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So you want to be a DBA?

As the database industry continues to grow at a brisk pace, the burning question in the minds of future database administrators is: How do I get started?

Current trends indicate that IT professionals will continue to command top salaries, even with relatively few years of higher education and despite the current market chill. Indeed, the industry is revolutionizing the way that employers compensate their workers.

For instance, a recent survey conducted by

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DataMasters shows that the median income for database administrators around the U.S. is in the $80,000-$90,000 range. This makes DBA's among the highest paid IT workers in the enterprise. searchDatabase.com's own Salary Survey confirms this, showing full details drawn from over 1,000 responses.

The demand for IT isn't expected to slow in the near future either. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the industry will have the highest expansion rate of any industry from now until 2008. Predicted growth for the sector is projected to be 117 percent, with the demand for high-skilled high-tech workers growing at a commensurate level. The career of DBA in particular will show one of the highest growth rates of any category.

So how does an aspiring database pro get on the bandwagon of that upward salary spiral? Industry analysts say that the best mix is experience, education, and professional credentials--and that the definitions of each of these are changing.

Recent IT shortages have redefined who is an "experienced" professional. The definition of a senior-level DBA is now typically someone with four or more years experience, and that's with two-years of vocational school or college, and not always with certification.

Marketing analyst Fred Hobbs with JustTechJobs.com in Denver, Colorado (U.S.) said that recent jobs listed with their firm require a senior-level pro to have about three years experience. Junior developers typically are those who have less than two years. And many of their current jobs don't require any certifications. Hot skills currently include Windows NT/2000 administration, C++, SQL, and Oracle, while the most common certifications include Microsoft Certified Solution Developers (MCSD) and Oracle Certified Professionals (OCP).

Educational requirements have also changed. A college degree is not always a make or break criteria. As many IT career counselors point out, a work record that shows a history of increased responsibility in the field can be just the right recipe for a future employer.

Just five years ago, a Bachelor's degree was required to attain an entry-level technical position. The explosive growth of the IT industry has changed those rules and many graduates of vocational/technical programs and self-taught database administrators are holding those positions that once demanded a four-year degree.

For those with little or no experience, experts suggest that the aspiring DBA take an entry-level job working at a help desk or as a junior database analyst. These types of "in-the-trenches" type jobs give the future DBA the exposure needed to land a better position.

However, industry analyst J. Steven Nizik cautions that an entry-level position must be one that allows for advancement. Nizik says too often, over-zealous first-time IT workers take an entry-level job that doesn't lend itself to advancement in their field. Those who do find the right entry-level job can be confident that they will have their day in the sun due to the continued shortage of good technical personnel.

In short, there is no exact recipe for success in landing that premier database administrator job. As has always been the rule of thumb, good jobs come to those who have ingenuity, motivation, a thirst for knowledge, proper credentials, and, of course, those who are at the right place at the right time.

This was first published in February 2001

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