How to Become a DB2 DBA

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It is interesting to me the number of paths there are to database administration. I thought my path was pretty typical.

I got my associates degree by the time I was 18, then took a couple of years off from college. While taking those years off, I worked as an accounting clerk. I liked the job well enough, and figured that would be my career. I even took a few accounting classes thinking I’d go back to school for it. But during this time, I met my husband. He was working his way from a receptionist job into an IT job – your basic small-company networking and desktop support. But this was during the dot-com bubble and this company was a bubble company. They sent him to full MCSE training classes, and he got his MCSE on their dime. When we met, we were making about the same amount. In about two years, he had doubled his salary, and I saw how much more dynamic and interesting his work was than mine. We’ve been competing for who makes the most money ever since(I just passed him up again this week with a promotion!).

During this time, the company I was working for implemented a new accounting system. I thought they didn’t do such a great job and that I could learn to do better, and so found a decent bachelor’s degree program where I could major in business related Computer Management Systems, and also concentrate in Database Administration. It was Oracle 8i, but there was an awesome actual administration class, where you learned not the standard database design and SQL, but you learned the detailed physical administration. When I graduated, just as the bubble was bursting, I got a job at IBM. I went in saying I wanted to be a DBA, and joined a large department of DBAs – some of us coming in at the same time did SQL server and some did Oracle, but I ended up in DB2. IBM was decent in the training and it was a good starting salary.

That’s the story of how I became a DBA. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s actually rare to come into a job out of college as a DBA. Most people come into it from other specialties. When I was taking an Oracle class a year or two ago, the instructor asked who came to database administration from systems administration, and who came from development. About half the class came from each – I was the only one who started my technology career in database administration.

It’s still a question I get from other specialties or from more junior developers or engineers from time to time – “How do I become a DBA?”

There is no one path to becoming a DBA, but there is some advice I can give.

Find a Mentor

If you’re already in the IT field, then you probably know a DBA or two at your company. Call them up and ask them. While DBAs have a reputation for being stand-offish and not very patient, a lot of us don’t really fit that reputation. I just love it when someone at my company wants to learn more about databases. I take time for them and love to do what I can to help them figure out if it’s a direction they want to go. Look, the worst they can do is say “NO”.

If you can’t find someone at your company or college, then the next place to look is online. Pick someone who writes about database topics, especially if there’s a specific RDBMS (like DB2) that you’re interested in. Ask them about themselves and how they got where they are. Ask for learning resources and tips. A lot of us love to talk about ourselves. =)

Educate Yourself

Education is never a bad thing, and there’s a lot of material out there on Databases in general and specific RDBMSes and about SQL. Start with a basic book on what databases are and why they do things they way they do – the type of book they use in a college level course. Learning about databases is an area where a basic foundation can really help.

Create yourself a free DB2 Express-C database (or use other free software from other vendors), and play with it. Maybe come up with a project that requires a database – a website or an application, and figure out how to make that database work – if possible, install the software yourself and figure things out. There are books and plenty of free material to help you in this area.

If you have or can get a job that has some interaction with databases, especially at a smaller company, you may be able to get them to send you to training. There are good college courses too. If you already have some database knowledge, it’s easier to get into a job where you can get more. DBAs tend to be a highly paid specialty, and that means that some companies are willing to take someone with the right background and send them to training, even if that person is at the entry level.

Volunteer

There are a lot of small non-profits and other groups out there who need help with their IT. This might be a good place to find a project to educate yourself with. Even better if it’s a bit larger organization who may have other IT volunteers or even paid staff that you can work with and learn from.

What Skills/Qualities Make a Good DBA?

If a person puts their mind to it, they can do just about anything. But I’ve seen some people who are better at being a DBA and some who are worse at it. In my not-so-humble opinion, there are several skill or qualities that are indicators of success. My short description of a good DBA is a detail-oriented control freak.

