4 career options for Database Administrators (and how to make the move)

Reader Question: I’ve been a production DBA for four years. I love working with data, but would like to grow professionally. What are my potential career options?

Before answering the reader’s question, I’d like to begin by describing the difference between a “Production DBA” and an “Application DBA”. Certainly there are many DBAs that perform both roles as part of their job, but it’s worth describing the distinction between these two types of activities.

An Application DBA works with the Business Analysts and Software Developers to design and/or enhance an application’s database. This is an incredibly important role, because a poorly designed database has the potential to cause poor system performance, redundant data storage, inability to programmatically connect different types of data, and dramatically slow the software development process. To make matters worse, being forced to redesign a poorly constructed database after the software has been written, will most likely require major rewrites of the application software to properly process data on the newly constructed data architecture.

A Production DBA works with the Data Center Administrators after the system is moved into production to be sure that it doesn’t run out of disk space as the database grows, performs backups, re-indexes table keys to assure fast system performance and other technically related functions. This role is also extremely important because it helps protect against system outages, lost data, and other production related issues.

Now to the question at hand. As a Production DBA, you are well positioned to move in a number of different directions, including the following, based on your ancillary skills and professional interests.

Application DBA: The role of an Application DBA was previously explained. To move to this type of role, you’ll need to expand your knowledge to include database design, data normalization, an understanding of the application development process, and ideally, stored procedure programming.

Data Center Administrator: This role moves you out of the data-specific space and into general data center management. This move takes advantage of your knowledge and experience supporting production applications, monitoring disk space, building and maintaining production scripts, estimating computer utilization, capacity planning and other related activities positions you well should you choose this career direction.

Data Architect: The role of Data Architect encompasses analyzing and enhancing the flow data throughout the organization. That is to say, how data is created, input, stored, moved from application to application, exported to others, and discarded. As a Production DBA, you may or may not be immediately qualified for this type of role based on your current understanding of your organization’s data flow, your understanding of the company’s primary application databases, knowledge of your company’s industry, and/or your previous experience as an Application DBA.

The role of Data Architect has always been important, but the advent of cloud computing has elevated this position to critical. The inclusion of cloud computing based applications into your organization’s technical mix, particularly if it’s used to replace previously existing internal applications, is fracturing corporate data models. The reason for this fracturing is that prior to cloud computing, corporate data virtually always resided within the firewall, meaning that it was easily reachable by other internal software applications as needed. Cloud computing has brought with it, the expanded need for data warehouses and other data repositories as a way to fill this internal data removal.

Big Data: Given your interest in data and the nature of your question, involvement in Hadoop and related big data technologies is an obvious area to explore. The area with Hadoop that may be an interesting place to pursue combines your knowledge of data and your experience working on data center related activities as a Production DBA. If your current experience includes any Linux administration, you may be perfectly positioned for involvement in Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), Hadoop’s data distribution facility that spreads data across multiple Linux servers in preparation for retrieval and analysis.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom or @MgrMechanics or at ManagerMechanics.com.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

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