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How to become an Oracle DBA

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

Oracle is the world's most complex and sophisticated databases.  Mastering this complex set of computer programs requires many college-level skills.

Learning Oracle is only appropriate for experienced computer scientists and information systems professionals with years of prerequisite training will be able to successfully get a career as an Oracle professional.

Every year, young computer professionals leave the hallowed halls and ivory towers of college and survey the landscape for computer jobs. They look at the salary surveys and drool at the average Oracle DBA salary of $100,000 and the prospect of earning up to $250,000 per year as a production DBA.  Many of them don't know what a DBA does, but they sure like the money. 

An Oracle DBA is a senior-level manager who often earns as much as a Vice President, and has lots of responsibility, managing the mission-critical data for the whole company. 

WARNING!  Some fraudsters prey on the uninitiated and say that Oracle is an easy to learn trade.  They are trying to sell "DBA Boot camp" training courses to people who do not possess the academic background to perform the job.  Remember, a Database Administrator is a profession, just like an architect, business executive or attorney.  Oracle DBA boot camp scam

Like any profession, becoming a DBA requires years of college preparation and many years of careful preparation. Most beginning DBA's start learning Oracle after earning a Bachelors or masters degree in computer science or information systems.

Also see these related articles:

Since I've been a DBA for 25 years I'm often asked "How do I become a DBA?", many from neophytes who are enticed with the glamour and power of the DBA role.


The life of a successful DBA can be glamorous

While being a DBA is exciting and lucrative, it's a career choice that requires years of preparation.  The most important thing to remember is that the job of a DBA requires a 24x7 commitment.  Being an Oracle DBA can be a very stressful, thankless job, and many DBA jobs require the DBA to be on-call on Thanksgiving and Christmas to perform downtime maintenance.  Plus, the DBA is expected to constantly keep-up with the rapidly-changing technology, working nights and weekends on a regular basis.

See these important notes on becoming an Oracle expert.

It's not uncommon for a DBA to earn as much as a mid-level manager, and in larger shops the DBA is a vice president.  However, the high high pay is a double-edged sword.  The DBA must constantly justify their salary, and a good DBA who automates many of their job functions may find themselves looking for a new job.

You cannot fake your DBA credentials

Here are some common questions that I'm asked about becoming a DBA.  Because most Oracle Applications databases support mission critical systems, a successful Oracle Applications DBA must have these skills:

  • Outstanding Communications Skills - Oracle Applications DBA's must interface with the end-user community and they must have college-level communications skills, being able to communicate clearly, both orally and with written communications.
     
  • Business Degree - Most successful Oracle Applications DBA staff have advanced degrees in business administration, almost al from AACSB accredited collegiate business schools.  Graduates of sub-optimal business schools will have very difficult time obtaining a job in Oracle Applications administration, and a firm understanding of business processes is essential to perform many of the duties of the Oracle Applications DBA job role.
     
  • DBA skills - Most Oracle Applications DBA staff have at least five years of full-time progressive DBA experience, and they sometimes have Oracle certifications such as OCP and OCM. The Oracle Applications DBA must also have a good understanding of related technologies, especially Java (JDeveloper, J2EE, Apache) and Oracle Application Server.

What classes should I take to prepare for a job as a DBA?

In grad school, all IT and CS students take courses like Operations Research where they learn to develop complex decision rules and them apply them to real world datasets.  Using Oracle as the back-end storage of data and decision rules is a great way to prepare for real-world applications of expert systems, DSS and AI.  Also, advanced statistics courses (multivariate analysis) are a good way to prepare for a career in Oracle data mining and Business Intelligence (BI).  For details, see my notes on expert systems and decision support systems using Oracle.

What College Degrees are best for the DBA?

Companies are now requiring a combination of technical and managerial skills and the best-fits are those with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and a MBA in Information Systems.  Employers need a DBA who can understand business systems areas (accounting, finance, marketing) and MBA's are a perfect fir for the DBA job role.

The hard-working kids who have distinguished themselves by graduating from a top-tier university are aggressively courted by the major software vendors (Oracle likes to hire from Harvard, MIT, etc.).

Do I really need a Masters Degree to be a DBA?

Not always, but articles note that Tech jobs are way-up for those with advanced degrees and Experts say IT hiring up 40% for top college graduates.

Remember, there is a difference between working in database administration and being "the" DBA, the person solely responsible for the corporations data resources. 

How much can I earn as an Oracle DBA?

Here are my notes on Oracle Salary Compensation, and there is a wide variation according to the responsibilities of the DBA job, the quality of the DBA, the cost of living, and the experience of the DBA.  Here is a good Oracle DBA salary survey showing the national average at $65,000 per year.

However, there is a huge variation in DBA salary.  Back in 1981, the average DBA salary was about age+10, and a DBA right out of college could expect to earn $32k/year, a nice salary back when gasoline was 80 cents a gallon.  Today, inflation and increased demand have increased the DBA pay scale:

Low Tier DBA

An Oracle DBA without college and less than 10 years experience earns about (age*2), a 25 year-old earning about $50k/year.

Middle Tier DBA

A DBA with a Bachelors degree and ten years full-time work experience can earn up to (age*3), with a 35 year-old DBA earning about $105/year.