  1. Attention to detail – you’re dealing with a lot of data, and sometimes you really have to deal with the data. Also you need to keep an eye on a lot of details across databases to keep things running. There are an amazing array of details that you should be paying attention to every week for every database.
  2. Curiosity – A lot of times the DBA is the only DBA a company has, and if you don’t have the curiosity to learn what’s going on outside your field of responsibility, you’re not being the best DBA you can
  3. Drive to figure things out – again, you may be the only DBA your company has, so that means there isn’t always someone to ask. An unsolved issue is like an itchy wool sweater to me – even if it isn’t causing problems, I want to do something about it
  4. Self-starter – many times you’re not just charged with knowing how to do things, but what to do. Very few IT generalists are going to tell you do runstats or to find problem SQL – you have to tell them what you need to do. Oddly enough, this can be as true in larger companies as smaller ones.
  5. Bravery – if you have to figure out what to do, you also have to be willing to stand up to project managers who don’t think you actually have to do those things and don’t want the time in their project for them. You have to convince the alphabet-soup guys why they need to spend money to upgrade software that the end-user doesn’t even see.

So, readers, please share – how did you become a DBA? Any suggestions for those wanting to be DBAs or ideas on what makes a good DBA? I want to hear from you in the comments!

Lead Db2 Database Engineer and Service Delivery Manager , XTIVIA
Ember is always curious and thrives on change. Working in IT provides a lot of that change, but after 17 years developing a top-level expertise on Db2 for mid-range servers and more than 7 years blogging about it, Ember is hungry for new challenges and looks to expand her skill set to the Data Engineering role for Data Science. With in-depth SQL and RDBMS knowledge, Ember shares both posts about her core skill set and her journey into Data Science. Ember lives in Denver and work from home for XTIVIA, leading a team of Db2 DBAs.

18 comments

  1. Its a very good post started by you EMBER ……………..

    Well im not going to ask suggestion for wanting to be a DBA as im already ………..rather i would give some ……..rather harsh pointed

    DBA is not an easy job …………remember if you decide to become to a DBA , then that moment itself you started the most painful moments in your life………….

    In other way

    Its the most loving job if you have some passion of being a DBA

    Well why im telling this ……………..as you are the only one in the whole categories of the sector who deals directly with the data……………when i say data ,dont take it data , take it as DATA with the bold letters and underline it …as the only important term in the real world now is DATA .

    So EMBER its better to suggest people with the line “DARE TO BE A DBA”

  2. Hi Ember

    Like you article. I’m trying to step in to the DB2 DBA for LUW. But to my surprise there are very few blogs and study material available for DB2 LUW except docs provided by IBM. I’m also a bit confused as where to start reading. Can you please tell me the study path that I need to follow to be a DB2 DBA. The online courses and CBT are very expensive and I can not afford it.

    Regards.

    1. First off, I’d make sure you had a copy of DB2 somewhere you can play with – this could be as little as the free express-c installed on your home computer, or preferably a linux VM with express-c or some other distribution installed where you can just play around without worrying about impacting anyone else. My favorite free or cheap resources are geared towards certification, but you don’t have to have that as your goal for it to work.

      First, there’s a good tutorial series here: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/offers/lp/db2cert/db2-cert730.html

      My next choice, in addition to those tutorials would be a book. I knew the best ones well back for v7 and v8, but I don’t know the entry level DB2 9 or 10 ones as well.
      I loved the version 8 edition of this one: http://www.amazon.com/Linux-UNIX-Windows-Database-Administration/dp/1583470778/ref=sr_1_29?ie=UTF8&qid=1348437280&sr=8-29&keywords=db2+administration
      This one looks decent and has some name authors:
      http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-DB2-Learning-Visually-Examples/dp/0131580183/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1348436864&sr=8-2&keywords=db2+administration

      Hope something there helps.

    1. There are some decent training paths here:
      https://www-304.ibm.com/services/learning/ites.wss/zz/en?pageType=page&c=P681640Z61692V07
      Though, those tend to include some very sales-oriented courses.

