What Questions Would You Ask on a Salary Survey?

Let’s run an anonymous database-industry-wide salary survey that you could actually use when talking to managers.

Here’s the questions I’ve thought of so far – not unlimited, but just trying to strike a balance between questions that would actually give you some value, versus not so many questions that people won’t bother filling it out:

  1. Salary in USD, annual
  2. Continent (multiple choice)
  3. Country (multiple choice)
  4. State/province (multiple choice if I can get it to work)
  5. Primary database you work with (multiple choice with the top ~10 databases from DB-engines.com, and “other”)
  6. How long have you been working with this database, in years
  7. Other databases you work with (multiple choice, same list as #5)
  8. Job title (multiple choice, with “other”)
  9. How long have you been doing this job, in years
  10. How many other people on your team do the same job as you
  11. How many database servers does your team work with
  12. Employer (full time employee, full time employee of consulting/contracting company, or independent/freelance/contractor)
  13. Highest level of college education completed (no college degree, bachelors, masters, doctorate)
  14. If you have a college degree, is it in computer science? (yes/no)
  15. Do you have current industry certifications? (yes/no)
  16. Are you looking for another job right now? (no, yes but only passively, or yes/actively)

Are there any other questions you’d want to ask? We’ll gather your feedback and then launch it next week.

Update 2017/01/05 – thanks for the ideas, everybody! Closing the comments on this one, and the survey is open now through January 15, and we’ll publish the results on the blog on January 19th.

Previous Post
Announcing T-SQL Tuesday #86: SQL Server Bugs & Enhancement Requests
Next Post
Filtered Indexes and Variables: Less Doom and Gloom


  • Do you consider bonuses as part of salary? Maybe name it total salary?

    • Oh that’s a great point. Yeah, I don’t think it makes sense to try to break those out in an industry this small.

      • I’d break out bonuses. They can substantially alter salary. I’ve had them be < 5% of salary and over 20%, so that can make a difference.

        • The problem with breaking out bonuses is that it goes down a slippery slope. Were they merit-based, team-based, combination? What was your total bonus capability? There’d be so many questions I’d want to ask. (Same thing with health care, or hardware benefits, etc.)

  • Maybe…. biggest DB in TB you are currently working with? A drop down with 100TB or something like that

    • Looks like the less than signs got sanitized.. so I had a range less than 1 TB, between 1 and 100 TB, more than 100 TB or something like that

  • Oh, that’s really interesting – maybe biggest server instead? (Just because 10 10TB databases are as interesting as a single 100TB database too.)

    Also the number of database servers your team works with, and the number of people on your team who do the same job.

    • Probably even better on a per server level…. what about… biggest DB server in the cloud as well….. But now you end up with maybe too many questions 🙁

      • Yeah, I wanted to avoid environment assessment questions – the location of your servers shouldn’t be too deterministic for your paycheck. (Granted, it’s harder to find people with cloud expertise, but you could say the same about Windows version, etc.)

  • “Did you seek out a career in databases?” I ask because, like you, I was in a different career field and got drawn into database administration. I’m curious how common this is.

    • It’s extremely common since there’s not really a mainstream database administration degree.

      • As one of the rare few who did seek one out (degree in IT w/ concentration in Databases) I’d be curious to see how rare I am

  • Something to do with on call schedules? 1 week a month and 24x7x52 are extremely different expectations.

    • Hmm, can you be more specific about how you’d word that question and what kind of answers you’d accept? (I’m not allowing any free-text answers on this one, just too hard to deal with the garbage data.)

      • It might be easiest to break it down by total days per month since there are a ton of variations. Maybe options of: 1 week or less, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, or all the time.

        Doesn’t cover all the details, but it still gives a good sense of the off-hours commitment that I think can weigh in a lot for salary negotiating.

  • How about: How many hours do you work per week on average?

  • I don’t know about the US or else where, but there is significant differences (pay wise) in Australia been a Contract role and Perm.

