So You Want to be a Database Administrator

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Dear Techie,

I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and would like to pursue a career as a database administrator. What would be the best certification to start with?

– Michael

Ken Wagner:

There are four major players in the database arena: Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and Sybase. Then, there are other smaller companies, such as MySQL, that are gaining popularity quickly by proving enterprise-strength databases do not have to cost a lot to run.

But what do all of these companies have in common? Well, apart from having a foot in the database market, they all have their own certification programs:



  • Oracle has the DBA OCA, DBA OCP and the DBA OCM routes.
  • Microsoft has the Microsoft Certified Professional/ Microsoft Certified Data Base Administrator (MCP/MCDBA) track and the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist/ Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCTS/MCITP) track.
  • Sybase has the Database Professional and the PowerBuilder Developer programs.
  • IBM has the DB2 certification track.
  • MySQL offers the CMDEV and CMDBA programs.


Not only does each vendor have its own certification program, but each certification program normally goes hand in hand with a product version.

So, how do you decide which certification to go for? There are a lot of different vendors and a lot of different versions. You could start with a basic database certificate such as the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS). Although it is more of a power user certification than a proper database professional certificate, you still get the MCAS credential.

After that, the best bet is to go with either the Oracle or Microsoft certification track, as those are the two most popular company names linked with certification and databases. Even if you attain your credential in one product and find that the company you end up working for uses another, you’ll find it easier to transfer your skills with less training and time than if you started from scratch.

Wayne Anderson:

Ken has assembled a solid approach to determining how you want to target certification. In addition to examining which vendor you want to get involved with, you also need to consider what role you would like to play as a database administrator.

Do you see yourself in a role in a Windows-based environment? Or would you rather work with UNIX and Linux? Your choice of underlying platform will have an effect on which type of credentials will serve you well for your individual career. Eschew credentials that do not fit with your strengths or with the technology area in which you would like to specialize.

Another thing to consider that is unique to this field: Databases do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they often support data-tier needs for higher-level applications whose use and origin can have a large impact on the type of database skill that you will need to develop.

Are you interested in working for a particular industry? If so, you might want to do a bit of research about the underlying storage systems used for various industry verticals. For example, certain databases are used for human resources and enterprise resource-planning systems, but DB2, MySQL and other types can be used for general Web application programming and e-commerce infrastructures.

Finally, where are you in your career? From the sounds of things, you are just entering the industry. Focus on the low-hanging fruit for now. Target entry-level opportunities and make sure the system you’re certified in originally is what your long-term focus will be. Ultimately, your certification efforts should reflect your long-term interests in the industry.

Wayne Anderson is a highly certified system engineer course developer for Avanade, a global Microsoft consultancy. Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. To pose a question to Ken and Wayne, send an e-mail to

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Wayne Anderson


Wayne Anderson (@NoCo_Architect) is a Service Management Architect with Avanade, a company that helps customers realize results in a digital world through business technology solutions and managed services that combine insight, innovation and expertise focused on Microsoft® technologies. He holds the Certified IT Architect – Professional credential from IASA and has completed more than 30 Microsoft certifications in his career alongside credentials from CompTIA and other industry vendors.

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