Working as a Database Administrator

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One of the most frequent questions I handle from IT professionals is “Which is better, on-the-job experience or certification?” Not too many technical fields emphasize the only reasonable answer as much as database administration. There, experience beats certification hands-down if an employer must choose between one and the other, but both go hand in hand, particularly for IT professionals seeking to advance from database operator to administrator status or for those trying to break into database work for the first time.

The interesting thing about working around databases is that there’s so much involved. A qualified database administrator (DBA) must be a veritable jack- or jill-of-all-trades. The DBA’s duties often include some or all of the following:



  • Maintaining and updating database contents, involving everything from purge or merge operations to data-checking, processing updates and import-export operations.
  • Backing up and restoring databases as needed to secure important information assets and to clean up occasional messes caused by anything from operator errors to buggy applications to power or communications failures. Be prepared to work with transaction logs as well as other, more static backups.
  • Designing databases from scratch or updating database schemas and designs as changing needs and circumstances dictate.
  • Designing, generating and updating reports of all kinds, from simple characterization and statistical analyses of database contents to just about any kind of database output you can think of, from customer bills to ready-to-import address lists.
  • Working in and around various data-mining operations that can vary from knowledge management to data warehousing to all kinds of predictive or analytical customer, vendor or user models.


There’s a little bit of mathematics, a lot of data modeling and design, a lot of data management and massaging and no small amount of sleight of hand (if not outright magic) involved in doing a DBA’s job nowadays. Given the key importance of data as an organizational asset, it should come as no surprise that DBAs remain in high demand and that related training and certification programs are popular even in this time of economic troubles.

When it comes to tackling the database topic space, a certain amount of learning and study is beneficial even for those who may not choose to go the certification route. When it comes to database management systems (DBMSs) and related conceptual, design, implementation, modeling and other important basics, some study and elbow grease is needed to digest an otherwise large body of knowledge, information and skills. To that end, startup certifications or college-level courses can be beneficial.

Beyond initial forays into the various DBMS basics mentioned in the preceding paragraph, most database professionals turn their focus to platform-specific certification programs. These depend on the DBMS systems in use in the workplace. The following are arguably the “Top Three”:



  • By numbers, Oracle leads the DBMS/DBA certification area. Oracle has an interesting collection of database certs that encompasses database operators, administrators and developers. See
  • Second-place finishers are a bit of a toss-up, so I mention IBM’s DB2, CICS, IMS, Content Manager and other database credentials next as first among equals compared to the items that follow. See
  • Microsoft’s SQL Server is the platform on which the Microsoft Certified DBA (MCDBA) credential rests. Worthwhile for those working in Windows/SQL Server shops, this program boasts nearly 73,000 certified professionals as of Aug. 13, 2002. See


For access to more than a dozen additional programs or offerings, visit and search “database administrator,” “database analyst” or “database specialist” in the “Search by Career Path” pull-down menu.

For individuals working in and around databases, study can be helpful to your career. Whether or not that translates into outright pursuit of a database-related certification should depend on how well it plays in your current or prospective position, whether or not an employer offers support for training and exams and how it fits into your overall career development path.

Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at and contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at


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