So you’re hearing all the fun that DBAs are having on Twitter and around the intertubez, and you’re wondering how to get in on the fun. Maybe you’re a developer or a network admin, and you’ve been learning about SQL Server from books and from peers, and you’re starting to look around for your first Junior DBA job.
Where Are the Junior DBA Job Ads?
Search for the terms “junior dba” or “senior dba” on national job sites, and the results are dramatically different:
- CareerBuilder – 296 senior, 27 junior
- Dice – 65 senior, 2 junior
- HotJobs – 170 senior, 19 junior
- Monster – 122 senior, 15 junior
To make matters worse, drill into the requirements for some of the so-called junior positions and they ask for:
- “2+ years of hands-on experience administering customer-facing databases”
- “Minimum 2 years of information technology experience is required”
- “2 years of database administrations experience including installation and configuration”
These ads make me chuckle because a DBA with two years of hands-on experience isn’t looking for his next junior DBA job – he’s aiming for his first senior DBA job. People don’t aspire to make lateral moves – they aspire to move up the ladder.
So we’ve started to establish that it’s not just you: there aren’t junior DBA ads sitting around waiting for takers.
Why Aren’t More Companies Hiring Junior DBAs?
Databases are among a company’s most valuable assets. They hold sales data, payroll data, information about customers and competitors, and all kinds of proprietary data. Companies guard this data closely, and they don’t want just anybody stepping up to the server to handle backups, restores, and security configuration.
Companies may be willing to hire junior developers instead – for some reason, they don’t have a problem giving a fresh-out-of-college person access to all the data. But when it comes time to actually managing the data, they want someone experienced.
As a result, even when a small company with a handful of SQL Server instances goes shopping for a DBA, they want someone experienced. They want to hear from the candidate, “Yes, I can do what you need – I’ve already done this for a much larger shop, and I’ve got experience handling this sort of thing.” They sleep better at night knowing their DBA is not stressed out trying to figure out how to automate backups for the first time.
Every now and then, big companies will actually hire junior DBAs. This mostly happens when they’ve already got a crew of senior DBAs, but here’s the odd part: they don’t have anyone internally that wants to get promoted into the DBA team. That’s very peculiar, because in companies large enough to have DBAs already, they often have people in other teams who want to become DBAs.
Know Your Competition: Other Junior DBA Candidates
The few available junior DBA positions attract a few kinds of candidates:
- Developers with a year or more of SQL Server programming experience who’ve decided they want to focus on SQL Server instead of development. They’ve written code that stores data in SQL Server, so they know the basics of T-SQL or LINQ, understand the basics of data models, and maybe they’ve even done a little SQL Server administration on their dev boxes.
- Windows administrators with a year or more of Windows experience who also want to switch their focus. These people know hardware, know the basics of performance tuning, have backup/restore experience, and maybe they’ve even built a cluster or two. They might have even built SQL Servers, but they haven’t been working on SQL Server full time.
- SQL Server DBAs who’ve been let go, and they’re desperate. They might have worked for a company in financial trouble, they might have been drinking on the job, who knows. These are your most dangerous competitors, because at first glance, their resumes kick sand on your resume.
- College grads or training grads with no experience.
If you’re in that last category, I gotta be honest: you’re screwed. Go get a job as a junior developer or a junior Windows admin first, and then work your way into database administration. There is no classroom training that’s going to convince a company to hand over the keys to their data on your first day in the office. You may see ads for certification programs that promise to make you DBA-ready within a week for a few thousand dollars. It won’t get you the job – at least, not when you compare yourself to the competition. After you’ve gotten started in a development or sysadmin position working around SQL Server, come back here and continue reading about how to take it to the next level.
Getting Promoted is Easier than Getting Hired
If you’re a developer or Windows admin, try to get promoted internally rather than switching companies. You’ve already built up a level of trust with your coworkers. Make yourself the natural candidate by actively going after the position before the position even exists: volunteer to spend time with the DBAs, help them during scheduled outages, or just ask if you can sit around and watch during the weekend maintenance windows. Bring coffee, donuts and bacon, and be the most pleasant (but not over-the-top) person in the room.
If you’ve already got a job in close proximity to SQL Server, this is one of the times where getting certified in SQL Server without getting the job first does make sense. I’ve blogged about how certification is the icing on the cake: don’t get certified without at least some vague experience in SQL. Developers and Windows admins will gain knowledge from the certification training process, and it’ll buy them a little bit of credibility in the eyes of the DBA team. Not a lot – but some.
If you dislike the DBA team at your company, I’ve got bad news: you’re probably going to dislike most DBA teams, and switching companies isn’t going to make things better. However, if you’re absolutely determined to jump ship, there’s a few things you can do to make the hiring process easier, and I’ll explain those in my next post.