Evaluating a DBA Job Offer

As a DBA,  it is almost inevitable that you will change jobs several times during your career. When making a job change, you will obviously consider requirements such as salary, bonus, benefits, frequency of reviews, and amount of vacation time. However, you also should consider how the company  "treats" their DBAs. Different organizations place different value on the DBA job. It is imperative to your career development that you scout for progressive organizations that understand the complexity and ongoing learning requirements for the position.

Here Are Some Useful Questions to Ask:

Does the company offer regular training for its DBAs to learn new DBMS features and functionality?

As a DBA you need to be well-versed on the latest and greatest features of the DBMSs you manage. And, on average, there will be a new version to contend with every 18 to 24 months. Although it may be possible to learn the basics by reading the WHAT'S NEW manual and skimming through the voluminous, additional manuals, some formal training is warranted to get the most out of a new version of the DBMS.

What about training for related technologies such as programming, networking, ebusiness, transaction management, message queuing, and the like?

DBAs are also called upon to administer more than just databases these days. A top notch employer will allow its DBAs to be trained in new technologies ... as well as given time for independent learning through reading books and articles.

Does the company allow DBAs to regularly attend local user groups?

What about annual user groups at remote locations? User groups are essential for networking with others who perform the same, or similar, job duties. By attending local user group meetings, you can not only get inexpensive training through watching the presentations but you can also exchange ideas with your peers. Moreover, local user groups have little-to-no cost, other than the time out of the office.

Annual user groups, on the other hand, can be very costly, but the educational benefit, as well as the opportunity to learn from peers, cannot be underestimated.

On a somewhat-related point, there is a lot of free technical information made available by consultants and vendors via webcasts. By paying attention to the webcast invitations you receive via email (and perhaps run across in blogs) you can pick up useful information while sitting at your desk. Some organizations prohibit employees from participating in webcasts so be sure that this is not the case when interviewing for that new job.

Are there backup DBAs, or will you be the only one on call 24/7?

Nobody wants to be the only DBA on call, every night, all the time, on weekends, holidays, etc. And if there is no backup, what happens if you take a vacation? Is it really a vacation if you have to carry a company cellphone everywhere you go?

Are there data administration and system administration organizations, or are the DBAs expected to perform all of these duties, too? 

The role of a DBA is a full-time job but some organizations expect the DBA staff to handle data administration (e.g., data modeling) and system administration (e.g., installation) duties, too. Depending on the volume of work this might not be a deal breaker, but be cautious.

Does the DBA group view its relationship with application development groups as a partnership-or is the relationship more antagonistic?

A partnership is essential in order to produce optimally performing database applications. And if you do not have applications that perform well, then the DBA job will be burdensome.

Are DBAs included in design reviews, budgeting discussions, and other high-level IT committees and functions?

The more involved the DBA team is in the overall IT strategy the better prepared the company's databases will be to support the required work ... and the easier your job will be as a DBA.

The more "yes" answers you get to these questions, the more progressive the DBA environment is. Be sure to ask these questions during your interview. It will show that you have experience and that you care about your career. Be sure to research the answers later, too. Ask those who used to work there about the company, and also ask anyone you know (remember those user groups) that currently works there. Sometimes the answers given by the workers will not exactly match those given by the interviewer.

Keep in mind, too, that these are not the only questions you need to ask. And good luck with your DBA career!