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selcouthstranger's avatar

How feasible is a career change to database administration?

Asked by selcouthstranger (101 points ) September 6th, 2010

I have recently decided becoming a lawyer is not for me; after three years of working in the legal field as a non-attorney and agonizing over whether or not to attend law school, I have realized I simply don’t want to become an attorney, nor do I want to accrue the debt needed to become one. So, over the past few weeks I’ve been researching other careers. Of everything I’ve researched, I think database administration is the most interesting, would satiate my passion for math, problem solving and learning new languages, and my interest in learning some actual technical skills beyond critical thinking and deductive reasoning (which, on their own, simply do not seem “enough”). I also know that this field is growing enormously and I think it would be exciting to be a part of that. It also just seems like a fun job.

However, I don’t know any programming languages, haven’t studied math since high school, and regrettably, did not take any computer science courses in college. I realize the inherent limitations on any responses, as you don’t know my aptitude for learning computer languages, but assuming I am relatively smart and am willing to work hard to catch up, is getting into this field this late in the game possible? (I’m hoping yes.) If yes, then does anyone have any recommendations as to how? How difficult would it be to learn SQL and Oracle, etc. on my own, or would I need to take fundamental courses in math, statistics and programming as prerequisites? Will I be severely disadvantaged without having a BA in computer science (mine is comparative literature)? Any help would be very much appreciated!

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4 Answers

BarnacleBill's avatar

I would think that this, coupled with data mining, would be a great field to go into. Businesses run on making the most of their data.

YARNLADY's avatar

A career change nearly always means starting at the bottom of the pack, so be prepared for that. It often also requires extensive training. If you already have experience in the new career, you will be in a better position to cross over.

jerv's avatar

Being a DBA requires more than just a bit of computer skill, programming ability, etcetera. A trained monkey could create a database, (and I’d swear that some places actually did use monkeys to make their database) if they know SQL.

However, to be able to do it good enough to get (and keep) a job requires an intuitive grasp of data structures. You can get that with the right classes, but the only people I know who manage it without a couple of years of college are all autistic, so you’re probably looking at taking at least a couple of courses. Statistics generally isn’t necessary (though it doesn’t hurt) and the math is often pretty basic, but the programming often means either another class or a bit of outside learning. Personally, I never managed to learn a language through self-study, but I don’t really have a talent for languages in the first place.

Like many other jobs, you also need to know what your superiors really want, what they actually need, and how both of those often differ from what they tell you. Trust me, if you give them what they tell you to give them, they will not be happy.

You should also familiarize yourself with Linux/UNIX, as you will likely be dealing with servers that do not run Windows, and may not even be running a GUI. You don’t need to be a guru who bangs together Perl scripts for giggles, but you need to at least be able to get around.

It is a pretty competitive field right now, and a pretty tricky one to get into. I won’t discourage you from trying (especially since it seems like you like a challenge) but be warned that it won’t be a cakewalk. Also, what you need for the job isn’t exactly what they say is needed. But if you do manage to get a job, it is fun, challenging, and generally pays pretty well.

camertron's avatar

Database administration is a field that really needs good people in my opinion. Remember that most college graduates don’t end up doing what they majored in, so you really aren’t that disadvantaged by not having a BA in computer science. If you have an agile mind, which it appears you do, getting into the field is just a matter of study and hard work. I would start by reading a quick start guide about MySQL or PostgreSQL online to get a feeling for how modern relational databases work, then studying more SQL (structured query language) later on. Then, after you’ve gotten a basic grasp, read a few books on software engineering, paying special attention to how databases are used. I’ll tell you that 99% of the companies out there today need to store data in some way. When you feel you’ve gotten your database legs, look for a job at a startup company (like Fluther) who are likely to not yet have a database administrator on staff. They’ll want you to be competent but will not expect you to be perfect, which is a great environment in which to gain practical experience. Good choice, and good luck!

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