How to hire for a Database Administrator

Database Administrator

A database administrator is responsible for the databases for a particular company.

Overview of Database And DBMS

Formally, a “database” refers to a set of related data and the way it is organized. Access to this data is usually provided by a “database management system” (DBMS). The DBMS which is a Software, allows users to interact with one or more databases and provides access to all of the data contained in the database. The DBMS provides various functions that allow entry, storage and retrieval of large quantities of information and provides ways to manage how that information is organized. Because of the close relationship between them, the term “database” is often used casually to refer to both a database and the DBMS used to manipulate it. Examples of DBMS’s include Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, IBM Db2, ELasticSearch, Redis, SQLite, MS Access, Cassandra, Splunk, Teradata, Hive etc.

Objective of the role:

Databases are used in almost every enterprise and databases vary greatly depending on the nature of the organisation’s business. For example, AT&T, the USA’s oldest telecommunications company has a database containing call records, to include data such as call time, duration, phone numbers dialled and so on. Amazon holds onto records of their customers, including names and email addresses, wish lists, items purchased and receipts. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) database houses statistics on every country in the world as well as hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S government documents. So it’s probably fair to say that the people who develop and maintain databases possess a pretty unique and valuable set of skills! Let’s talk a little bit about the various types of Database Specialists and what each one is responsible for.

Roles and responsibilities

A DBA is usually involved in many areas of a database or set of databases. They monitor the databases as they are running to ensure that they are not overused and are running efficiently. They implement preventative tasks such as clean-ups and patching. They also assist project teams if necessary with designing databases and improving queries. They also help set up users, privileges and other security settings on a database.

This means that a database administrator needs to have a wide variety of skills – writing queries, designing databases, security, performance and monitoring. Below are some of the chief responsibilities that make up the day-to-day work of a DBA.

1. Software installation and Maintenance

A DBA often collaborates on the initial installation and configuration of a new Oracle, SQL Server etc database. The system administrator sets up hardware and deploys the operating system for the database server, then the DBA installs the database software and configures it for use. As updates and patches are required, the DBA handles this on-going maintenance.

And if a new server is needed, the DBA handles the transfer of data from the existing system to the new platform.

2. Data Extraction, Transformation, and Loading

Known as ETL, data extraction, transformation, and loading refers to efficiently importing large volumes of data that have been extracted from multiple systems into a data warehouse environment.

This external data is cleaned up and transformed to fit the desired format so that it can be imported into a central repository.

3. Specialised Data Handling

Today’s databases can be massive and may contain unstructured data types such as images, documents, or sound and video files. Managing a very large database (VLDB) may require higher-level skills and additional monitoring and tuning to maintain efficiency.

4. Database Backup and Recovery

DBAs create backup and recovery plans and procedures based on industry best practices, then make sure that the necessary steps are followed. Backups cost time and money, so the DBA may have to persuade management to take necessary precautions to preserve data.

System admins or other personnel may actually create the backups, but it is the DBA’s responsibility to make sure that everything is done on schedule.

In the case of a server failure or other form of data loss, the DBA will use existing backups to restore lost information to the system. Different types of failures may require different recovery strategies, and the DBA must be prepared for any eventuality. With technology change, it is becoming ever more typical for a DBA to backup databases to the cloud, Oracle Cloud for Oracle Databases and MS Azure for SQL Server.

5. Security

A DBA needs to know potential weaknesses of the database software and the company’s overall system and work to minimise risks. No system is one hundred per cent immune to attacks, but implementing best practices can minimise risks.

In the case of a security breach or irregularity, the DBA can consult audit logs to see who has done what to the data. Audit trails are also important when working with regulated data.

6. Authentication

Setting up employee access is an important aspect of database security. DBAs control who has access and what type of access they are allowed. For instance, a user may have permission to see only certain pieces of information, or they may be denied the ability to make changes to the system.

7. Capacity Planning

The DBA needs to know how large the database currently is and how fast it is growing in order to make predictions about future needs. Storage refers to how much room the database takes up in server and backup space. Capacity refers to usage level.

If the company is growing quickly and adding many new users, the DBA will have to create the capacity to handle the extra workload.

8. Performance Monitoring

Monitoring databases for performance issues is part of the on-going system maintenance a DBA performs. If some part of the system is slowing down processing, the DBA may need to make configuration changes to the software or add additional hardware capacity. Many types of monitoring tools are available, and part of the DBA’s job is to understand what they need to track to improve the system. 3rd party organisations can be ideal for outsourcing this aspect, but make sure they offer modern DBA support.

9. Database Tuning

Performance monitoring shows where the database should be tweaked to operate as efficiently as possible. The physical configuration, the way the database is indexed, and how queries are handled can all have a dramatic effect on database performance.

With effective monitoring, it is possible to proactively tune a system based on application and usage instead of waiting until a problem develops.

10. Troubleshooting

DBAs are on call for troubleshooting in case of any problems. Whether they need to quickly restore lost data or correct an issue to minimise damage, a DBA needs to quickly understand and respond to problems when they occur.

