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Noodle Staff
Noodle Expert Member

February 06, 2023

It's sometimes said that data is the currency of the 21st century. Having access to more information, and being able to manage that information more effectively, can be the key differentiator between a business and its competitors.

The amount of information is growing incredibly quickly. According to IT research and advisory firm IDC, byAcA 2020 there will be 1.7 new megabytes of data created every second for every person on the planet. Companies need ways to efficiently harness, process, store, organize and analyze this data -- and that's where database administrators come in.

Below, we'll discuss everything you need to know about how to become a database administrator: the responsibilities and skills involved in the job, the traditional educational pathways, and some of the particulars about employment.

What Does a Database Administrator Do?

Database administrators (often called DBAs) play a vital role in many IT departments and for the business as a whole. DBAs are tasked with storing, managing and ensuring the availability of the massive quantities of data that a company generates and consumes. If you think this sounds like a lot of responsibility, you're right. Just a few of the most important DBA activities are:

  • Monitoring database performance, both manually and with automated software tools.
  • Correcting performance issues and optimizing the database.
  • Registering new users and selecting the correct level of user permissions.
  • Laying out the database's physical hardware requirements, including disk space and memory.
  • Patching and upgrading the database server.
  • Migrating the database to new hardware or into the cloud.
  • Backing up data at regular intervals and testing previous backups for issues.
  • Providing technical support to users experiencing problems with the database.

You are Interested in a Career as a Database Administrator. What Skills Do You Need?

Just as software developers can specialize in hundreds of different programming languages and technologies, DBAs may have a variety of skills in their toolbox. There are two main types of databases based on how they organize information: SQL, or "relational," databases and NoSQL, or "non-relational," databases.

SQL database technologies include Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL and PostgreSQL. On the other hand, NoSQL database technologies include MongoDB, Cassandra and Amazon DynamoDB -- these databases are often designed to handle very large quantities of data. Whether SQL or NoSQL, DBAs typically choose at maximum only a few of these database technologies to specialize in.

Having a solid understanding of the SQL domain-specific language is essential for IT roles that work with SQL databases, including DBAs. SQL is specially designed for managing and querying databases.

In abstract terms, DBAs must be talented at problem-solving, logical thinking and troubleshooting in order to optimize the database and resolve issues. Since they frequently collaborate with data analysts, developers and business roles, DBAs must also have excellent communication skills.

What Education Do Database Administrators Need?

Because of the expertise required for the job, many employers require DBAs to have at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or information technology. Senior-level DBA positions that require strategic planning and management may ask for a master's degree in these fields. Since degree programs may offer only one or two courses in databases, many DBAs move into the position once they've obtained database experience in a related position such as developer, systems administrator or IT support.

In addition to formal degrees, DBAs often obtain certifications in one or more database technologies. Nearly every database vendor provides its own certification so that DBAs can obtain external verification of their competencies in a specific technology.

Where Do Database Administrators Work?

DBAs work at any organization that requires the use of a non-trivial database, which means that their skill set will always be in demand. They can work in any industry but are most common in sectors that rely on processing large amounts of information, such as financial services, health care and retail. Since databases must be available at any time, DBAs are often expected to be on call and available nights and weekends when performing upgrades or emergency fixes.

What Is the Salary of a Database Administrator?

According to PayScale, the median salary of all database administrators is roughly $71,500, with a salary range between $44K and $106K. The salaries and ranges for DBAs in major U.S. cities are:

  • New York City: median $80K, range $43K to $119K
  • San Francisco: median $104K, range $58K to $153K
  • Chicago: median $75K, range $41K to $108K
  • Seattle: median $82K, range $46K to $122K
  • Boston: median $80K, range $54K to $124K
  • Los Angeles: median $82K, range $41K to $129K
  • Austin: median $71K, range $50K to $105K

Note that as a DBA, your salary will be affected by multiple factors, including experience, seniority, skill set and location. These are simply rough estimates to let you know what you can expect when you begin your career as a DBA.

Final Thoughts

Working as a DBA is a demanding yet rewarding career path with a lot of growth potential for the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2026 DBA jobs will grow 11 percent, creating 13,700 new positions in the future. As big data continues to pose questions and challenges for businesses, DBAs will be on the front lines of tackling these issues.