Your Local User Group

When I talk to other SQL Server professionals, I’m often surprised at how many do not have any involvement in their local SQL Server user group.  As best I can tell, the problem is not limited to SQL Server types – many technical pros do not even know that there are user groups in their area, much less participate in any of them.

Local user groups are incredible and underutilized resources for technical professionals.  Most active user groups meet monthly, generally in the evenings or on weekends, and most are free.  These groups are not closed social groups as some may perceive, but are quite accepting of newcomers.  In all but the largest user groups, everything is run by volunteers, so there are opportunities to get your hands dirty if you feel led to give back to the community.  These groups offer a venue to share ideas, socialize with fellow techies, and some informal peer technical assistance.  If you are looking to improve your presentation skills, most groups are open to new speakers at group meetings.

If you’re not already involved, I encourage you to check out one or more local user groups.  I’ll take the opportunity to plug my local group, the North Texas SQL Server User Group, which meets at the Microsoft headquarters in Irving on the 3rd Thursday of each month.  The PASS website also has a domestic and international list of recognized chapters of SQL Server users.

Getting Into the Biz, Part 1

I’ve seen a good deal of coverage recently that is geared toward those who have recently begun a career as a database professional.  Brad McGehee posted this week about some potential topics for a book for new SQL Server developers, and Craig Outcalt is publishing a series of articles on SQLServerCentral.com aimed at new DBAs.  Brent Ozar also has a meta page on his site that has links to a number of publications that are helpful to newbie database gurus.  Good information all – in fact, one of Craig’s articles was so good that it was plagiarized earlier this week.

There are a lot of folks interested in careers as database professionals, and for good reasons.  For starters, experienced DBAs and database developers earn well above average wages: the annual Redmond Magazine Salary Survey reports that that the average base salary for a DBA or Database Developer is $81,495, while Salary.com reports the median salary at just over $84,000.  Next, anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of opportunities for experienced database professionals will continue to increase, recession notwithstanding.  In addition to the tangible benefits and growth, a career in database management can be highly fulfilling given the right circumstances.  Although the hours can be long at times, DBAs and database developers generally work in comfortable and safe environments, and are presented with an interesting array of challenges that keep the job from getting stagnant.

So from the outsider’s perspective, how does one get started as a DBA?  How does one make the jump from helpdesk/analyst/cashier to a career in database management?  If you ask ten people that question, you’ll likely get ten different answers.  Like many jobs in IT, there is no clear-cut career path to becoming a DBA.  A college degree always helps – in fact, many employers will only consider degreed candidates.  Also helpful is a solid understanding of underlying technologies, including networking, DNS, hardware, OS, and web architecture, among many others.  Of course, experience is king – even the most junior database professional must have at least some experience actually performing database administration tasks.

I’ve been asked a couple of different times recently how I got into “the biz”.  In my next post, I’ll share my experience in the hope that it can help someone else crack into this industry.  In a later post, I’ll share my recent commitment to take it to the next level, an ongoing process that will hopefully lead to many good things down the road.