Senior DBA

A senior DBA with a Masters degree, 20 years experience managing mission critical database can earn up to (age*4), with a 45 year-old DBA manager earning up to $180k/year.

Superstar DBA

For those DBA Superstars with advanced degrees and specialized skills (RAC, Oracle Apps), the pay is often as high as (age*6) and a 35 year-old superstar can earn up to $210k per year.

In sum, becoming a DBA requires a lifetime commitment.  Large corporations will not entrust their life-or-death data to just anyone, and most insist on hiring DBA's who have demonstrated a commitment to the profession, constantly acquiring new certifications, degrees and knowledge. 

 
 

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Reader Comments:

Update: 11/19/10

Question:  I want to start learning how to be an Oracle DBA, and hopefully with time sit for OCA and OCP certifications

Answer:  Most people start learning Oracle right after completing a 4 year degree in computer science or information systems. Oracle is the world's most sophisticated database, it is not for people who do not possess a professional degree.

Are you qualified to be an Oracle guru?

 The average 2010 salary for a DBA is about $100,000, and it is a competitive market where years of work experience counts most!

 If you have had these 300 level or above courses you are ready to start learning Oracle!

  •  2 courses in procedural programming (preferably C or assembler)

  • Data structures

  • Algorithms

  • Database management

  • Introduction to information systems

  • Operating Systems

 Check Oracle academy for their suggested College courses

Title: Entry Level Database Engineer Jr. Consultant

 Description of duties:

  •  Maintaining the integrity of data.

  • Running queries against the database.

  • Go out to client sites.

  • Install and trouble shoot systems

 Requirements and Salary:

  • 0 - 2 yrs. + Bachelors degree, $25,000 - $50,000

  •  0 - 3 yrs. + Bachelors degree, $35,000 - $45,000

 Title: Database Administrator Sales Consultant

 Description of duties:

  • Extensive analysis and problem solving.

  • Maintain database configuration and ensure data feed accuracy and quality

  • Assist Sales Representatives.

  • Present Applications and Systems to potential clients.

  • Project Management and needs analysis

 Requirements and Salary: 

  •  2 - 3 yrs. + Bachelors degree, $50,000 - $90,000

  • 2 - 5 yrs. + Bachelors degree, $65,000 - $90,000

 Title: Sr. Database Administrator Project Manger

 Description of duties:

  •  Development, implementation, enhancement and maintenance of database.

  • Support and Maintenance of the Databases Management of product design, engineering, implementation and integration.

  • Initiating and maintaining partner relationships.

Requirements and Salary:

  •  4+ yrs. + Bachelors degree, $90,000+

  • 5+ yrs. + Bachelors degree  $100,000+

 ******************************************

> >> I wanted to thank you people again for the warnings and for letting me know that it's not an easy path

Our expert responds to this reader's note: No problem! If your boss will pay for it, far and away the best way to prepare is to take the Oracle university classes.

 If not, get several OCP preparation books, and start by passing your OCA exam and then your OCP exam.

Then, you can apply for a junior DBA position. The best places to start are shops that don't pay much, hospitals, colleges and charities. I started my apprenticeship at a university, right after completing my masters degree.

 ******************************************

I read your link on how to become an Oracle DBA.  Is this really correct? How many companies are really giving salaries that you have mentioned?
 
Why a person without any Computer Science and MBA degree background can't shine? The information you have given is incorrect.
 
Nowadays companies are asking for real time experience or Oracle certification to become a DBA. How much of Operations research are we using in DBA role?
 
I haven't seen people using any of these skills in their DBA role. I have to mention that I have over 20 years experience in IT management. The information you have given in  your website will not motivate young learners or IT professional to become a DBA.
 
For the salary that you have mentioned and being on 24x7 is nothing when compared to people who are receiving far better salaries as oracle consultants.
 
Best regards,
Lobb

OUR RESPONSE:
>> How many companies are really giving salaries that you have mentioned?
I see that from your e-mail, you live in a developing nation, and I'm sure you noticed that this is USA data.    Today�s salary rate is actually much higher, and mjy salary data was from 2007.  Here is the 2007 DBA salary data.
A top DBA consultants earn well over $250k/yr, and a typical Manhattan senior DBA salary is over $200k in 2009.  Here are the DBA salary trends.
>> Why a person without any Computer Science and MBA degree background can't shine
Because they don�t have the necessary depth of knowledge for a such a mission-critical management position.  There have been exceptions, but it�s quite rare, and I don�t know of any corporation that would risk a multi-billion dollar database to someone without the proper academic credentials.
>> Nowadays companies are asking for real time experience or Oracle certification to become a DBA.
Not here in America!  Certification has become a joke!
>> I haven't seen people using any of these skills in their DBA role
Just check the DBA for any of the Fortune 100 companies . . . My MBA was a requirement for interfacing with the business areas . . .
>> The information you have given in  your website will not motivate young learners or IT professional to become a DBA.
It is good to be realistic, as the odds are challenging!  The DBA profession is being watered-down by un-professional people who think that database administration is a trade!
 The DBA job role remains a VP-level position in most all corporations, a position of huge responsibility . . .
 
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