If you're looking for a role that combines your love of IT and new technology, with your problem-solving and communication skills then look no further

A database administrator (DBA) is responsible for the performance, integrity and security of a database. They will also be involved in the planning and development of the database, as well as troubleshooting any issues on behalf of the users.

A DBA makes sure that databases have the following qualities:

  • data remains consistent across the database;
  • data is clearly defined;
  • users access data concurrently, in a form that suits their needs;
  • there is provision for data security and recovery control (all data is retrievable in an emergency).

DBA roles vary depending on the type of database, the processes they administer and the capabilities of the database management system (DBMS) in use.

Responsibilities

Your level of responsibility will determine the tasks you carry out in the job. Some work may be pure maintenance while other roles will involve you specialising in database development.

Tasks may involve some or all of the following:

  • establishing the needs of users and monitoring user access and security;
  • monitoring performance and managing parameters to provide fast responses to front-end users;
  • mapping out the conceptual design for a planned database;
  • considering both back-end organisation of data and front-end accessibility for end-users;
  • refining the logical design so that it can be translated into a specific data model;
  • further refining the physical design to meet system storage requirements;
  • installing and testing new versions of the DBMS;
  • maintaining data standards, including adherence to the Data Protection Act;
  • writing database documentation, including data standards, procedures and definitions for the data dictionary (metadata);
  • controlling access permissions and privileges;
  • developing, managing and testing back-up and recovery plans;
  • ensuring that storage and archiving procedures are functioning correctly;
  • capacity planning;
  • working closely with IT project managers, database programmers and multimedia programmers;
  • communicating regularly with technical, applications and operational staff to ensure database integrity and security;
  • commissioning and installing new applications and customising existing applications in order to make them fit for purpose.

Because of the increasing levels of hacking and the sensitive nature of data stored, security and disaster recovery have become increasingly important aspects of the work.

Salary

  • Graduate DBAs can look to earn around £22,000 to £25,000 a year.
  • With some experience, a junior DBA's wage can reach around £35,000.
  • With substantial experience, senior DBAs can earn £45,000+.
  • Contractors can earn £300 to £400 a day, with senior DBAs commanding £500+ a day.

The range of salaries depends on the industry and location. Rates tend to be higher in the financial services and banking, investment and insurance sectors, and in London and the South East.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday and typically include regular unsocial hours. Overnight and weekend work is often necessary as maintenance and development work needs to be undertaken during periods of low usage. DBAs are often on call if a critical problem occurs.

What to expect

  • The working environment is informal and it's possible for work to be carried out from home or from other remote locations. There is an increasing trend towards home working.
  • You'll find that the work can be demanding as organisations depend on effective databases, and there can be significant pressure to ensure that they operate smoothly, particularly if accessed online.
  • Jobs are located throughout the UK.
  • Travel and absence from home overnight may occasionally be required.
  • There are numerous opportunities to work abroad.
  • Women are currently underrepresented in the IT profession. For information and jobs for women who want to work in technology take a look at Women in Technology.

Qualifications

You can enter this career with a degree in any subject but the following may be particularly useful:

  • computer science;
  • computer software/computer systems engineering;
  • electronics;
  • information technology;
  • mathematics;
  • operational research.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible for those with good all-round IT skills.

Relevant HND subject areas include physical, mathematical and applied science. An HND in computer studies, software engineering or information technology in particular may increase your chances of entry.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential but is likely to improve your prospects if your first degree is in a non-computing subject.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • communication, teamwork and negotiation skills;
  • problem-solving and good analytical skills;
  • familiarity with the main data manipulation languages and the principles of database design;
  • flexibility and adaptability;
  • good organisational skills;
  • the skill to work to tight deadlines under pressure;
  • the ability to create and maintain strong working relationships with colleagues and customers;
  • business awareness and understanding of business requirements of IT;
  • a willingness to keep up to date with developments in new technology;
  • a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD);
  • an understanding of information legislation, such as the Data Protection Act.

Work experience

Most DBA jobs require some sort of experience in the IT industry. Look out for sandwich degrees that include a work placement. These offer invaluable hands-on experience and can sometimes lead to employment after graduation.

Many DBAs have had experience in programming. It is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with as many database technologies and operating systems as possible. Most DBA positions require knowledge of structured query language (SQL), Unix and database management systems (DBMS).

Getting work experience - whether through part-time work, work placements during vacation time, voluntary work or work shadowing - can show your interest in, and commitment to, a future career in this role.

Employers

Opportunities can arise within any organisation that uses computerised databases, including organisations in the public, private and third sectors.

IT companies employ database administrators, both to run their own systems and to work on client projects.

Opportunities also exist in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even relatively small companies hold a great deal of information on their members, clients and suppliers, and this data is crucial if they are to compete with others in the sector. Businesses are increasingly using the information held on their databases to target new customers and launch new products and services.

The role of a DBA is highly specialised and vacancy numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years. Direct entry to graduate DBA roles is likely to be with very large organisations.

Look for job vacancies at:

Contracting is an option for experienced DBAs, and most job sites also deal with contract roles. Search niche sites like Contractor UK and Freelancers.net for leads as well.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Most training is provided on the job. It is technical in nature to ensure that you're up to speed with software developments and is supplemented by short, internal or external courses as appropriate.

Career progression will be helped by taking additional courses, and experienced staff are expected to have completed a database certification programme such as:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) – Data Platform or Business Intelligence;
  • IBM Certified Database Administrator;
  • Oracle Database Certification.

In-house courses may also cover 'soft skills' training in communication, time management and customer service skills. To understand user needs, DBAs must be able to work in multidisciplinary teams, often including senior managers, and additional training may be given in this area, along with sessions on company products and procedures.

Smaller companies may make use of technical manuals, CD-ROMs and web-based programmes for self-study. Larger companies may offer mentoring schemes and tailor training to help individual development plans.

It is vital to keep your technical skills up to date and taking a professional qualification can help with this. A range of relevant qualifications are available through the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT).

Career prospects

DBAs work in a variety of organisations and career prospects will vary accordingly. Larger organisations may offer structured career paths to the level of lead or senior DBA, with increasing management and technical responsibility.

Many DBAs move on to other areas, such as:

  • systems development;
  • project management;
  • network management;
  • database architecture.

The combination of technical and management skills may open up more strategic roles.

The increase in internet traffic has resulted in information playing an even more central role in business, with many organisations now relying heavily on online databases for both commercial and administrative purposes. Any expertise gained in this area may assist in future career progression and employability.

The move towards paperless offices in the public sector and the introduction of increasingly sophisticated payment and logistics systems in industry all point to increasing opportunities for DBAs.

A large number of DBAs choose to work as freelance consultants or contractors, capitalising on their specialist technical knowledge. As a contractor, the projects you work on might include the design and development of a smaller database or working as part of a large-scale project in conjunction with specialist IT firms and consultants. This does require substantial experience, but you may find the financial benefits and freedom to take time off between contracts attractive.