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How to land your dream Oracle DBA job

If you look at the Help Wanted ads, some Oracle DBA jobs look very appealing, with salaries that rival those of engineers and other professionals. Some have starting salaries as high as $85,000, with senior Oracle DBAs commonly earning more than $130,000 and with Oracle superstars

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earning more than $250,000.

There are two major reasons for higher salaries among Oracle professionals. First, Oracle DBAs manage databases that are worth billions of dollars, and with big responsibilities come big salaries. Second, Oracle’s database is the world’s most robust and flexible in the industry, and it often takes years to learn all of its nuances.

Oracle Corp. recently published its 2009 Oracle salary survey, which showed the average salary for a DBA is $97,000, with higher salaries among those located in large cities. The salary survey also showed that experience, along with the level of job responsibility, is what makes the biggest difference when it comes to the level of one’s salary.

 

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As a general guideline, a well-qualified Oracle professional, typically someone with a master’s degree, will earn three times his age. For example, a 30-year-old Oracle professional can expect, on average, to make $90,000 per year.

Before we continue, however, a reality check is in order. No company is going to pay you top-dollar as a junior Oracle professional unless you have demonstrated a commitment to professional database management. This commitment is best shown by successfully completing an extensive amount of college coursework. If you don’t possess at least a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, information systems or computer science, you will find it difficult to get an Oracle DBA job in this unforgiving economic climate. And if you are attempting to land a job at Oracle, you will find it's even tougher because Oracle hires the best and the brightest from top-tier universities.

As the global recession continues into 2010, it’s interesting that the market for experienced Oracle professionals appears to be stronger than ever. It’s important to understand, though, that there is a two-tiered Oracle DBA job market:

  • Oracle professionals: Those professionals with college degrees in engineering, computer science, business administration, or information systems. It is this tier of Oracle professional that has the most responsibility for data integrity and security in large corporate accounts.
  • Oracle laymen: When market opportunities expand below the level of Oracle professionals, journeymen enter the Oracle DBA market to fill the lower-level jobs. These tend to be graduates of two-year community colleges who take on jobs characterized by repetitive, well-structured Oracle tasks.

The Oracle DBA job market ebbs and flows, and it is during the down times that the non-professional class of Oracle worker is hit the hardest. As budgets get tighter, companies increasingly abandon their in-house Oracle staff in favor of remote DBAs who get paid only for the time they spend working on a project.

Server consolidation is exacting an increasing toll in the Oracle DBA job market. As companies move dozens of instances onto single monolithic servers, fewer DBA staff are required. This leaves the surviving DBAs to manage things like schema design, security, and other mission-critical data management tasks.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways Oracle professionals are working to keep their jobs in this increasingly competitive market.

Getting your Oracle dream job

While the recession is hurting American industry, academia is flourishing as more and more professionals return to college to sharpen their skills. IT and computer science majors are becoming more pragmatic, now preferring to take practical courses that can better position them to get a job in the real world.

Compared with the costs of training at Oracle University, which can cost more than $500 per day, college tuition represents a great bargain. But you have to know what courses can best prepare you for a career as a DBA.

There are many fourth-tier unaccredited colleges that claim to offer Oracle related training, but these rarely turn out to be bargains. Please be advised that there are many Oracle training scams preying upon Oracle wannabees. A good state university is always a better choice. 

As the custodian of mission-critical data -- the lifeblood of any large company -- Oracle DBAs must be proficient in all IT functions. They have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the data as well as the database design, implementation, backup and recovery. Also, an Oracle developer is not purely technical since a coder must have a working knowledge of the application architecture and possess the necessary communication skills to properly implement a program from written specifications. 

One thing to remember: Technical knowledge of Oracle is a small part of an Oracle DBA’s job. DBAs must not only have skills in such areas as operating systems and computer science theory, they must also have sound business and communications skills. This is one reason why employers like to hire Oracle DBAs who also have skills in computer science, information systems or business administration.

But how does somebody sufficiently sharpen his skills to become an Oracle professional? Let’s take a look at specific college courses that will make you more marketable.

Business and Information System courses

For business courses, I recommend taking courses only from an AACSB-accredited business school. While programs at most major universities are AACSB accredited, beware of the less-than-stellar business schools that are expensive and should be avoided. Information Systems offered at business colleges typically have complete programs to train aspiring Oracle professionals. Also, excellent communication skills are critical, with college-level English skills an absolute requirement. 

Computer Science courses

For technical coursework, resist the temptation to spend your time with a fly-by-night program and seek out major universities instead. They offer evening courses in computer science, programming and engineering -- all skills that can increase your marketability in a tough economy. For IT and engineering majors, sharpening your skills in basic computer science can give you an edge in the Oracle market. Some mandatory courses include those focusing on algorithms, data structures and programming.

In summary, even though the recession has cut deep into IT budgets, companies are choosing not to skimp on the people who manage their mission-critical databases. The old saying “there’s always room at the top” remains true for aspiring Oracle professionals. Those who distinguish themselves by graduating from competitive universities, and those who supplement their bachelor’s degrees with additional coursework are finding it much easier to get their dream Oracle DBA job in this tough economy.

For more information, see my book The Oracle Job Interview Handbook published by Rampant TechPress.

Donald K. Burleson has been a full-time DBA since 1983 and is considered one of the world’s top experts on Oracle technology. Author of more than 30 Oracle books, Burleson runs a remote DBA service at www.remote-dba.net and offers Oracle consulting at www.dba-oracle.com.

 


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