Database Administrator

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Written by ComputerScience.org Staff Writer

Database administrators or managers create and maintain databases compatible with their companies' needs. These information technology (IT) professionals oversee database updates, storage, security, and troubleshooting.

The following page provides an overview of data administration and related career paths, including descriptions of daily tasks, key skills, and salary and job prospects by industry context and location. It also outlines recommended steps for aspiring data administrators and introduces continuing education platforms, job search tools, professional organizations, and other career development resources.

What Does a Database Administrator Do?

Database administrators maintain and protect sensitive information and provide access to important datasets for companies, institutions, and government bodies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that database administration jobs will grow by 9% from 2018-2028. These professionals organize sensitive datasets such as financial records, purchase histories, and customer details, and they make materials available to other professionals while maintaining information security and privacy settings.

Database administrators also back up, restore, and troubleshoot database sets and system access, updating and integrating old programs to implement the latest technology.

Database administrators need at least a bachelor's degree in information science or computer science for most entry-level positions. Depending on the size and complexity of their company or governing body, these professionals may need a master's degree in database administration or information technology. All database administrators need fundamental knowledge of structured query language (SQL) and software vendor certifications.

Key Hard Skills

Like many scientific and technical professionals, database administrators need to master several hard skills to obtain and perform their jobs. The hard skills listed below require time, concentration, and technological aptitude to acquire. Keep in mind that the specific hard skills for database administration typically vary by company, position, and project.

  • SQL: SQL, a computer language, orients and organizes all data management systems. Students should understand the three dominant database languages: Microsoft SQL, Oracle Database, and IBM's DB2. Professionals may need to build websites with MySQL, create relational connections among multiple datasets with Transact-SQL, and control object-oriented concepts with PL/SQL.
  • UNIX: This portable, multi-user, multitasking operating system interface is made available by The Open Group. Written in C programming language, UNIX provides the organizational foundation for most Mac, Android, Chrome, and PlayStation systems. Therefore, it represents a critical building block for database management and administration.
  • Linux: Modeled after UNIX, the open-source operating system Linux operates with versatility to control a variety of computer systems, including smartphones and supercomputers. Linux is free to install, and users can access online coding and troubleshooting hacks to create comprehensive platforms for clients and companies.
  • Oracle: A relational database framework oriented through SQL, Oracle provides access to and organizes datasets. It also integrates information into user-friendly platforms for companies and institutions. Similar to SQL, Oracle works with most major platforms, including Windows, UNIX, Linux, and Mac OS.
  • Windows Operating System: Windows OS represents the orienting graphic interface for all Microsoft products. The core operating system for Microsoft desktops and programs, Windows differs from Linux and UNIX systems in that it is corporately owned and not openly accessible. Currently, Windows OS is the dominant system worldwide.
  • Data Analysis: By inspecting, collating, and interpreting datasets, data analysts translate massive bodies of information into useful and illustrative material for companies and clients. Analysts also use analytical interpretation to streamline systems by cleaning datasets, which involves prioritizing and itemizing metadata, and by providing insights on system improvements.
  • Microsoft Access: This is the key information management tool behind referencing, reporting, and data analysis in data administration. MS Access translates metadata sets, particularly from Microsoft Excel sheets, into usable, searchable datasets. Database administrators use this tool to prioritize relationships among datasets and coalesce materials.
  • HTML: HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, forms the graphics of platform and website design. Professionals create interactive systems and webpages using this standard coding language, which integrates scripting languages such as JavaScript. HTML is the bedrock of computer programming, so database administrators must understand it.

Key Soft Skills

Database administrators must also possess some general, less-quantifiable strengths, and skills, often referred to as "soft skills." Communication, organization, and problem-solving prove useful in almost any position. Companies making data-driven decisions particularly appreciate candidates with analytics and business acumen.

  • Analytics: The ability to systematically analyze data or statistics helps database administrators identify and meet their companies' data management needs. Database administrators often conduct updated analyses of their databases, as well.
  • Business-Focused: Companies trust database administrators to make cost-effective decisions regarding technology and staff for data storage, maintenance, security, and analysis. Technical and business knowledge and skills make database administrators more valuable and versatile.
  • Communication: Database administrators often supervise other IT staff, and good communication skills prove valuable to IT teamwork and leadership. Database administrators also communicate with executive management, suppliers, and technology professionals at other organizations.
  • Problem-solving: The capacity to identify, test, and eliminate potential problems and their causes is extremely valuable to database administrators, who spend a considerable amount of time troubleshooting. Creativity also comes into play, as database administrators often need to generate new solutions to new problems.
  • Organization: Databases require considerable organization, and database administrators organize data to make database decisions and create reports. They also organize IT department tasks and employees.