  • Sector would be good to know (federal, state, local government, private, student)

  • A range to rank your experience from Entry level to Brent Ozar.

    • Jim – that’s the years of experience question. I’m not sure people are good at self-assessing their expertise. (And if you put me at the top, you’re not good at assessing my expertise, ha ha ho ho.)

  • Do you manage/supervise others?

  • City is going to be huge factor:

    Here in Europe, cities like London or Paris, with a high cost of living, swing different pay solely because of cost of living.

    I’d expect there’s similar variances in the US.

    I.e New York State can be mulged into NYC without ending up with “incorrect results” 😉

    • New York State *can’t* be mulged with NYC….

      Hell yeah, you know I meant that. 😉

    • Paul – right, but in a quick salary survey, I’m not going to be able to have dropdowns listing all the major cities in the world. If we do free text entry fields, the data won’t be useful without extensive/expensive cleansing.

  • What are the differences between what you do and what your title is? How much of your time is spent doing “your job” vs “other duties as directed by managment”?

    • Chris – I’m not sure that question will really help on a salary survey. Can you elaborate?

      • something along the lines of
        Job Title: Timmy. Pay 100K/year. Expected Job duties: 85% falling in the well. 15% documenting the process
        Actual Job duties: 10% falling in the well; 25% documentation; 35% Cleaning up Lassie Poop; 30% Tuning queries; 20% Project Managment; 40% Meetings that should have been an email. Yes, due to mandatory unpaid overtime it totals up to more that 100% and should pay 175K.

        • Chris – unfortunately, that’s free text entry, and this wouldn’t really work in a survey where we need to aggregate data. Thanks for the idea though!

  • How often do you work from home? I’d personally see this as a negotiation tactic if the salary isn’t exactly what I was after. A day or two WFH per week would offset a slightly lower salary. What about other non-tangible benefits? Also, company size may be interesting. Do larger companies pay more for the same skill set?

    • Rich – ah, yeah, I can see the telecommute thing being easy to measure – # of days per week that you telecommute.

      For company size – my gut feel is that that’s unrelated, but it’s an interesting thought. How exactly would you suggest wording the questions and the multiple-choice answers?

      • I’d word them something like “How much of your work is done remotely?” then something like 0/20/40/60/80/100%. For the company size, I’d simply put something like 1-10 employees, 11-200 employees 200-1000, 1000+. I can see why company size may not be amazingly relevant but it would interest me at least.

    • Yeah. and OUCH.
      My last job, I was promised during the negotiation phase that I’d WFH 2-3 days per week once I was past my probation period. That factored heavily into my acceptance, as it was a long commute. After my probation, I worked from home 1 day per week for about 5-6 months, then they took that away. When I fought back, they were all “we didn’t put that in your contract; it wasn’t a promise, but a possibility.”

      The ease with which my manager broke his word — and the lack of respect behind it — are both large factors in why I no longer work for that corporation.

  • How about a part-time or full-time DBA?

    I assume I’m not the only one of your readers where database administration is just a part of my job.

    • Simen – exactly, thus the job title field. Typically that’s engineer or developer.

      • I don’t think that Title is as useful as a set of checkboxes for Administration, Development, Other, and another for Engine, SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, and BI Front-End. I’ve had a lot of job titles that didn’t correlate well with what I actually did all day.

        What about the folks who do both Database Administration and Server Administration? What about people who do both TSQL and front-end Development? Both situations are common in small companies.

        • Mark – the problem there is that it won’t be as useful for readers. It’ll be tough to correlate a series of checkboxes with your job. There’s just only so granular that we can go in a salary survey.

          • Matthias Beckmann
            January 5, 2017 3:06 am

            As a compromise, you could probably add “How much of your work time is directly database related?”. Choice values could be percentage ranges like: 0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75-100%.

