Want to become a database administrator? Here is what you need to know

Looking for a rewarding career path or perhaps a new career in IT? Becoming a database administrator may be a route to consider. But how do you get from here to there? Read on and find out.

A database administrator is responsible for storing, organizing, managing, and securing an organization’s data. They are essentially the gatekeepers of data in an organization.

The primary responsibilities of a database administrator include:

  • Ascertaining an organization’s information management requirements and designing a database to fulfill them.
  • Installing new databases, maintaining existing databases, and transferring data between databases as and when needed.
  • Designing and implementing processes and solutions for data distribution and data archiving.
  • Developing and implementing backup and recovery plans to avoid the possibility of data loss in case of a crash.
  • Securing the data by giving access only to those who are authorized as well as restricting and preventing access to others.
  • Monitoring disk space, storage capacity, and server performance constantly to prevent bottlenecks.
  • Identifying, analyzing, and fixing database problems when needed.

How much can you make as a database administrator?

database administrator

With an average hourly wage of $41.84, database administrators are among the highest paid professionals in their industry. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the median pay for DBAs in 2017 was $87,020. The median pay of the top 10 percent of DBAs was $132,420. For the bottom 10 percent, it was $48,480.

There are a number of factors that determine the pay of a database administrator.

Location: The median pay in California and New York is much higher compared to states like Tennessee, Mississippi, or Montana but in the latter three states you don’t need as much money to live and the quality of life is perhaps better. The pay is typically higher in urban centers compared to rural towns for obvious reasons.

Skills: DBAs who know their way around MS SQL, Hadoop, and Oracle database can command a higher salary than those who do not. The same rule applies to those with ETL (extraction, transformation, and loading) skills as well.

Education and Experience: DBAs with a master’s degree and a few years of experience as a database developer, analyst, or manager are typically paid a higher salary than those with just a bachelor’s degree.

What you need to become a database administrator

Bachelor’s degree

The minimum requirement for a DBA is a bachelor’s degree — preferably in a subject like computer science, information technology, or computer information systems. These degree programs typically cover topics along the lines of data structure and mining, distributed systems, web page applications, and database management.

One of the most important skills you need to acquire to become a DBA is a functional knowledge of database languages and database management systems. SQL (structured query language) is the most commonly used database language today and is used by a large number of organizations. Similarly, PowerShell (for Windows) and Bash (for Linux) are also used in many firms.

MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle 11g, IBM DB2, and Sybase are among the most commonly used database management systems. It is necessary for you to become familiar with one or more of these systems.

Certification programs and internships

One of the best ways to stand out from the competition in your field is to complete a certification program and an internship.

Many organizations prefer to hire someone who is certified in the database language and management systems they use as opposed to someone who is not. Industry certification programs that are offered directly by a software vendor like SQL, Cisco, or Microsoft are your best choice, as they have more value than the programs offered by vendor-neutral certification providers.

These programs help you develop a fundamental understanding of database systems and a demonstrable knowledge of the company’s product, which helps you gain an advantage over someone who has only completed a bachelor’s degree.

Similarly, an internship prepares you for the challenges of a full-time job by making you complete tasks that you are likely to perform on a daily basis as a database administrator. The experience can be valuable and can help you learn the ropes at your job much faster than someone who only has a theoretical knowledge of the subject.


Communication skills: The role of a DBA often requires you to communicate with other workers — particularly developers and managers — on a regular basis. So, good communication skills are definitely a prerequisite for the job. You should understand how to be a team player.

Analytical skills: As a DBA, you need to be able to collect information from different sources, analyze it, and make decisions quickly.

Attention to detail: Since you will be dealing with large volumes of data, even the smallest error could have unexpected consequences and lead to big problems. This is why attention to detail remains a coveted skill not just in the occupation but in the industry as a whole.

Troubleshooting skills: Even the most expertly managed systems can develop problems from time to time. So, as a DBA, you should be able to assess the situation and come up with a solution quickly.

Master’s degree

While it is not a basic requirement, a master’s degree can help you climb the corporate ladder quicker than your peers in most cases. A master’s program in database management or database technology, which covers topics like database maintenance, performance tuning, backup, and security, would be an excellent choice.

At the outset, you can get a foothold in the industry by working as a data analyst or developer. After a few years, you can expect to become a database administrator or manager. The transition from a beginner-level position to a higher level could happen faster if you possess the required skill set and are keen or motivated to learn on the job.

No matter what job you take, learning on the job is probably going to be integral.

Job prospects and industry outlook

Data, as they say, is the oil of the 21st century. Businesses across the world continue to accumulate tremendous amounts of data to analyze the behavior of their consumer bases and target them more effectively. So the demand for database administrators is likely to grow in the coming years.

Based on BLS data and industry trends, it is expected that the employment of database administrators will grow at a rate of 11 percent between 2016 and 2026. The employment of DBAs who specialize in computer systems design, in particular, is expected to grow at a 20 percent rate during the same time period.

On the whole, the industry offers a whole lot of opportunities for those who are bright, open to learning new things, and capable of analyzing, managing, and securing data.

Featured image: Flickr / Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

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