Daily Tasks

Once they have determined user needs and set up databases with appropriate disk space, network requirements, and memory, database administrators may spend their days using software tools to organize and store company records, user information, and other data. Other daily tasks include upgrading database servers and applications, modifying database structure as needed, generating user profiles, and monitoring database security.

FAQs

How Do I Become a Database Administrator?

Aspiring database administrators typically need to earn a relevant degree, demonstrate successful performance in one or more relevant positions, and obtain requisite certifications for the job at hand.

What Education Do I Need to Be a Database Administrator?

Some entry-level data jobs may accept candidates with database administrator associate degrees, but most IT jobs require a bachelor's degree in database administration, computer science (CS), management information systems, or a related field. More advanced positions typically require additional professional certifications.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Database Administrator?

Becoming a database administrator takes about 6-9 years -- four years to earn a bachelor's degree, plus 2-5 years to acquire adequate professional experience.

How Much Does a Database Administrator Make?

According to PayScale, database administrators usually make between $53,292 and $90,167, depending on experience. Salaries also vary by industry, employer, and education level.

What Do Entry-Level Database Administrators Do?

Usually part of administrative teams, entry-level database administrators help manage and update server programs, operating systems, and databases.

Database Administrator Salary Information

PayScale data in the tables below suggests that data administrator salaries depend on experience level, with entry-level database administrators making a median annual salary of $53,292 while experienced professionals earn about $90,167. Entry-level professionals who earn database administration-related certifications or degrees often move up the salary scale more quickly.

Job opportunities and salaries also vary considerably by industry and location. For example, the computer systems design and related services industry employs nearly twice as many database administrators as any other industry. Meanwhile, nonresidential building construction, computer manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction pay database administrators the highest salaries, closely followed by the auto manufacturing and finance industries.

Company size can also influence salary, as larger, more complex companies often employ advanced, high-salary data professionals. Database administrators typically enjoy more career opportunities and higher salaries in major metropolitan areas. Top-paying states for database administrators include New Jersey, Washington, and California. Texas, California, and New York hire the most data administrators. California and New York land in the top five for both lists.

Database Administrators by Job Level

Entry Level (0-12 Months) $53,292
Early Career (1-4 Years) $62,697
Mid-Career (5-9 Years) $78,588
Experienced (10-19 Years) $90,167
Source: PayScale

How to Become a Database Administrator

Earn Your Degree

IT jobs rely heavily on hard skills, which candidates can build through self-study and online learning tools. Still, most positions require an IT- or CS-related bachelor's degree, as well. Some schools offer IT bachelor's degree programs with concentrations in database administration or management.

These programs teach students computer programming languages like Python, HTML5, CSS, and C++, through coursework on data structure, network architecture, web programming, and software applications. Many programs require completion of either an internship or a capstone project to graduate.

Database systems management and software programs vary by employer, so job-seekers with bachelor's degrees may need to earn additional certifications in specific database systems or software programs by Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Altibase, and others.

Gain Experience

To become database administrators, job-seekers must demonstrate prior success in a related position and industry. Consequently, aspiring database administrators often benefit from bachelor's programs with IT internship programs and/or portfolio capstone projects. These avenues help students land IT positions as developers or systems administrators, and candidates demonstrating success in these roles have a better chance at database administrator positions.

Requisite hard skills vary by position, but entry-level database administrators often need skills in database administration and reporting, Oracle, IBMDB2, Altibase, SQL, and SAP Sybase ASE. Professionals seeking mid-level database administrator positions should have data analysis skills, additional certifications, and four or more years of professional experience.

Joining database administration student chapters or networking groups through professional organizations or school programs can help students obtain the information and connections necessary to land jobs in this field.

Earn Credentials

Associate and bachelor's programs concentrated on database administration include courses on programming languages, relevant software, and systems management programs. Still, some aspiring database administrators may need additional professional certifications. Candidates with general bachelor's degrees in CS or IT, for example, may need additional database administrator certification.

