Why That “DBA” Job Posting Sounds So Terrible

What follows are just some of the highlights from an actual job posting. I’m not including the job description, just the requirements that an applicant has to have in order to even throw their hat in the ring:

  • Requires Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience.
  • Experience running and maintaining a 24×7 production computing environment
  • Hands-on experience driving improvements in product performance via changes in database schema, logical and physical data organization (partitioning), tuning and configuration.
  • Experience implementing/maintaining database failover mechanism (mirroring, log-shipping, clustering, etc.) and perform disaster recovery exercises for mission-critical databases.
  • Strong SQL/T-SQL skills with hands-on experience in successful database design, schema design, SQL performance tuning and optimization.
  • Strong skills in SSRS report development and SSIS/ETL.
  • Experience with maintaining and optimizing MongoDB is preferred
  • Experience with AWS services is a plus.
  • Experience with data profiling/metadata analysis/data modeling and relational schema design in object oriented or component based projects is a plus.

Sounds impossible, right? It wasn’t.
There was probably someone doing it.

Here’s how these job descriptions get written:

Debbie in IT starts as a developer. Over the years, she gradually takes on more duties, building reports in SSRS, a few ETL packages in SSIS. She’s proud of her work, and rightfully so, because she’s growing her skill set. She’s proactively learning on her own. She models the data, builds metadata repositories about where the data warehouse’s data is coming from.

Someone in the team builds something in MongoDB, and they quit, and Debbie has to take over the administration of the MongoDB servers.

The company comes out with a mandate that the servers can never go down, but they don’t give Debbie any money to make it happen. She duct-tapes things together as best she can, putting in a cluster and log shipping, and tries her hardest to make sure it stays online.

Then one day, the company says, “Let’s move everything to the cloud. Debbie, you’ve been able to get things done – you’re in charge.” Debbie rolls up her sleeves, works late nights and long weekends, and makes it happen.

Eventually, Debbie becomes tired of burning the candle at both ends. She mentions to a friend of hers that she’s burned out, and her friend says, “Whoa, come on over here and join me at Acme. We’ll take much better care of you. You won’t have to spread yourself so thin, and you can focus on the parts of the job you really love.” She turns in her two weeks’ notice.

And now her old boss says, “Well, we’ll just write up a job description for what Debbie used to do.”

Except nobody wants that job.

The whole reason Debbie left is because that job sucks.

Don’t let those requirements scare you off,
but be open about your fears.

If you see a job like that, and you’re too intimidated by the list of “requirements,” throw your hat in the ring anyway. The company probably isn’t going to find someone who has all of those skills – at least, not at the rate they’re likely to pay. Be honest with them and say, “Here are the parts of those requirements that I already have, but here are the parts I don’t. Also, is this really one job, or is this maybe two jobs? Is there someone else on staff who can help back me up on parts of these, or am I maybe the backup?”

Sometimes when companies say “requirements,” what they really mean is nice-to-haves – only they don’t know that yet.

Just make sure you ask one crucial question when you’re interviewing for the position: “Is this a new position, or am I replacing someone who left? And if I’m replacing a former person, can you tell me a little about why they’re no longer here? That job description reads like it might be a cause for burnout, and I just want to make sure I don’t get myself stretched too thin. After all, you wouldn’t want me to get burned out and leave too – what can we do to make sure I’m not stretched too thin?”

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61 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Brent – it actually doesn’t sound very far-fetched at all. DBA job requirements I’ve put together for open positions on my team have all of these bullets plus a few more. I’ve found most senior DBAs have a solid handle on data modeling, and if they’ve done their part to keep their skills up, they’ll know the basics of cloud administration for at least one provider, along with a no-SQL DBMS. If a DBA comes from a development background, they’ll likely be comfortable with SSIS/SSRS as well.

    Reply
    • MJR – “comfortable with” is a long way from “strong skills.”

      Reply
      • jackielowery
        June 3, 2019 3:26 pm

        Agreed. Having many years experience now, I’m much more comfortable letting a company know in an interview that their “requirements” are limiting them to few to no candidates for the job.

