Death of the DBA… Again…


If you’ve followed the blog for a while you will know I’ve revisited this topic several times since I first wrote about it in 2007. Here are some links if you want to go down memory lane.

I think I’ve been pretty consistent with my opinion on this subject, but I still get people misunderstanding the argument, so I’m going to try again, without revisiting the contents of all those previous articles.

What is a DBA?

This means something different in each company and each person I speak to.

In some companies it can mean a basic operations job. Install, patch, check backups and run scripts that other people send to you. All of these tasks are easily automated on-prem, and essentially don’t exist on the cloud. If this is the role you do, and this is all you do, you are going to have a bad time unless you gain some new skills. In other companies it can mean something completely different. My official title is “Lead DBA”. What do I do? Just off the top of my head:

  • DBA work with Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL.
  • Administration of middle tier stuff like WebLogic, Tomcat, NGINX etc.
  • I look after the load balancer configuration for a big chunk of the back-end business systems, including writing iRules in TCL.
  • Support for a few proprietary 3rd party apps.
  • Docker/containers.
  • APEX and ORDS. I’m the worlds worst APEX developer (see here), but I have to look after it, and support the APEX developers.
  • I don’t do much traditional development in this company, but I provide support when people have SQL and PL/SQL questions, because I’ve done that for a minute. 🙂
  • I’m increasingly being drawn into automation using shell scripts, Ansible, Terraform, Liquibase etc.

I’ve already got rid of some of the operational aspects of my job. Over time I’m hoping more will go, but that mostly depends on external constraints holding me back. Even if my involvement with databases stopped completely, I can still remain busy. Am I saying my role is what a DBA should be? No. I think my position is a little more extreme than some. I’m saying DBA is a title that various people and companies use, but it doesn’t really mean anything now. It can be anything from basic operations to “Do Bloody Anything”.

When is it going to happen?

For some companies it already has. Some companies will hang on to the old ways until the bitter end. It won’t happen overnight, but if it is not happening already in your company, what you are likely to see is a gradual drop in operational tasks as they get automated. This allows either the same number of people to cover more systems, or less people to do all the current work.

If you are seeing pieces of your role disappearing, you have to do something else to add value!

But person X disagrees with you!

That’s fine. This is only my opinion and you don’t have to agree, but please check the context of what people are saying. Often the responses to my comments include mentions of performance tuning and diagnosing architectural issues. I have consistently said the “operations DBA” role would go. The job that focuses on the basic grunt work. There will be a continued need for people who can diagnose and solve performance problems, both in the databases and in the application architecture. Moving to the cloud won’t magically cure all performance issues, and some would say they will increase the number of issues. You can still deliver architecturally crap solutions on the cloud. You can still do bad database design and write bad applications. Good people will always find a home, provided they don’t stick rigidly to the past.

You also have to look at the person making the comments. If someone is a performance consultant to the stars, but identifies as a DBA, they are probably going to take these comments personally and hear me saying they are redundant, which I am not. If someone runs a DBA as a service company, they won’t like the sound of this and will go into defensive mode.

I’ve been a regular DBA for most of my working life, and I’ve watched the job evolve. You may have a different experience, and that is fine, but I speak to a lot of people, and I think my opinion on this subject tracks pretty well with what is happening out there.

You are really talking about the cloud aren’t you?

Not. Automation is the thing that is removing the need for the operational DBA and basic system admin roles. Even if your company is in cloud denial, it doesn’t mean they won’t want to take advantage of automation. The cloud makes some things easier from an automation perspective, because the cloud providers have done some of the leg-work for you, but automation existed long before the cloud…

What should I do?

When you know, please let me know so I can do it too. 🙂 Seriously though, keep your mind open to new opportunities, and if you get a chance to try something new, give it a go. Nothing is ever wasted. Some people will gravitate to the data and analytics side of things. Some to development. Some to the architectural end of things. In all cases, there is a lot to learn and the less you know when you start, the harder the journey will be, so get learning whatever you like the look of…



Update 1: In social media comments, some people have mentioned the term “Data Engineer”. To me a data engineer needs to understand data, and requires and understanding of the development process. I’ve met some operational DBAs that can barely string together a SQL statement. These types of operational DBAs have a lot to learn before they can consider themselves a data engineer. A DBA can become a data engineer, but being a DBA does not mean you are a data engineer.

