What’s a DBA’s Defining Moment?


Database administration is very much an “accidental” career.  So many of us start out as programmers, network administrators, or desktop support, and one day we just get handed a database server.  It’s a Windows app – how hard can it be, right?

Somewhere along the way, we start managing more and more servers, or we find that more of our time is taken up with database administration.  We probably don’t even have DBA in our job title – it just happens accidentally.

If you’re a DBA, what was the moment when you realized you were a database administrator?

If you’re not a DBA, what do you think is the one thing that makes a person a real DBA?

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29 Comments. Leave new

  • My defining moment happened much like the way you described…accidentally. I was a programmer who interfaced registers with back office computers for a convenience store company. Then the advent of BI took hold and I was asked to start putting said data into a database. We had no DBA at the time, so it was really a learning experience for everyone from the start. We had other databases but they were mainly for our third party apps.

    Building that database, data warehouse and BI solution solidified my career path. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!

  • When our new front end system; Dynamics AX 2009 didn’t work when all 200 – 300 users logged on at the same time.

    I started reading articles on why it was slow and realized that our System Databases, Test Databases, Reporting Databases, and Production Databases were all on the C: drive! (I was hired into this configuration.)

  • I am still in the middle of the process: Both a DBA and a programmer. As we grow I suspect I will become more of the former.

    I realized this was happening about a year ago when people started asking me about the status of the SQL server and how to do things with the server, and to keep track of backups…then I subscribed to your blog.

    • Brandon Leach
      July 5, 2012 12:39 pm

      I started out as a web developer. Around 2006 I was in an environment with no DBA. I realized I enjoyed both the development and hardware side of DBA duties, so I started digging in to the internals of SQL Server and ended up taking on more and more DBA responsibilities. I would say that was really the moment because it was a conscious decision.

  • I was in Chicago for SQL Server 2005 training when I got a call that a server had crashed. This server had SQL 2000 on it as well as a whole host of DTS packages. After the server was rebuilt I had to re-install SQL 2000 remotely (I work in Madison) as well as find backups. Luckily for me I found an old backup of the msdb database on the network and was able to restore most of the DTS packages. All at 2:00 in the morning from my downtown Chicago hotel room.

  • As an architect/development manager, let me first say that a real DBA is a treasure to be jealously guarded. A real DBA understands what’s going on under the hood and helps prevent issues before they occur (both those that crop up in day to day operations and those that can be introduced by “sub-optimal” code).

  • It was not accidental for me. I wanted to be a DBA long before I ever heard of SQL Server. The DBA title was promoted by Oracle and the career seams very nice. I liked complex constructions and I am a problem solver. I also liked that people would need my help to manage, protect, get a profit out of their data. Managers need good data to make good decisions. So a DBA would be part of the enterprise strategy. When I came out of college, SQL Server was releasing SQL Server 7 and of course there was less DBA for SQL Server than Oracle so I decided to go with the new stuff instead of the old crew. It was a good decision in my opinion.

  • Kenneth Fisher
    July 3, 2012 10:31 am

    It wasn’t an accident for me either. I started as a DBA/Developer using Foxpro and really enjoyed the database side of the work. When I finally had a chance to start working in SQL Server I jumped at it. I started doing more development/reporting work and have just recently really gotten into the administrative side of things.

  • I was five years into being The Computer Guy® for an academic department, and was burned out.

    I made a long list of every possible IT-related job I could do. Then I started winnowing the list (“would take too long to master”, “already did this”, etc.). Literally, the only job left was DBA.

    I’d dabbled in database programming before and always liked it, so I threw myself into Database Administration. The rest is history.

  • I like to think of it as the “buck stops here” moment.

    And it’s not even a conscious thing. It’s a realization that the buck stops here.

    It’s the moment when a really hairy issue with the database pops up and while you’d like to say “Geez, I don’t know. Go ask Bob.” You’re surprised to discover that there’s no “Bob” to ask. Either you crack the db problem or it doesn’t get cracked.

    There’s exceptions of course. But I think this Woah-I’m-a-DBA type of epiphany is common.

    (BTW, I’ve discovered that you always do have someone to call. The community doesn’t seem to go on holidays all at once)

  • Ivo Pereira
    July 3, 2012 11:40 am

    Actually for me it all started with database backups…

    I was contracted as an individual to build a low-cost, SQL server database backup solution that would not require any additional software (on the cheap side… a few SPs and some Robocopy). I began learning T-SQL, running some BACKUP commands, and it started from there…

    At the time I was working as a sysadmin fulltime so one thing (database backups) went together with the other, and a bit later I started digging into T-SQL to help in developing some simpler application modules.

    As time went by (3 years….) we hired another sysadmin, wich I now supervise, and I digged deeper into T-SQL and I am now an almost-fulltime DBA (still have some sysadmin overseeing to do, and C# developing also).

    I specialized in T-SQL, but I love databases in general. My company works in the Health industry (Pharmacies) so databases are critical and very valued here.

    Thank god I started makin’ those backup scripts!

