Computer Science

How to Become a Database Administrator, Because Cat Videos Need Organizing

How to Become a Database Administrator, Because Cat Videos Need Organizing
The average salary for database developers is more than $90,000 per year. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 4, 2019

More data has been created and collected in the past two years than in the entirety of prior human history. Who collects and manages all these zeroes and ones? Database administrators, that's who.

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According to the World Economic Council (WEC), every day throughout the world:

  • 500 million tweets are sent
  • 294 billion emails are sent
  • 5 billion searches are launched
  • 4 petabytes of data are created on Facebook

Each of these actions—along with every business transaction, every telephone call, every medical event, and many other similar occurrences—creates new data.

The data stream—flood, really—never ends. In fact, it just keeps growing larger. By 2025, the WEC reports, the world will create 463 quintillion bytes of data (more than 200 million DVDs worth) every day.

All of those cat videos that information needs a home, somewhere it can be categorized and stored. These organized collections are called databases, and without them—and the database administrators (DBAs) who design and maintain them—it would be impossible to make sense of the vast quantities of cat videos data collected online and within networks.

DBAs not only collect data but also help organizations make the most of the data they have. They select and manage software to store, sort, and disseminate information. They also help develop cohesive data strategies to serve organizational goals. It’s a pretty great job for tech-savvy people who enjoy learning new systems as technology evolves. In fact, US News and World Report ranks it fifth on its list of the ten best technology jobs in the world.

Do you have what it takes to become a database administrator? In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is a database administrator?
  • The qualities that you’ll need to become a database administrator
  • How to become a database administrator
  • The employment outlook for database administrators
  • Is this the right career for you?

What is a database administrator?

Database administrators do whatever is necessary to manage and safeguard information caches and to make that information available as needed. They play a critically important role at big companies that collect large volumes of data, and what they do isn’t always obvious.

For instance, it’s easy to look at a company like Amazon and see where database administrators fit in. The company maintains vast databases of:

  • Products
  • Buying trends
  • Retailers
  • Sales
  • Sales trends
  • Payments

The ability to track and analyze data is a big part of what has made Amazon an e-commerce juggernaut.

What about less obvious instances? For example, did you know that database administrators work behind the scenes at your local bank? The DBAs make sure that a customer service representative can quickly and easily call up your transaction history when you need assistance.

A database administrator’s responsiblities may include:

  • Choosing, installing, and upgrading database applications and server tools
  • Identifying the resources necessary to satisfy a database’s physical requirements
  • Modifying the database structure to meet organizational needs
  • Creating user profiles and setting user permissions
  • Developing a backup and recovery strategy
  • Testing to ensure data is archived regularly
  • Ensuring data security
  • Querying the database as necessary and creating reports
  • Setting up and configuring data warehouses
  • Integrating third-party applications and making sure that those applications can talk to the database
  • Monitoring the database’s performance and optimizing as necessary
  • Collecting and analyzing data (sometimes database admins wear data science hats)
  • Requesting license renewals

There are different types of database administrators with many different skill sets. Some manage the entire life cycle of a database. Others specialize in a specific business application or in backup and recovery.

The most common types of database administrators:

  • System DBAs focus on the technical side of database management; they’re not usually involved in using databases to meet business goals
  • Application DBAs are concerned with integrating databases into the applications that use them
  • Database designers are responsible for creating databases
  • Data modelers analyze data requirements and design models to meet them
  • Task-oriented DBAs are specialists who concentrate on one specific database management task, e.g., creating security measures, performance, or compliance
  • Tuning DBAs specialize in optimizing databases
  • Data warehouse DBAs set up, configure, and maintain large data warehouses for analytics purposes

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The qualities that you’ll need to become a database administrator

To succeed as a database administrator, you’ll need to know your way around a computer and how to use Structured Query Language (SQL, the programming language of databases). Database administrators tend to be excellent troubleshooters with a lot of patience. You’ll be dealing with database errors, and you have to be able to trace a path through the problem, the cause, and the possible solutions. Analytical skills are a must for DBAs because so much database work involves approaching goals and challenges methodically.

Serious puzzle lovers may do well in this role because they’ll have well-developed problem-solving skills. A good memory also helps, as database administrators have to remember things like:

  • Administrator passwords
  • Where backups are stored
  • The date of the next database audit

Finally, the most successful database administrators are curious and love to learn, which is essential because IT is always evolving. Not keeping up in this field means getting left behind.

