Database Management Profile

Read this profile of a database manager to see if this is the right field for you.

Blake Harps
Database Administrator
All Star Directories
Seattle, Washington

What exactly is database management?

database manager, blake harps, at his desk

In my experience, database management consists of all of the administration tasks related to maintaining a database system. This includes monitoring the databases and their host systems for uptime and other key statistics, scheduling and validating database backups, and tweaking and tuning the database engines for better performance.

Database management is less about working with data, and more about protecting the data and ensuring that it is available for those who work with it.

What does your job at All Star entail?

I serve as the subject-matter expert on our various database implementations and I am the main escalation point for all database issues. While I'm only technically on call one week out of the month, I have to be prepared 24/7 if someone else on the team escalates a database issue to me.

On a day-to-day basis, I am responsible for a large number preventive maintenance tasks. These range from restoring and validating backup copies of our databases to monitoring our systems to ensure they are appropriately configured. I am also responsible for deploying, configuring and documenting new database systems.

How does problem solving come into play?

I'm confronted with issues every day that require me to do root-cause analysis or create a process from scratch. I have to backtrack from either a basic error message or pattern of behaviors to find all of the contributing factors, and then come up with potential solutions to our database problems. Each piece of the puzzle starts to come into focus a little more as you move through the process.

What are the best and worst parts of the job?

The best part of database management is the feeling of accomplishment I get after completing a large project or successfully solving a difficult problem. I'll be fairly stressed for a period of time while I wrap my head around an issue, but when it's over I can look back and see what I've created or fixed, and relax knowing that I was able to handle it. I'm also constantly learning on the job, and I feel that I get better at database management every day.

The worst part of my job is the initial stress of knowing that if something goes wrong, you are in charge of protecting an extremely valuable company asset. However, if you've planned well and have a good understanding of the environment, you can either avoid disasters or recover from them pretty easily.

I do occasionally have to work nights or weekends, but typically it's limited to maybe one night during the week I'm on call. If we have scheduled a nighttime data or application release, I have to be at a computer or on a conference call in case of rollback.

What is the best database management training?

There are lots of training courses available online that are focused on particular relational database systems, such as MySQL, MSSQL or Oracle. However, before spending money and enrolling in any of those, I think it's beneficial to get some basic IT training and perhaps an intro to relational databases. Then you can get a degree in database management knowing you have a great IT background.

What personal qualities are important?

In my mind, there are three traits a successful database manager must exhibit:

  • Attention to detail
  • The capability to logically think through a problem—especially under pressure
  • An aptitude for articulating your findings to both technical and non-technical audiences

Do you have any words of advice for students?

I'd recommend going to school to pursue a computer science or a professional information technology degree. Not all schools have an information-technology focused department or degree, but I think it's worthwhile to search out those that do. I'd also start wide and then narrow your focus. Database management is a fairly specialized area, so getting a broad understanding of typical IT infrastructures and processes—and then drilling down to databases once you feel comfortable—is preferable. Learning the basics of relational databases and then moving on to particular platforms is also standard.