What is a DBA?

A very common question is “What is a DBA?” or “What is an Oracle DBA?”. Within the remainder of this article I hope to answer both of those questions and provide you with some more information about how to become an oracle DBA and what an Oracle DBA does.

Let’s first start by defining what DBA stands for: DBA stands for DataBase Administrator. DBA is quite a general term, as it could refer to the DBA of a number of different types of software, like Oracle or SQL Server, but we will get to that later on in the article. For now, let’s take the generic term DataBase Administrator and find a little bit more about what one is…

Wikipedia has this to say if you want to know the answer to “What is a DBA?”

“A database administrator (short form DBA) is a person responsible for the design, implementation, maintenance and repair of an organization’s database” – Wikipedia.

We could re-phrase our original question from “What is a DBA” to “What is a Database Administrator”. Either is valid and mean the same thing, but as I’m sure you are aware IT folk love to use acronyms and the DBA community is no exception to that…Let’s now have a closer look at what an Oracle DBA is.

What is a Database Administrator (DBA)?

The above statement is a very high level description of what an Oracle DBA is. In short, a DBA looks after the data which an organisation stores. If you take almost any website it is likely to have a database to store information like the usernames and passwords for all users’ of the site. Think about a bank, where do you think they keep all the information about their clients and what transactions have been made? Yes, you got it, in a database.

If we take the example of a bank storing all of its data in a database, you can see that this is very critical data. Losing any of it, or compromising its validity and security will have huge implications for the bank and its customers. Imagine going to an ATM and there not being any money in there, or that the amount of money in your account was wrong…This is, in part, where the role of the DBA comes in. One of the many jobs of the DBA is to ensure that there are adequate backups of all the data so that in the case of a loss or corruption of any data it is possible to restore that data back with minimal impact to the users of the system.

Referring to the design and implementation of the definition, this would refer to the early stages of development when developing a solution for a new project. For example, your company wants to have an application which accesses a database of customer data which is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. What is the best way to store this data? How can we keep it available 24*7? How are we going to make it live to our customers? How will we back it up? How much data will there be? How many transactions are going to be going through the system each day? When will the peak usage times be? Are there any overnight processes required to run in the database? How will we clear down old data and redundant data?

DBA Designer & Architect

As you can see, there are many questions which arise when faced with the design and implementation stage of a project. Get something wrong in the design stage and it will be much harder and costlier to change it later on. That is why design is such a critical part of the process but is very often rushed because the customer just wants to get something in and customers using it. “We can sort out the finer details later” they say. Try not to fall into this trap and ensure that you spend enough time planning and detailing out how the system will work before you start implementing anything. You should know exactly what the requirements for the application are and if possible have attempted to predict some future usage, also. This way you should be able to plan for expansion and new usage patterns which may arise in the future.

OK, so I’ve given a little bit of information regarding what an Oracle DBA is. Let’s now have a look at what different levels there are…

DBA Levels

There are many different levels of DBAs, from the inexperienced Junior DBA, through the Mid-level DBA, up to the Senior DBA and the DBA Team Leader. They are the most common, permanent positions which you will find in a company who hire DBAs. In addition to those, you also have Consultant DBAs and Contractor DBAs. Let’s have a look at each one in more detail.

Junior DBA – This is an entry level position where the DBA has little to no experience. Perhaps the person studied a computer science related degree at university. Also, not uncommonly, are more experienced people who are attempting to get themselves in as an Oracle DBA. Oftentimes a developer may move across to this position, in which case they will have good experience in other related areas but not solely as the DBA. I would categorise someone as a junior when they have been doing DBA work for between 0-2 years.

At this level you should be absorbing as much information as possible. It may feel like you are lost at times, but there is so much to take in that eventually if will click into place if you stick with it long enough.

Mid-level DBA – As the name implies, this is someone who has been working as a DBA for some time. I would say 3-5 years of experience would put you into this category.

You should be a competent DBA by this stage, having had at least a few years of problem solving and project work under your belt. You should be keeping abreast of new technologies becoming available within the community, be able to take the lead on projects, upgrade databases and patch the software, etc.

