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How to Become a Database Administrator

Numerous companies, agencies, educational institutions, and medical institutions require increasingly complex data to be managed, analyzed, and securely stored. Database administrators are in high demand for providing accurate, safe storage of personal, financial, and other proprietary data.The database administrator can enjoy a lucrative career.

Because of the complexity of the position, most database administrators have at least a bachelor’s degree in management information systems (MIS) or computer science. Strong analytical and math skills are valuable, too.

Database administrator working on data system on desktop computer

What Does a Database Administrator Do?

So, what does a database administrator do? As personal medical and financial information and company information becomes more detailed and computerized, there is an increased need for accurate storage, backup, security, and retrieval of data. This is where the database administrator comes in.

Settings. Examples of organizations that require large databases are educational institutions, banks and financial institutions, telecommunications companies, insurance companies, governmental agencies, and large-scale retail businesses.

Roles. Although variously defined, depending on experience and position, a database administrator’s role usually has several core functions:

  • Designs and builds the database so that data can be accurately and efficiently retrieved
  • Maintains or updates the database by fine-tuning its functionality
  • Ensures data security by preventing unauthorized access, backing up the data, and otherwise protecting it from accidental loss
  • Merges databases so that no data is lost or duplicated, or transfer data to an updated database

Types. The most common types of database administrators are system database administrators and application database administrators, although there are other specialties.

  • System Database Administrator. The system database administrator may be involved with installing the database, managing storage, and tuning the database management system parameters for optimal performance.
  • Application Database Administrator. By comparison, the application database administrator focuses on executing specific database applications rather than setting up and maintaining the database.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings of the Best Technology Jobs of 2019 include database administrator at No. 5. Similarly, CNN Money ranked database administrator as No. 14 out of the top 100 jobs based on pay, job growth, and personal satisfaction.


Steps to Become a Database Administrator

When considering how to become a database administrator, know that education is critical. Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, with some positions also requiring a certification in specific database systems.


Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of database administrators have at least “a bachelor’s degree in an information- or computer-based subject.” So, the first step in how to become a database administrator is to earn a bachelor’s degree. An online bachelor’s degree in management information systems (MIS) can help provide the background in database management and data manipulation that professionals need for a career as a database administrator.

Databases can be highly specific to the types of data and industries that use them. A MIS bachelor’s degree provides the basics of computer science, including understanding computer hardware and software. Additional courses in database structures and programming languages required to interface with databases will prepare you to become a database administrator.


Step 2: Complete Specialization Requirements

Most companies hire database administrators to work with a specific database such as Oracle or Sybase. While a MIS bachelor’s degree can help prepare you for a position, certifications can better position you for opportunities of greater responsibility. These certifications are available through the companies that created the database systems, such as Oracle and Microsoft.

According to Business News Daily, a Microsoft Structured Query Language (SQL) Server certification is the most in-demand certification.Other popular certifications include IBM Certified Database Administrator (DB2), Oracle Certified Professional, and MySQL Database Administrator. However, these highly sought-after certifications only provide a brief snapshot of current hiring trends when the survey was taken. As such, certain certifications can fluctuate in popularity, and there’s no guarantee that demand for them will remain strong. In addition to vendor-specific certifications, there are also vendor-neutral options to consider, such as the certification offered by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP).

Obtaining a specialty certification involves taking courses and passing associated exams, with some specialties requiring two or more exams to prove ability. For example, the IBM Certified Database Administrator DB2 certification requires two exams and the Microsoft SQL Server Database certification can require two to three exams, depending on the specialty. You may be able to obtain a certification on the job, which could help provide the skill set necessary to earn higher salaries and greater job security. Many companies may offer to pay for the certification costs, as new certifications increase the skill level of their employees and may positively impact quality of work going forward.


Step 3: Gain Experience with Entry-Level Positions

Many professionals start out as database developers or data analysts — positions which usually require less experience and are supervised by a senior employee — to gain the necessary skills and experience before trying to advance their careers to a position such as database administrator. These starting positions of database developer and data analyst can be an excellent way to learn new skills while gaining industry experience, without the pressure of overseeing others at the administrative level. For example, sample tasks for a database developer include designing databases, writing code, and collaborating with other information technology professionals on database projects. Data analysts recover data from the database and performs analysis. Internships, which may be available or even compulsory, through your college or university are a viable means of obtaining real-world experience.


Step 4: Complete a Master’s Degree to Advance Skills

Additional training and academic education in database-related topics, as found in Maryville University’s master’s degree in data science program or master’s degree in software development program, may help facilitate career progression due to elevated knowledge, a broader skill set, and extensive experience. Database administrators are responsible for not only database systems operations, but also overseeing the employees who work on those systems, meaning that extensive experience with both the technical and human side of the work is of great importance for a database administrator to successfully fill the role.


Database Administrator Salary

A database administrator salary varies according to skills, experience, and location. In 2018, the median annual wage for database administrators was $90,070, according to the BLS.

According to PayScale, the skills that have the most positive effect on database administrators’ salaries include SQL Server Integration Services, Transact-SQL, and Microsoft SQL Server.


Future Growth

Job openings for database administrators are expected to grow by 11% from 2016 to 2026 resulting in 13,700 new positions, according to the BLS. The increased reliance on data analysis and need for personal and financial data protection ensure that database administrators are likely to see future job growth. The area where employment is expected to increase the most is computer systems design. Another projected growth area is database hosting at cloud computing companies, as many fast-growing companies do not want to dedicate a full-time employee to data administration. Tech system educational programs, such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s degree in management information systems (MIS) can help prepare professionals with the tools they need to find success within the database administration industry.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Database Administrators
Business News Daily, “Best Database Certifications for 2019”
CNN Money, “Best Jobs in America”
Indeed, Database Administrator Salaries in the United States
Maryville University, Browse Online Degree Programs
Maryville University, Master of Science in Data Science
Maryville University, Master’s in Software Development Online
Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems
PayScale, Average Database Administrator (DBA) Salary
U.S. News & World Report, “Best Technology Jobs”
U.S. News & World Report, Database Administrator Overview