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On becoming a DBA

Craig Mullins offers advice for anyone who wants to be a DBA.

This tip originally appeared on TechTarget's Expert Answer Center as a post in Craig Mullins' blog. Craig served...

as the on-demand expert on the Expert Answer Center for two weeks in February, during which he was available to quickly answer questions on EAC topic as well as to write daily blog entries. Keep an eye on the Expert Answer Center for topics that could help your IT shop.


 One of the most common questions I am asked is: How can I become a DBA? The answer, of course, depends a lot on what you are currently doing. Programmers who have developed applications using a database system are usually best-suited to becoming a DBA. They already know some of the trials and tribulations that can occur when accessing a database.

If you are a programmer and you want to become a DBA, you should ask yourself some hard questions before you pursue that path. First of all, are you willing to work additional, sometimes crazy, hours? Yes, I know that many programmers work more than 40 hours already, but the requirements of the DBA job can push people to their limits. It is not uncommon for DBAs to work late into the evening and on weekends; and you better be ready to handle technical calls at 2:00 a.m. when database applications fail.

Additionally, you need to ask yourself if you are insatiably curious. A good DBA must become a jack-of-all-trades. DBAs are expected to know everything about everything -- at least in terms of how it works with databases. From technical and business jargon to the latest management and technology fads, the DBA is expected to be "in the know." And do not expect any private time: A DBA must be prepared for interruptions at any time to answer any type of question -- and not just about databases, either.

And how are your people skills? The DBA, often respected as a database guru, is just as frequently criticized as a curmudgeon with vast technical knowledge but limited people skills. Just about every database programmer has his or her favorite DBA story. You know, those anecdotes that begin with "I had a problem..." and end with "and then he told me to stop bothering him and read the manual." DBAs simply do not have a "warm and fuzzy" image. However, this perception probably has more to do with the nature and scope of the job than with anything else. The DBMS spans the enterprise, effectively placing the DBA on call for the applications of the entire organization. As such, you will interact with many different people and take on many different roles. To be successful, you will need an easy-going and somewhat amiable manner.

Finally, you should ask yourself how adaptable you are. A day in the life of a DBA is usually quite hectic. The DBA maintains production and test environments, monitors active application development projects, attends strategy and design meetings, selects and evaluates new products and connects legacy systems to the Web. And, of course: Joe in Accounting just resubmitted that query from hell that's bringing the system to a halt. Can you do something about that? All of this can occur within a single workday. You must be able to embrace the chaos to succeed as a DBA.

Of course, you need to be organized and capable of succinct planning, too. Being able to plan for changes and implement new functionality is a key component of database administration. And although this may seem to clash with the need to be flexible and adaptable, it doesn't really. Not once you get used to it.

So, if you want to become a DBA you should already have some experience with the DBMS, be willing to work long and crazy hours, have excellent communication and people skills, be adaptable and excel at organization. If that sounds like fun, you'll probably make a good DBA.


This was last published in February 2005

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