Fortunately, job-seekers can pursue focused, efficient professional certifications online at varying levels of expertise tailored to their career needs and aspirations. For example, Microsoft offers entry-level, associate, and advanced SQL server certifications. Meanwhile, Oracle offers database and MySQL certifications at various levels, and IBM provides an intermediate database administrator certification for Linux, UNIX, and Windows. Certification programs typically involve several modules or courses, culminating in one or more exams.

Types of Careers in Database Administration

Database administrator degree programs equip students with foundational skills and knowledge useful in several IT and CS careers. Computer systems analysts with the right programming skills sometimes obtain jobs with only an associate degree; however, most network architects, computer programmers, and software developers need bachelor's degrees plus related certifications and work experience. Professionals in managerial roles at large companies may need master's degrees, as well.

Job opportunities and salaries also differ considerably by industry and location, with the bulk of jobs appearing in the computer systems design and related services industry and near major metropolitan areas. BLS data shows that database administrators earned a median annual salary of $90,070 in 2018. Higher education and certification typically boost salary potential in this field.

Careers for Database Administration Graduates

Computer and Information Systems Manager

CIS managers oversee IT staff, create technology goals, and install and manage computer systems. These professionals typically hold at least a computer-related bachelor's degree and have related work experience.

Median Annual Salary: $142,530

Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects set up data communication networks. These professionals typically hold a CS or related bachelor's degree and work experience.

Median Annual Salary: $109,020

Computer Programmer

These programmers generate and test computer code to translate program designs into computer programs and applications. Computer programmers hold at least an associate degree and are familiar with computer programming languages.

Median Annual Salary: $84,280

Software Developer

The creators of computer systems, programs, and applications, software developers usually possess CS bachelor's degrees and programming skills.

Median Annual Salary: $105,590

Computer Systems Analyst

These analysts study computer systems to increase efficiency and identify and resolve system problems. Computer systems analysts need IT and programming skills, so candidates with IT bachelor's degrees typically prove more competitive candidates.

Median Annual Salary: $88,740

Where Can I Work as a Database Administrator?

BLS data suggests that while many database administrators work in the computer design and related services industry, education, management, insurance, and data-related industries also employ large numbers of database professionals. Database administrator positions also concentrate in the telecommunications, banking, software publishing, and credit industries.

Locations

States featuring major metropolitan areas with high-data industries tend to offer the most job opportunities and highest salaries for data administrators. BLS state data for this position indicates that Texas and California -- followed by New York, Florida, and Virginia -- stand out as the top-employing states for database administrators.

Meanwhile, New Jersey, Washington, California, Connecticut, and New York pay database administrators the highest mean wages. Still, aspiring professionals must consider the cost of living in major metropolitan areas when choosing their work location.

States With the Highest Employment Level of Database Administrators (Applications) Number of Database Administrators (Applications) Employed
Texas 11,020
California 10,970
New York 7,100
Florida 6,980
Virginia 5,510
Top Paying States for Database Administrators Annual Mean Wage
New Jersey $110,160
Washington $104,700
California $100,890
Connecticut $100,570
New York $99,000

Settings

Most database administrators work full-time at large companies in computer design services, education, insurance, and other industries with substantial data sets. Some professionals choose to work at smaller firms. Larger firms often provide better networking opportunities and human resources services, such as job training and benefits packages. Still, small firms may offer more creative freedom and opportunities to explore multiple roles and company functions.

Industries With the Highest Level of Employment for Database Administrators Number of Database Administrators (Applications) Employed
Computer Systems Design and Related Services 16,740
Management of Companies and Enterprises 9,660
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools 5,700
Telecommunications 5,400
Credit Intermediation and Related Activities 4,720

Professional Spotlight

Will Roberts III

Will Roberts III is an executive and co-owner at the Washington, D.C.-based tech startup WeWorked.com. After spending nearly a decade working as an IT consultant for various commercial entities and government contractors, Will launched his own contracting firm in 2005. In 2009, Will put his in-depth knowledge of small business and contracting to good use by launching the online timesheet, attendance, and invoicing platform WeWorked.com with his business partner John Holmes II.

Since launching, WeWorked has been recognized in PC Magazine as one the best timesheet apps in 2015. More than 50,000 users in over 120 countries currently use the app.

Roberts holds a BS in computer science from American University in Washington, D.C. In addition to his IT achievements, Roberts has also ventured into filmmaking, acting as executive producer for the 2019 short film "Charlatan."

Why did you decide to pursue database administration?

At the start of my sophomore year of college at the American University, I was selected for a paid internship as a computer programmer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. This internship presented me with the opportunity to gain valuable real-life work experience for the three years leading up receiving my bachelor of science degree in computer science.