Update 2: Don’t get distracted by the name DBA. I don’t care about the name of the role. I’m talking about the function the person is performing. If they are performing basic operational tasks, whatever they are called, they need to start getting some new skills.

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

41 thoughts on “Death of the DBA… Again…”

  1. Agreed Tim, there are lots of learning in each new technology. It’s true that due to automation, traditional work of DBA with on-premise server is no more at most places but still in world of cloud, many possibilities exists. …loved your article.

  2. This is a very good post. Thanks for sharing your views with us. Adding Oracle Engineered systems to your list (as DMA) will be an added advantage such as Exadata and ODA.

  3. Syed: But when people do start moving to cloud, those will become unnecessary too. You don’t need skills on engineered systems if all your databases are running in the cloud. These roles will take longer to go, but they will still become unnecessary…

  4. Life of any new technology/service is 3 months now. And if you are not fast enough to adopt that in days you are dead. Its not learning its more of becoming a a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.

  5. Dheeraj: If you have the skills, or you intend to learn them, that is fine. DevOps is a development role in my opinion. If you are not comfortable in development, then DevOps is not really for you.

  6. Good article. For myself I use DBA for the acronym “Does Basically Anything”, but I draw the line what ‘anything’ is for me.

    All the things around the database and what it needs; the OS, the network, the DBaaS, the appserver connections, tuning and even PLSQL coding sometimes.

    With all these disciplines I start to act like the architect of environments and in clouds…

  7. Hi Tim , good to see your post. I remember meeting you in person in India when you had come for an event in Gurgaon location. AIOUG with Aman Sharma and other folks. For your post here , so what is the way forward for a DBA ?
    1. Database reliability engineer ( multi skilled DBA for the cloud)
    2. Data engineer , data science or data analyst ? I do not know the differences exactly b/w these three , but i know any path we choose , we got to study and gradually move in there. I cannot call myself either of these right now.


  8. Wow. There was chance for me coming in this track Oracle DBA,but some decisions led to Graphics Design industry..
    Now in marketing for Graphics Design and software services .

  9. How about migration specialist? in my opinion there’s always gonna be improvements in databases and new versions coming up. So there’s always gonna be migrations.

  10. The writing is on the wall…..

    Go to the following video:
    Sep 24, 2020 Converged Database: The Path to a Long & Healthy Oracle DBA Career (and Eventual Retirement) – Nitin Vengurlekar, Rich Niemiec, & Jim Czuprynski

    At the 56 minute mark, they explain that the DBA as we know it today is going extinct, and how much time you may have left….

  11. How true this statement is 🙂 “I’ve met some operational DBAs that can barely string together a SQL statement” Thanks for the great write up Tim.

  12. Well written… do you see the role of DBA moving to “Cloud DBA” or “Dev-ops DBA” or “Site reliability Engineer” which has some good scope of Automation tools such as Terraform, Ansible, etc.?

  13. This is what I am telling my team all time. DBA role will change, will evolve . But it will not disappear. Going to cloud still need a lot of tuning on parameters (defaults are ok but not sufficient) Someone need to prepare those automatic provisioning and believe me people without DBA knowledge will not do this right. With rise of cloud there is also rise of db services, every cloud provider offers common services and some unique (Spanner, Neptune, Aurora), someone need to understand differences and advice best fit. Sql tuning, lock minimizing will still preserve.
    I can see trend that those operational DBA are merged with devops team, because devops usually provision whole environments. But … DBA needs to learn new things, terraform, dockers, kubernetes ,chef, ansible and cloud principals are probably best choices.

  14. This is an awesome article and agree with you that whatever automation is done with respect to performance still can not be 100 percent correct.In fact optimizer has evolved so much but still we face bug related to optimizer…

  15. Great article as always, Tim!

    In your opinion, what trends for DBAs would you highlight that would make it easier to transform a DBA’s career by modern realities?