How to become a database administrator

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

You will likely need a bachelor’s degree to become a DBA. Some DBAs go on to earn master’s degrees (more on that below), but many don’t. Common undergrad majors and concentrations chosen by DBAs include:

  • Computer information systems
  • Management information systems
  • Information science
  • Database management
  • Computer science
  • Computer programming

Classes in all of these bachelor’s degree majors will touch on such topics as:

  • Database systems
  • Data structure and mining
  • Discrete structures
  • Web applications
  • Databases and distributed systems
  • Database management systems
  • Information communication

Look for programs that give students the option to choose a database administration concentration and help them land a great internship.

Some of the best degree programs for database administrators can be found at:

Arkansas State University – Main Campus

Arkansas State offers its computer science degrees as part of the Department of Computer and Information Technology department. Courses cover database systems, information technology tools, and advanced data structures.

Austin Peay State University

APSU offers a computer information technology degree with a concentration in database administration.

DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media

DePaul has bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in information systems, information technology, and computer science with concentrations in database administration and warehousing.

Pace University – New York Seidenburg School of Computer Science and Information Systems

Pace offers a computer science degree with a concentration in database management and technologies. It also has one of the largest internship programs in New York City.

St John’s University – New York

St. John’s has a bachelor’s degree program in computer science with the option to take coursework in database systems.

Step 2: Complete an internship

In many technical roles, work experience is at least as significant as having the right degree. The best way to get the experience you’ll need to land your first job is to complete an internship during your undergrad years. Some bachelor’s degree programs don’t require students to pursue an internship, but it’s worth doing even if it isn’t a graduation requirement. You’ll gain valuable on-the-job work experience, learn new or more advanced technical skills, and may even begin building a portfolio of projects.

Step 3: Get certified

To become a database administrator, you have to be certified in one or more commercial database systems. Preparing for certification exams may teach you more about database administration than you learned while pursuing your bachelor’s degree; which is to say, they can be challenging.

Choosing which certifications to pursue can be a crapshoot, because you never know what technologies hiring companies use. The best approach may be to get certified in as many current database applications as possible.

  • Oracle: Oracle Database Certified Associate, Oracle Database Certified Professional, MySQL Database Administrator
  • Microsoft SQL Server: Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certification for database administration
  • MongoDB: MongoDB Certified DBA
  • IBM: IBM Certified Database Administrator
  • SAP: SAP Certified Technology Associate – System Administration (SAP HANA as a Database)

Step 4: Find work as a database developer or data analyst

Many database administrators begin their careers in one of these roles. Database developers are responsible for designing and launching database systems and for collecting information. They sometimes also analyze database efficiency and optimize databases as necessary. Data analysts collect and analyze data in databases.

You may end up staying in one of these two roles for anywhere from one year to five before advancing.

Step 5: Become a database administrator

Once you have sufficient work experience and the relevant certifications, you can step into this role and officially launch your career in database administration. Some DBAs are content to stop here, but you may want to consider pursuing a graduate degree if you’re interested in someday advancing to:

  • Database manager
  • Senior database administrator
  • Computer and information systems manager

Step 6: Earn a master’s degree

You don’t need a master’s degree to become a database administrator, but some employers (especially in big companies) prefer job candidates with an advanced degree. Be aware that there are multiple master’s degree programs appropriate for database administrators. Consider programs focused on:

These programs may include coursework in:

  • Computer systems architecture
  • Database security
  • Database performance tuning
  • Data mining
  • Data modeling
  • Data warehouse technologies
  • Database backup and recovery
  • Enterprise architecture
  • Database architecture
  • Project management
  • Software engineering processes
  • PL/SQL
  • OLAP
  • XML database development

There are a few schools that offer master’s degrees in database administration, with coursework that’s especially heavy on the design and implementation of databases. Most schools, however, offer database administration as a concentration, not as a major. Options include Boston University‘s MS in computer information systems with a database management concentration and Southern New Hampshire University‘s MS in information technology with a concentration in database design. Nearly all computer science programs include classes in database design and administration, regardless of concentration. Many MBA programs do, too, though you should decide whether you want to stay in a technical role or pursue a career in management before choosing an MBA.

The employment outlook for database administrators

As noted above, this is one of the best jobs in tech. You’ll shoulder significant responsibilities in this role because you’ll be the custodian of an entire department or organization’s data, but it’s interesting work. The average salary for database developers is more than $90,000 per year. Be aware that different specializations in the data administration field pay very differently. Know also that you will likely earn more if you have multiple certifications.

Given how much data is currently being collected, it’s not surprising that the demand for database administrators is good and is expected to grow 9 percent by 2028. The key to landing a database administrator job is staying current. Database design is changing—relational databases may be giving way to non-relational databases—and you need to update your skills continually to remain hireable.

Is this the right career for you?

Do you love to learn? As a DBA, you’ll never stop. Some find this exhausting, others exhilarating. If you’re more the latter than the former, the DBA role is a good fit for you.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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