L1/L2/L3/L4 in Support

To successfully operate an IT support operation, whether within an enterprise or within a service provider organization on behalf of Clients, it is critical to be clear on levels of support related to: Capabilities and responsibilities of the talent involved in providing support and Levels of incident or request treatment related to priority, urgency, escalation treatment and service level agreements (SLAs).

L1 – First Line Support: Telephone helpdesk or answer center support This support level receives inbound requests through channels like phone, Web forms, email, chat, or other means based on the documented agreement with the Client. L1 support typically includes individuals that have very limited technical expertise. L1 support logs, categorizes, prioritizes, tracks, and routes (i) incidents reported by users or (ii) alarms raised by monitoring tools. L1 is intended to be the first to acknowledge an incident. L1 support tracks tickets until successfully resolved. L1 engineers can implement basic, documented break-fix tasks along the lines of following a cookbook recipe. L1 personnel will typically escalate to an L2 resource and follow documented escalation procedures, again, like following a cookbook recipe. Depending on the vendor, L1 technicians will have from 0 to 4 years of prior relevant experience.

L2 – Second Line Support These technicians have more experience than L1 support technicians and manage incidents raised by the L1s or as agreed in documented SLA (Service Level Agreement) timelines. L2 technicians follow documented processes and workflows provided by Clients or higher level support representatives, vendors, product management, etc. They are expected to escalate to the L3’s when documentation is insufficient to complete the tasks or do not solve the incident. L2s usually have and maintain a Run-Book which they can use for immediate resolutions. They collaborate with any other support or dependency groups in case the incident has a linkage to other support personnel or outside vendors. L2 engineers will typically escalate to an L3 resource and follow documented escalation procedures. L2 engineers generally have 4 or more years of experience on a specific technology platform (e.g., Windows servers, Oracle Database, etc.).

L3 – Third Line Support L3 technical experts resolve issues that are typically difficult or subtle. L3 engineers participate in management, prioritization, minor enhancements, break fix activities, problem management, stability analysis, etc. These support leaders have specific, deep understanding and expertise in one or two technology platforms (for example, an Oracle database administrator or a Windows Admin). L3 engineers are proactive in nature, identifying problems in advance and looking for continuous service improvement opportunities. If a fix involves a major enhancement or a development, then the problem is transferred to engineering or development teams, Level 4. L3 engineers may have root or administrator access to basic systems. L3 engineers generally have 8 or more years of relevant experience.

L4 – Product and Vendor Support L4 support refers to product or vendor support and often involves vendor product architects, engineers, software developers, hardware designers and the like. When all other levels of support cannot solve a problem, a request is made to this level of support – usually managed by the L3 support technician or through special project/program management resources. These escalations can often involve product bugs, detailed configuration requirements, or other expert level guidance.

Related Job Roles

  • Database administrator (DBA): Responsible for installing, configuring and maintaining a database management system (DBMS). Often tied to a specific platform such as Oracle, MySQL, DB2 or SQL Server.
  •  Database developer: Works with generic and proprietary APIs to build applications that interact with a DBMS (also platform-specific, like DBA roles).These are the people who build and develop the database itself. Developers need to understand the concept of the business that they’re dealing with as well as the needs of that company. A developer’s job is to make sure that the database is set up in a way so that different departments within the business can use the data in effective ways. Once a developer has made the business logic and structure to the database – i.e. setting up the tables and the queries, they then actually need to make it look good! As a result, there is a different type of developer in this arena as well. In database terminology, front end database developers use Oracle Forms or Microsoft Technologies to create a suitable Graphic User Interface for a company. If you see these terms on a CV, you’ll know that this particular Database Developer works on the front end of things
  • Database designer/database architect: Researches data requirements for specific applications or users, and designs database structures and application capabilities to match.
  • Data analyst/data scientist: Responsible for analyzing data from multiple disparate sources to discover previously hidden insight, determine meaning behind the data and make business-specific recommendations.
  • Data mining/business intelligence (BI) specialist: Specializes in dissecting, analyzing and reporting on important data streams, such as customer data, supply chain data, and transaction data and histories.
  • Data warehousing specialist: Specializes in assembling and analyzing data from multiple operational systems (orders, transactions, supply chain information, customer data, etc.) to establish data history, analyze trends, generate reports and forecasts, and support general ad hoc queries.

Certifications Associated

The top 5 certifications related to DBA are:

  1. IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2
  2. Microsoft SQL Server database certifications- MCSA: Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, MCSE: Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert and MTA: Database Fundamentals
  3. Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL Database Administrator
  4. Oracle Database 12c Administrator

Key Skills

Installation, Backup & Recovery, High-availability, Performance Tuning, XTRADB Clustering and Replication, DRDB setup, DelayedDB setup, Database Migration, troubleshooting, Cloud, script, Query Optimization, Architecture


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Screening Questions:

  • Types of databases (and versions) worked with and experience on each one of them?

 Take overview of job handled

  • Do you have experience with on-premises databases, cloud databases or both?

 Should have Strong understanding of infrastructure differences

 Should be willing to learn

  • Size of company
  • Number of servers
  • Type of server environment
  • Have you ever come across data loss during a database migration? How did you handle that?
  • What should be the approach of Database Administrators towards troubleshooting Database problems (Strong continuous monitoring process viz tickets)