  • I was hire as it-manager and my boss ask me to assembly a server from scratch.After 12 years i own a company that managing all kinds of servers here in Greece.

  • When management raised their magic wand and decided to make me one.

  • In 1993, I was workig for a car manufacturer eho part exchanged their ICL mainframe for an IBM AS400, iSeries. As the most junior person in the systems and programming department, I was asked to do all the least sexy jobs. Setting up new environments, backups, security, patching and so on. 19 years later things have changed and being a DBA is much more interesting, challenging and important.

  • Two things come to mind for me… both around the same point in my career. First, just like Mr Swart earlier, I often found that there was no “Bob” to ask, and that I had the desire and drive to answer the questions myself. The other was while working as a software developer for a large cellular manufacturer. We inherited a home-grown ETL and half data warehouse. The large fact table in the DW stored test results from each phone manufactured, from each manufacturing facility. After 18 months we had 10 billion rows in an Oracle 8i database and were seeing query performance issues. I asked our DBA team if they could help us by setting up partitioning or a master view of similar tables, one table for each manufacturing site. I was told “we’re operational DBA’s, we simply ensure Oracle is up and running, we don’t do tuning or design.”

    That’s when I started digging into query tuning, design, and even hardware. I found that I enjoyed that very much and when I switched companies I decided to make it official and take a job as a “DBA”.

  • I am pretty much the same like an “accidental DBA”. I started as a .net programmer, then to a db developer- and now playing a mixed role(kind of a DW developer, & as a DBA, But like you said, my job title doesn’t reflect that yet) And I feel very fortunate to be here in the world of databases where I always wanted to be. A DBA job is always very interesting, challenging and I enjoy every bit of it. And last not least, I would like to appreciate all the efforts you guys(& the entire SQL community) do. Thanks heeps!

  • working every day with sql-server , every day learning , make my sql certifications, dream about to become an mcm 😀

  • Denise Maclean
    July 4, 2012 8:52 am

    My path wasn’t an accident. I was working as a VB developer, but had always wanted to focus on databases. I saw a gap in our IT structure, and created the job myself. At first I was mostly database developer, but I nudged myself over to the DBA side and haven’t regretted it.

  • Kelly (SQLK)
    July 4, 2012 10:52 am

    I knew I was a DBA when I inherited a 14TB SQL 2005 database containing photos that grew at 2TB a month, with all the data in the Primary filegroup and found myself outraged! Hadn’t the engineer read anything about SQL 2005? We couldn’t even back the database up; wasn’t that a BIG red flag? (a backup that takes 4 days to complete is NOT a backup in my world!) If the database was growing by 2 TB a month, why wasn’t there any visioning towards table partioning and filegroups? Why weren’t we thinking about filestream which was coming within the year? I spent a half hour venting in the manager’s office before she graciously smiled and told me “that is why you are now the DBA of this server”. There I was, the DBA……Hoisted on my own petard.

  • 10 years ago I was contracting and got placed on a data warehousing project where no one really knew what they were doing. I figured I’d better ramp up quick, and with the help of a good team turned the whole project around. I found I loved tuning queries, building ultra-fast ETL processes, and designing data models. I’m still a developer at heart, but everywhere I go there’s a dearth of database talent, so like a moth to a flame I keep finding myself the de-facto DBA, and enjoy nearly every minute of it.

  • Thank fuly or Not i dont know but I am not an accidental DBA.. :). DBA was the role that was given to me when i joined my first job. Since then its a great affair with SQL Server which didnt urge me to go to any other technology what so ever.

    My relation is 4 years old and I hope i dont have a BREAK-UP 🙂


  • 5 years ago, like a lot of DBAs who support US business systems I was hired as a L1 resource whose job was to look after backups for their success and grant user permissions.

    On a fine day hell broke out when we found that our customer invoice process was taking 20 hours to run as compared to 20 minutes earlier. We did not know what to do and our customer planned to hire consultants. I secretly started working on that procedure and replaced all the table variables used in that procedure with temp tables with some indexes on them. After 1 week, I could produce the magic and then realized that I am the DBA who needs to see the bigger picture and needs to protect the data because it will make me earn my livelihood as well as it will make a lot of people earn their living too whom I have never met but they too use the same data to keep their job.

    Being the keeper of data means that a lot of people rely on me without having even seen me. Even though it is not realized but not doing my job effectively is not just going to hamper your job but also senior executives too. So it gives the DBAs a great pleasure and sense of responsibility because even though your senior management executives do not know much about you(if working remotely) but they secretly thank you for doing justice to your job.


  • Rizwan Hassan
    July 5, 2012 9:01 am

    I have been working as system administrator for the past 4 years. My previous company was Managed Service Provider so I dealt with OS,Exchange,Storage, and VMWare for clients ranging from 4 to many users. One day, Sr. DBA asked me to build a SQL server with best practices and later incorporated me in resolving issues, building clusters and managing maintenance on SQL servers. I was hooked on it and recently switched my job and became a FT SQL DBA.

