Multitasking for Advancement
Information, analyses and the quantification of such data is critical for the livelihood of organizations today, so it is not surprising that the demand for database administrators (DBAs) is on the rise. According to the latest figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, DBA employment is estimated to increase more than 36 percent and is expected to be among the fastest-growing occupations throughout the next six years. Moreover, the continued advancement and increasing sophistication of technology will fuel the demand for DBAs, as well as employers’ demand for DBAs to possess higher skill levels and on-the-job proficiency.
“The role of the DBA is among one of the fastest things growing in IT, and within that growth, volume and complexity is a really hot market,” said Sue Myers, program director of information management skills at IBM. “And with anything that is hot, there is, of course, more interest growing in certifications and validating the skills that are available in the market because folks are clamoring over these skills and jobs.”
The role of the DBA has changed considerably over the years. Today, DBAs play a strategic role in the overall success of business and often work directly with an organization’s leaders to ensure that overall operations are successfully driving the company forward. “It used to be that the DBA was the back-office person who understood the scheme of the database and took direction from the application developer. And the application developers were the people that dealt with the end users and customers,” Myers said. “But today, data is key. We have so much data, information and direction that we can easily draw from when we know how to leverage it.”
Microsoft Database Engineer Saleem Hakani is among the many DBAs today who have successfully followed the demands of the ever-evolving IT industry. Hakani, an India emigrant, began his career in networking, but quickly decided to change paths when the database market swelled almost 10 years ago. “At the time, Sybase was in full force in India and I worked as a Sybase DBA on system 4.2,” he said. “And then the Microsoft SQL server was released and I noticed that it captured many companies in the market at that time. I saw a demand for SQL database administrator professionals, so I switched myself from Sybase to SQL server, and I have been working with SQL server database systems from the time of 4.2.”
Since 1997, Hakani’s career has steadily progressed, and he attributes that to his devoted and proactive mindset, as well as several certifications that he holds, including the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA). “Being a DBA is basically a 24×7 job. You are required to be available to see potential or developing issues, and you are responsible to oversee new releases as well,” he said. “Even on Fridays, Saturdays or weekends, you must be available to make sure that everything consistently runs smoothly and that the users are not affected.”
Like Hakani, Carsten Pedersen, certification manager for MySQL AB, is devoted and constantly multitasking to fulfill all of his job roles. Pederson supervises the MySQL certification program for personal certifications, and manages and synchronizes the flow of data regarding the exams and certifications. This involves everything from keeping track of all exam revisions, updates and passing scores, to managing personal data, like demographics and the questions test-takers got right or wrong. “In my particular function, the work entails the batch-loading of data from external sources into the databases and making several types of exports to send updates to various parts of our online or distribution systems,” Pedersen said. “I often spend time trying to track down queries that are not performing well in themselves or are somehow blocking for other updates of the database. Ensuring that everything is properly backed up is a minor but a crucial part of my everyday work.”
Technical and Soft Skills Required
Multitasking, both technical and soft skills, is the fundamental trait of all successful DBAs. In fact, technical and soft skills play integral roles in every aspect of a DBA’s workday. Although the required knowledge and skills may vary for different organizations and database servers, the core skills are similar. In general, DBAs across all skill levels design, organize, track and store information for businesses and other organizations, as well as coordinate security systems.
At the entry level, a DBA should understand and be able to create, store and retrieve data in tables, but know the basics of adding, updating and deleting data from tables as well. “As time goes by, he also learns the ins and outs of using aggregate functions, and at some point he will undoubtedly run across a situation where he has to know how to utilize a join,” Pedersen said. “The entry-level DBA probably does some kind of backup, but intermittently and almost without exception uses manual processes.”
The size and scope of a database to some extent determine the skill level of a DBA. At the intermediate level, a DBA is capable of performing tasks related to database design and implementation, operation and recovery, security and auditing performance, and installation and migration specific to a database server. A DBA who has reached the intermediate level also usually possesses at least three years of on-the-job experience. At this level, a person will be able to better control the data types to ensure that disk and memory use are stable. Also, according to Pedersen, at this time in a DBA’s career, the number of users usually increases to the point where updates and queries get in the way of one another, and response times start to slip, so better concurrency time is needed. “This is typically the point where the DBA will need to learn quickly about basic optimization techniques. As the application moves upward in business importance, the DBA will also move to more automated backup procedures to offload him from this task,” he said.
According to Pedersen, it also is critical for an intermediate DBA to understand the importance of being prepared for anything. “First and foremost, they should know how to guard against and recover from catastrophes. The DBA is the one person that can ensure that the data which is there today is also accessible tomorrow—whether the building burns down or whether an employee in the company deletes all the data by accident,” he said.
DBAs who reach the advanced level have three to five years of solid on-the-job experience and extensive knowledge of the database server they work with. Depending on the company, an advanced-level DBA could be referred to as a senior database administrator, architect, database manager, developer, etc. Whichever title fits, a person in this position usually oversees the installation of databases for many applications that are maintained by colleagues. “In this role, you are the one that plans the deployment of new databases and tables, know the ins and outs of user privilege management, and have the disaster prevention and recovery plan down pat,” Pederson said.
Although a DBA’s technical proficiency is essential, soft skills play an equally central role, especially in today’s information-hungry business world. “The direction that we are going in the database world is that it needs to be more integrated into the environment. We clearly need a lot of technical confidence on the product and awareness of what else is in our environment, but to extend this, the DBA needs to understand the business environment,” Myers said. “They also need to understand the application environment and the lifecycle of the information because this is going to play into the decisions that