The IT sector is expanding faster than ever, and practically every organization is collecting data at an unprecedented rate. Data on competitors and data on consumers is now seen as digital gold. Companies need someone to store and organize their data so they can retrieve and use it for their business decisions. That’s where a database administrator comes in.
Specialists called database administrators to oversee and organize data for companies ranging from IT firms to retail companies and beyond. Let’s break down what database administration involves, what database administrators earn, and what it takes to become one of these computer science specialists.
What is a Database Administrator?
Also called DBAs, database administrators are computer and database specialists that organize, manage, store, and retrieve data for customers, coworkers, and executives. In a broad sense, database administrators are responsible for ensuring the integrity and accessibility of small to large databases or data sets.
They often work very closely with other data or computer specialists, including analysts, computer scientists, and so on. If there’s a collection of important data for a company, a DBA handles it.
What Does a Database Administrator Do?
The responsibilities of a database administrator can vary dramatically depending on unique workplace needs, experience levels, and more. In many cases, DBAs are responsible for ensuring that data analysts can easily use or access a database to find the information they need for their tasks.
In other cases, database administrators will work with management teams to understand broad data sets for a company and put that data to use. On top of these tasks, DBAs may:
- Plan security measures for databases to ensure that company data is safe from unauthorized individuals or hackers
- Ensure that user information is kept secure at all times
- Back up database systems in case of an outage or a natural disaster
- Ensure the integrity of the database (i.e. ensure that all data is retrievable and organized at all times)
- Double-check or verify the authenticity of data
- Modify or merge one or more databases depending on company needs
- Provide database users with the access levels they need
- Create new databases to store and organize fresh information sets for organizations
- And more
Ultimately, the jobs and responsibilities of DBAs are quite varied. Many database administrators find their careers to be professionally rewarding and challenging.
Database Administrator Specialties
While database administrators all learn the same broad skills, DBAs may also specialize in one or more focuses. Three of the most common specialties for database administrators include:
- System database administration. System DBAs focus more on the technical or physical aspects of database systems. They may spend most of their time installing upgrades, installing patches, or ensuring the physical fidelity of a computer system.
- Application database administration. Application DBAs may support databases designed for specific uses or applications, such as customer service, development, or more. They may lean more into the programming or code writing side of things.
- Performance database administration. Performance DBAs specialize in optimizing, improving, and/or upgrading database performance. Since databases are usually quite complex, specialists like performance DBAs are often necessary to make any meaningful changes to existing systems, such as updating hardware, splitting data across multiple disks, and more.
Because these specialties exist, individual database administrators are able to pursue their unique interests or needs in computer science to a greater degree than in many other computer science careers.
Where do Database Administrators Work?
The majority of database administrators work for services firms or computer system design companies, like data processing agencies, Internet service providers, and more.
But database administrators may also work for larger enterprises ranging from Microsoft to Apple to Yahoo and more. Generally speaking, any IT-related company that collects and manages data (either personal data or customer data) needs at least one database administrator.
Database administrators can be employed by insurance companies, banks, and other companies. They may also be employed by retail organizations, credit card agencies, healthcare firms, and much more. There’s no shortage of places for database administrators to apply for employment once they acquire the necessary credentials.
The workplace for a database administrator is usually an office environment. Most database administrative work will be done on the computer, although some system database administrators may also visit servers or database hardware personally.
What Are the Hours for Database Administrators?
Once employed, most database administrators enjoy a traditional workday, usually between standard business hours such as 9 AM to 5 PM. However, depending on the position and organization, some DBAs must be on call or work at night or on weekends.
Additionally, database administration is a full-time career for most individuals. Part-time work as a DBA is very rare – it’s more likely for existing DBA positions to require 40 hours or more per week. However, database administration is also a very “results-oriented” career. If all objectives are complete, database administrators may be able to work slightly fewer hours depending on their employers.
