Database administrators (DBAs) have been the gatekeepers to a business’s most valuable asset: its data. They design, implement, and maintain the business’s database systems; establish policies and procedures for managing, securing, and maintaining them; and train employees in their management and use.
But as more businesses move from traditional software to cloud solutions—and as more software vendors automate monitoring, testing, patching, and tuning—the DBA’s fate seems sealed.
Ask Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who in May announced a new cloud-based autonomous database. “There are hundreds of thousands of DBAs managing Oracle databases,” he said at a recent Oracle media event. “If all of that moved to the autonomous database, that number would change to zero.”
But is it true? Others see a time of opportunity for DBAs.
“Database administrators are always in demand, especially as the amount of data that businesses collect is increasing,” says Blake Angove, director of technology services at LaSalle Networks. “As more businesses are moving to the cloud, it’s changing what their roles and tasks look like. Automation is probably making them a little nervous, but the DBA role isn’t going away—it’s evolving.”
What do database administrators need to do to stay relevant and thrive in the cloud economy? Experts say it’s a matter of forging new partnerships, creating new value, and broadening skill sets.
- Partner with the business
Traditional database administrators may be comfortable within their role’s traditional boundaries, but today’s DBAs need to forge broader partnerships, says Jim Johnson, senior VP at Robert Half Technology.
“The reality is now that the business understands the value of data, the DBA needs to be able to move at cloud speed,” he says. “They’re having to be more in tune with the business and act as more than just the database administrator—they need to be the data experts.”
Some organizations are encouraging this partnership by integrating DBAs with the data science team, says Lane Greever, senior vice president at Modis.
“Especially in larger organizations, the DBA is a very tenured role. With that comes domain and industry knowledge,” he says. “One of the intrinsic benefits of embedding these folks within BI and analytics teams is the ability to leverage both the DBA’s domain knowledge and their mastery of data movement within a company’s environment to put the proper context around a data scientist’s analysis of both structured and unstructured data.”
- Create new value
Years ago when companies like Oracle automated other aspects of their technologies, database administrators were wondering what they’re wondering today, Johnson says: What’s next? “They evolved then, and they’ll evolve now,” he says.
As DBAs see some of their traditional tasks moving elsewhere once again, they need to take a page from their own playbook and use this as an opportunity to showcase their skills in new ways.
“Cloud is taking them away from some of the things they’re used to doing, whether it’s being on-call 24/7 or managing backups,” Johnson says. “This shift in responsibilities gives DBAs the opportunity to be more involved in helping the business leverage the data they have. DBAs need to focus on enabling the business and coming to them with ideas.”
This might mean taking a more proactive role in problem solving, Angove says. If a developer has a problem with a slow database, the DBA needs to dive into the problem to get it running faster. Or if a CIO approaches a DBA with questions about meeting their SLAs or issues about security, demonstrating their expertise and taking on these tasks are ways to ensure job security, he says.
“The DBA has an advantage because they understand the amount of data in an organization and how the data is coming in and out,” Angove says. “They play an important role, but it’s about proactively showing the value they can provide to the company.”
- Learn more about everything
Because the database administrator’s role is evolving beyond its traditional responsibilities and confines, DBAs need to take a more holistic view of their skillset, Johnson says.
“DBAs need to look at the broader picture and understand that they’re looking at solutions rather than just databases,” he says. “They need to take off the blinders and look at the whole impact that these old databases have on the business and think about how they can help their company better use that data.”
For DBAs whose organizations have adopted or are adopting cloud technologies, this means understanding the tactical side of the migration, such as VPN access, which applications need to be migrated, and how doing so will affect applications, Johnson says. Fortifying your background in database security is equally important, he adds.
Staying current also means pursuing relevant certifications, Angove says. DBAs should ensure their traditional database certifications are up to date, and they should strongly consider relevant cloud certifications, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure.
“Don’t remain siloed in the traditional database administrator role. Gain an understanding of BI, cloud, and security—everything that touches the database,” Angove says. “The more you can interact with those pieces, the better off you’ll be.”
- Don’t lock yourself into a title
While the word “cloud” might worry database administrators, look at it as a positive, Greever says.
“Cloud is forcing DBAs to move to other parts of the business, align with the business side of the house, and it’s forcing them to get outside of their comfort zone,” he says.
Because DBAs are getting this new experience and learning new skills, when it is time to move onward or upward, don’t limit yourself to another database administrator job.
“If you’ve been a DBA for the last 10, 15, or 20 years, you don’t need to go searching for another DBA role,” he says. “Consider looking more broadly, for a data engineer or cloud engineer role, for example. Their skills translate very nicely into those.”
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