DBA Career Paths: Development DBA or Production DBA

DBA Career Paths: Development DBA or Production DBA?

Mainstream database administrators fall into one of two categories: production and development.

Think of SQL Server as a refrigerator.  It stores stuff.  You put stuff in there, and you expect it to stay cold.

Production DBA Career Path

Production DBAs are like fridge technicians: they don’t necessarily know how to cook, but they know how to fix the fridge when it breaks.  They know all the tricks to keep the fridge at exactly the right temperature and humidity levels.

Production DBAs take over after applications have been created, keeping the server running smoothly, backing it up, and planning for future capacity needs. Network administrators that want to become DBAs get their start by becoming the de facto DBA for backups, restores, and managing the server as an appliance.

Development DBA Career Path

Development DBAs are more like cooks: they don’t necessarily know anything about Freon, but they know how to whip up a mean dish, and they know what needs to go into the fridge.  They decide what food to bring home and put in the chill chest, what should go into the fridge and what should go into the freezer.

Development DBAs focus on the creation process, working with programmers and architects to build solutions. Programmers that want to become DBAs usually get a head start on the development role because of their programming experience. They end up doing the development DBA position by default when their team needs database work done.

Other Thoughts about DBA Roles

Database admins can cross those borders and know pieces of both sides, but generally, they fall into one of the two camps.  Interestingly, the camp they pick tends to be driven by their past.

Can programmers become production DBAs, and can network admins become development DBAs? Sure, but it’s just not nearly as easy. Network administrators don’t usually know a programming language, or even how programming works, so they have a lot of learning to do before they can contribute to specialized topics like table design, normalization, stored procedure design, and so on. Programmers don’t usually know the finer points between raid 5 and raid 10, so they have some hurdles before they can design a database server that can scale effectively at the right price point.

These challenges mean that it’s hard to design a generic DBA training course. I’ve watched network admins struggle with database theory books, complaining that it’s hard to learn database administration. Database theory is not necessarily a prerequisite for beginning database administration. A good DBA knows database theory, but that’s not always the first thing a good DBA learns while going down the career path.

My advice for prospective DBAs: don’t look for checklists that describe any hard and fast steps toward becoming a database administrator. Instead, learn about the parts of database administration that call to you, things that you genuinely enjoy. If you like performance tuning, then read up about the Profiler and how indexes work. If you like designing tables, then read up about the different data warehouse application theories. There are so many specializations in database administration, and the only way to truly succeed is to be passionate about what you’re doing. It’s easy to be passionate about extending the knowledge you already have, and that’s why it’s easier for network admins to become production DBAs, and for programmers to become development DBAs.

More DBA Career Articles

  • Moving from Help Desk to DBA – a reader asked how to do it, and I gave a few ways to get started.
  • Development DBA or Production DBA? – job duties are different for these two DBA roles.  Developers become one kind of DBA, and network administrators or sysadmins become a different kind.  I explain why.
  • Recommended Books for DBAs – the books that should be on your shopping list.
  • Ask for a List of Servers – DBA candidates need to ask as many questions as they answer during the interview.
  • Are you a Junior or Senior DBA? – Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but I explain how to gauge DBA experience by the size of databases you’ve worked with.
  • So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star – Part 1 and Part 2 – wanna know what it takes to have “SQL Server Expert” on your business card?  I explain.
  • Becoming a DBA – my list of articles about database administration as a career.

24 Comments. Leave new

  • Great article Brent. I found it through another blog. I think you’re exactly right about why people with different backgrounds become different kinds of DBA.

  • Thanks for all these good “hints”, Brent, you have scattered throughout your site. I’m interviewing tomorrow (2nd interview) with the Director of a major New York state regulatory agency for a DBA position (production type) — and your site is re-assuring since I have been a developer over the years and not a formal DBA-type person.

    Although I have a minimal knowledge of many aspects of being a DBA, I’ve never trained or actually/rigorously implemented any DBA policies. Your wealth of advice on what to expect, best practices and related links is much appreciated.

    I’ve got ya’ bookmarked!

    Thanks/spirits,

    seth

  • Thanks for the information, it’s great. Just wanted to know – what should be career path of DBA (like DB Architect……). Please let me know.

    • Partha – DBA usually refers to DataBase Administrator, not architect. Knowing that will help you find better information about how to become an architect, because like you’ve figured out, these two career paths are usually different.

      Architects tend to have more college education – they’re expected to know much more about systems theories than DBAs. Architects usually have at least a bachelor’s in computer science, if not a masters. They have to know project management skills, team lead skills, and programming. In order to get those skills, there’s a lot of different routes they could take, but the ones I’ve seen have usually come up through the ranks of programmer teams.

