So You Want to Become an Oracle DBA? Part 1 – Getting Close to Oracle

This is the first of a two-part series about how you can become an Oracle DBA in today’s almost non-existent DBA job market. This article focuses on gateway jobs, which are easier to obtain and give you exposure to Oracle. The second article will focus on ways to learn Oracle and get the most out of your training dollar.

Despite the slow job market for even experienced DBA’s, many people are still interested in pursuing this career field. The truth of the matter is that Oracle database administration is hard in at least two ways: hard to learn and hard to get into. Moreover, in many cases, as plenty of people can attest to, once you become a DBA, there is no guarantee you will stay employed as one. There are lots of Oracle DBA’s who have gone back to plumbing and dry walling.

I recently saw a post on an Oracle-related website where the poster was asking for information about starting salaries for DBA’s with no experience, but who had some training and, perhaps, a certification. The poster was asking for this information so he could complete his application for federally funded education he “earned” for having his job re-located outside of the US. Unfortunately, for the poster, he was not allowed to move with his former job.

It is amazing that our tax dollars are paying government workers to advise laid-off workers to become Oracle DBA’s. Which hidden job market have these government workers tapped into that routinely hires inexperienced (and maybe even certified) database administrator wanna-be’s? Certainly, it is not a job market which exists today in the United States, nor one that has existed in the last several years, and depressingly, not likely to be present in the foreseeable future either. But, you say, you really want to become an Oracle DBA.

The good news is this: you can become an Oracle DBA, but here is the truth of the matter: there are practically zero jobs or job postings looking for DBA’s with zero years of experience. “Entry level” in the Oracle DBA job world typically means 3-5 years of experience. Your IT certificate from the local community college means practically nothing. Your Oracle Certified Professional certificate may mean even less to some hiring managers (they don’t know what it is, they’ve been burned by the paper MCSE, they value experience over a piece of paper, and so on). In this case, a certificate’s true value lies within helping you get an interview with a company that uses Oracle.

If you find yourself in the position of having or wanting to learn a new trade or skill, and want to be in the IT industry, your best bet is to target a job where little-to-no experience is required and is often expected. Use your federal scholarship or tuition to learn something that will make you more immediately employable. Three excellent areas are Windows administration, help desk and software testing. Your number one goal is to eat, and you need a job to make that happen. Once you are eating, courtesy of a regular paycheck, you can implement your plan to become a DBA.

There are several reasons why these three job areas are good gateways into database administration. Let’s look at SQA (software quality assurance) first. In some companies, SQA is a step above testing, and in other companies, it is the same thing – depending on the size of the company and how many other QA type of people are employed. With testing, you get to interact with the help desk and developers, often times acting as an intermediary. You verify problems reported by the help desk, and you verify solutions created by the developers. You get to learn applications, operating systems and programs. Ideally, the company you work for uses the Oracle RDBMS, and even better for you, uses other Oracle products (forms, reports, application server, and the even harder to get into field of Oracle Apps). If you have experience with programming languages, SQA is a better way to go. And if the DBA thing loses its appeal, SQA is a career field in its own right and generally pays well down the road.

If you do not know any programming languages, then right behind SQA is the help desk position. If you get this job, learn what you need to learn to do well here, but start looking for something higher up in the food chain (Tier II or III), or a help desk position which requires more in-depth knowledge of Oracle. The entry-level help desk job is just to get your foot in the door. Once you are in, start working on your Oracle training and education.

Learning operating system administration skills, whether it is Windows or UNIX, helps you immensely as a DBA. The type of company you are looking for uses Windows, UNIX and Oracle. Your entry point here is that of a level one/tier one Windows help desk/tech support worker. You field questions from users (“I can’t find the any key”). You quickly learn and master the Windows admin part of your job while soaking up everything you can about UNIX and Oracle (which often go hand-in-hand). Offer to help the DBA’s with their scut work, even if it means you are creating 1000 users a day. At least you are administering Oracle. A lot of “entry-level DBA” positions stay within a company, and already working there is 90% of the battle.

A quick aside about UNIX system administration: it has very little to offer in the way of entry-level positions, and as a career field, you generally have to renounce your sense of humor and social skills to stay employed. Your local community college, as an example, may offer Sun’s Solaris Admin I and II courses through Sun’s academic initiative (and at a price much, much lower than what you’d pay if you took the courses from Sun). Take these courses (generally covered in one semester). Remember to stay focused on your Oracle game plan, but if the UNIX world appeals to you, count on being an “Army of One” and working in dark, dank and cold server rooms. Sunlight and outdoor activities will become your enemy. The concept here is to know how to be a UNIX system administrator, but not actually be one.

In general, once you land one of these jobs, you can become Oracle Sponge-Bob. Focus on your critical job requirements, and what is leftover you spend on Oracle. Earning a certificate related to Oracle at this point, possibly with help from your company’s tuition reimbursement or training benefit plan, has two advantages. One is that learning Oracle is easier if you have already had some hands-on experience or exposure, and the other is that you improve your value to your company, which is always a good thing. Now that this article has helped you formulate a job search plan aimed at helping you eat on a regular basis, we will look at inexpensive ways to learn Oracle in the next article.

» See All Articles by Columnist Steve Callan

Steve Callan
Steve Callan
Steve is an Oracle DBA (OCP 8i and 9i)/developer working in Denver. His Oracle experience also includes Forms and Reports, Oracle9iAS and Oracle9iDS.

Latest Articles