IT Employers Must Adapt to the Looming DBA Shortage

In the first column in this three-part series, available here, I described some of the findings contained in an intriguing new survey published by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc. (Details here.)  In that article, I covered the macroeconomic and general trends that pointed to a looming shortage of DBA talent. In part 2 of the series, I described some of the issues and opportunities these trends offer to current and up-and-coming DBAs. Today, let’s talk about what this trend means from perspective of IT employers.

IT Organizations under Pressure

If you lead a team of DBAs or run an IT organization, you’ve probably already felt the pinch of finding talented DBAs. In macroeconomic terms, demand is rising sharply while supply is tight and shrinking. DBAs are among the most sought-after of IT professionals and, despite the fact that US News & World Report ranks the DBA profession as the #5 best IT job and the #12 overall best professional job, are among the hardest to find. This shortage is continuing to drive the phenomena of "accidental DBAs," people who are forced to do the work of a DBA without the training.

“The accidental DBA is something we are encountering more and more. For whatever reason—the IT team is too small, the cost is too high, unexpected turnover, whatever—companies often put people without core DBA skills into DBA roles and it doesn’t always work,” said Randy Knight (@randy_knight), founder of the SQL Solutions Group, and a Microsoft Certified Master.

The negative effects of this shortage are not hard to imagine. The cost for talented DBAs is rising. The time required to fill an open position is growing. Turnover is accelerating, as better opportunities appear elsewhere at firms that pay better, offer more training and benefits, or simply have cooler or more meaningful work to do. And even in well-run IT shops, stress levels are high because of the stressful workloads and 24x7 responsibilities of the DBAs manning a ship with too few deckhands.

Coping Strategies

It’s not all gloom and doom however. Strategic minded organizations with an eye on mitigating future risks can get ahead of the curve to ensure that they’re able to cope. Here are some recommendations:

Internal Training and Grooming

Consider your current staff of Devs, QA, and Admins as your own recruiting field. It's a lot easier to replace .NET or Java Dev or generalist SysAdmin with new hires than to find a truly skilled DBA. So, if you have internal candidates whom you can promote from within, take the step. In fact, I recommend you start their training now! And because there is so much high-quality on-line training available at a reasonable price (my recommendation is PluralSight), you should begin right away in anticipation of your needs a year or two hence.

Remote DBA Service Providers

 Just as you might seek a service provider for accounting, sales, or back-office manpower, you should also consider remote DBA service provides. Many IT shops are finding that it’s easier than hiring FTEs and more cost-effective than using high-priced on-site consults. DBA service providers are specialists who already have a deep bench of experienced data professionals on hand, allowing their customers to elastically stretch or contract the amount of database-related work they undertake without the downside of over-hiring.

"There are a variety of reasons why remote DBA services are important to our clients. Some have short-term needs, such as protecting their business after a DBA’s departure until they can hire a replacement. Others only need half a DBA, but how do you hire half a DBA? And for others a full-time DBA might be a stretch for their budget. We are able to help them all," observes Michael Corey (@Michael_corey), president, Ntirety – A Division of Hosting.


It’s expensive, but sometimes you need to have your team members on-site every day. That’s when it’s time to call in the consultants. While consultants are often the most expensive option, you also have greater visibility into their activities, greater security, and more selectivity for their exact skill set.

What are your experiences in finding and retaining true DBA talent? Is it harder or easier than it was a decade ago? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Best regards,


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