During my tenure at NRL, the projects to which I was assigned required me to learn and code in a variety of programming languages that often changed based on hardware, available technology, and overall functional capability. However, it was impossible for me to ignore that the database software almost never changed, if ever at all.

Based on these early experiences, it was my belief that I would often be required to learn new languages during the course of my career if I chose a career in front-end development. For this reason, I opted to focus on database development and administration as it appeared to be a better option for longevity.

What are the most challenging aspects of working in database administration?

As the chief database architect and administrator (DBA) at WeWorked.com, I find the most challenging part of these duties to be maintaining database scalability and elasticity to ensure maximum performance and availability. With a base of more than 50,000 users in over 120 countries worldwide, system demand changes often occur around the clock and unpredictably.

The bottom line for us here at WeWorked.com is that if the application isn't running or does so slowly, the company loses business. Therefore, it is important that this challenge be overcome and the site is kept online and operational. As DBA, these items fall directly in my lap. Some may not like this responsibility, but I welcome and enjoy it. It helps when you're at the top of the totem pole too!

The most rewarding aspects?

I find the most rewarding aspects of my position here at WeWorked.com to be the satisfaction of overcoming the unforeseen challenges. Given that WeWorked.com is a bootstrapped startup, we literally come from a place where we could not give the product away to now hosting timesheets for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

As with any growth, it too comes along with growing pains that we just didn't see coming. For instance, we built our invoicing feature with strictly a U.S. user base in mind, and the database was designed accordingly. We never really considered that we would need to accommodate hundreds of other foreign currencies and international date formats. These international accommodations impose various database design challenges that we had to think through and adjust to on the fly, often at very short notice and turnaround time.

Was it challenging to find a job in the field?

Given that I graduated college with over three years of work experience, I had no trouble finding a job. I literally walked across the stage on a Sunday and started my first post-college job the next day. Most importantly, I have never been unemployed.

What kind of job settings have you worked in?

I have worked at companies of less than five employees and also Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America, where I was one of several hundred thousand. Each of these experiences has prepared me for where I am in my journey today.

Working at a small company allowed me to become more diverse in my DBA skill set because I was held responsible for all aspects of the database during the entire lifecycle of a project, while working at a larger company allowed me to become proficient in specific database areas (i.e., backup and recovery, performance tuning, security) as part of a team of DBAs.

How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?

At WeWorked.com, database administration tasking typically falls into one of three categories: performance, data quality and recoverability, and database design. I find that oftentimes, too much emphasis is placed on performance in the DBA community.

While performance is typically the most visible aspect of database systems, I believe that a higher level of priority should be placed on ensuring that the data presented to our subscribers is always accurate and up-to-date. To put it frankly, delivering inaccurate data at the fastest speed possible adds no value to our customers. Additionally, I place an equal level of importance on disaster recovery, as our customers rely heavily on the data that they get from us for payroll and invoicing and cannot afford for WeWorked.com to be down for any significant period of time.

Of the remaining categories, database performance is given priority over database design.

The duties associated with performance and data quality/recoverability are performed at regular intervals (typically monthly) and planned for accordingly. Database design duties are typically performed in conjunction with product upgrades or enhancements. At WeWorked.com, we roll out major software releases twice a year on average, and the associated database design-tasking is planned around this schedule.

Advice for newcomers to the profession?

As the usage of on-premise database management systems (DBMS) solutions decline and cloud DBMS applications become the new normal, my advice would be for newcomers to familiarize themselves with one or more of the emerging cloud DBMS solutions, such as Amazon Web Services, SAP HANA, Cloud SQL by Google, or Azure by Microsoft, just to name a few.

It is my belief that a lion's share of the upcoming job opportunities will be made available to individuals who are proficient in these areas due to the ever-increasing demand for data analytics.

What are some of the best ways you gained experience outside of primary education?

Although invaluable on-the-job experience was afforded me as a college intern, I would have to say that my most valuable work experience has been launching and growing WeWorked.com into a highly profitable product without the help of any outside funding. Under these circumstances, you are your own boss and therefore required to stay abreast of the latest technologies, industry trends, and security concerns -- because the success and/or failure of your company directly depends on it.

Put bluntly, if you don't keep your skills sharp, you don't eat.