        Reply
      • Definitely. I’ve shied away from job posts where the company is looking for “expert” knowledge. I have a few years experience working with SQL Server and a couple of other database platforms but I don’t consider myself an expert in any of them even if I can typically get the job done. The State of Alabama was at one point had SQL Server MVP as one of the job description bullets. That definitely seemed a bit extreme since the pay does not reflect anything close to that level of skill.

        Reply
    • If you come from a development background, then you are going to hate SSIS/SSRS. No developer wants to click through a bunch of GUIs to try and find the “code”.

      Reply
  • some how you have an “happy end” . In many cases that things ending like “due to fact that everything is in cloud I will like to make company more efficient” Thank you and good luck in your new job/adventure 🙂

    Reply
  • Good read. I just left a job a month ago for this same reason, and reading these job requirements are just daunting. This post is very motivating for me tight now. Thanks brent

    Reply
  • We’ve all seen plenty of postings for this type of position. I always ignore them, but not because I am intimidated by the requirements. It is because I felt that any managers that posted such an ad are clueless and I don’t want to work for clueless, non-technical managers/ And neither do I have any interest in trying to educate them to the realities of the technological environment they depend on. I’m just lazy I guess.

    p.s. Brent you produce a really interesting and often very technically useful blog, so thanks for taking the time to do that!

    Reply
    • Ken – you’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
    • Andrew Peterson
      June 3, 2019 9:47 am

      “…I felt that any managers that posted such an ad are clueless and I don’t want to work for clueless, non-technical managers…” So very true. Still, this may be a company that looks great on a resume, and if you follow Brent’s advice, you could end up with a nice position. While clueless, there are non-tech. managers that are open minded, and do realized they burned the last person out.

      Reply
  • Only things missing are “must have 10 years experience ” and “must have own heard of llamas.” I see these all the time, and then look at what they are willing to pay, and think, “why would I take on all those responsibilities for substantially less than I make now?”. And then I read about companies gaining they can’t find “qualified” help. Take a look at your real requirements and what the market is paying and those problems will magically solve themselves.

    Reply
  • You are spot on! I was “Debbie”. I used to laugh when I’d read the requirements employers would post for my position after I left because I wasn’t even qualified for the job I did. You gave great advice telling people to apply anyway.

    Reply
    • Ha! Yes, I could never re-apply for any job I left (as if I would) because I wasn’t qualified based on the job description.

      Reply
  • I have all of these requirements except Mongo. My company also expects me to understand the database functions of our ERP and WMS systems, as well as troubleshoot their home brew data exchange systems.

    I’m a Debbie.

    Reply
  • hahahah, that is absolutely the best article i’ve read from ages. Fully agree with you. Let me add to the list the AWS and Google Cloud 🙂

    Reply
  • I 100% agree in throwing your hat in the ring even if you’re intimidated by the list. My current job wanted a SQL/ASP.net developer. My C# experience is about 4 lines of code past “Hello World”, but I got it anyway because a different team in the company needed a SQL developer/DBA more than a web developer. Worst case, if you get an interview, it’s interviewing experience. It’s hard to be nervous at an interview if you don’t really care if you get the job.

    Reply
  • My interview questions (I actually have about 15):
    1. Why is this role available & how long has it been open?
    2. Why did the previous incumbent leave?
    3. How happy is the team I’d be joining?
    4. Any “characters” in the team? (translation: gits).
    5. Am I likely to be disappointed by the reality of the job, compared to the sales pitch?
    6. Will you let me spend one working day in the office observing, before I commit? I’d do it for free.
    7. How is the team regarded by the rest of the Business?
    8. What’s the turnover in staff per annum?
    9. How often is annual leave rescheduled/cancelled?
    10. How much technical debt & how many recurring, problems are there?

    Don’t ask; don’t get told.

    Reply
  • Adding one more to the list which always confuses me. Microsoft certification [MCTP/MCTS] is a Plus and many a time i have seen that as mandat. I know its good to have, but considering all the dumps and easy way of clearing that, how can that play a factor if you compare the skills with that of candidate with real life good scenarios ever handled.