How to Become a Database Administrator
Becoming a database administrator takes quite a while and requires several steps. But the rewards, in terms of workplace challenge, progression possibilities, and in salary are more than worth it. To become a database administrator, applicants must:
- Meet the required educational benchmarks
- Acquire sufficient work experience
- Learn key computer languages and/or acquire certifications
- Master certain computer programs or platforms
- Create a resume and apply for jobs
To become a database administrator, applicants must typically have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as technology, computer science, computer programming, or computer engineering. These fields will give the applicant the background necessary to complete the typical jobs involved in a database administrator’s workday.
Alongside earning a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, DBAs in training must learn:
- An extensive background in relational database management systems, including SQL or structured query languages
- Advanced database skills and knowledge, such as how to use Oracle products like Oracle, MySQL, and so on
- Coursework with specific database packages to improve prospects of employment with certain employers. For example, an applicant who wishes to be employed with IBM should take a course that includes coursework in IBM AS/400
Is a Bachelor’s Degree Necessary?
Strictly speaking, no. However, very few organizations will hire a database administrator without at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, alongside some work experience. Practically all competitors for an existing DBA position will have a bachelor’s degree. If you wish to become a database administrator, not having a degree will only hurt your chances of being hired.
Should I Get a Master’s Degree?
Yes, if possible. Master’s degrees in computer science, computer engineering, database organization or a related subject will make you more competitive relative to your fellow DBAs.
- Grand Canyon University Master of Science in Computer Science
- George Mason University Master of Science in Computer Science
- Campbellsville University Master of Business Administration / Computer Science
That said, some master’s degrees may not be worthwhile. In some cases, earning a master’s degree before getting suitable work experience as a database administrator could cause some employers to think of you as “overqualified” and unintentionally hurt your chances of being hired.
Useful Degrees for DBAs
“Computer science” or IT degrees as a class are fairly broad. If you aren’t sure what degree you should pursue to become a database administrator, consider the following list of applicable degrees – these tend to be attractive to employers.
- Bachelor of Management Information Systems – A bachelor’s degree in management information systems/services or MIS is valuable to database administrators as it teaches students how to use technology to increase business efficiency. MIS majors emphasize problem-solving and analytics skills, both of which are of great use to future database administrators.
Popular Pick: from Champlain College
- Bachelor of Information Science – A degree in information science will teach you how computers and people come together and how large groups of information can affect smaller groups data sets or business decisions. Information science also concerns itself with information retrieval and organization, which are excellent skills for anyone in database administration.
Popular Pick: from Charleston Southern University
- Bachelor of Data Science – A data science degree is versatile and perfect for database administration, as it emphasizes statistical analysis and understanding how data can be used for business objectives. This degree may be useful for database administration applicants who may wish to take up another job in the future.
Best Buy Pick: from Western Governors University
- Bachelor of Computer Science – You can’t go wrong with a basic bachelor’s degree in computer science, which offers a holistic range of CS skills ranging from programming to data entry. However, its lack of specialization means this degree will be less attractive if there’s a lot of competition for a specific DBA spot.
Best Buy Pick: from Concordia University – St. Paul
- Master’s in Database Administration – Master’s programs for database administration are rare, but they are the natural degrees to choose if you want to double down in DBA and become a manager in your field. These degrees emphasize additional DBA skills and may allow you to specialize or earn certificates over the course of their programs.
Popular Pick: from University of Denver
- Master’s in Information Technology – A master’s degree in information technology is another versatile degree aimed at studying how technology interfaces with business and innovative tools. It may be attractive and useful for database administrators who wish to move into a management position in the future.
Best Buy Pick: from George Mason University
- Master’s in Business Administration with a Concentration in Information Systems – An MBA with a concentration in information systems is a well-rounded degree perfect for DBAs who want to lead companies one day. But it may also be a good choice if you’d prefer your education to be applicable to many industries/positions in case you want to move out of database administration in the future. The concentration in information systems will allow you to specialize sufficiently to acquire DBA jobs.
