In the final part of my three-part series on how to get a junior DBA job (Part 1), it’s time to talk about mentoring and training, and how they affect your salary.
Ask About Mentoring and Training
During the interview, ask how many other database administrators are on the team and what their seniority levels are. These are the people you’ll be learning from – your future mentors. If you’re joining a team of three people who’ve been DBAs since SQL Server 7.0, you’re in good hands. If there’s one other person who was a developer until about a year ago, things are going to be tougher because he’ll have less time to mentor you and less skills to pass on. If there’s no other DBAs at all, you’re screwed – you’re going to learn things the hard way.
You should be willing to take a lower salary if you find a company with a strong, friendly group of DBAs and a management team that’s committed to ongoing training. Consider it an investment in your career. Finding out how committed they are is simple: have you seen their DBAs at the local user group meeting? If so, then they’re interested in furthering their career and helping out with the careers of others. If you’ve never seen their DBAs at a local PASS Chapter meeting, then their lack of interest in the community might predict a lack of interest in training you, too.
What’s that, you say? You haven’t been to a local PASS meeting yet? Then maybe YOU aren’t too interested in your own training, either. This is why the PASS chapter question is one of my Top 10 Interview Questions to Ask Senior DBAs. Plus, the more often you go to PASS meetings, the more the other database administrators will see you there, and if they recognize you during your interview meeting, that’s bonus points. Imagine the post-interview conversation after you leave: “I remember seeing that guy at the SQL Server user group chapter. I don’t remember the other candidates, come to think of it.” Cha-ching!
Asking about the company’s training budget during the interview is a tougher one: it’s hard to ask this question without making it sound greedy. This one is a judgement call. There’s only one case where the training costs are considered a built-in part of your hiring, and that’s if you go to work for a consulting company.
Going to Work as a DBA-in-Training
Some consulting companies will take you on at a lower pay rate in exchange for teaching you DBA skills while you’re on the job. They have a large talent pool to draw from (compared to individual companies) and they can put you onsite with a senior person. The consulting company makes money off you, because they’re paying you a far lower rate than they’re billing the client. You get to learn from the senior person, and you take over as many tasks from them as possible.
The consulting company may require you to sign a contract stating you’ll work for them for a certain amount of time, and if you leave any earlier, you’ll be responsible for paying training costs. I have really, really bad vibes about this setup, because you’re basically becoming an indentured servant. The consulting company can treat you like dirt, and here’s the funniest part to me: they don’t really care whether you get trained or not. They’re making money off you every single day that you show up for work.
If you take this approach, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t sign an agreement – frankly, every job involves learning on the job, and the company is making money off you every day anyway. I would love to get the chance to ask one of these interviewers, “So, did you learn anything on the job this month? Did you have to pay anybody for that privilege?”
- Get the training costs prorated – if you have to sign a two-year agreement and you quit after one year, then you should only be responsible for 50% of the training costs. If they tell you that the bulk of the training occurs in the first year, then get the agreement to only span one year.
- Be very wary of non-compete agreements – some consulting companies have non-compete agreements saying you can’t work for any of their customers for X years after you quit. Even worse, some say you can’t work for any PROSPECTIVE customer – which basically means any company in their market. As part of the interview process, ask for a copy of any agreements that you’ll need to sign. Otherwise, if you only get a copy of this agreement after you’ve already quit your current job, you’re screwed.
- Work hourly, not salary – the consulting company is making money off you by the hour, and they will work you as long and as hard as possible. Your salary needs to be a win/win for both you and the consulting company.
Don’t Regret Your Asking Price
No matter who you work for, salary negotiations suck, and I don’t have any good tips for how to pick your rate. However, I do have advice about what to do after you’ve picked your rate: write it down somewhere and tell yourself, “I am going to be happy if I get a junior DBA job for $X/year.” Put that piece of paper somewhere safe. Later, when you find out how much your coworkers or your friends are making, don’t get mad: get that piece of paper out and think back to what you were feeling like when you wrote those words down. You wanted a DBA position so bad, and you couldn’t figure out how to get in. In order to get your foot in the door, you took a salary that made sense at the time.
The last thing you want is to get six months into your new junior DBA position, find out that all your coworkers are making twice as much as you are, and feel like you got screwed.
Hmm – Lots of Screwing Going On Here
More than once in these posts, I’ve said you can get screwed. This emphasizes a point I made in the first article: it’s easier to get promoted than to get hired. The money’s usually not as good, but if you’re just doing this for money, you’re in the wrong profession.
The first year or two of database administration is very challenging: you’re suddenly in charge of one of the company’s most expensive and risk-prone assets. There’s a lot of after-hours maintenance work, and when your cell phone rings, you gotta answer it anytime, anywhere. It can be scary taking over this position. The less risks you take, the easier your transition is, and that’s why getting promoted eases your transition path.
Once you’re in, though, it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding career I know. I heartily recommend database administration to anybody in IT.
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