    Reply
    • AnonymousForThisOne
      June 5, 2019 5:08 am

      Such a good point. I’ve done a LOT of interviewing of candidates recently for contract DBA positions on a very good day rate, and almost without exception the ones with billions of certifications on their CVs were the ones with the least real-life experience. I want someone who can talk me through how they’d approach a particular set of problems, not somebody who attended a 2-week bootcamp abroad but knows absolutely nothing about real-life scenarios. Also, so many great DBAs I’ve known haven’t had a certificate to their name, and that’s fine.

      Reply
  • I cannot agree with this blog post more.

    I have seen so many job specs like this and its ridiculous quite frankly.

    Thanks for highlighting this issue Brent.

    Reply
  • William M Varner
    June 3, 2019 9:30 am

    Spot on. I’m a Donnie, male equivalent of Debbie. I have all of these skills with the exception of AWS but it is substituted with Azure instead and I’m adding SCCM. The Jack of All Trades moniker certainly applies and it happens very much like it is outlined here. It can definitely be a source of burnout.

    Reply
  • I receive cold contacts from recruiters with similar requirements, but not for a DBA, but for a SQL Developer. Much like Debbie in your example, I’ve picked up DBA skills as a developer. I currently work for an IT shop who doesn’t staff DBAs as “DBAs are too expensive.”
    I’ll often reply back to the recruiter and ask for clarification on the requirements differentiating between DBA & Developer, as in large corporations Sarbine-Oxley laws necessitate no over-lap in the responsibilities between the 2 roles.

    Reply
  • Another great post! Internally at my company, hiring IT managers have said, even if the job posting and related skills don’t exactly align to your experience, apply anyway. Sometimes, showing initiative, genuine interest in the company and role, and simply being hungry for a new opportunity can go a long way in the application and interview process. As mentioned, be transparent about which parts of the role are a good fit and which are not because after only a bit of time in the role, folks will know where you shine and where you need a bit of polish.

    Brent – I will second the one other post regarding your blogging and support efforts – for years you have put a bit of polish to my own DBA related work through your posts, scripts, etc.

    Reply
  • I’ve worked at companies like this before. They want one person to be the “hero” and do everything, including working weekends that could have been avoided. But when you tell them to “Buy The Damn Ram”, they don’t listen.

    Reply
  • I suppose I would carefully evaluate what you would hope to gain from such a position both before applying and during any potential interview. Is having company “X” on your resume or perhaps learning a little about MongoDB really worth the aggravation and potential burnout of having such disparate responsibilities?

    In my experience, the number of organizations and managers that have sufficient self-awareness to recognize that they are responsible for burning someone out is pretty close to zero. Their expectations were never unreasonable, the staff member was just not dedicated enough or couldn’t keep up with the fast paced environment. Then it’s off to interview for the “rock star” data person they’ve been looking for.

    Personally, I would pass on pursuing this type of position 99 times out of 100.

    Reply
  • The reason the job posting sounded so terrible was because it was my job and no one bothered to tell me I was being replaced.

    Reply
  • Aravind K Hariharaputran
    June 3, 2019 1:41 pm

    So finally Debbie becomes Jack of all and king of nothing ??

    Reply
  • Great article! I am reading through job postings now and i find your observation spot on. This gives me encouragement, thanks Brent!

    Reply
  • Arjan van Buijtene
    June 3, 2019 10:43 pm

    Pretty much the practice, Redis / ElasticSearch / RabbitMQ / C# reviewing data components / DevOPS to add to the mix. Only one in the team who is not scrummed or sized with points, way out of their zone 😉
    Oh please do also be comfortable in Linux flavours to run the NoSQL stuff on, kept it to CentOS…
    There are limits how much one can learn with only 24 hours in a day!

    Reply
  • I once sent a mail for fun to a recruitment firm posting a similar DBA ad. Explained that the job description was describing two people at least and that they will probably fail with this reqruitment, wrote a short help for them to use.

