Main image of article Database Administrator Skills: What You Need to Know

Database administrators have a tough job. They’re expected to create foundational, secure systems that support an entire organization’s data efforts—but unless something goes wrong with a database migration or the system is hit with unexpected downtime (to name just two problems these specialists are expected to solve), their efforts are often unrecognized by their colleagues.

Nonetheless, from a pure tech perspective, database administration is a rewarding career with many interesting problems to solve, along with enough dynamism to keep anyone happy long-term. To find out what skills truly make a great database administrator, we spoke to several experts with deep experience in the field.

What does a database administrator do day-to-day?

A database administrator leads the design, implementation, maintenance, and security implementation of a database. Database admins work closely with software developers, system administrators, and IT staff to ensure that databases are functioning properly, and the data within is accessible to users, not corrupted, and, most of all, secure from outside agencies.

What skills do database administrators need?

Database administrators must have a strong understanding of database theory and the technologies used to build and implement them. They also need to be able to work with a variety of database software products as required by their employer, and they need to be able to communicate effectively with other technical staff and with users of the database.

How much does a database administrator make?

According to the latest Dice Tech Salary Report, the average database administrator makes $107,828 per year, a year-over-year decline of 3.2 percent. Despite that decline, the job remains very much in demand; organizations everywhere need their databases spun up and maintained. Those database administrators with considerable experience can easily earn far more, especially if they have the specialized knowledge necessary for certain industries such as healthcare.

What platforms should database administrator master?

There are several key ones to consider,” says Ivan Novak, Head of IT and Energy Casino. “First and foremost is Oracle, as it remains one of the leading database management systems in the industry. Its widespread use and features make it a valuable skill to possess. Another platform worth mastering is Microsoft SQL Server. With its popularity in many organizations, having expertise in SQL Server can open up numerous opportunities for database administrators.

Novak adds: “MySQL is an open-source database that is widely used for web applications. Gaining proficiency in MySQL can be advantageous as it provides flexibility and scalability. As NoSQL databases gain popularity, mastering MongoDB can also be beneficial. MongoDB's document-oriented approach and ability to handle large amounts of data make it a valuable platform to understand. Lastly, PostgreSQL, known for its reliability, is another platform worth considering as it offers powerful features for database administration.”

Ruchi Agarwal, senior software engineer at Netflix and former software engineer at Apple, gives us her full list:

Oracle Database: Oracle is one of the most widely used enterprise-level database management systems (DBMS) and offers comprehensive tools and features for managing large-scale databases. Mastering Oracle Database administration, including tasks such as installation, configuration, performance tuning, backup and recovery, and security management, is highly valuable in many organizations.

Microsoft SQL Server: Microsoft SQL Server is another popular DBMS used in many organizations, particularly those using Microsoft technologies. Becoming proficient in SQL Server administration, including tasks such as installation, configuration, database design, query optimization, and high availability, can open up numerous job opportunities.

MySQL: MySQL is an open-source relational database management system commonly used in web applications and small to medium-sized enterprises. Understanding MySQL administration, including installation, configuration, performance tuning, and backup and recovery, can be beneficial, especially in environments that heavily rely on web-based applications.

PostgreSQL: PostgreSQL is a powerful open-source object-relational database system known for its robustness, extensibility, and support for advanced features. Mastering PostgreSQL administration, including tasks such as installation, configuration, performance optimization, replication, and security management, can provide you with in-demand skills for handling diverse database requirements.

MongoDB (optional): While the first four platforms mentioned are relational databases, it's worth considering adding a NoSQL database like MongoDB to your skill set. MongoDB is a document-oriented database that offers flexibility, scalability, and high-performance for handling unstructured and semi-structured data. It is widely used in modern web and mobile applications. Having expertise in both SQL and NoSQL databases can be beneficial for a DBA's career.

What technical skills do database administrators need?

Here is Agarwal’s list for technical skills, too:

  • Database Management Systems (DBMS): DBAs should have a deep understanding of one or more DBMS platforms such as Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, or MongoDB. They should be proficient in tasks such as installation, configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting of these systems.
  • Database Design and Modeling: DBAs should possess strong skills in database design and data modeling. This includes creating efficient database schemas, defining relationships between tables, ensuring data integrity, and optimizing database structures for performance.
  • SQL (Structured Query Language): SQL is the standard language used for interacting with relational databases. DBAs need to be well-versed in SQL to perform tasks like querying, updating, and managing databases. They should have expertise in writing complex SQL queries, optimizing SQL code, and understanding database optimization techniques.
  • Performance Tuning and Optimization: DBAs should be proficient in monitoring and optimizing database performance. This includes identifying and resolving performance bottlenecks, optimizing SQL queries, configuring database parameters, implementing indexing strategies, and analyzing database statistics.
  • Backup and Recovery: DBAs need to have a solid understanding of backup and recovery strategies to ensure the availability and integrity of data. This includes creating backup plans, scheduling backups, testing restore processes, and implementing disaster recovery plans.
  • Security and Access Control: DBAs must have expertise in database security to protect sensitive data and ensure compliance with regulations. They should be skilled in implementing access control mechanisms, setting up user roles and permissions, encrypting data, and monitoring for security threats.

What soft skills are necessary for database administrators?

Vladislav Bilay, cloud DevOps engineer with Aquiva Labs, tells Dice: “In addition to technical expertise, database admins should know attention to detail is necessary for maintaining data accuracy and integrity. Additionally, time management and organizational skills help in prioritizing tasks and meeting deadlines. Communication skills are essential to interact with stakeholders, understand user requirements, and convey complex concepts in a clear manner. Problem-solving skills enable administrators to analyze issues and devise solutions efficiently.”

Novak agrees that communication is an essential soft skill for any database administrator: “Effective communication is essential for understanding user needs and collaborating with colleagues… As a one-person army, tackling complex problems and finding efficient solutions is crucial. The IT landscape is ever-evolving, so being adaptable and open to learning new technologies is essential. Attention to detail is also important as database administrators must ensure data integrity and security. Finally, collaborating with other IT professionals and working in a team environment is essential for larger projects.”

Can you get a job as a database administrator without a degree?

Given the demand for all kinds of tech specialists at the moment, recruiters and hiring managers are more willing than ever to hire database administrators and other tech pros who don’t necessarily have a formal degree—but you’ll need to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to succeed in the role. No matter what your background, prepare for an in-depth technical interview that will require you to offer up solutions to hypothetical problems and show your knowledge of various tools and databases.

“While having a degree in a related field such as computer science or information technology can be advantageous, it is possible to get a job as a database administrator without a degree,” says Novak. “Employers often prioritize practical experience and relevant certifications. Building a strong portfolio of projects, acquiring certifications, and gaining hands-on experience through internships or entry-level positions can help compensate for the lack of a degree. Demonstrating technical competence, continuous learning, and a passion for the field can make you a competitive candidate even without a formal degree.”

Yes, it is possible to get a job as a database administrator (DBA) without a degree,” Agarwal adds. “While many employers may prefer candidates with a degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field, the field of database administration also values practical experience, certifications, and relevant skills.” When trying to stand out in a crowded field of applicants, possessing certifications can help you stand out.


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