Yesterday I talked about why companies aren’t hiring junior DBAs, and today I’ll talk about how you can get in the door anyway.
Companies are Cheap, and DBAs are Expensive
Even in a healthy economy, companies want to get a bargain. They want to hire an experienced senior database administrator for junior DBA wages. They think they’ve got something special – a great work environment, flexible working hours, nice plants in the lobby – and that it offsets the lower wages. It doesn’t: good senior DBAs get good money, and have their pick of companies.
Some companies take the approach of hiring remote DBAs who telecommute. I have a blog series coming up about getting & keeping a job as a telecommuting DBA, but that doesn’t work for junior DBAs. Juniors need mentoring and training that’s difficult to get in a home office environment. For your first DBA job, don’t be tempted to apply for a remote job, because you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, throw your hat in the ring for local senior DBA jobs. It’s not career suicide: it’s a case of the company asking for something unrealistic. They may not get the candidates they want for the price they want to pay, and that’s your chance to get your foot in the door. Don’t exaggerate your reputation, of course – be honest about your skill level and your experience, but at the same time, don’t sell yourself short.
You’re Working with SQL Server, Right?
I got my start as a developer and as a network admin (here’s the story). When I went to look for my first pure SQL Server job, I didn’t have much on my resume and I didn’t really think I was all that qualified. If anything, I underestimated the bejeezus out of what I put on the resume.
When I started hiring other DBAs, though, I remembered my own experience. As a result, when I interviewed DBA candidates, I had a checklist of skills that I’d ask them, like:
- Have you ever had to restore a single table’s contents?
- Have you set up log shipping, or done troubleshooting on it?
- Have you ever built a server connected to a SAN?
Go pick up a SQL Server administration book, look at the table of contents, and check off everything that you’ve actually done. Even if you’ve only done it a few times, put it on your resume and explain that you’ve dabbled in it, because it’ll give you a big edge over the other candidates. Don’t say that you’re an expert on the topic, by any means, but the fact that you’ve done it is a plus.
More often than not, I’d hear candidates answer, “Well, yeah, but hasn’t everybody done that?” Actually, no – some candidates haven’t. Every single skill that you performed in production – not in theory – is another reason why you might get the job. Even if you’ve only done it once a quarter for a year, that means something.
How Long Have You Been Doing It?
Did your boss ask you to start backing up a SQL Server a year ago? Last year, did you start restoring the production database onto your desktop for development testing? Did you start working on making stored procedures a year ago?
Presto, you have a year of experience.
I can almost hear the angry emails coming in now from really senior DBAs who do this stuff full time, nonstop, for a living, but they’ve forgotten how junior-level experience works. People don’t get handed the keys to the enterprise on Day 1 and start some kind of master clock. Experience happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. There’s no knighting ceremony where the CIO taps you on both shoulders with a laser pointer.
This is why so many junior-level DBA positions ask for a year or two of experience: they’re expecting to hear from developers and sysadmins who’ve been dabbling with database tasks over time, getting their feet wet. I don’t want to hire somebody who’s never seen SQL Server Management Studio: I want to hire a developer who installed SSMS a year ago and has been dabbling with it ever since. He may not like going in there – it may scare the pants off him – but as long as he’s been going in there grudgingly and tapping his terrified fingers on the keyboard to get his job done, then that’s a plus in my book, because I’ll train him the rest of the way. DBA training never ends.
Training and mentoring is the way junior DBAs become senior DBAs. In the last post of the series tomorrow, I’ll talk about what you should – and shouldn’t – expect in the way of training from a new employer, and how that affects your asking price.
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