Veteran DBAs seek help from a higher power

Veteran DBAs are finding that rookies aren't the only ones suffering from a devastated economy.

Most Wednesday nights, you can find Mark Kishbaugh, an unemployed Oracle database administrator, praying for help in his job search.

Kishbaugh, who lives in Houston, kneels alongside other men and women who have joined the Northwest Bible Church jobs ministry, a group with about 1,300 members who meet each week to pray -- and network.

"Most of us have exhausted our unemployment benefits, and many of us haven't had a call for a job interview in a long time," Kishbaugh said. With more than 13 years of IT experience, Kishbaugh has gone without steady, full-time work for two years.

Most of us have exhausted our unemployment benefits and many of us haven't had a call for a job interview in a long time.
Mark Kishbaugh
Oracle DBA

At 49, Kishbaugh represents database experts who have more than 10 years' experience and still aren't finding work. They are filling online forums and job-networking chat rooms with complaints, and they're wondering where all the DBA jobs have gone.

However, career counselors and company recruiters say that some veteran DBAs are missing the point. It's not how much time a DBA has spent on the job that counts, they say. Instead, it's how they spent the time.

New skills needed

For DBAs like Kishbaugh, who had been working mainly with older versions of Oracle databases throughout their careers, it's time to learn new skills, said Jeff Markham, an executive with Robert Half Technology, an IT job consultancy in San Francisco.

"The people who have experience, and keep their skills honed, are getting the jobs," Markham said.

"Among the most coveted is the DBA who can come in and assess the amount of data a company has generated over the last couple of years and create reports, queries and conduct data mining to maximize that data."

Kishbaugh acknowledges that he has not kept up to date with his certifications.

"I used to hold a certification in Oracle 8.0," Kishbaugh said. "It's very dated -- so it's almost like having shag carpet in your apartment."

If Kishbaugh is discouraged, he's not alone.

"I have 17 years of DBA experience, wrote my first computer program in 1965, and I can get a little work -- 50 to 60 hours at a time every few months," wrote one database administrator who chatted recently with job-seeking peers on www.DBAClick.com. "Even the consulting firms that used to hire me seem to have gone through major adjustments."

However, finding a quality DBA has always been a challenge, regardless of whether the market conditions are good or bad, said Matthew F. Reagan, who serves as director of IT operations at Malvern, Pa.-based biotechnology firm Centocor Inc. He's also president of the Delaware Valley Oracle Users Group, based in Exton, Pa.

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Careers and training

"Oftentimes, I've seen people apply for jobs who were just database babysitters," Reagan said. "They just don't have the level of experience they say they have in their resume."

Reagan said there is a lot of pressure in certain industries to keep costs at an absolute minimum. In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, companies strive to recoup the expensive research costs.

"Although the economy seems to be in an upswing, many companies are not in the position to expand their operations dramatically at this time," Reagan said. "The challenge is finding a good person who will fit the profile and who we don't have to spend a lot of time and money training."

David Wright, who serves as president of the Utah Oracle Users Group, believes that the job market is picking up.

Wright, 28, serves as a DBA overseeing more than 200 Oracle databases at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said he started getting calls for jobs from recruiters about six months ago.

"What's happening is that there is a disparity, so the top guys are getting paid more and more, and the bottom guys aren't able to find diddly," Wright said. "If you're real qualified, you're going to find a job, because the market has improved."

To provide your feedback on this article, contact Robert Westervelt.

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