    What happened next, they invited me for an interview at the recruitment firm. They sent then sent me to do two interviews the same day for two companies. Prepared with Brents “DBA Job Interview Questions & Answers Kit”, and got offered both jobs. Both very nice positions at high profile betting companies.

    So by beeing helpful, it might land you a new job.

    Reply
  • Alexander Gay
    June 4, 2019 1:15 am

    I have seen these kinds of adverts, we all have reading through the comments. I call them “What did Dave do?” job descriptions, but “What did Debbie do?” works just as well. The requirements often include obscure legacy code that no one really uses anymore such as VB (Script) or XBase.

    Reply
  • Most companies are looking for the rainbow-farting unicorn, so role descriptions of this type are quite common. If I apply for them I’m up-front about the areas I don’t have a great deal of experience in as well as those areas that I believe I’m very experienced in. It’s up to them to decide if they’re interested and if they’re wiling to add the training/extra people/manage their expectations. It is surprising how many agencies don’t even think their customer’s requirements are achievable, so often they will even help you to get to the interview stage if they believe you’re a more sensible fit.

    Reply
  • What most employers are writing when they come up with job descriptions are requirements for the perfect DBA/Data Professional. Quite often they don’t exist and they’re aware of that. I completely agree with throwing your hat into the ring, from my experience they’re looking for the right fit in terms of personality and drive (and obviously having some database expertees) . If you fit in with the team and have a desire to learn new skills I think that goes a long way.

    Reply
  • Mark Freeman
    June 4, 2019 9:18 am

    I have yet to meet all of the requirements for any job I’ve ever been hired for in my 30 years in IT. While I don’t apply for jobs where I feel I’d be totally unprepared, I will definitely apply for those where I feel that my skills and experience match up well with one Full Time Equivalent position I can mentally carve out of the often absurdly long list of requirements.

    Reply
  • I am Debbie as well, just not from a developer background. And you need to tack onto that Storage and Server administration. We are currently looking for someone to replace a team member that got promoted. We have 5 applicants and none have all the skills “required”, which in addition to mine, are also VMWare, VEEAM, and VXRail administration. According to my job description, I’m not even qualified for my job.

    Reply
  • Mitchell Wheat
    June 4, 2019 5:52 pm

    Spot on Brent. Great post as always.

    One thing that ‘amuses’ me is when the recruiter’s ad says must have strong ‘SEQUEL’ skills 🙂

    Reply
  • Ramesh Koppisetti
    June 4, 2019 9:34 pm

    [removed by Brent]

    Reply
  • Ramesh Koppisetti
    June 4, 2019 11:05 pm

    [removed by Brent]

    Reply
  • Ramesh Koppisetti
    June 4, 2019 11:10 pm

    [removed by Brent]

    Reply
  • Ramesh Koppisetti
    June 4, 2019 11:20 pm

    [removed by Brent]

    Reply
  • Ramesh Koppisetti
    June 5, 2019 4:23 am

    I did not expect this from you. Truth pinches. Many are not ready to face it. Since they have a family to feed. Thanks for your reply.

    Reply
  • Ramesh reply
    June 5, 2019 4:27 am

    Truth pinches. Many cannot face it. They have family to feed.

    Reply
  • Darryll Petrancuri
    June 5, 2019 10:45 am

    These are the rule these days rather than the exception. Everyone wants a “full stack” . This translates into an organization that has systemic problems in most every case.

    Reply
  • The thing that struck me about this post was…two weeks notice?
    Is that typical in the US?
    Here in the UK three *months* is pretty standard these days.

    Reply
    • Yeah that’s what stood out to me too! My last role was 3 months. Current is one.

      Reply
    • Yes, in the US, two weeks is typical.

      Reply
    • ken j ambrose
      June 7, 2019 8:30 am

      Two weeks is typical (and expected by employer) if an employee is giving notice of leaving.
      However, If an employer no longer is in need of an employees services 2 weeks is not typical at all, more like 30 minutes…

      Reply
  • Radu Gheorghiu
    June 7, 2019 12:06 am

    I’ve seen job postings titled as “Looking for a Strong DBA”.

    Reply

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