The Evolving Role of Database Administrators

Database Administrator Jobs

To make the best decisions, organizations big and small depend on the data their systems collect on customers and internal operations. And they need someone to keep them in touch with all that information. Enter the database administrator. But today’s database admin is not the admin of the 1990s. The last two decades have brought huge changes to the IT industry. Let's take a look at how these changes have evolved the database administrator role.

Before the data-driven Web

In the early days of computing, data and the systems it was stored and processed on were synonymous. There were no "database administrators" because the database was the system and applications themselves. The specialized role of database admin developed as operating systems became more generic and database technology grew into a separate application running on top of an operating system. Organizations needed someone to manage increasing amounts of data stored in mainframes and client/server applications. The database admin role developed into a gatekeeper and caretaker, ensuring that the data was properly maintained and helping programmers to work with it.

The Web fuels big demand

Databases did not play much of a role in the early days of the Web. However, once web development technologies improved enough to easily connect web sites to databases, the need for more database administrators became obvious. Web projects took weeks or months to build in stark contrast to the years it would take for a mainframe or client/server application to be built. With such rapid development, database administrators often found themselves trying to corral dozens of developers and applications to comply with data integrity and security standards. Since many of these web developers got their start in web design or as "web masters," lacking substantial experience or knowledge in database design or security principles, database administrators had to work even harder to keep things running smoothly.

Over time, the programming languages, frameworks and techniques used for web development became much more supportive of sound database design. Object/relational mapping (ORM) systems such as Hibernate and Entity Framework automatically enforced best practices and greatly reduced the need for programmers to directly write database queries. The reduced exposure to direct database access made it easier for database administrators to see what code was accessing the database and to ensure that it met organizational needs and standards.

NoSQL databases, big data and the cloud

In the last few years, NoSQL databases, the big data movement and the cloud have all morphed the database admin's role. NoSQL databases relieve many of the traditional issues of the database administrator by focusing less on structure and data relations, and shifting significant amounts of control over data into the hands of application developers.

Big data technologies have moved into the space traditionally occupied by data warehouses and made analysis faster and more capable. Like NoSQL databases, big data technologies have empowered technology professionals to perform significant amounts of work themselves and allow database administrators to focus on improving performance and finding better solutions.

Cloud applications have changed the database administrator's job as well. As organizations put more data in applications outside the firewall, database admins have had to find ways to enable integrations to work with these applications and still maintain security and data integrity. Use of cloud applications has decentralized some data and pushed it into specialized silos outside the database administrator's reach, making it more difficult to see what data is stored where. At the same time, organizations often still have their most critical data stored in traditional relational databases. The database administrator of today is adaptive and knowledgeable about multiple types of data storage and maintenance.

According to our Salary Guide, the average starting salary for database administrators is projected to increase 5.6% in 2016 to a range of $95,750 - $142,750 in the United States. Data experts will be in demand, along specialists in mobile and security, in the coming year. The major qualifications to become a database administrator are:

  • A strong technical foundation in database structure, configuration, installation and practice
  • Knowledge and experience in major relational database languages and applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and IBM DB2
  • At least two years of postsecondary education is typically required
  • Professional certifications from Microsoft, Oracle and others
  • Attention to detail, a strong customer service orientation and the ability to work as part of a team

Data storage has dramatically changed over time from mainframes to databases to the cloud. But as long as there’s data, that data will need to be managed. The database administrator role is not going to lose steam any time soon.

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