Understandably, starting your own company may not be viable option for many, as it wasn't an option for me at the start of my career. Another way that I was able to gain experience was creating my own lab environment at home. This is an excellent way to learn about the different features and gain experience by getting your feet wet and implementing them. You don't have to worry about breaking things, either. In fact, you want to break things, so that you can practice database restoration when you do.

What direction do you see your career path trending in?

As WeWorked.com continues to grow and we launch more advanced features, such as payroll processing, and take the plunge into the financial services industry, I plan to scale back on my day-to-day DBA tasking and focus more on my executive and marketing duties. The DBA duties will be delegated to someone else who will take direction from me. However, I still plan to continue to serve as the chief database architect for the product to ensure that my overall vision for the direction of the product is maintained from a database standpoint.

Continuing Education for Database Administrators

Database administrators need to continually educate themselves to keep up with new developments in an ever-changing technological field. Because skill and knowledge requirements vary considerably among companies and industries, professionals often need to earn new credentials and certifications when getting a new job.

Fortunately, database administrators can find many continuing education resources online. Technology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM offer database administrator certification programs, as do professional organizations like the International Web Association. Professional organizations like the Data Management Association also offer professional conferences for networking in this field.

Continuing Education Resources

  • Oracle University Oracle University trains and certifies professionals in Oracle products and software. Training topics include database, Java, applications, PaaS, SaaS, and cloud infrastructure.
  • Microsoft Learn This online learning platform boasts over 75 role-based certification programs, including administrator associate, security administration associate, and Azure administrator associate.
  • Linux Foundation Training Dedicated to spreading quality technology education across the globe, the Linux Foundation offers certification programs and courses.
  • ASIS&T Webinars These webinars engage timely professional topics and offer insights from business and information science leaders from around the world.

Professional Development Resources

  • Enterprise Data Management Council eLearning In partnership with eLearningCurve, the EDM Council offers data management training and certification programs on topics such as data integration, quality, governance, and stewardship.
  • Association for Information Science and Technology ASIS&T, an interdisciplinary association of professionals, encourages skill-building and career development related to information sciences and technologies. This association provides continuing education, publications, and other valuable information.
  • Microsoft Certifications Microsoft provides several certification programs for database professionals. Topics include data management and analytics, core infrastructure, business intelligence, and data platforms.
  • International Web Association Certifications The IWA runs certified web professional certification programs at the associate, specialist, and master's levels. Specialist certificate offerings include server administrator, database specialist, and security analyst.

How Do I Find a Job in Database Administration?

Seek recommendations from academic or work mentors and colleagues to help start your search for a data administrator position. Personal references can help direct your job search and add credence to your job applications. Networking events and conferences run by professional organizations also prove excellent resources. Many of these organizations also provide helpful job boards or career websites, such as those listed below.

ASIS&T Career Website

The ASIS&T career center features a job-finding tool, searchable by keyword and location. Job-seekers can post resumes, receive job alerts, and search the company directory.

Association for Information Systems Career Services

AIS's career services include an academic careers job board, an information systems and technology job board, networking services, and career development information.

Library and Information Technology Association Job Posts

LITA's job-finding tool allows users to search for or post jobs by region. New jobs appear each Wednesday.

Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society Jobs

The IEE Computer Society provides a resume template, job postings, job alerts, and a job application tool. Users can search for jobs by location and keyword.

Professional Resources for Database Administrators

Database administrators and other IT professionals sometimes seek career development help from professional organizations. Organizations like the Data Management Association connect data managers around the globe through conferences and other networking opportunities.

Professional organizations also keep data managers current on relevant news and publications. Those seeking to learn new professional skills from home can turn to professional organizations for continuing education, including online courses, webinars, training, and certification programs.

  • Data Management Association A global nonprofit association for information technology professionals and businesspeople, DAMA promotes the development and use of data management technologies. It offers data management certification, an online learning channel, and dozens of local chapters around the world.
  • Association for Women in Computing Encouraging the advancement of women in technical careers, the AWC offers mentorship, networking, and continuing education opportunities to women pursuing computing-related careers.
  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology The IACSIT, an association comprising scholars and professionals in CS and IT disciplines, provides relevant academic journals, workshops, and conferences.
  • Computing Technology Industry Association A large association of IT companies, CompTIA provides self-study tools, training, testing, and certification in technology topics including Server+, Security+, Network+, and A+.
  • Network Professional Association The NPA, a top network computing professional organization, provides a certified network professional credential and grants international awards for professionalism. It also provides member benefits, including a quarterly journal.