What Is a Database Administrator? The Data-Driven Problem Solvers Nearly Every Business Needs

illustration of man working with a computer server

The U.S. News & World Report’s recently listed database administrator (DBA) as a top-five role in their ranking of America’s best technology jobs.1 The combined career outlook, earning potential, and education path makes this role seem like it could be an appealing option for your future. But what exactly is a database administrator? And what does a database administrator do?

If you have a natural talent for inductive reasoning, critical thinking, and analyzing data; if you’re passionate about the evolving capacity of technology, keep reading. In this article you’ll learn more about the day-to-day duties of a database administrator, their typical work environments, relevant skills needed, salary information and what it takes to become a database administrator.

What does a database administrator do?

Simply put, database administrators oversee the software and hardware that house data to ensure that it’s organized, easy to find, secured and safely backed up. DBAs are often tasked with the set-up of new databases to fit an organization’s needs—for example, creating a database to store customer payment and shipping information and ensuring it connects and “plays nice” with other systems that rely on this data.

Another important duty of a DBA is to help with the transfer of data from existing databases to a new database—careful attention must be paid to how databases are organized and structured on both ends to ensure nothing gets lost in the translation.

Databases tend to contain a lot of valuable or sensitive personal information, so DBAs also play an important role in keeping that information secure. In this role, DBAs will administer security controls to keep access to data limited only to the users who need it and test for potential vulnerabilities. Beyond security controls, they also play an important role in creating back-ups and other failsafe measures to get things back up and running in the event of a failure or outage.

It also takes a lot of potential computing power to work with data on the scale many organizations use, so special attention is paid to creating databases that operate as efficiently as possible. This can include testing potential modifications to existing databases in order to improve efficiency.

Where do database administrators work?

Given that databases aren’t exactly a storefront enterprise, it can be hard to picture exactly where you’ll be working. In short, DBAs work for practically any organization that uses databases, and, in today’s age, databases are practically everywhere. Your favorite upstart social media platform needs a database to house your profile. The company you buy custom phone cases from needs a database to track shipping information. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports industries that employ the most DBAs in order are:2

  • Computer systems design and related services
  • Educational services; state, local, and private
  • Management of companies and enterprises
  • Insurance carriers and related activities
  • Data processing, hosting, and related services

What skills do database administrators need?

We used real-time job analysis software to analyze 151,251 database administrator job postings from the past year. The data revealed the top hard (technical) and soft (transferrable) skills employers are seeking right now. Here is what we found:

Technical skills in demand3

  • SQL
  • Oracle®
  • Extraction transformation and loading (ETL)
  • Python®
  • Teradata® DBA
  • Data warehousing
  • Java®
  • Big data
  • Linux
  • Microsoft Excel®

DBAs need to have both a holistic view of the information they’re organizing, as well as a detailed and meticulous lens for errors and misplaced data. You must also be able to put complex problem solving and critical thinking into action by making decisions that will benefit the database and company.

Transferable skills in demand3

  • Communication
  • Troubleshooting
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Writing
  • Planning
  • Research
  • Attention to detail
  • Organization

To work as a database administrator, you’ll need an interesting blend of technical database and programming skills, along with people skills. Oftentimes, DBAs will assist staff members with issues, so you need to be able to communicate their answers effectively. You'll often find yourself having to translate technical jargon into layman's terms.

What is the career outlook for database administrators?

It’s a good time to be working in a data-related field, and that certainly rings true for database administrators when it comes to employment growth. DBA positions are projected to increase at the faster-than-average rate of 9 percent through 2028, according to the BLS.2 However, with the rapid increase of cloud computing firms that offer cloud databases as a service to businesses, positions in this corner of the market are expected to grow by 21 percent by 2028.2

How much do database administrators make?

The projected above-average employment growth for DBAs also comes with above-average earning potential. The BLS reports the 2018 median annual salary for DBAs is $90,070.2 Of course, not everyone will fall smack-dab on the median—the highest earning 10 percent of DBAs brought in more than $138,320 and the lowest 10 percent earned $50,340.2

Additionally, earning potential can vary somewhat depending on the industry a DBA is employed in. The 2018 Median annual salaries for database administrators in the top industries are:2

  • Insurance carriers and related activities: $96,440
  • Computer systems design and related services: $95,910
  • Data processing, hosting, and related services: $95,550
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $94,990
  • Educational services; state, local, and private: $74,720

How do you become a database administrator?

As you might expect with a career that focuses so much on technical knowledge, you’re going to need a college degree to become a database administrator. The BLS lists that most DBAs have a Bachelor’s degree in a technology field such as Information Technology Management, Data Analytics or Computer Science. This means you could acquire the practical knowledge and hands-on training needed to succeed in as few as 18 months.3

There are also a variety of certifications that DBAs can earn to boost their resume. Some of the most common are Oracle database certifications, and Microsoft SQL server certifications. Keep in mind a degree and certifications will certainly put you on your way toward working as a DBA, but some employers may prefer candidates with experience in a related lower-level IT role.

Think big picture

There are a lot of different tech jobs out there. But if you don’t want just any tech job, if you want a career with a blend of hard skills and human interaction and a clear purpose to protect what may be the world’s most valuable resource—data—it’s certainly worth considering a career in database administration. The projected growth, earning potential and current demand make it an exciting opportunity.

All that’s standing between you and this budding career is the technical training and knowledge that comes with a formal education. Check out our Information Technology Management degree page to learn how we could help equip you to work in this growing field.

1U.S. News & World Report, Best Jobs 2019, Best Technology Jobs, [accessed December 2019] https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/best-technology-jobs
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed December, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 151,251 database administrator job postings, Nov. 01, 2018 – Oct. 31, 2019).
4Time to completion is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and number of courses completed each term.

Oracle and Java are registered trademarks of Oracle Corporation.
Python is a registered trademark of The Python Software Foundation.
Teradata is a registered trademark of Teradata US, Inc.
Microsoft Excel is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

Hannah Meinke

Hannah Meinke is a writer at Collegis Education. She enjoys helping people discover their purpose and passion by crafting education and career-related content on behalf of Rasmussen College.

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