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Job Outlook for Career in Database Management

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In previous articles, you may have read that the job outlook for other careers in IT is generally very good and promising. Database management is no different. There will always be databases to be created and databases to be maintained or administered. As long as there are networks and loads of information passing through them, there must be databases somewhere keeping information to run businesses day-to-day.

On-the-job demands are being set higher for database designers and database administrators as businesses are coming up with more types of data to store and more types of analysis and reports to run on existing data. Of course, existing databases constantly need to be maintained on a daily basis as well. The market for both database personnel on the administration and design sides of IT is growing along with the demand for additional database functionality. Job descriptions that may be relevant to those interested in a career in the database field range from data administrator to systems analyst. The wide variety of particular positions in which database skills can be applied is what makes the demand so high.

In order to stay on top of this particular IT field, computer companies have set out to train people in the industry through classes, online training, and even instructional handbooks on certain languages and software. Some are oriented toward individuals seeking to enter the field for the first time; others are oriented toward IT personnel who may have a background in older database technology (such as IMS, which runs on very large "mainframe" computers) and are being retrained in a new technology, such as DB2. As with most of the IT industry, to become involved with database administration or development is to make a commitment to periodic retraining as database products evolve, new tools and programming languages are introduced, and new environments, such as the Web, appear. The following sections provide a more specific focus on the job demand for database administrators and designers.

The demand for database administrators is at a very high stage and is increasing. It was projected that there were 21,200 job openings as of 1996. By 2006 there were many as 46,100 job openings. These statistics are just for the specific title of database administrator; there are many additional openings for other related job titles.

The idea of constantly changing job tasks involved in this area, creating a variety of new "hats" to be filled, supports this job increase, along with that of the database designer. Many narrow specializations do exist (for example, Oracle performance and tuning engineer). Additionally, individuals who work on a contract or consulting basis may be referred to by generic titles, such as computer specialists or consultants.The job titles in the field evolve rapidly with new technology (20 years ago,Web/database designer was unheard of) and thus new occupational titles are born. Of course, employer preferences and organizational structures also play a big role in demand and new specializations.

Opportunities are so wide ranging in the database field that as you are searching for a job on a Web site, you may find yourself needing to limit your search to a particular vendor's database platform, a particular programming language, or to a particular application area you're familiar with.

Qualifications and Requirements

The skills required for a database specialist vary depending on the career emphasis you choose. Some database designers may prefer to concentrate on database administration and support; others may prefer to concentrate on system design and development. In smaller organizations, a database designer may end up with responsibilities in both areas. Similarly, you may wish to align yourself with one particular database product line, such as Oracle, or you may wish to build expertise in working with multiple products. There are good career opportunities available for both database designers and administrators no matter which route you choose.

Knowledge of relational database theory and terminology is a requirement regardless of the specific RDBMS platform on which a database designer works. Similarly, for the relational database world, proficiency in SQL is generally a requirement, although new graphical tools are gradually reducing a database designer's reliance on SQL for database maintenance tasks. As mentioned earlier, SQL is an important tool for people in the database world. The ability to perform tasks with SQL is one of the hallmarks of a database expert. However, basic knowledge of the SQL language is enough to begin working with a database in a project with others who have more experience.

Basic Internet and Web knowledge is useful to both designers and administrators as well. Sooner or later someone will either ask you to make all or part of your database Web accessible or interface with the Web developers who will be doing so. Terms like Active Server Pages (ASP)-Microsoft's easy-to-use Web server programming system-and Java Server Pages (JSP)--Java's answer to ASP-are frequently encountered when discussing how to make a database accessible over the Web. Many books on various Web programming techniques are now available. In fact, the field of Web/database integration is a database area of its own.

Additionally, a background in computer security on your particular platform (Windows 2000 + SQL Server 7, for example) is useful.

Note: A study in 2000 found that more than a few well-known e-commerce sites had unknowingly made administrator-level access to their database available over the Web by accepting default settings during database software installation. It seems that neither the database administrators nor designers had ever checked to make sure that the database was only accessible internally.

Required Skill Set for Database Designers

Because the database designer is responsible for building a database that meets the end users' business needs, some background in general business is very useful. Additionally, more and more organizations are interested in database designers who have some knowledge of one or more of the company's specific lines of business, sometimes referred to as vertical markets. For example, a small hotel chain might like its database design personnel to have some familiarity with the types of data a hotel keeps on its guests (guest name, reservation number, reservation contact name, phone number, address, assigned room, length of stay, daily rates, etc.). A grocery store chain may hire multiple IT staff from its checkout and stocking staff because it knows that these individuals have a firsthand understanding of how the front line operations of the company work.

Many database designers also augment their qualifications with experience and/or certifications in one or more computer programming languages, like Java or Visual Basic, and skills in using one or more computer operating systems, like Unix or Microsoft Windows. Because a database designer often maintains the overall database diagram, expertise in a business charting program, such as Microsoft Visio, may also be useful. Although a database designer may not be called upon to use these skills on a daily basis, they are useful to possess because having them means that a database designer can pitch in and "do whatever needs to be done" to help in the development of the application programs that access the database. For example, a database designer might want to look at a particular program to determine why it takes so long for a report to run and recommend to the programmer changes to the program that would speed it up.
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