by Chris Kanaracus

Hot Jobs: Database Administrator

Oct 13, 20083 mins

A company's data is its lifeblood and requires an experienced, skilled steward at the helm. Enter the DBA.

Job Description: A database administrator (DBA) is responsible for installing, backing up, testing, securing and making changes to production databases within an IT environment. They work on ongoing development projects with developers and architects and, increasingly, with business-side workers. They also maintain operations on a day-to-day basis.

Why You Need One: A company’s data is its lifeblood and therefore it needs an experienced, skilled steward at the helm, says John Mahoney, a senior staffing consultant at Hollister, a staffing firm specializing in technology. “A good DBA—they really are tough to find,” Mahoney says. “You’re talking about the data integrity of the entire company.”

Desired Skills: Companies and recruiters prize real-world experience—from several years to more than 10—over certifications (although those do help, especially for popular platforms like Oracle and, to a lesser extent, SQL Server 2000 and 2005). “The database experience we look for most of the time is Oracle,” says Tom Hart, executive vice president of the operations and technology group at Veritude. “SQL Server is more of a ‘nice-to-have.'”

Demand for other platforms, such as DB/2 and open-source offerings like MySQL, is much softer, say specialists. There is also not yet a great deal of demand for the newer SQL Server 2008.

Where to Look: Go to the likely sources to find DBA candidates, such as job boards and user groups. The main problem, says Hart, is that there are “more DBA jobs than there are people to fill them.”

What to Look For: Before the tech-bust, “clients just needed bodies,” says Mahoney. Now, “they want DBAs to interact with different business units in the company. Especially in smaller shops, they want their DBAs to be able to go out and speak to end users and developers and figure out the crux of the problem.”

Sean Gorman, who is a DBA with HiWired, a remote tech-support provider, agrees. “People who can sit down with business end users and collect requirements, that’s huge,” he says. “A lot of business users are big fish, and so you can’t get pushed around. You’re the expert and the one who’s got to solve the problem, so you have to be able to push back if it is necessary.”

Elimination Round: Mahoney says one of the first things he asks a candidate is about their knowledge and opinion of the client’s operation. What comes out of their mouth—or doesn’t—is telling, he says. “If they don’t have an answer, if they’re not prepared for me, why would they be prepared for the client?”

Salary Range: $65,000 to $130,000

Growing Your Own: Compounding the tight supply of outside candidates is the fact that it is difficult to cultivate DBAs within an organization, says Gorman. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of that personally. The only two sources of people who would fit that role are systems people or developers,” he says. “Typically, people in those two roles are in that because they want to be.” Big enterprises, which may have multiple senior DBAs that can provide mentoring, are more likely to have success in grooming junior employees for DBA slots, Gorman suggests.

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