Senior DBA – This requires you to have 5+ years’ experience as a DBA. You will be expected to manage projects, liaise with management and developers, and probably mentor less experienced members of the team. You should have a wide range of knowledge regarding the set of database technologies available to you and be able to come up with good design suggestions when a new project comes up.

DBA Team Leader – This is definitely more of a managerial role and as a result you will probably spend less time with the technicalities and more time managing the members of your team, having meetings with management and planning for future projects. The work you should be delegating out at this stage to the members of your team and overseeing the progress of each project and giving input as to the direction it is heading in. In essence, you should be in control of where the project goes, what technologies you use and how they are implemented. You most definitely need to keep up to date with what is going on in the DBA community in order to ensure you are using the most appropriate technologies for your company. Also, you are working a little bit like a consultant towards the management team because you should be advising them of why you are making the decisions you are and what benefits it bring to the company.

At this level you will be expected to report to the higher management team regarding performance, availability and project work you are involved in. It’s important to know all of the technical details but also be able to communicate on a non-technical level with others who are not from your area of discipline.

Consultant DBA – Oftentimes a consultant DBA will come and work for a company for the duration of a project or one particular stage, for example, the design stage to advise them how to solve a problem. Also, they may come in on a daily rate just for a couple of days at the beginning and then again later on in the project to ensure everything is going to plan and answer any questions they may have.

At this level you should have a wealth of knowledge and experience. This is how you are able to tell people how they should be designing or implementing a particular piece of software. You will be expected to have the answers to many questions as a consultants’ daily rate is usually pretty high.

Contract DBA – Usually hired to complete a specific task, such as implement a backup strategy or implement Data Guard. Then, document the process and management and maintenance duties in order to hand off to permanent staff who work in house to deal with it.

A usual contract would last sometime between 3 months 12 months, with the most common I have seen being 6 months. That being said, it’s not uncommon for a contract to be extended if you do a good job and prove your worth.

Now that we know the answer to the question “What is a DBA”, the next logical question would be “What does and Oracle DBA do?” This is answered in my other article called “What does an Oracle DBA do?”

Having talked about what an Oracle DBA does and what an Oracle DBA is, we can move to the next section which discusses the different types of DBAs that are out there…

Different Types of DBAs

There are many different vendors/manufacturers of database software, including Microsoft who make SQL Server, Oracle who call their software Oracle, IBM who have named their software DB2, and MySQL, to name just a few of the more common ones.

All of these different software companies have built their database software around the same fundamental model – the relational model, which was developed by a computer scientist named E F Codd who worked for IBM in the 1970s. This is why you call the software Oracle RDBMS – the Oracle Relational Database Management System.

Although all of the different software versions created are based on the same fundamental principles, each manufacturer has developed and implemented their solution in a different way. This results in different skills for each piece of software being necessary. As such, although fundamentally someone from an Oracle background will understand the concepts of what someone from a SQL Server background does, the specifics will most likely be different. A DBA from one area of expertise could very quickly learn to manage and work with other relational database software.

The Language of Oracle DBAs

Users use a language called Structured Query Language (SQL) to interact with the data stored within the Database. In Oracle, this is called SQL but in SQL Server this is referred to as T-SQL. The ideas are the same and they are loosely based on the same standards but they have been implemented slightly differently and use different syntax. So, we now know more about what an Oracle DBA does and can answer the question“What is a DBA?”. If you like the sound of becoming a DBA and would like to know more information about to become an Oracle DBA, I would like to refer you to another article that I have written called “How can I Become an Oracle DBA?”

Further Reading

I hope that this article and the ones referred to within it have given you a better understanding of what an Oracle DBA does and how to become an Oracle DBA and also what qualities make a good DBA. Perhaps you would like to know what kind of problems an Oracle DBA faces at work. If so, check out the rest of our website ORA00600.com and browse through some of the error messages that real Oracle DBAs face every day and how to resolve them.

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