Starting a Career in Databases

Learn About Starting a Career in the IT Industry

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If you've been reading the IT industry's help wanted ads recently, there's no doubt you've come across a number of ads seeking professional database administrators, designers, and developers. Have you ever considered crossing over into these fields yourself? Have you found yourself wondering what it would take to make such a career move?

Qualifications for Database Industry Careers

There are three main types of qualifications that will help you in your quest to obtain employment in the database industry (or any other IT field, for that matter). These are experience, education, and professional credentials. The ideal candidate’s resume describes a balanced mix of criteria from each of these three categories. That said, most employers don’t have a predetermined formula that they use to determine which candidates are asked to interview and which resumes get thrown in the circular file. If your work experience reflects a long history of increasingly responsible positions in a related field, a potential employer might not be interested in the fact that you don’t have a college degree. On the other hand, if you recently earned a graduate degree in computer science and wrote a master’s thesis on database optimization, you’d also probably be an attractive candidate despite the fact that you are fresh out of school.

Let’s take a look at each one of these categories in detail. As you read through them, try to assess yourself against the criteria outlined. Better yet, print out a copy of this article and a copy of your resume and give them to a trusted friend. Let them review your background in light of these criteria and give you an idea of where you would stand in the eyes of an employer. Remember: f it’s not described properly on your resume in a manner that attracts the eye of an overworked hiring manager, you didn’t do it!


Every job searcher is familiar with the novice’s paradox: “You can’t get a job without experience but you can’t get experience without a job.” If you’re an aspiring database professional without any work experience in the field, what are your options?

If you truly have no work experience in the IT industry, your best bet is probably going to be seeking out an entry-level job working at a help desk or in a junior database analyst position. Granted, these jobs are not glamorous and won't help you buy that palatial home in the suburbs. However, this type of "in the trenches" work will give you exposure to a variety of tools and techniques. After you've spent a year or two working in this type of environment you should be ready to either seek a promotion at your current place of employment or fire up the word processor to add this newfound experience to your resume.

If you have related IT experience, you have a bit more flexibility. You’re probably qualified to find a higher-level position as a system administrator or similar role. If your eventual goal is to become a database administrator, seek out a smaller company that uses databases in their day-to-day operations. Chances are, they won’t be too concerned about your lack of database experience if you’re familiar with some of the other technologies they use. Once you’re on the job, gradually begin to assume some database administration roles and before you know it you’ll be a skilled database administrator through on-the-job training!

If neither of these options works for you, consider volunteering your database skills for a local nonprofit organization. If you spend some time making a few phone calls, you’ll undoubtedly discover a worthy organization that could make use of a database designer/administrator. Take on a couple of these projects, add them to your resume and take another swing at the IT job market!


It was once true that technical recruiters would tell you not to even bother applying for a technical position in the database industry unless you held at least a Bachelor’s degree in computer science. The explosive growth of the Internet, however, created such a large demand for database administrators that many employers were forced to reconsider this requirement. It’s now commonplace to find graduates of vocational/technical programs and self-taught database administrators with no more than a high school education holding positions once reserved for college graduates. That said, holding a computer science degree will definitely enhance your resume and make you stand out from the crowd. If your eventual goal is to move into a future management role, a degree is usually considered essential.

If you don’t have a degree, what can you do right now to increase your marketability in the short term? First, consider starting a computer science degree program. Check with your local colleges and universities and you’re bound to find one that offers a program compatible with your schedule. One word of caution: If you want to gain immediate resume-enhancing skills, be sure to take some computer science and database courses from the get-go. Yes, you do need to take history and philosophy courses to earn your degree, but you’re probably better off saving them for later so you can increase your marketability to an employer now.

Second, if you are willing to shell out some bucks (or have a particularly generous employer) consider taking database classes from a technical training school. All major cities have some sort of technical education program where you can take week-long courses introducing you to the concepts of database administration on your choice of platforms. Expect to pay several thousand dollars a week for the privilege of this quick knowledge.

Professional Credentials

Surely you’ve seen the initials and heard the radio ads: “Get your MCSE, CCNA, OCP, MCDBA, CAN or some other certification today to make big bucks tomorrow!” As many aspiring database professionals discovered the hard way, earning a technical certification alone does not qualify you to walk in off the street and claim a job at your choice of employers. However, viewed in the context of a well-rounded resume, professional certifications can easily make you stand out from the crowd. If you've decided to take the plunge and seek a technical certification, your next step is to find a program that's appropriate for your skill level, willingness to learn and career aspirations.

If you're seeking a database position in a small-scale environment where you'll be working only with Microsoft Access databases, you might want to consider the Microsoft Office User Specialist program. This entry-level certification provides employers with an assurance from Microsoft that you're familiar with the features of Microsoft Access databases. The certification process involves only one examination and experienced Access users should be able to tackle it with a minimal amount of preparation. If you've never used Access before, you might want to consider taking a class or reading through a couple of certification-oriented books before attempting the exam.

On the other hand, if you've set your sights higher than working with Microsoft Access, you might want to consider one of the more advanced certification programs. Microsoft offers the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) program for experienced Microsoft SQL Server administrators. This program involves taking a series of four challenging certification examinations. This program is definitely not for the faint of heart and successful completion requires real hands-on SQL Server experience. However, if you make it through the certification process, you'll be joining an elite club of certified database professionals.

Not interested in SQL Server? Is Oracle more your style? Rest assured, Oracle offers a similar certification, Oracle Certified Professional. This program offers a variety of certification tracks and specialties, but most require between five and six computed-based examinations that demonstrate your database knowledge in a variety of subject areas. This prestigious program is also extremely difficult and requires hands-on experience for successful completion.

Now you know what employers are looking for. Where do you stand? Is there a specific area where your resume is a little weak? If you've identified something you can do to increase your marketability, do it!