various reporting tools and more, according to TechRepublic Premium’s Database Administrator Hiring Kit.

All database administrators must know the standard database language: Structured Query Language. Most database systems either use SQL or a variation of it, Zippia’s report noted. However, experience with relational database management systems, object-oriented database management systems, XML database management systems, and Hadoop are even better, TechRepublic Premium’s kit added.

For those wanting become a DBA, consider a certification, including IBM Certified Database Administrator—DB2; Microsoft SQL Server database certifications; Oracle Certified Professional MySQL Database Administrator; Oracle Database 12c Administrator; and SAP HANA , according to Business News Daily.

Companies are increasingly prioritizing soft skills in their IT professionals, and database administrators should take note. In particular, database administrators should be able to collaborate with teams, act as a team player and leader, interact effectively with stakeholders, work independently without supervision, pay close attention to detail, communicate well with coworkers, and remain adaptable to change, according to TechRepublic Premium’s kit.

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What is the average salary for a DBA?

As one of the top highest-paying IT career paths, database administrators receive impressive paychecks. As of May 2019, the median annual wage for database administrators in the US was $93,750, according to another Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The lowest 10% of these professionals earned less than $51,800, while the highest 10% earned more than $148,060.

The report listed the following median annual wages for database administrators in their top industries:

  • Data processing, hosting and related services, $103,930
  • Insurance carriers and related activities, 101,650
  • Computer systems design and related services, 99,310
  • Management of companies and enterprises, 97,610
  • Educational services; state, local and private, 75,520

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What are the hottest markets for database administrator jobs?

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Occupational Employment Statistics and each U.S. state’s cost of living, Zippia determined the following 10 states as the best for database administrators in 2020:

  1. New Jersey
  2. Washington
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Connecticut
  6. South Carolina
  7. New Hampshire
  8. Illinois
  9. Virginia
  10. Minnesota

Database administrators are prolific in the U.S., as database administration is one of the most common jobs in data management, the report said.

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What are typical database administrator interview questions?

Some questions that a database administrator can expect during a job interview, as listed in TechRepublic Premium’s Database Administrator Hiring Kit, include:

  • What types of database structures do you have experience using?
  • What experience do you have with on-premises databases? Do you have experience with cloud-based databases?
  • How would you handle data loss during a database migration? What steps would you take, and what resources would you call upon to mitigate the problem?
  • What experience do you have with SQL, MySQL, Hadoop, T-SQL and PL/SQL?
  • Can you explain why it’s a bad idea to run a test on a live database? Have you ever been asked to do it and if so, how did you handle it?
  • How would you store files within a database? What factors determine how files are stored in a database? What is a database schema? What tools would you use to create a database schema and why?
  • How would you handle a difference of opinion with a senior technical member? How would you present your side of the dispute?
  • What’s the most challenging project you have worked on? Describe your role in the project.
  • Have you ever implemented a solution that improved data storage performance? If so, what was your role and what was the solution?

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Where can I find resources for a career in database administration?

Other than attending a university for a degree in computer science, aspiring database administrators can get necessary experience from other avenues. To learn the main database language, users can easily take online SQL courses through sites like Code Academy, Khan Academy, edX and Udemy. Bootcamps are also great options for learning SQL; Switchup lists some of the best SQL bootcamps and programming classes.

Prospective database administrators can also gain knowledge or perfect their expertise through database certifications. According to Pluralsight, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, MongoDB and Cassandra are some of the major information technology vendors that offer top database administration certifications.

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