Following the Data to a DBA Job

In an indirect way, Dan Newlon can thank the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its love of red tape for his new, upwardly mobile career status.

In an indirect way, Dan Newlon can thank the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its love of red tape for his new, upwardly mobile career status. Newlon, a 15-year IT veteran and software developer at Peapack, N.J., pharmaceuticals company Pharmacia Corp., began looking for a new career path a few years ago after finding himself increasingly dissatisfied with the amount of validation paperwork required by the FDA.

"It was becoming 80 percent paperwork and 20 percent programming," said Newlon, who works at Pharmacias Kalamazoo, Mich., offices.

After speaking with a friend who a few years earlier had jump-started his career by becoming an expert on Oracle Corp. databases, Newlon decided to retool and get certified as a DBA (database administrator). Good decision. Soon after completing a 10-week Oracle course and receiving an Oracle Certified Professional certification, Newlon in September slid into a DBA position at Pharmacia and received a $7,000 raise.

Now Newlon, whose salary had topped out in his old position in the low six figures, is looking at a maximum salary at his current responsibility level of $150,000 per year. With a move up to senior DBA level, Newlon said, $200,000 a year is not out of the question.

The sellers market for IT skills may be over for some, but for certified DBAs with the right skills, theres been little if any drop-off in demand or career opportunity.

Why? The recession hasnt altered the fact that, as enterprises continue to become increasingly dependent on enterprise resource planning and e-commerce systems, they implicitly are relying on the smooth running of the databases that underlie those systems to stay in business.

So, IT recruitment experts say, DBAs—particularly those who can tune increasingly common databases such as Oracles and Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server and keep them secure—continue to be in high demand.

"Its increasingly clear that the database is one of the fundamental hubs of network computing, and that means we will continue to see salary increases for DBAs, even as salaries for other IT specialties level off," said David Foote, president and chief research officer at IT skills consulting company Foote Partners LLC, in New Canaan, Conn.

So how do you cash in on the DBA demand if youre an IT pro looking for a career change? Certification, as Pharmacias Newlon found out, is a good first step.

Most in demand are Oracle and Microsoft database certifications, far surpassing certifications for IBMs DB2 or Sybase Inc.s Sybase, according to Andrea Hoban, division director in RHI Consultings Portland, Ore., office.

But, Hoban said, certifications alone are not enough. Most employers, Hoban said, will prefer experience over book learning, particularly working knowledge of the SQL language and data models. Also critical, Hoban said, is experience working with business users.

"The key is being able to communicate and understand what the business needs are and how that translates into how the database should work," Hoban said.