Popular Pick: from Rider University
On top of a traditional degree, most database administrators also earn at least one of several potential certifications. Certifications act as guarantees that the applicant to a DBA job knows a specific skill that would make them valuable to that position. Some common certifications include:
- IBM Certified Database Administrator – this certification requires the applicant to pass two exams that cover both SQL and the DB2 platform
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate: SQL Database Administration – this certification requires the applicant to pass two exams that focus on database administration and SQL, respectively
- Oracle Database Administration Certified Associate – this certificate validates the applicant knows how to use Oracle database technologies, and advanced versions of the certificate are available to demonstrate even higher mastery
In general, database administrator candidates or learners pursue specific certifications that are relevant to the field or specialty they wish to enter. Some advanced DBA positions or competitive job environments may require specific certifications, as well.
In addition, DBA certifications can make a candidate more attractive than their competitors. Because computer science bachelor’s degrees are being earned more frequently than ever, a bachelor’s degree is not always enough to secure a high-paying position.
Once a bachelor’s degree and any certifications have been earned, database administrators usually undergo a short period of on-the-job training once they are hired. There are no standardized training exams or classes for database administration, but most positions will include their own onboarding training that can last for anywhere between one day to several weeks.
The on-the-job training helps new database administrators learn about the policies, workflows, and procedures for their new employing organization.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Database Administrator?
While many individuals can excel as database administrators, employers typically look for a handful of specific skills that may indicate that the DBA will be a great match for their organization. These skills include:
- Excellent analytical skills, as DBAs monitor system performance and take actions when necessary. They are often tasked with identifying problems with servers or databases quickly and efficiently.
- High attention to detail. Even the smallest error can cause a cascading and negative effect within databases. Therefore, most employers will look for DBAs who have excellent attention to detail.
- Strong communication skills. Database administrators will often need to cooperate or collaborate with fellow coworkers, and their work can affect many millions of people, including customers or employees at their employing organization. Communication skills include writing, speaking, and listening skills.
- Skills in multiple computer languages or platforms. Generally, the more computer languages and platforms a DBA is proficient in, the higher the likelihood they will be hired for an open DBA position.
- Good problem-solving skills. Database administrators must address and come up with solutions for issues with data storage, data organization, and data security.
Many of these skills are required for positions in computer security, computer science, or computer engineering. Overall, individuals who are well-suited for careers in general administrative or computer science positions will also be well-suited for positions in database administration.
Promotion Potential for Database Administrators
There are no higher levels of database administrators per se. That said, many database administrators find opportunities to advance in their career paths after gaining five or so years of experience. Higher-level positions in fields like IT management or database creation, are possible.
For example, IT managers oversee technology purchases, installations, and upgrades and often hand down orders to database administrators.
But many database administrators choose to remain DBAs and acquire higher salaries over time. As they gain experience, they are able to negotiate for better compensation given their skills, work history, and more.
Database Administrator Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for database administrators hovers around $98,860. However, there is a lot of variability in this salary range. Also according to the BLS, the lowest 10% earners among the DBAs earn less than $54,000 for their salaries and the highest 10% earn more than $155,000 for their salaries.
Ultimately, database administrator salary is driven by a wide variety of factors, including:
- Experience level, especially with specific systems, platforms, or languages
- Competition and available job openings
- Location – places with a higher cost of living will typically also award a higher salary to database administrators
- Time spent at the company
- And more
Fortunately, job positions for new database administrators are growing at a rate of about 8% according to the BLS. This is around as fast as average for similar computer science positions. So new database administrators should be able to compete for a healthy spread of employment options once they acquire all necessary educational and certification requirements.
Pursue Your Dream of Becoming a Database Administrator Today!
All in all, database administration is a growing field and well-suited for individuals with an aptitude for computer engineering, problem-solving, and systems analysis. Database administration merges several different topics, including programming, digital security, and data organization into a single job title.
Even better, database administration is a field with a good salary range and lots of opportunities for employment. If you’re thinking about entering database administration yourself, keep the educational requirements in mind and go for it!