          • Matthias – I don’t think I could really even answer that one myself, hahaha. If I’m in a meeting about a database problem, is that database related? Talking to the SAN admin about how to provision my storage? Working on a help desk ticket about an application? In a meeting with a vendor about a database app they’re bringing in? I’m not sure where to draw the line there, so I don’t think this is a good fit for a survey question. Thanks though!

  • I assume you’ve seen that SQL Server Central has just published the results of their salary survey http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Salary+Survey/151262/ . In my opinion there were too many free-text fields, making it hard to get meaningful data out- sounds like you already know to avoid that. I’d also suggest adding a link to a currency convertor so that people outside the US can convert their salaries into USD: http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/ .

    Also, it will probably be too hard to create picklists for every major city in the world, but maybe a “Large or Capital City” flag is an option? It might be too unwieldy though.

  • Additional benefit packages – the ‘sweeteners’ to an employment. Some companies add health insurance, life insurance, additional leave entitlement (which you can buy), company pension scheme (and how much the company pays towards it). The problem is that this can be quite extensive and placing a value on them can be difficult.

    • Steve – yeah, unfortunately that’s pretty far beyond the scope of a salary survey. Just too hard to quantify in various countries, industries.

  • I posted earlier linking to the SQL ServerCentral survey along with some other comments; was my post deleted?

  • How about vacation time? Might have to include years with company though too.

  • How about if you get additional pay for being “on-call” ? This can add quite a bit on top of the basic salary also.

    • MrSDT – I’d basically boil that down to the # of hours worked, and the salary. I wouldn’t want to go more granular than that in a salary survey – it’s too hard to quantify.

      • Some people get a shift differential. That can be significant and is separate from number of on-call weeks per month.

  • Re Q 13: Maybe add 1 or 2 more steps: “Some college” (even if not grad.). &/or “Assoc. degree” (i.e., 2-year, not Bachelors). Definitely is some room in between “No college” and “Bachelors”.

  • You only gave one choice for the Master’s degree – CS. I have a similar Master’s degree, though not in CS. Can you add some more tech-related degrees (Information Systems etc.)

  • Just a small point on education level, you may want to include Associate’s degree, I have found many people (myself included) in this biz have that level.

  • “Are you work for an Outsourcing/Offshoring/Onshoring company?”

  • Favorite database tool? (For example, SSMS, Powershell ISE, TOAD, maybe sql cmd:)
    Freelance or full-time?
    NOSQL Experience?
    RTO and RTM on current job?
    Favorite database forum or site?

  • Would adding Gender make it too political?

  • I have some college but it was the military that trained me in IT. So maybe a Yes/No about formal training.

    • CDS – that’s more on-the-job training as opposed to theoretical stuff in college, so I don’t really think it’s any different than any other company’s on-the-job training, is it?

      • No the military sent me to a military school for my training then it was a mix of OJT and courses that was either by the military or in some cases that paid for out side civilian instructors to teach in a class.

        • CDS – how much training are we talking about in each phase here? Is this like a month of training straight, one year, one week?

          • The first one I had was 3 months 8 hours or more in class plus homework. After that it depended some were short 8 hours others were 3-4 weeks everyday all day. I asked a friend who is still in and he said that for some of their training now they get sent to a university.

          • Yeah, for 1-2 week stuff, that’s not uncommon to see on the job at companies. (I fly around to do some of those kinds of internal classes.) For 3-month training stints, that’s *extremely* unusual.

  • What about something like “What percentage of your job functions are directly database related” – for people that have multiple roles?

  • John McGregor
    January 4, 2017 1:05 pm

    The “are you a serious applicant?” questions like… Dear Applicant, you want to perform the following common tasks (insert 3 common tasks: one of each known to take a short, medium and long time to do in major databases)
    5 Multiple choice answers of times to complete will easily show applicants that have no experience with that topic.

  • Dan Bridgeman
    January 4, 2017 1:11 pm

    If you have no degree, or a degree that is not in computer science, have you studied computer science on your own? Have you taken more “practical” courses in your field?

