Are Oracle DBA jobs at educational institutions the right fit for you?

Read about the pros and cons of working as an Oracle DBA or developer at a college or university, and how salaries, benefits, culture and responsibilities compare to Oracle DBA jobs in other industries.

When Christopher Boyle began working at the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy as an Oracle database developer, he saw a 100% turnover in the database department in less than 14 months.

Boyle, however, stayed for 10 years.

“It was nothing like working anywhere else,” he said about his time at the college, referring to the hours and level of micromanagement at the IT department there. Boyle said he worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break, and he never had to stay late, as the school did not pay overtime. The only other time he had such rigid hours was when he worked in the IT department of the New York Police Department, but there was overtime pay, he said.

Oracle database administrators (DBAs) and developers who work at colleges and universities often work in a unique culture compared to those with Oracle DBA jobs in other industries. While many aspects of the jobs are similar, other parts -- from college employees’ surroundings to security concerns to, unfortunately, lower pay -- are found more often in academia.

But each school is different, and jobs depend on many factors, such as management structure and size of the school and IT department. In Boyle’s case, the discontent among his co-workers came as a result of a new chief information officer who did not have much technical experience, and they were unhappy with his management style.

“Nobody there needed the level of supervision that we were getting,” Boyle said.

Still, Boyle liked his schedule and the fact that he never had to stay late. He also said the school offered tuition reimbursement as an option for his family.

Oracle DBA jobs at colleges and universities: lower pay, but good benefits

Peter Nedeljkovich, an Oracle DBA at Georgian College in Ontario, Canada, also said that his employer is very accommodating when it comes to familial matters. Nedeljkovich, who has worked at the school for about 15 years, says that salary isn’t as high as in the private sector, but he receives equal -- if not better -- benefits and vacation, and he likes his job and co-workers.

Nedeljkovich’s responsibilities include looking after an SIS database, PeopleSoft HRM on Oracle 11g and various other special apps (for, say, the residence and athletic departments,) running on Microsoft SQL Server. He said most of his daily challenges -- such as keeping the system going and minimizing downtime -- are similar to those in any other industry.

However, at least one aspect of a college DBA’s job often needs specialized attention -- and that’s security. In the past few years, both Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh have experienced significant security breaches that compromised Social Security numbers.  

 At this year’s Oracle OpenWorld, Matthew Stewart, director of information security at Robert Morris University (RMU) in Moon Township, Penn., talked about the difficulties of securing educational institutions and the Oracle database security concerns he had about RMU when he started. Stewart used Oracle Advanced Security to help ease these concerns, which included threats of hackers, malware and students. Students and staff are constantly moving around, and it’s easy to forget the different levels of access they’ve had, he said.

Boyle said that during his time at Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, privacy was definitely a concern, since the IT department had access to all student records, and the school “had a bunch of very smart medical students who had access to computers.” While they had no security breaches, they had to deal with network problems that resulted from students doing things like downloading music.   

Carol Dacko, a lead Oracle DBA at the University of Michigan, said she loves being in an environment where she can interact with students and stay active in the music and sports communities. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t work hard -- Dacko said that the IT department, which consists of about 750 employees, is about to take on a large scale “IT rationalization” project.

The project will involve looking at processes across a rather “decentralized” campus and seeing how they can bring in resources for other campus units. And the IT department, which uses PeopleSoft as its core application, is always busy with day-to-day tasks such as managing performance, help desk tickets and ITIL guidelines.

“We are still expecting to work 48-plus hours a week, so we are very similar in regards to an industry position,” Dacko said. “Just in a different culture.”

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