      My big recommendation for a class would be:
      http://www-304.ibm.com/jct03001c/services/learning/ites.wss/us/en?pageType=course_description&includeNotScheduled=y&courseCode=CL2X3

      You can find it for other geographies by searching on “CL21” here:
      http://www-304.ibm.com/jct03001c/services/learning/ites.wss/zz/en?pageType=tp_search_results&rowStart=0&rowsToReturn=100&searchString=CL21&Search=Search

      It is an excellent hands-on class for dbas with no experience or early in their career. If you ever get to choose an instructor, I highly recommend Melanie Stopfer, though I’m not sure she teaches the basic class. If you have a company-sponsored need, you can also get an instructor to come on-site and teach you hands-on with your own systems. I’ve never been in a position to do that, but I think it’s one of my dream jobs, except for the travel.

  3. After my engineering I got selected as a DB2 DBA.
    I am working as a DB2 DBA for around 1.5 yrs.
    I handle PROD,UAT and DEV environment along with my other colleagues.

    I would like to perform some activities like Fix Pack Installation, Version Migration…etc
    Can someone send me resource or links for the same ??
    I would be grateful 🙂

    Regards,
    Ashish
    Mail id: ameyshetti@yahoo.com

    1. The readme that comes with the fixpack is a good resource for a fixpack, along with: http://www-01.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/SSEPGG_10.5.0/com.ibm.db2.luw.qb.server.doc/doc/t0006352.html?cp=SSEPGG_10.5.0%2F2-0-8&lang=en

      For version upgrades the absolute authoritative source is Melanie Stopfer’s presentations on upgrade. She gives them at most conferences. I don’t see an online version right now, though I thought she had done it as an online tech talk, too.

    1. The conferences, especially IDUG conferences are the best source of training out there, if you ask me. There are always good sessions on HADR. I imagine on Q replication too.

  4. Hi Ember,

    I am db2 LUW DBA for last 9 years ….. but recently I have started feeling the db2 LUW market share is declining and I am not getting much opportunities to work on this … I also think that do industry really need DBA with skill more than 9 years … although I keep my self-updated with latest db2 LUW release .. I am finding it difficult to get more opportunities. …
    I need your advice what area a DBA should move into after 9-10 years of experience to be in market today … is it Big Data DB like Casandra , Mongo DB or some other stuff…like IBM WCS ( Webspere Commerce ) etc…. please advise…. Or shall I start equipping myself with more RDBMS products like Oracle , Teradata etc….

    1. I still see a lot of opportunities out there for experienced, talented DB2 dbas. I think there are ways to further your career within DB2 – blogging, writing articles, presenting at users groups and conferences. Personally I’m sticking with DB2, and I think that 9 years is a fine amount of experience. The DB2Night show shared an interesting map of where the db2 jobs seem to be last week.

      There are many good directions to go if you want to move away from DB2. I’ve been yearning a bit to go after a master’s degree in data science – not tied to any one platform. Broadening can be a good strategy if you want to work at smaller companies – Oracle is my first pick as more similar to DB2 than to some of the others, much as I haven’t really enjoyed it. Specializing in an area like WCS is a strategy in the other direction – narrower rather than broader. If you already have application specific skills like SAP or WCS or some other application, then they could be useful to pull on. They are all valid directions to go, and I think there’s growth available in all directions – it just depends on what you enjoy and if you’re tied to a specific area, what’s available in your area.

  5. hai Ember, firstly a good valuable article..
    well, I want to know if finding a db2 luw dba job is getting thinner as i hear from outsiders. And is the market of db2 luw already declined or declining in the coming years thereby again finding a dba job will be more tuff.
    Regards.

  6. Hi Ember,
    Thanks for your post, i do have 6 months of experience as DB2 LUW DBA in IBM. Now i quit from IBM due to my personnel problems, all my problems are got cleared and presently i am trying get into a new organization. Is this 6 months of experience enough????.

    1. 6 months is still a very junior DBA. 2 years is what I think of as a minimum for someone I shouldn’t have to train as extensively, and even that is on the lower side. It depends highly on the person and the type of work you have been doing.

  7. Am SQL DBA and am planning to learn DB2 ,, Please any one help me to start my life with DB2 in right way…. Thanks in advance

  8. Hello DB2 DBA Experts, Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your experience..I am curios about this role and i am currently a System Analyst supporting Payroll in the U.S. I was just thinking if I should switch my career to a Database Administration or just like you guys do…but don’t know where to start….need your advise here. thanks in advance.

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