The value of a DBA can vary depending on numerous factors. Something that should be easy to answer is: what is a DBA worth?

If you follow industry trends at all, or if you have been in the situation where you were attempting to hire an experienced DBA, you no doubt are aware of the shortage of qualified DBAs. If not, take a look at these articles: Looming DBA Shortage and DBAs in high demand. The statistic that really caught my eye was in this article, Why DBAs are in Demand from careerbuilder.com, which states, “there are only 14 active candidates for every 100 jobs posted.”

If that doesn’t denote a shortage, I don’t know what does. That leads to an essential question: What is a DBA worth? A shortage like this would tend to give candidates an incredible amount of leverage, and skew salaries higher.

what is a DBA worth

So I was perplexed by a situation that I recently witnessed first-hand at one of my clients. This particular client has been looking to fill two DBA positions (one senior and one intermediate level) for more than six months. They identified a really good senior candidate who wanted the job. I know she was very good because I was involved in the interview process. All they had to do was make her a decent offer and she’d be in. It didn’t happen. While I am saddened that they wouldn’t meet her salary requirement (a reasonable number, all things considered), I am glad she stuck to her guns and didn’t take less than she was worth.

To further confuse their decision not to hire her over a difference of a few thousand dollars, consider this client’s history with DBAs. They’ve had a string of poor to bad DBAs over the last several years. Most recently (six months ago) they had two DBAs I will call Clueless-Inexperienced DBA and Lazy-I’m-too-good-for-this place DBA. Clueless DBA was fired after repeated lapses in judgement that caused large amounts of data loss, and Lazy DBA quit shortly thereafter knowing that she was on the verge of being fired herself.

So along comes the new candidate I’ll call Quality DBA with 10+ years of experience in SQL Server and a proven history of success. And what does the hiring organization do? They let Quality DBA walk because of salary.

Consider this as well: I have been working as the DBA at this client since the demise of Clueless and Lazy, and I have spent a great deal of time fixing this, tweaking that, tuning all of the above, and generally doing all of those things that a DBA is supposed to do. Current status: All the systems are stabilized; all the jobs complete every night; user requests are completed in a timely fashion. None of those things were true before, and I am only contracted for 30 hours a week. Am I some kind of superhero DBA?

I wish. No, I am just a trained, experienced DBA doing what a good DBA is supposed to do. I discussed this with the client and they agreed: I convinced them that what they needed was one really good Sr. DBA rather than two less-than-good DBAs. So… big savings AND a stable, well-managed environment if they would just hire Quality DBA. Slam dunk right? Nope! Arrgh!

I have no statistics to back it up, and I haven’t performed an extensive study, but my personal experience tells me this kind of shortsightedness is happening at many companies around the country (U.S.) and perhaps the world.

So the question that comes up is: Why is this happening?

In my opinion, this is happening because:

  • There are people outside of the IT department, namely the Human Resources Department (HR), making salary decisions based on market averages.
  • The “market averages” are inconsistent and confusing. I researched averages in my local area and found numbers for a DBA ranging from $80K to $115K (salary.com, indeed.com). Unfortunately the decision makers will see $80K and decide to use that number, or perhaps go even lower.
  • The “market average” salaries are for “average” employees. In the situation above, they had two average DBAs making average DBA wages, when all they need is one good DBA.
  • To further that thought, DBAs are not doing a good enough job of selling themselves. HR says, “The average salary is…”. The DBA should reply “That’s for an average DBA. Is that really who you want securing your data? I’m not an average DBA, I can do a better job than that.”
  • IT managers don’t really understand what a DBA does or how important they are to the company. If they don’t know, how are they going to convince HR?
  • We as a community are not doing a good enough job of educating upper management as to what we do, why it matters, and helping define what a DBA is worth. We seem to be happiest when nobody knows what we are doing or why.

These are my opinions and observations, and I am very interested to hear yours. Please reply with your thoughts and if you have any suggestions how we can all work to improve the situation, please tell us that too!