  • Hello Brent,
    I stumbled upon an article you wrote for SSWUG.org about mistakes and triggers… I’ve been hooked since. I’m kind of a development dba since I program in C# and design/develop in SQL Server 2005. So I know that I’m leaning towards a development DBA… may I ask what you consider yourself? Are you a production or a development dba… or a hybrid of both? Also, who makes more… an Oracle DBA or a SQL Server DBA? Hope you have the time to answer my questions… and thank you very much!

    • Roland – I’ve been both a production and development DBA through the years. I started in development and slowly moved over to production, but I still do some of both depending on the project. I don’t think you can be a successful hybrid until you’ve mastered one of the two though.

      I would be really careful about generalizing who makes more. If you’re just going to be average, then ask about the average salary – but average people don’t stay employed for long in this economy. Hope that helps!

  • Brent,

    Where do I fit in the scheme of things?

    Undoubtably, I would fall into the Development DBA category – I’ve always managed SQL Server (since 4.5) in support of my development activities. After all, I gotta put that damned data somewhere… 😉

    But… I’ve also spent almost all of my career as a consultant/contractor. So not only must I manage SQL Server to support my developer needs, but I’ve also almost always had to actually create and build that server – from “how many disks can I convince them to buy for the RAID array?“, to installing SQL Server and setting everything up (including the transactional replication backup hot-swap server) just in order to begin development.

    Where does that put me in the grander scheme of things?

    Thanks,

    Kirby

    • Kirby – I’d pick up a copy (or look in a bookstore) at certification prep books for the MCITP DBA certification and the MCITP Database Developer certification. See which topics you’re more familiar with and you do more often, and that’ll give you an idea of where you fall.

  • hi brent,
    this is a awesome blog wat you brought up and as i told iam into hardware and networking field and hence please tell me will production dba suits or developer ?which one you suggest me?

    • If you’re into hardware and networking, I’d become a systems administrator first, and then gradually start taking over SQL Server duties in your shop as a production DBA.

  • Hi Brent,

    I’m a SQL Developer for the last 2 year. I would like to become a Development DBA. So what sort of things should i do to become one of a DBA? Could you explain me,please..?

  • Thanks for explaining the difference. I’m a chef who knows little about the fridge apparently.
    I have a CS degree, but didn’t take many courses pertaining to databases, so I pretty much have only on the job training.
    I’m trying to gain more skills, but I’m worried that I can’t seem to find any Development DBA type positions. Am I looking in the wrong place? Do they go by different job titles or what? Seems like everyone wants a production dba or some kind of hybrid.

  • i just complete my dba ocp course in oracle i am a bit good in programming but i am a system analyst in red hat linux which field is better for me development or production and then he is good for me to go for the RAC course

  • Hi Sir. Present i am working in a company as a Production Support Professional on SQL Server. My Daiy activities are solving the tickets, taking the backups, monitoring. Can you suggest me that which job is suitable for me either Production support DBA or Prodcution Support Executive. And one thing is i have knowledge only in SQL Server.

    Thanks
    JP

  • HI Brent,

    Presently am working for an organization as a Senior DBA, can you pls let me know what questions can I expect in interview as a senior dba. Because I am bit confused while answering questions like what ur expecting frm us?
    In next one year what you want to be?
    How you will resolve the issue being the db owner etc
    I have workedout many critical issues but unable to present at the time
    Can you please suggest me what can I reply such questions

  • I know there are lot of variables to this question, but in general, should a DBA jump around for better opportunities or make an effort to stay with one company. Assuming you are better awarded financially with each jump, and probably gaining more or different SQL skills quickly by working for different companies, what is the downside? Thanks Brent, I enjoy your blogs and your sessions, they are very entertaining and informative at the same time.

    • Ed – the problem comes later. After you’ve made a few jumps, employees will be less likely to hire you because they know you’re not going to stick around.

  • Gaurang Bhagat
    July 24, 2012 1:59 am

    HI Brent,

    I am from commerce back ground, but i want to do my carrier in IT so current i am doing PL/SQL & Oracle DBA (Workshop1(OCA) & Workshop 2(OCP)). is i required any other qualification…. Please suggest after finish this what kind of job roll i have to handle…. please guide is i need any other qualification also….

    • Gaurang – unfortunately I can’t mentor people by way of blog comments. Mentoring someone along their career path takes a great deal of time and dedication. Your best bet is to find someone who’s got the job you want, and ask them how they found their way. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Brent

    I have a engineer degree in computer science and currently working as tech support associate.. and i like to change my career to DBA..

    • Shashi – OK.

      • so can i change my career to a DBA and whether developement is good or production.. please let me know

        thanks

        • Shashi – I’ve written a lot about that on this site. Scroll up, read this post in its entirety, and then read the related posts that are listed right under it. Then let me know if you’ve got more specific questions, but I can’t give you general career guidance when I don’t even know who you are.

  • Marcos Iturribeitia
    October 25, 2012 3:56 pm

    excellent analogy comparing dba ,fridge technicians and cooks.

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