    Also I was inspired by your blogs, Glenn Berry, Ola and many contributors who provide great advice for beginners like me.

  • I became an accidental dba 15 years ago. But it was only in my 4th job that I had a defining moment. The DBA before me had created a maintenence job (SQL 2000) that changed recovery model from full to simple and resumed tran log backups soon after like nothing happened. In SQL 2000 you could do that with job throwing no errors, except that the log backup was useless.I had taken on her job, and my first day was asked to restore a log that had gone through this cycle. I couldn’t and i really didnt know why since i had not reviewed all that was on the job. I was sweating and was told that my primary job was protecting the data, if i couldn’t recover it they’d rather not have a dba. I found why I couldn’t later and was able to explain it since it was my very first day. But it helped me learn how important it was to have a working backup and the ability to get data back defines the dba role at its core best.

  • I’m not even technical – at least not by education. Studied business management. Got employed as in some process support/backoffice team. Got KPIs to meet. Data didn’t make sense. Dug into where data comes from. Got annoyed with IT not being able to provide sensible answers. Wrote my own reports (how hard can it be?). Got employed in MIS team. Got annoyed with SQL guys in my team who couldn’t provide sensible answers/solutions and seemed to ignore my suggestions which I knew were good ones. Changed job to another business one. Got annoyed with all reporting being made in Excel and taking way too much time to produce. Wrote my own BI system. Got moved to semi technical job to support reporting systems, which also included responsibility for some SQL Server databases. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed learning new stuff so much, and it was the first time in my life when I clearly saw what I want to do! So I stuck to databases, and now I manage everything from small one instance servers to enormous databases of biggest companies on the market. All that because I got annoyed by ignorant people at one point. And without technical degree or education. Wouldn’t change my job for any other.

  • I did two concentrations in College – Information Services/Competitive Intelligence and Database Management Systems (Oracle mostly). I really loved working with Databases, but at the same time I just loved the world of intelligence and research. For my first job, I thought I would be getting into a non-technical position since the title was “Reporting Analyst” and the description was geared towards providing reports for management to make decisions. Surprise! It was a SQL Server Reporting Services job! I got right back into the technical work and learned two new products (SSRS and SQL Server).

    At my second job, I had a little more flexibility and room to grow. There was no separate team of five DBAs/Developers, our entire IT Department for North America was about ten strong.

    I slowly started learning better development techniques while creating tons of reports. Then I learned about Replication since that was a major part of our data archiving for reporting process. Step by step I started to pick up things and then I decided I needed to glue myself together. I started to take structured training so that I could do the MCITP Database Administrator certification. Although I studied for the 2005 exam I skipped it because I felt that it would be no longer supported (this was the Summer of 2010) and went straight to 2008 which we weren’t even using. It paid off since at my current job we mostly use 2008 and R2.

    I would say at the end of my last job I started to become a “DBA” and currently I lead the DBA efforts where I work. The transition has been pretty steady for me although I look back and think about how happy I was to take that first job that got me in the door.

  • Like many I was a programmer for many years, but even early on I realized how incredibly important database knowledge is (and how little most developers have, haha).

    Eventually I ended up in a job that was all over the place, responsibility wise, but the 2 main focuses were the BI tool Business Objects and SQL Server (all the data underneath). Over time it was like Goofus and Gallant to me, I liked working with BO less and less, but that was balanced out by a growing appreciation for SQL Server and curiosity and drive to learn more and build skills. Serving ‘2 masters’ (actually more but I’m trying to focus here) got increasingly tough and there was a definite need for solid DBA skills plus having a role where that was the primary responsibility, so finally it was official, I was a DBA for real. It was kind of like Pinochhio (sp?) becoming a real boy. Anyhow, that’s my story.

  • Have to disagree with Mr. Steve C.

    I have a team of developers that are extremely proficient at creating optimal SQL and getting the most out of the DB. In fact i would argue the converse is true – there are many developers in my experience who are actually better at optimising / streamlining SQL and creating performant data structures than the DBA’s are. It depends where your focus lies, ours is definately on the performance side, with plenty of relavent training for developers to ensure they get the most out of their backend!!

  • My translation into DBA came from a different route than most. First, I started out life as an Electrical Engineer working in the field of Electronic Warfare. These were the early days of the PC age. When it came time to testing, all the results were either recorded on paper or entered into a spreadsheet. As the need for deducing test trends grew, so did the spohistication of the testing and results. This fell squarely on my shoulders since there was no IT department in those days.

    As that industry waned in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I moved into to test equipment programming and along with that came the data from the testing. It needed to be classified or rolled up in many different ways. I integrated FoxPro (Before Microsoft bought them) into the the system software to handle the data storage, reporting and querying. I have to say I had a lot of help from my brother, who was a database engine developer on mainframes for guidence.

    When the testing support work also waned, I followed FoxPro work for a couple of years, then the company I worked for decided to migrate from FoxPro to SQL Server.

    I have been a SQL Server DBA ever since. Starting with version 4.25.


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