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Don Burleson Blog 







Retaining your Oracle superstars

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

January 10, 2015

In this recession, companies across America are laying off staff, downsizing and moving to remote DBA providers, kicking thousands of marginal Oracle professionals to the curb.  At the exact same time, they are struggling to keep their top Oracle talent, those indispensible professionals with irreplaceable institution al knowledge.

In the recession of 2015, it has become a two-tiered market, with marginal Oracle people getting laid off, while Oracle superstars are being lavished with rewards.

In today?s highly volatile work environment, the average Oracle professional rarely stays with a single employer for more than a few years because their skills increase at a rate faster than the company is allowed to give them raises. While some Oracle attrition is inevitable, there are many techniques that savvy IT managers can use to retain their top talent.

If you look at the help wanted ads, Oracle DBA jobs look very appealing with salaries that rival engineers and other professionals, with starting salaries as high as $85,000 with senior Oracle DBA?s commonly earning over $130,000 per year with some consultants earning over a quarter million dollars a year. 

Oracle Corporation recently published their 2009 Oracle salary survey which shows an average 2009 DBA salary of $97,000.  As a general guideline, a well-qualified Oracle professional with a masters degree will earn age times three, so a 30 year old Oracle professional can expect, on average, to earn at least $90,000 per year. 

Want to be an Oracle superstar?  It's not too late, as Oracle professionals are rushing to universities to sharper their skills.  Read my notes about the 2015 Oracle marketplace and the skills that will make you more competitive in this recessionary market.

Who are the Oracle DBA superstars?

While many Oracle shops have hundreds of technology workers, the retention efforts are normally focused on the technical superstars whose knowledge of the company?s systems are not easily transferred to replacements.

These are highly educated Oracle DBA's who have graduated from competitive universities (MIT, Stanford) and hold an advanced degree in Information Systems or computer science from a top U.S. university and are highly trained in system internals.

For example, Oracle Corporation hires their superstars from only top-tier universities, choosing the best and the brightest from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT.

In most shops, the Oracle superstars typically serve as consultants, vice president of database administration, system architects, or informaticists (functional professionals who possess a professional degree and are also trained in professional areas, such as medicine or accounting).

The explosive growth of the Oracle industry has created a two-tiered job market. The top universities often produce the Oracle superstars, while lesser schools produce hundreds of thousands of Oracle programmers and developers.

In this recession there is not much demand for marginal talent, and corporations have the luxury of recruit their junior Oracle superstars from recognized graduate schools and state universities.

So how do you tell if you have an Oracle superstar? Answering the following questions can help you find out.
  • Do they have a history of preparing for an Oracle career?  This is the most important indicator of all and it separates the real Oracle superstars from those who simply want an Oracle job for the high paycheck.  A real superstar will show coursework from age 18 that indicates a desire to manage a large database system, with progressive coursework in computer science, engineering, data management and Information Systems and a history of college jobs that involve managing electronic data.
  • Do they possess a professional degree or certification? If an employee has earned an MD, JD, MBA, MSEE degree or professional certifications such as a CPA, they will be very difficult to replace in the open job market.
  • Are they Oracle certified? - While there are many marginal Oracle professionals who can earn the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) credentials, the Oracle Certified Master (OCM) requires a challenging practicum that only a dedicate Oracle professional can pass.
  • Did they distinguish themselves by graduating from a competitive school?  If the employee graduated from a top-notch technical university with rigorous admission standards, then he or she will command a premium in the Oracle job market. These schools include universities with stellar reputations in Information Systems such as MIT, Purdue, the University of Texas, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, and the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Have they published Oracle articles? Many Oracle superstars publish theoretical research in respected academic journals (the Journal of the IEEE and the Journal of Information Systems) to advance Oracle knowledge.  While publishing on a blog or web site may indicate dedication, a real Oracle superstar will get published in Oracle Magazine, OTN, Computerworld and other major periodicals.
  • Are they trained in a specialized skill? Oracle professionals with specialized, difficult-to-find training are often Oracle superstars. Examples of specialized skills include Java, Oracle Applications, and J2EE.
  • Are they a recognized Oracle expert? If an employee has published books or magazine articles or is in demand as a conference speaker, then they may be an Oracle superstar.   Don't be fooled by honorary titles like the Oracle ACE, whose member talents range from amazing to abysmal.  Instead look for popularity as a writer and speaker at Oracle conferences.
  • Do they possess irreplaceable institutional knowledge? If the employee serves in a mission-critical Oracle role such as chief architect or DBA, his or her departure may create a vacuum in your Oracle department.

Now that we understand how to separate the wheat from the chaff, let's take a look at how we can keep our Oracle superstars happy and productive.

Retention techniques for the Oracle DBA

While no method can guarantee employee loyalty, there are a host of techniques used by Oracle management to reduce attrition among Oracle DBA staff. These techniques include:
  • Flex time: Burnout can be a real problem among the Oracle DBA who must typically work evenings and holidays to maintain the computer systems. Many companies offer formal comp-time policies or institute a four-day workweek, allowing the DBA to work four, 10-hour days per week.
  • Fun travel:  Travel to exotic  destinations can be a real motivator, and some companies send their superstars to their Caribbean offices and offer free travel for the spouse.  Me, I do a yearly Oracle cruise.
  • Telecommuting:  Many Oracle DBA's are allowed to work at home and only visit the office once per week for important face-to-face meetings.
  • Golden handcuffs:  Since a high base salary does not always reduce attrition, many Oracle managers use yearly bonuses to retain top Oracle DBA staff. These golden handcuffs may take the form of a Management by Objective (MBO) structure whereby the superstar receives a substantial annual bonus for meeting management expectations. Some companies implement golden handcuffs by paying the employee a huge signing bonus (often up to $100,000) and requiring the employee to return the bonus if he or she leaves the company in less than ten years.
  • Office perks:  Since many Oracle professionals have responsibilities and salaries commensurate with a corporate vice president, Oracle superstars can get private offices, company cars, fly first class and have access to the secretarial pool.
  • Prestigious Job titles:  Because Oracle DBA professionals command high salaries, many are given honorary job titles. These include fellows titles such as the Apple fellow, whereby the corporation grants special privileges to Oracle employees granted fellow status. Other Oracle DBA superstar titles include vice president of database administration, chief technologist, and the new job title (used by Bill Gates), chief software architect.
  • Specialized training:  Some shops reward your top Oracle DBA's by sending them to lavish Oracle conferences and specialized Oracle training classes. For example, Oracle Applications professionals visit Hawaii for major conferences, and Oracle training cruises have become an extremely popular reward for the Oracle superstar, sailing to exotic destinations.

My company has among the highest pay in the Oracle industry, and we only hire experienced Oracle rock stars, one of whom actually was a real rock star!

About 12 years ago I was giving a keynote presentation at a conference when I noticed a High School kid in the front row taking feverish notes and hanging on my every word.  After my presentation, he leapt up and commanded hammered me with question-after-question on how to become an Oracle DBA and how to distinguish himself as an Oracle Professional. 

This was not the last time I would see this young man.  Since that day, he got a job as a senior instructor at Oracle University, became the world's youngest Oracle ACE and Oracle Certified Master, and wrote several books on Oracle technology.

Now I ask you, how could I not hire this guy?

In sum, while the recession of 2015 has created a shakeout within the lower ranks of Oracle professionals, Oracle managers remain committed to retaining their top Oracle talent, and those Oracle professionals with specialized skills are still in high demand. Oracle is imperative that Oracle managers recognize his or her Oracle superstars and take active measures to retain them.




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