Becoming a DBA – the Right and Not-So-Right Reasons

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. – Confucius

It’s amazing how many, and how consistently, I get “reluctant would-be DBAs” in my class. I always do a quick survey or poll when the course starts where I ask the students why they’re taking the class. My classes are part time studies courses, and usually taken by students who are already working and just doing continuous learning, or are making a career change.

I’ve seen different types of reluctant DBAs:

  • Some of the students do say they were “forced” to take the class by their bosses, because they need it for their corporate professional development program.
  • Other students have other job titles (PMs, data entry clerks, accountants, marketing managers), but are taking the course because they were recently assigned the title “DBA” — because they happened to know a little bit more about the data or the system than anybody else in the company.
  • Still other students truthfully admit they want to become DBAs because they heard it’s a stable and secure job, and that’s what they want even though they have no interest whatsoever with databases.

When they ask me “How do you become a DBA?”, I answer them with another question “Do you like working with databases?”

If they say “Yes”, then I go all gung ho, and share all my RSS feeds and twitter people I follow, and articles I’ve read and written. Then I’ll talk their ears out on how I love working with databases too – SQL Server specifically.

If they answer “I don’t know” .. then I think there’s a potential there to start liking databases more as they work on it more. Which is a good thing. That’s when I start encouraging them to learn more about it, refer them to BCIT’s elibrary (Books 24X7) for additional ebooks, Brent Ozar’s site, SQLServerPedia and Brad McGehee‘s book “How to Become an Exceptional DBA”

When they answer “I don’t” or “Absolutely hate it” but they’re there for the title or the job security (what job security? is there such a thing?), that’s when I start rambling that they should try to figure out what they want to do, and that they shouldn’t be in it just because they think it’s a “stable” job, or somebody said “you should be one”.

As with any other profession, becoming a DBA almost has to be a calling. It’s either you like (better yet, LOVE) working with databases, or you don’t.

I don’t discount the fact that you can learn to love working with databases. Take Jorge Sergarra (@sqlchicken) – he mentioned in his addendum to his “3 things post” that

“…One thing I forgot to mention in my post is that in college I HATED the database class. I was almost reduced to tears because I couldn’t figure out who to create a proper stored procedure. It’s funny, years later, that I absolutely love all things database! …”

If after trying the DBA field for some time, and you’re quite sure you’re not enjoying the work, you should get out and find your calling. Don’t choose to be “imprisoned” in a field you don’t want to be in. You’d want to be in a field where you come to work all excited and giddy about what you’re going to do for the day, what new things you’re going to learn, and what impact your work is going to make for the company or people you’re working for.

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4 comments

  • I have to admit when I was in college I said “I don’t know why anyone would want to be a DBA. Seems like the most boring job around.” Years later I got involved with databases for career advancement and in that quest I came to love databases.

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    • I didn’t like databases before either. I was more interested in programming, but as I got to work with databases more and more, I just learned to love working with it more and more too.
      Interesting, you remind me of another classmate I had too – he made the same comment (about databases being boring) – at the end of the program though he admitted he was surprised he learned to enjoy working with it…

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  • Personally, I have always loved working with database technology. That said I can also appreciate why it just may not be some people’s cup of tea. It takes a certain type of character to be a DBA in my opinion and so it is naturally not going to be suited or more importantly appealing, to all types of people.

    Sure even I have my off days just like everyone else, where the last thing I want to do is go anywhere near a computer, never mind a database. That’s because you can have too much of a good thing. Being passionate about SQL Server means you immerse yourself in the subject matter, dedicating much of your free time to the pursuit of knowledge.

    As with most things in life, it’s all about moderation 🙂

    Great post!

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  • Good post. You’re right that a person should at least have a modest liking of databases to be an effective database professional – you can do the job and still hate it, but you won’t have that natural curiosity to learn all you can about your trade if it’s just a job.

    Apart from that, if someone doesn’t enjoy their career (whatever it is), there’s probably something that they’re better at. Life’s too short to spend 1/3 of it doing something you hate.

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