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The age of the database administrator is over

(Image credit: Image Credit: The Digital Artist / Pixabay)

Where are all the database administrators (DBAs)?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), the number of database admin jobs in the USA between the years 2000 and 2016 increased by just over five per cent (6,000), up from 108,000 in 2000 to 114,000 in 2016.

At the same time, the amount of data generated and stored has grown exponentially and continues to do so. There is now more data—and more databases—in the world than ever before. And the number keeps increasing. So, can the role of DBA keep pace with this massive growth in both the volume and importance of data and databases?

It can, thanks to automation. While complex tools and systems are increasingly taking on roles and responsibilities that DBAs once provided (such as backup and restore, service outages, and query tuning), there’s still an important role for this community. In fact, rather than displacing DBAs, automation is not only redefining the role, but also liberating it from the more onerous and mundane aspects of the job.

Automation brings freedom

Thanks to automation, DBAs can now administer a larger number of databases than was previously possible. Furthermore, automation frees them up to perform more “human” tasks. Rather than having to constantly monitor network availability and server performance or implement disaster recovery measures, they instead get to focus on more advanced and complex scientific data matters like architecture, design, engineering, and analytics.

Data is the lifeblood of every aspect of our increasingly digitalised society. Data security and privacy are therefore mission-critical to an organisation’s daily operations. Consequently, automated security, privacy, and access management are included in the widespread cloud-based storage and hosting services offered by the likes of Amazon® and Microsoft®.

These functions were once the responsibility of the DBA. Today, a low-cost automated security feature can identify and respond to the common security threat of human error, whether it’s highlighting a vulnerability in newly-written code or alerting the DBA to an attack.

A new role and responsibilities

Humans still have a significant part to play in data security in terms of planning and implementing an effective security strategy. An empowered DBA who’s liberated from the humdrum day-to-day tasks of database administration has the time and space to take a holistic view of the data in his or her charge.

They can make informed decisions as to which data assets require a particular level of security and privacy—and can design the database with the necessary safeguards and access rights in place.

This is one of the positive impacts of automation: freeing the team to do advanced, human-based tasks such as architecture, design, and analytics. That’s why the role and responsibilities of DBAs today increasingly focus more on application processing and data analytics.

The position formerly known as DBA

The term “database administrator” is itself open to a range of interpretations. The BLS has no way of knowing if other organisations and companies share its definition of a DBA’s role and responsibilities.

From my experience, the DBA’s focus is—or rather, used to be—data recovery. But this is no longer the case when data recovery is now an automated feature within a larger hosted cloud or Data as a Service (DaaS) bundle.

The changes resulting from the expansion of automation, plus the increasing reliance on cloud, means that the term “data professional” is a far more accurate way to describe the position formerly known as DBA.

These people are uniquely positioned to see and understand how data moves in and out on a daily basis. They’re able therefore to take on other interconnected roles such as developer, architect, business analyst, or data scientist.

How to become a “data professional”

So, what’s the best advice for someone that wants to become a data professional in 2019?

Firstly, don’t specialise in anything that’s now available as an automated feature in Microsoft Azure or AWS®. The rapid pace of change means deep knowledge of these features is nice-to-have, but won't be necessary as time goes on.

Second, focus on learning tasks humans will need to do for a longer time, including data security, design, architecture, and analytics. There’s a huge demand worldwide for those with analytics in their skillset, and that’s only set to increase.

Thanks to automation, the role of the DBA is evolving into a blend of developer and data architect. Many of the tasks that DBAs oversee today such as backups, restores, security, configuration, and query tuning can (and are) being automated away.

Time to focus on the things we’re good at

Far from replacing DBAs, automation is instead changing the role and liberating these professionals to do more than was previously possible. Thanks to breakthroughs in automation, we can now let tools and systems take on the tasks that they’re designed to be good at, such as backup and restore, security, configuration, and query tuning.

In turn, this means that humans can focus on the things they’re good at: asking questions, analysing and interpreting results, and arriving at conclusions. The result? Data professionals can move up the value chain and spend their time working with and analysing data to identify trends and extract insights to help organisations make informed choices and decisions. Being skilled and proficient in this area can set an individual up for the next twenty years.

Thomas LaRock,  Head Geek, SolarWinds
Image Credit: The Digital Artist / Pixabay