Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The best way to become a DBA?

I often get asked what is the best way to become a DBA. In fact this post was inspired by someone over on LinkedIn asking the very same question.

People give different recommendations. Training and certification, maybe move into the role gradually through different areas of your company or perhaps just get thrown in at the deep end as the good old accidental DBA.

Unfortunately all of the above have drawbacks. Training and certification takes time and there is no guarantee that it will open a door for you (you'll need experience too). A move within your own company is quite common but it can be hard to juggle different activities, especially when you're learning the ropes of a new technology. 

And despite being one the most common starting places for many of us the accidental DBA role really isn't ideal because its missing one major component, there just isn't anyone there to guide you along. SQL Server can be a steep learning curve at the best of times and whilst there is a wealth of learning material out there it can be very difficult to filter through it, especially in the early days.

So what exactly is the best way? Well for someone who hasn't worked with SQL Server before or has limited experience then there is no better road to take than becoming a Junior DBA.

Becoming a junior DBA does not have a reliance on experience or certification. In fact most people that I talk to say they would look for a passion to learn SQL Server as being the biggest factor, check out my Q&A with Sergey Smirnov for example. The biggest benefit though is that working in a junior role normally means you can work alongside at least one DBA who will act as a mentor.

Having someone by your side who can share their knowledge and experience is extremely beneficial. For a junior DBA you get to work with a database professional creating real solutions to real problems and you should still have the time to learn and experiment. 
It is worth mentioning as well that mentoring isn't a one sided benefit either. Its an incredibly rich and rewarding experience which I would recommend to anyone.

But the one downside I see is that there aren't enough of the junior DBA roles available. I'm sure there used to be more and that now they appear to be on the decline. If this is the case, why is that? Do we even need the junior role? I'm really interested to hear peoples views on this. 


  1. Good post David. I was lucky to get started as a junior or as we called it, an associate DBA. I had some programming experience and an enthusiasm for SQL Server databases. Thankfully that was enough. Working with a good team and receiving support (mentoring) has certainly been beneficial to my own development.

    It's a shame if these positions are dying out. I hope not because it worked well for me and I would say it worked out for my employer too.

    John McCormack

    1. Thank you for the reply John. Great to hear from somebody who went along this path.

  2. Good topic David. I would say i was also lucky like John McCormack in that i got an opportunity to work as a Junior DBA for a start up company offering Database Administration services to one particular large client. But in my case i had no prior experience, but i had spent a lot of time studying and had written 2 Microsoft certification exams. This prepared me for the opportunity that came along. My boss was a really good Mentor and was prepared to teach me everything he knew. Therefore, Certification, Starting off as a Junior DBA and Mentorship are the recipe for a road path into becoming a DBA in my opinion. I dont know if Junior DBA roles are indeed on the decline, but if it is, it is probably because candidates are not knowledgeable enough to even fit into the role as a Junior DBA. I believe people should have good knowledge of SQL Server before applying for Junior DBA roles.

    Dare David

  3. So shouldn't this article be about How to Become a Junior DBA?

    1. No, not really. People don't have the ultimate aspiration to be a Junior DBA but rather the DBA role itself. That said, you are absolutely right in that there should be another article on how to become a junior DBA.