What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Building Your Career on Database

1. Database Overview
2. Getting into Database Field
3. Database Skills
4. Database Jobs

This article covers

  • Career insights of database administrator, database developer, database analyst, database designer, and data architect.
  • Core responsibilities and extended tasks in database positions.
  • Technical skills and soft skills for database professionals.
  • Education and certification requirements.
  • Career advancement potentials in database field.

1. Database Overview

Database is the core of enterprise business operation in every industry. No business can go without it. Almost every database in use today is Relational Database Management System (RDBMS). Other database types, such as network database and hierarchy database have become obstacle. Generally speaking, database is a server-based system, called database server, that includes database management software (Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, etc.) and the hardware (server machine) on which the database software is installed. Database software operates on top of an operating system such as UNIX, Windows, or mainframe OS.

All database jobs are built around database server. These jobs are technology-focused positions with opportunities of leadership, management, and promotion. Comparing to other jobs in IT industry, database offers higher career stability. In this industry, database professionals are well treated, well paid, and have great career advancement potentials.

There is another advantage of database career - unlike many intelligence-based job functions such as programming, database work is more experience-based. That means you can build a relatively stable knowledge inventory around your career, and your experience accumulates value that lasts long. Simply speaking, you don't have to be smart to become a database professional; you only need to pay your time to acquire more experience. With more experience you secure your position.

2. Getting into Database Field

Education and certification requirements

A Bachelor's degree is usually required for all database jobs. Majors in computer science, information systems, or business administration specified in MIS are preferred. People in engineering and technical background are well accepted in database positions. For those who don't have a college degree in technical major or don't have degree at all, formal education may be supplemented by college level courses related to related to database, vendor-provided trainings on database products, and hands-on experience.

Certification is a way to demonstrate a level of competency or quality in database field. Although companies don't put certification as a mandatory requirement for employment, they may use it a criteria to evaluate a candidate's knowledge and skills. The most valuable certifications are DBA certifications from top-tier database vendors - Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM.

Tips for getting database jobs

If your dream job is on database, how to break in? The following tips should be helpful.

  • Most companies require college degree in technical major. If you don't have it, consider taking relational database courses in community colleges or trade schools. Vendor-provided trainings are good supplement, although they are expensive.

  • It is much easier to enter database field from other IT positions such as programmer and systems analyst. A programming job is easier to get. You may start from there and watch for database opportunities either in the same organization or outside.

  • Experience counts. You may obtain hands-on experience through self-training. In addition to reading books, you may install Oracle database and/or IBM DB2 database on your PC and play with them. Both Oracle and DB2 can be downloaded free from Oracle and IBM websites. Documentations are also available.

  • Get certified. In today's challenging market, professional certifications do provide a job seeker a competitive advantage. Even if without real work experience, a paper certification would help a lot.

3. Database Skills

Database career is mainly technology-oriented. The following technical skills are essential to database professionals:

  • SQL - For database professionals in all positions, understanding and programming SQL would be the most important.
  • ERD - Every database professional should know how to use entity relationship diagram (ERD) in data modeling and logical database design.
  • Performance tuning - This is DBA's core responsibility but database professionals in other areas should also master this skill. Specifically, database developers should be skilled at application tuning, and database designers should put performance in consideration during logical and physical database design.
  • Backup and recovery - This is a must-have skill for database administrators and it is a critical one. Enhancing this skill can make you stand out.

Database skills are often categorized by database software products and vendors while database itself is classified by scope of usage as desktop database, database server, and enterprise database. Skills on enterprise database are the most powerful and valuable.

The Big Four

A successful database career is tied to the right database products/vendors. In enterprise database category, the Big Four dominate the market:

  • Oracle - Oracle Server Enterprise and real application cluster (RAC)
  • Microsoft - Microsoft SQL Server
  • IBM - IBM DB2 Universal Database Server
  • SAP/Sybase - Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise

Choosing one of the big four as you core database skill focus, your career cannot go wrong. Because huge installation base had been put in production, you job is guaranteed by the market.

On the lower end of the matrix, there two database products worth mentioning - Access and MySQL. Access is Microsoft's desktop database. Skill on Access has certain add-on value because Microsoft positioned it as the primary desktop database. MySQL is a popular open source database widely used on web server with PHP. Its popularity makes it a good add-in skill for your database career.

Again, your database skills should be focused on the Big Four. To make your life easy, you can simply ignore other databases. Especially, stay away from those non-relational databases running on mainframe, they are dying. It's not worth spending time on dBase, Paradox, FoxPro, Informix, they are disappearing too.

4. Database Jobs

Database administrator

Database administrators work with database management systems software and determine ways to organize and store data. They determine user requirements, set up computer databases, and test and coordinate changes. It is the responsibility of an organization's database administrator to ensure performance, understand the platform the database runs on, and add new users. Because they also may design and implement system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security measures. With the volume of sensitive data generated every second growing rapidly, data integrity, backup, and keeping databases secure have become an increasingly important aspect of the job for database administrators.

Database Developer

The main functionality of database developer is to code programs on database server, - stored procedures, triggers, and packages. The care qualification is SQL language and the extended SQL by products/vendors such as PL/SQL for Oracle and T-SQL for Sybase Adaptive Server and Microsoft SQL Server. Database developer work in application tuning frequently thus a good knowledge of SQL tuning and query analysis is essential. Database developers should understand data structure, database design, and business logic.

Database Analyst

Database analysts usually do a little bit everything. The most common tasks of database analyst include database design, database development, and performance tuning. Often an outside consultant was hired as a database analyst to systematic and experimental assessment on current database and applications for an organization. The consulting database analyst would provide evaluations, recommendations, and strategies.

Database Designer

Database designers build bridge to transform business rules into database technologies. The key skill is data modeling. Database designers use data modeling tools to create entity relationship diagram by converting business entities into database tables and entity attributes into table columns. This is the part of logic database design along with data normalization and de-normalization. Database designers must have good knowledge of the specific database product in order to perform physical database design task. Database designers should understand the business rules very well.

Data Architect

Data architects are high-end database designers with top level perception on the entire system architecture beyond database. As a data architect, you should be able to understand the data by reading data diagram such ER modeling diagram or Object-oriented data diagram. Based on the diagram, you should know how to map the business requirement to the data relationship and apply SQL to manipulate data. While processing data, you need the knowledge of data integrity and you should handle the data accordingly. By knowing the basic logic aspect of data stored in database, you should be able to integrate the knowledge of data relationship to standard database concept such as Primary Key, Foreign key or other database constraints. Moving further, you may be required to use standard mechanism, such as ER modeling with UML, to delineate the data you possess.