Being a super DBA

If you are interested in an information technology career, odds are you have perused the job postings and like the salary potential for an experienced DBA. Currently there are an over abundance of DBA jobs in the industry and fewer good DBA’s to fill them…making it a very secure and potentially lucrative career choice.

Inevitably, people always ask how I became a DBA? What is my background? Where did I go to school? etc. etc. Ultimately what they are asking is “how can I become a DBA?”.

My story is more and more common these days. I started as a data miner on a reporting team using MS Access and we needed a solution that could hold more than 1GB of data (the limit for Access 97 back in the day). I quickly became what we call a “Reluctant DBA” when I recommended we implement SQL Server as a “data repository”. Through trials and tribulations (like hard booting a SQL Server during a 24 hour transaction that I had to let rollback for an additional 24 hours, locking the entire team out of the database!) I came to find that being a DBA was exactly what I wanted to do with my life!

Personally, I finished high school and went directly into the workforce and never looked back. So no, you don’t necessarily have to go to college and spend an inordinate amount of money…but it’s really dependent on how you learn and how dedicated you can be during those important first few years. ¬†And you have to be sure you will LOVE IT! (As in, don’t go running around telling people I said you don’t have to go to college, that you can just become a DBA!)

My advice to those interested in becoming a DBA is this:

  • Read everything you can get your hands on, including blogs and industry websites
  • Find a mentor. Any good senior DBA should be happy to help you grow. They aren’t just going to hand it to you, but will definitely be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Install SQL Server Express edition, download and attach AdventureWorks or one of the other MS sample databases and start learning how to write queries. Then get crazy, break it, fix it, uninstall and reinstall. All of that will help you prepare for real life.
  • Spend a lot of time on backups, backup chains and restores. The absolute worst thing that can happen to a DBA is not being able to recover the data (your companies lifeblood!) during a disaster. Better get that resume ready.
  • Always keep your eyes open for new opportunities. Start at the bottom as a junior with a company that has a great senior DBA. After a few years you can start getting into contracting and consulting work (if you have the stomach for it)…it will challenge you in ways that a full time position can’t.
  • Learn to use all parts of the SQL Server stack: obviously the database layer, but also SSRS (Reporting Services) and absolutely SSIS (Integration Services). SSAS is pretty specialized, but if you want to go into BI and analytics, it’s a must.
  • Finally, have fun. As a DBA you will have times where you will work an 80 hour week, you’ll be on-call when you’d rather be out with friends. Be sure to balance life and relax when you have the chance!

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