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The Demand for Database Administrators is Endless

Companies, government agencies and various organizations collect and store huge amounts of information. Someone has to oversee and organize all that data. These people are called database administrators, or DBAs for short.

DBAs get the best use out of database software. They plan the database, manage system storage and control who can access the database. They create backup systems and plan the system's security.

You can find DBAs in computer consulting companies or in any organization where electronic information needs to be stored and maintained. They might run the database for a university, an accounting firm, a government department or an insurance company.

"There are quite a few database administration jobs out there," says Melody Stapleton. She's a professor of computer science at California State University, Chico.

"They're not as [numerous] as programmer jobs, because the database administrators have control over the server machines for databases and there's only so many of those machines. But there's lots and lots of applications, so it depends on the company's infrastructure," says Stapleton.

"Very large corporations may have a number of database administrators -- they'll have kind of the head DBA and then they'll have junior DBAs below them."

Stapleton says the role for DBAs is evolving as cloud-based computing becomes more common.

The "cloud" refers to a growing trend where companies and organizations store their data off site. Instead of having data on their own servers, the data is stored elsewhere and accessed online. This trend is changing the role of DBAs.

Database administration is evolving into something that could be called "data operations," says Neil Hepburn. He's the education director for an information management association.

"I think database administration is basically going to start going away pretty soon because these databases are moving into the cloud," says Hepburn.

"I think a great example is Microsoft SQL Azure (a cloud database service) -- you don't need a DBA as much as you did before, but you definitely need someone to manage operational aspects of a database and be able to go in and react very quickly.

"So a DBA spends a lot of their time now doing things like backing up and making sure that the server can scale (handle more data), and they spend a little bit of their time doing optimizing queries, and helping data architects and developers access the data," says Hepburn.

"But I think that that role will move [to] being more reactive -- being able to react very quickly and not really spend time mucking around with things like server hardware and backups."

The education you should get depends on your long-term goals. Options include a two-year community college diploma in computer science. Or you can do a four-year university degree in computer science, computer information systems, business administration, math or commerce.

"More and more universities are beginning to introduce curriculum that has to do with database administration," says Stapleton.

Do you need a master's degree to get a job as a DBA? "No, not at all," says Stapleton. "I think a bachelor's degree in a program that has the database administration courses would work great for an entry-level database administration job."

"You want to have some kind of IT or computer science degree," says Hepburn.

Although you may learn a good deal about database systems in a four-year degree, not all technical degrees teach the specific skills of a DBA. That can be learned in a shorter course or on the job. But a degree gives you a greater knowledge base and better options for the future.

Generally, if you have a master's degree, you can start a little bit higher in the company rather than in an entry-level job. Business courses are also helpful.

"The more you can understand about how that business itself works and what the actual meaning of that information is, [the more it will help you] know how you sort of architect and design these IT systems," says Hepburn.

If you are already working in the IT field, and you want to learn specific databases thoroughly, you can get certification through the software creators. This gives a person the professional standing that many companies look for. It can also lead to a jump on higher-paying jobs.

Oracle has the most widely used database system in the world. You can become an Oracle certified professional, specializing in using their database. The certification involves courses (available across North America) and technology-based training. Many people take this training part time while they are working.

Microsoft has a similar training system. It's called the Microsoft certified database administrator training program.

"A good database administrator needs to understand data modeling, data architecture," says Joyce Norris-Montanari. She's with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Data Management Association.

"They need to understand team dynamics, so they need to do something in project management and understand those types of teams, and they need to learn SQL -- so some of the Microsoft classes in SQL may be good, or Oracle SQL classes, besides just knowing the database management system."

DBAs are often well paid. But they work hard for it.

"If you were looking at somebody with a two-year degree and they had some good certifications maybe around Microsoft or Oracle products, I think that you could definitely come in at $60,000 or $65,000 to start," says Norris-Montanari.

"They are paid well," says Stapleton. "There's a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Frequently, [in case] a database goes down, the database administrator needs to be on call all hours of the night.

The more experience you have as a DBA, the higher you can climb into the better paying senior or management positions.

DBAs can find themselves working in a wide array of businesses. They may want to learn more about the sectors they can specialize in, be it banking, education or anything else.


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