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Advice for becoming an expert DBA

SQL Server 2005 expert Adam Machanic offers general guidelines for becoming an expert DBA.

I want to become an expert DBA, but I'm not sure about the best approach. I have basic knowledge of databases like SQL Server 2000, Oracle8, Access and FoxPro. Can you please provide some ways I can get started on the right foot?
This is a broad question, as there are many different kinds of DBAs and everyone has a different definition of what "expert" means. That said, I think I can help with some general guidelines.

First, choose your specialty. The best DBAs I know specialize in some particular area. If you come from a development...

background, you might choose to specialize in database development, leveraging your previous knowledge of data access and application development methodologies. If you come from an IT background, you might choose to become more of a "systems management" kind of DBA, working on performance, replication, clustering, monitoring, and other high availability issues. Finally, if you come from a business background you might choose to focus on business intelligence, including OLAP and reporting technologies or ETL processes.

Choose an area you're really interested in, because the best DBAs I've met are somewhat obsessed. And the most important quality of a great DBA, in my opinion, is a thirst for knowledge. You should strive to learn everything you can about databases, database development, and especially about your employer's business. Great DBAs own the data that runs the business. If you can't understand the rules behind the data, you're not going to be able to do a very good job.

Finally, work hard and make sure to check your ego at the door. There is no excuse for laziness or rudeness in the workplace. It doesn't matter how much you know or how much you think you know if you don't do your job well or if you alienate your fellow employees. Always remember that interpersonal skills are even more important than technical skill in this field. In the end, your career will be influenced a lot more by the long-term relationships you build than by your expertise, which can render itself outdated in a surprisingly short amount of time.

This was last published in January 2006

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