Why DBAs Need to Evolve or Get Pushed Aside


Database administrators have always had to keep up with fast and myriad changes in their line of work. But now the underlying structures of their jobs are shifting, and those looking to move up had better embrace those changes or run the risk of getting pushed aside.

That means understanding the concepts of virtualization and Database as a Service – DBaaS — says Thomas LaRock, author of DBA Survivor: Become a Rock Star DBA and head geek at SolarWinds, an Austin-based IT management software company. LaRock tells Dice that DBAs have gone from having massive and under-utilized servers to shared environments almost overnight. “It’s been a learning curve for DBAs and server administrators, too,” he says.

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Demand for DBaaS Pros

In the meantime, the importance of virtualization is rising, driven by the ongoing move to Hadoop. “It’s an evolutionary process,” explains Tim Gorman, technical consultant at Delphix, a data management virtualization company in Menlo Park, Calif. First, database administrators had to write the database software. Then came the move to “canned software,” such as Oracle and packages like it. “Now it’s about automated software development,” he says.

Database admins who don’t understand virtualization and the concepts of DBaaS risk being left behind. “Nobody should have to provision databases like we’ve done for the past 30 years. It can be automated,” Gorman adds. He believes these trends will lead to growing demand for people who can undertake DBaaS migrations and management.

Embrace the Cloud

Historically, notes LaRock, “the best DBAs were the ones who could help take a logical design and translate it into a physical implementation.” Now, with the cloud, the role of a skilled DBA has become more important than ever before. While you might have “less knobs to turn” as you head into the XaaS (Everything as a Service) architecture, LaRock says companies will especially need people experienced in disaster recovery, high availability, query performance and troubleshooting.

Thinking Deeply

DBAs also need to be more business-savvy. Ed Tittel, a Round Rock, Texas, tech consultant who specializes in information security, markup languages and networking technologies, agrees that the “classic” role of DBA is fading away. Where database administration used to be about keeping data groomed and running at peak efficiency, “today, that’s a side task,” he says. And while SQL, NoSQL and MySQL (as well as vendor database platforms like those from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) still apply, DBAs have to constantly keep up with SAP HANA, Hadoop and more. “You have to maintain currency and knowledge,” says Tittel. Perhaps more importantly, you have to get a grip on Big Data and how a deeper understanding of data analysis and business intelligence fits into database management.

Troubleshooting and Soft Skills

But moving up the food chain takes more than keeping your head pointed at a keyboard and screen. LaRock encourages DBAs to focus on the applications of the technology they use. “Learning one thing like SQL Server or Oracle is good, but ultimately it’s niche,” he says. “If I am building a team, I feel it’s more important for the members to understand the concepts behind all database platforms — memory, disk, CPU, network, locking, blocking, etc.” He puts more value on good troubleshooting and soft skills than on being an expert in a specific technology.

“If you want to be employable then you don’t need to know the answers,” he maintains. Instead, it’s about knowing how to find the answers and present your findings in a clear and concise manner. Says LaRock: “If you can do those two things, you will always be able to find work.”

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5 Responses to “Why DBAs Need to Evolve or Get Pushed Aside”

  1. Cicuta

    DBAs as with any discipline in the computer industry or any other technical job is the same… You must keep up with the trend of technology which amounts to an never ending task – something companies do not understand and probably never will. For companies, one individual can be a DBA, UNIX administrator, Windows and Apple administrator, Network administrator, etc., etc. without realizing that the amount of learning is endless and always changing; hence, what we are talking about is people which have to be specialist in one discipline and within disciplines break it down even further by OS, type of database, etc. A DBA cannot do OS administrator effectively or vice versa and neither of the two can be a network administrator or a programmer – However, companies want all of that in one individual.

  2. I think its time to stop running on that IT treadmill which could throw you off at anytime no matter how hard or fast you run/catchup/evolve.

    A better alternative would be to change over to a more stable industry such as the Health care field.
    You can transfer/leverage your skills and build on them there or another stable field.

    As I grow older(only 38 now but thinking of the future) I am more scared of the IT industry with its age discrimination.

    Other fields respect older workers for their knowledge and experience but in the IT field you never get to that level because there is a Paradigm Shift every couple of years and its so cyclical and at the end of the day it is just a means to an end.

    Your just a resource for that particular task/project and once its done…..Adios! Good Luck on getting your next gig. That is no way to live in my opinion.

  3. Southbound

    Well said. I have 20+ years in IT, most of it in database development and have been through several paradigm shifts with the latest being the “Big Data” fad. It is impossible to keep up, especially if you have any kind of family life. Most of my non-it friends don’t appear to be under pressure to relearn everything every 5 years in order to stay “marketable”. Most them also work for companies that invest in training them, apparently not something most IT departments are willing to do anymore. Hopefully I don’t have too many more years on the treadmill before I get pushed aside. If your young and looking to get into a stable career I would think long and hard before jumping on the IT treadmill.

  4. zam zam cola

    I wonder why we need DBA’s ask developers to do that job. Anyways DBA is a thankless job and they get paid less than Kings(software developers) who get all the moolah.
    To get updated you need money and companies don’t want to pay for training. I agree with all of you folks. IT creates slaves and not specialists.
    The needs of employers is unending but they should also be willing to pay which they don’t do.

  5. zam zam cola

    “If you want to be employable then you don’t need to know the answers,” he maintains. Instead, it’s about knowing how to find the answers and present your findings in a clear and concise manner. Says LaRock: “If you can do those two things, you will always be able to find work.”

    Let me tell you Myra Thomas this is a lie. We are all literate people and can find answers if given a chance but when interviews are held in DBA field they expect you to know answers, if not you get kicked out. I am telling from my experience.

    Somehow i feel DBA’s is a most exploited tribe in the market and is a thankless job. I would prefer developers to take care of data also.Who would like to work for peanuts.