Is the Database Administration Profession Disappearing or Just Evolving?

I was recently chatting with other database professionals, and one of them shared his feeling that the IT profession is a lot like running on a treadmill with a giant mallet behind you that is continuously smashing anything that slows down or stands still.

With this in mind, it’s safe to say that most IT jobs are constantly evolving. However, with new tools available that allow companies to monitor database resources, pinpoint the root cause of problems, speed up applications, and prevent crashes, it’s natural to wonder if companies will need DBAs at all in the future. Especially because some of these tools make many of the traditional tasks simple enough for non-DBAs to perform.

To respond to this line of thinking, I want to look back in time. Back in 2000, one of the big trends was component-based development. This was the beginning of SOA architecture, when COM in .NET and EJBs in Java promised to make application development simpler.

It was easy to imagine a future with prebuilt components and web services that would perform every task imaginable. The world would not need any more developers (except for those building these components or application modules), and application development was going to evolve into simply wiring the components together. This was the future analysts and experts forecasted.

However, this is obviously not the future we live in. To the contrary, the demand for developers, DBAs, and other skilled IT professionals has continually increased despite advances in technology that promise to simplify and automate things.

Why? Even as technology allows us to do more things and improve many aspects of our world, complexity continues to increase. In fact, a recent SolarWinds survey of IT pros found that 94% feel increased infrastructure complexity has at least somewhat affected the role of IT during the past 3-5 years, with 42% saying it has greatly affected IT. So, while technology does make trivial and repetitive tasks simpler, experts must still be involved in solving more complex problems where their skill adds more value.

For example, modern database tools can help monitor and pinpoint problems, but they will never be smart enough or have enough context to solve all problems. These tools may provide the ability to pinpoint root causes, have better visibility into how systems are performing, correlate events across technology layers, and drill down into specific areas of problems, but expert DBAs ultimately still need to analyze data and then apply proper solutions.

It’s similar to how digital cameras have eliminated the need for dark room film processing, and technologies such as auto-focus have eliminated the need to manually adjust a focusing ring to get a sharp subject. Such advancements in photography have not diminished the need for the artistic ability of photographers. Professional photographers are still in high demand even as more people have access to high quality cameras. If anything, the world appreciates professional photography now more than ever.

Similarly, we will continue to need DBAs for a long time. In fact, the world will require even more skilled DBAs that are specialists in specific databases and that at the same time have a broader scope of expertise beyond just databases to understand how databases influence application performance, and end user experience, and how storage, virtualization and other resources impact databases. Not to mention cloud, in-memory databases, and NoSQL. Evaluating these technologies and applying them to maximize availability, scalability, and performance is and will remain the job of a DBA.

In summary, the risk to DBAs and technology professionals as a whole is not that their jobs are going away, but that they opt to not take the time to understand and use the tools and technologies that will allow them to be better professionals, putting them at a significant disadvantage to their peers and limiting their ability to add value to the organization, therefore limiting their careers.