Database Administrator

What do database administrators do?

Database administrators (DBAs) oversee an organization’s information, and walk the fine line between optimizing data accessibility for the firm and defending digital property from hackers. Generally speaking, DBAs protect existing databases by backing them up and developing airtight internal security measures. They also monitor databases to ensure their ease of use, while planning and implementing expansions as needed.

DBAs generally hold a full-time position within a company. They optimize and expand existing databases, develop new systems and tackle any breaches, bugs or issues as they arise.


  • Ensure that databases operate efficiently and without errors
  • Make and test modifications to the database structure when needed
  • Secure organizational data
  • Analyze problems and datasets in context
  • Implement innovative solutions to complex problems
  • Multi-task in a fast-paced environment

Any business with large-scale information systems typically has a database administrator to manage its files. While the position requires a standard workweek, administrators are also on-call if they need to fix part of the system. DBAs often report to a technical manager, such as a CIO (Chief Information Officer).


Areas of Database Administrator

Regardless of the industry, most businesses have an internal database that requires some degree of oversight. While key skills are applicable to any industry, organizations host their information on a variety of platforms, including MySQL Database Administrator, Oracle DBA and Microsoft Certified Database Administrator. Mastering multiple systems can help you find employment and prepares you to work in a variety of fields.

Many organizations depend on database administrators to store their vital data and information, and DBAs often find their skills in demand in the following fields:

Commercial Databases

Online and brick-and-mortar vendors alike depend on DBAs to ensure that stock reports, employee information and other data sources are accurate and accessible. Large organizations across all industries rely on DBAs, and regardless of which field they work in, they share similar responsibilities:

  • Oversee applications monitoring product inventory.
  • Monitor database growth and user activity.
  • Solve performance bottlenecks and analyze database and system response times to improve ease of use.
  • Build and maintain security systems to guard company information.

Medical Databases

Hospitals, clinics and other health care organizations employ database administrators to help them store and monitor patient data. DBAs ensure that all patient information is hosted in a quickly accessible and retrievable manner. Common duties include:

  • Installing, administering and maintaining SQL databases.
  • Providing maintenance and database support.
  • Developing, implementing and maintaining disaster recovery and testing processes.
  • Designing and managing data warehouse improvement and growth projects.
  • Working with IT data operations and programming staff to develop automation solutions, coding standards and quality assurance policies and procedures.

How much do database administrators make?

The BLS reports that jobs for DBAs are expected to grow 15% over the next seven years. In 2013, the median salary for the position was $78,520; top earners made $120,990, while the lowest paid DBAs earn around $43,000 per year. Amidst a growing industry, cloud computing firms and healthcare providers should see a noticeable spike in available positions for DBAs over the next few years.

Average Salaries for Database Administrators, 2004-2014

  • $82,280 2014
  • $79,120 2012
  • $75,730 2010
  • $72,900 2008
  • $67,460 2006
  • $63,460 2004

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES Archives

Top Paying Cities

Avg. Annual Salary

San Francisco, CA $108,790
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $102,160
Boulder, CO $101,850
Trenton-Ewing, NJ $99,600
Hartford, CT $97,800

Pay by Experience

Avg. Annual Salary

Entry-Level 0-5 yrs $60,000
Mid-Career 5-10 yrs $76,000
Experienced 10-20 yrs $82,000
Late Career 20+ yrs $89,000

States with the Highest Concentrations of DBAs

State Employment per 1,000 people Employment Avg. Annual Salary
Virginia 1.49 5,450 $90,170
District of Columbia 1.43 960 $92,220
Maryland 1.35 3,460 $88,440
Georgia 1.29 5,140 $82,220
Arizona 1.27 3,210 $75,900

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES Archives

How do I become a database administrator?

There is no one path to a career in database administration, though formal education in information systems or computer science is often useful. Some entry-level positions require applicants to have a four-year college degree in Management Information Systems or another computer-related field. Other employers will accept a combination of practical IT experience and education. Larger organizations, including hospitals, may prefer that applicants have a master’s degree in data or database management with a focus in computer science, information systems or information technology.

Many DBAs begin as database analysts, and develop knowledge and experience “in the trenches” before moving into an administrative position. If you’re considering a career in the field, it helps to identify what kind of schooling can help you earn the position you want. Your course of action will depend upon your current education level:

I Have Completed my Undergraduate Degree

Decide if you want a master’s degree in database administration

  • Determine whether the position you’re seeking requires further education or if your experience will suffice.
  • If you are a mid-career professional and want to stay in the same industry, consider learning new programming languages or earning database certifications.
  • Consider what kind of industry and company you would want to work in.

Speak with other database administrators

  • What path did they take?
  • What is the most challenging part of their job?
  • What work experience or training helps most in their current position?
  • What do they wish they had done differently?

Choose the best option for your professional and financial needs

  • Don’t pursue a degree that will put you in debt if a cheaper alternative can provide the same education or certification. Choose what works best for your financial situation.
  • Consider pursuing certifications offered by product vendors and software firms. They are less expensive and can qualify you for certain jobs.
  • Specific entry-level specializations, including financial analysis, market research analysis and operations research analysis can make you a desirable DBA candidate.

I’m Currently an Undergraduate

Take introductory Management Information Systems or CS Courses

  • Introduction to Information Systems in Business
  • Data Programming
  • Computer Programming I; II
  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Information Technology

Think long-term

  • Learn the basics of database management and analysis as early in your academic career as possible.
  • Pick a programming language you enjoy and start studying. Languages take time and effort, but you can master them.
  • Take any opportunity to gain IT work experience while you’re in school. Do a work-study program, join a club or get a local part-time job.

Build a relationship with your professors

  • If you ever have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It takes time to become proficient.
  • Visit their office hours; the more you communicate and get to know your professors, the more you’ll learn from your classes.
  • DBAs work across multiple industries. Connect with professors you trust and ask how your degree can be applied in their field.

Certification Options

Whether you’re looking to enhance your experience or simply brush up on your skills, these certification programs can help you build your resume.

Career Advancement

It’s unusual for DBAs to work for more than 20 years in one role. DBAs often advance into senior positions, change companies or pursue a career in a similar field. Many administrators become database engineers, software developers or IT architects. Work experience is usually enough to help qualified candidates find a new position, though earning certifications and learning new languages can also help you continue your career.

The quickest way to earn a higher salary is to learn a new programming language, such as UNIX, Oracle or PL/SQL. You can also consider certification in vendor-specific products. A master’s degree in data or database management may help as well, particularly if you don’t have much professional experience.

Programming/DBA Resources

If you’re interested in becoming a database administrator, you may want to browse through our list of resources. Below, you can find resources guiding you to coding schools, programming discussion forums and job boards.