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Survivor: The DBA Job Hunt

by James F. Koopmann

In case you have been living in a cave in Mongolia (one of those without satellite TV) for the last several years, let me start with the bad news: This is not the best of times to be looking for a new position as a DBA. I know: This past year, I have had the “pleasure” of being forced into the job hunt myself. I was part of a small startup company that had been dying a slow death for two years, and I knew that my days there were numbered. Although I was considering a number of possible avenues for employment, I had been a DBA for many years and thus decided that this should be one of the areas in which to concentrate my job search.

Looking for a new job, for whatever reason, can be very stressful and should not be undertaken lightly. And understanding what the market holds before embarking on this task can sometimes save weeks of frustration. In this article, I will take a hard look at what I have found to be the current state of the DBA job market, and I will pass along some of the lessons I learned during my own job search. I’ll also include some cautions from those on the frontlines of today’s tight IT employment arena: the job recruiters.

“Things are Looking Up”

For the last 18 months, I have continually heard from some recruiters, and still do, that the technology sector is “looking up” and they are being instructed by their main offices to gear up for a hiring frenzy. Some have even indicated to me that they were so confident about employment prospects six months from now that they’d prefer to have a pool of paid, viable candidates “on the bench” than not to have enough DBA consultants ready to jump into all those new jobs. I am not sure I share this rosy perspective.

Yes, there seem to be quite a few more postings across job sites like,,, and others, but be wary of these. Often, job recruiters are also reacting to those predictions that the market is about to get red hot, and are “fishing for warm bodies” to fill up their resume pool, just in case they do receive a requisition from a potential employer. If you do a bit of research on your own, you will find that most of the extremely encouraging articles and postings currently on the Web about the job outlook for DBAs are more than three years ago. For now, anyway, it looks as if the era of database administration being a hot job field is gone. And in fact, when I posed many questions to recruiters I interviewed about the DBA market, they were very reluctant to answer with any straightforward assurance about the prospects for the field.

Diverse and Well-rounded Skills

I can remember when I started my career as a DBA more than 15 years ago. There were quite a number of articles about the duties of a DBA and management’s inability to understand the true role of a DBA. Times have not changed, and you can still find these topics being written about every week or two (I have even written an article or two). This confirms what recruiters are telling me: the role of the DBA purist is too narrow for corporate America, and if corporate America doesn’t know what a DBA is, how can they hire one effectively. In fact, in cases in which employers are actually hiring DBAs, they are in fact looking for more than purely DBA skills. They are looking for DBAs with project planning capabilities, development skills, and for those who have bottom line concerns that can drive a company’s goals. These are skills that most DBAs desperately lack and with the ever-increasing ease of management for database systems, DBAs are often being passed over for new positions within a company in favor of developers and project managers who have some database skills.

Take this one step further and you can soon see how outsourcing and remote services look very attractive to many IS shops. The recruiters I talked to emphasized to me that they have a hard time finding traditional DBA-type jobs, and if a job like that became available, the pay was not very good. More and more employers are looking for well-rounded individuals who can bridge the gap between DBA duties and development or management responsibilities.

DON’T Jump Ship

In case you didn’t already know this, the days of easily finding DBA salaries of more than $115,000 USD and hourly rates between $95 and $125 are long gone, at least for the average DBA. And those in the know about this job market don’t think such rates will be coming back any time soon, if at all. Blame outsourcing if you like, but the fact is that DBAs have had the last 20 years to find our indispensable niche in corporate America, and we have failed. It is very hard for anyone to justify high salaries for what is shaping up to be mere custodial work on database systems. For this reason, recruiters I talked to believed that, to improve your career prospects, you should focus on improving your skill set and increasing your earning potential in the position you already have rather than look to other positions in other companies. The grass is usually not as green as it looks on the other side; DBAs should not waste time trying to jump to another job just like the one you currently have simply to relearn new tasks, roles, and politics within a different company and corporate culture. The DBA job market is just too difficult to penetrate right now to risk finding yourself in an even less-desirable position than your current one. In other words, don’t jump unless you really, really have to.

DON’T Give Up

When I was looking for a DBA position, recruiters would constantly regale me with innumerable, wonderful job openings that were a perfect match for my skills. And recently, for the first time in about two years, there did actually seem to be a number of jobs that were a perfect match for me on the job boards. But this is almost a two-edged sword. You should be happy, but a bit wary when recruiters are willing and eager to talk to you about their many job listings. Unfortunately, some recruiters use this as a ploy to entice you to align your hopes and resumes with only them. My advice is to be as cordial as possible, keep all communication lines open, tailor your resume as closely possible to job descriptions that interest you, and maybe even take a recruiter or two out for lunch or coffee. Remember that since the DBA role is not a hot job any more, you want to be on the minds of as many individuals as possible. Some extra effort that you put into developing a connection with your recruiter can pay off big down the road, even after you have found a job.


For me it has been a long, hard, two-year battle to find my current position. After starting my own database performance company a little more than four years ago, I recognized, that I lacked the skills to effectively do much more than be a hard-core DBA. When the company began to slide and was unable to survive, I quickly started to venture out of my DBA shell to obtain the skills that would make me a stronger job candidate. All of these newly acquired skills were soft skills, since I quickly understood that hard, technical skills are much easier to come by and can be learned in much less time.

Currently, I am Director of Technical Consulting for Confio Software and would never have landed this position if I hadn’t started talking to people two years ago, speaking at industry conferences, and writing articles through my personal company, Pine Horse. The best advice I can give anyone is to keep the technical skills you have, but start venturing out and acquiring those hard to quantify soft skills.

And if you are currently unemployed and looking for a DBA position, not to fear: there ARE jobs out there. You need to be as agile as possible with the willingness to give up a little in order to get the job. Don’t be reluctant to look for jobs that are remote, part-time, out-of-state, or even jobs that make use of your most obscure skills. Remember, you can always prove yourself after being hired and by then the market should even be a bit better than it is now.


When preparing to survive a job hunt, information can be a very good place to start. Here are a couple of articles that provide more tips and insights into cracking the hard shell of today’s job market:

How to get a DBA Job
by Sara Cushman

Tech Companies Kick Up Hiring As Spending Grows
by Jim Hopkins, USA TODAY

So You Want to Become an Oracle DBA? Part 1 - Getting Close to Oracle
by Steve Callan, Database Journal

Career Counseling for IT Recruiters
by Rick Nashleanas, Career Corner


James F. Koopmann is dedicated to providing technical advantage and guidance to companies within information technology. Over the years, James has worked with a variety of database-centric software and tools vendors as strategist, architect, DBA, and performance expert. He is an accomplished author appearing regularly within printed publications across the Web, and speaking at local area User Groups as well as industry conferences. He may be reached at or

Contributors : James F. Koopmann
Last modified 2005-04-12 06:21 AM
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