    • Dan – I think to some extent, we all have to study on our own to keep up. (Thus, you being here at the blog, heh.) Any survey conducted online kinda implies that people are online learning to begin with.

  • Percent of time working different levels of support.: end users level1, power users level2, developers level3, management/auditors/execs level -10. How much did take home money drop this year due to benefit changes? Ours was large enough we have lost three people already.
    IMHO – Size of Company and size of city are large influences on salary. salary vs bonuses would be good to separate. Salary can not be taken away from as easily.

    • SDK – about the support question – this survey covers all data professionals, and not all of ’em work support, so that’s a tough one to add.

      About how much money dropped this year due to benefit changes – wow, that’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure how I’d quantify that though. How would you propose to word the question and the multiple choice answers in a way that would provide value for the survey result reader?

    • I don’t think this could be added in a way that was useful without adding several other questions. Example, if Bob makes 50k, benefits are 2k and they go up 500, versus Jill who makes 50k, benefits are 3k, and go up 200. Bob still takes more home than Jill, but he took a bigger hit this year. Plus there are just too many differences in benefits offered from company to company, did prices change because the benefits did?

  • In question 11, I’d use “instances” instead of “servers”. Not everyone has the recommended 1:1 ratio for that.

  • “6. How long have you been working with this database, in years?”

    How about adding “How long have you been working with databases (total)?” For example, I’ve got 7 years of SQL Server but a lot of Oracle before that (not to mention Access, Clipper, FoxBase, Dbase, etc).

    • Mark – I think I wanna keep this focused on the current role you’re doing. (For example, I’ve got 10 years of experience doing hotel work, but that isn’t necessarily directly relatable to my consulting position. It kind of is, but it’s getting kinda blurry there when we talk about salary.)

  • I think an interesting question would be something about salary/compensation velocity. Amount you were making 1 year ago, amount you were making 5 years ago, amount you were making 10 years ago. Something to show career progression or lack thereof.

    This is especially interesting, in my opinion, if someone says, e.g., “I have 10 years of experience with Oracle but today I work with SQL Server” or whatever. It might be tough to quantify in a survey but if you can think of a way to get it into a reasonable format it would be really interesting to analyze.

    • Adam – ooo, that’s interesting about velocity. If someone can write the question & multiple-choice answers in a way that folks agree on, I like it.

  • Cyndi Johnson
    January 4, 2017 6:35 pm


  • I get the feeling that the survey kind of assumes that you have a job. You might want to add the possibility of being unemployed as well.
    If you ask for salary I think you ask for average work hours and days of vacation as well.
    When you ask for number of database servers, I think you point out if you mean servers in production or if test and dev servers should be included,

    • Jonas – yes, a salary survey is about salaries. If you’re not employed, you’re not getting a salary, so you’re not really a good fit to answer the survey.

      Thanks though!

  • How about number of paid days holiday per year (inc. national/bank/whatever-applies-in-your-country)? Goes hand-in-hand with the hours-per-week figure? Or are we getting away from straight salary and more into perks territory?

  • HI Brent, re: qns 13 + 14 – if you are aiming at a non-US audience, you may well need to qualify college to include university, they can mean pretty different things to some people. Maybe just generalise to higher or further education.

    Also, you need to broaden Comp Sci to include other related degrees, e.g. I have a BEng in Information Systems Engineering, same core subjects but taught in the faculty of engineering and having different optional components.

  • Also, do you have any professional certifications?
    could be two questions/answer sets.
    e.g. yes, recently/yes, a while ago/no,
    and if yes, to what level? basic/professional/master

    • Gavin – yep, the question asks if they’re current or not. Asking if they’re recent gets a little bit tricky – for example, my MS Learning transcript shows I’m certified on current products, but the cert itself isn’t even available anymore. (sigh)

  • Thanks for all the great feedback, everybody – it really improved the quality of the questions.

    The survey is open now through January 15th:

    The results will be published (including the raw data) on January 19th.

Comments are closed.