I’ve been fortunate to have spoken at a few SQL Saturday events this year, and one of the sessions I’ve had the pleasure of presenting has been about getting familiar with the SELECT statement. It’s a basic session designed for folks who haven’t yet started writing T-SQL, or are who have tried a bit but may seem confused. The session has been well attended, presumably because most people end up having to learn T-SQL on their own.
Then again, maybe it’s all movie references in the session.
Anyhow, after my last time presenting this session I was approached by an attendee who asked “How do I get to be a Junior DBA?” I hadn’t heard that before, but given this is a beginner-level session it definitely should have been expected. My answer ended up becoming more of a conversation, but in case there are any readers here have a similar question then hopefully this post can provide a little guidance.
Before I go any further, let me just double-check. You want to be a DBA, right? Default Blame Acceptor? Guilty until proven innocent for every time “the database is down?” Constantly checking your phone for failed jobs or server alerts? Awakened in the middle of the night with whatever ails the database? You want that job? Cool – pull up a chair and have a slice of pizza! (Truly, for whatever reason people will buy you plenty of pizza.)
Now…if “How do I get to be a DBA?” were a joke the punchline would be “Start doing something else!” I say that because I haven’t met too many folks who actually set out to be a Database Administrator, but I’ve met plenty who were the proverbial “Accidental DBA,” including yours truly. I was a junior network admin back in the 90s, which somehow led to a position loading data, which then led to a conversation around “we need a database administrator.” Yada, yada, yada, here I am writing for you.
I would guess the thing most folks who are seeking work as a Junior-level DBA are concerned with are skills. And that makes sense since that’s what bosses and HR types stuff into job listings. The thing is, no one is (or at least shouldn’t) be hiring you for a Junior DBA position on your ability to configure MAXDOP or tune indexes. People who have been DBAs, or have hired DBAs, or have hired nearly any entry-level IT position, should know the most important thing you can bring to the table: your willingness to learn. I’ve bolded that to make sure you got that.
Someone may want to quiz you on technical stuff, but if you can answer these three questions well, and by that I mean with several enthusiastic sentences, I’d venture to say most folks would be inclined to hire you on the spot as a Junior DBA.
- What interests you most about being a DBA?
- How do you go about learning new things?
- What’s the last cool thing you learned about databases?
In fact, even if you find yourself in an interview and aren’t explicitly asked these questions, you should work the answers to these question into your conversation.
And I’m not saying you shouldn’t be able to answer a few technical questions, but don’t be afraid to embrace and admit the fact that you don’t know Jack about SQL Server right now. I’m totally serious about that. You may think you need to know ALL THE THINGS, but the truth is those of us who have been working at it for quite a few years still don’t know ALL THE THINGS. Which is why your willingness to learn is a WAY more important skill for an entry level job than what you know now.
Don’t be afraid to embrace your ignorance. The more you know about how little you know then the sooner you can go about knowing more things.
Does that make sense? If not, let me say it another way: adopt the attitude that you never know enough. That’s what all the smart people I meet do.
Going back to the original question, which was more directed about even getting to an interview…
If I were just starting my career as a database professional, assuming I had the much discussed willingness to learn, here is the actionable advice I would give, uh, to myself.
- Create a test environment – SQL Server Developer Edition is FREE. SQL Server management Studio is FREE. Azure Data Studio is FREE. PowerShell modules are FREE. Download any or all of these things and start tinkering with the product you want to work with professionally. Don’t just ask people for database answers – try finding them out for yourself.
- Use your interwebs to learn – read some blogs (hey, you’re doing now!), watch some PASS Archive videos, or check out the free labs from Microsoft. There are some great option for paid learning, but if you’re broke and no one is going to pay for your training then there are still plenty of free ways to learn more stuff.
- Go to SQL Server User Group meetings – find one close to you, show up once a month, and make new friends. Friends who actually work at the jobs you want. Maybe one of these friends can act like a personal mentor. Bonus: recruiters sometimes show up at these events and discuss open DBA positions!
- Go to SQL Saturday events – More free learning! More SQL Server friends! If you can find an event near you I cannot stress enough how valuable these can be. Yes, some of the sessions can be difficult since many times these have first-time presenters, but those presenters still have knowledge to offer you. Bonus: feel free to ask presenters career-related questions afterwards. Most folks WANT to help others – that’s why they are presenting in the first place.Get certified – I listed this last because this could either be really helpful or of little use. It depends on who is hiring you, because some folks think certification proves nothing other than you can take a test while others might hire only certified professionals. My view: preparing for certification can expose your blind spots, those things you didn’t realize that you didn’t know. And if you want to start out as a Junior DBA then passing the Database Fundamentals exam would definitely put you ahead of most of the competition.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but other than certification it’s all at no cost to you other than your time. Invest in yourself continually, and be ready to discuss those investments with others, and you should be well on your way to becoming a DBA. And eating lots of pizza.