    What about NoSQL? Given that the NoSQL and Kubernetes bundle is actively implementing right now

    Plus I’m increasingly seeing a trend of Postgres or MySQL migrations to Kubernetes

  16. Congratulations on the article TIM, it is a very relevant topic for us professionals.
    I started to study other technologies to work as a solution architect DBA, adding my experience and also data analysis.

  17. Rajesh: I see all of these as potential jobs for a DBA, but all will require new skills. If someone is a basic operational DBA, they have a lot to learn. Some DBAs may already fit into these roles, depending on their skills.

  18. chandu: What do I suggest? I suggest people learn new skills they are interested in, and you that to determine their path.

  19. Ravil: Don’t jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. This same thing is happening with every database engine, not just Oracle. I think automation and cloud skills are important if you are hoping to move to a DevOps style role. If you want to focus on data, then you are probably looking more at development skills. There isn’t a set response, because it depends on what you enjoy really.

  20. How about EBS-DBA Oracle Apps Suite?

    I have been working on it for past 20 years

    Is that a dying field too?


  21. Is it really though, Tim? Thirty years ago your job was called Data Processor. Titles are supposed to change to more accurately reflect the job function. That’s not easy to do.

    Most of us, including Tim, do work outside the scope of what is traditionally thought of as DBA work. Tim’s also supporting web and app servers; doesn’t that mean he’s NOT a DBA? Of course not!

    Titles are for resumes and HR. What really counts is the skills and experience you have. The REAL question we should be asking ourselves is: How can I tie databases to the new tech thing I’m intetested in? When you find that answer, THAT is your new job… whatever it’s called.

  22. Alex: While you are working on EBS no, but there is no concept of an Apps DBA when using Oracle Cloud Apps, so if your company move to that, it’s the end of the line.

  23. Kevin: I agree, but that misses the point of the post. I am constantly saying the “operational DBA” is dead. If you bring other skills to the table, then your role may continue, but if all you do is install, patch and check backups, life is not going to be good for you!

  24. I am seeing this coming since last few years and slowly encouraged myself to move towards being a solution architect. Recently I started preparing to upgrade my OCP certification from 11g to 19c and now after reading your blog I think this will be a waste of time, effort and money.

  25. Ash: Nothing is wasted. If you are currently doing DBA work, it makes sense to learn about 19c. If you are OK with 19c, and just want to get the bit of paper, it may be better to focus your attention on other things. 🙂

  26. Your post is interesting, just like the previous ones, very few people name data architect positions, the truth is that I see myself more as a data architect than as a data engineer

  27. Hello Tim,
    I agree wirh you.
    My point is, I have 20 years made expereinces with Oracle (RAC, Dataguard ..) and MS SQl. And I remind me on hard times with patching or installing Oracle DBs. This valuefull hard fought experiences seems to become valueless if all DBs were moved to the cloud. This is why many DBAs are fearing this step and they (me too) trying to find arguments to keep on premise. We have no chance avoiding this. I see young people in our company. They consider Oracle as old „Fashion“ and dont’t want to become DBA. They learn docker, kubernetes – all the cool stuff! No matter which DB it should be. But we can profite from our already proofed ability to earn Oracle and other stuff knowledge for new technologies. This will be a hard way too but unfortunately neccessary I think.
    Cheers Peter

  28. Peter: As I said, there will always be a need for good people with problem solving skills. It is the operations DBAs that are likely to fall by the wayside, as all they bring to the table are basic skills. If you have an extra layer of knowledge, replacing you with automation is that much harder. This is why picking up more skills is vital, to protect yourself from the inevitable.

  29. Agree with you Tim.

    Couple of other options if one still want to be an on-prem DBA are, work for an Academia, Govt sector etc. where technology migration is not as fast paced as in the private sector. OR join Oracle (OCI), Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (AWS) etc. directly where they cater to the clients in need of an expertise to migrate on-prem databases to the Cloud and then manage client’s databases (patching, upgrade, replication etc.) for clients in above mentioned companies data centers. Cloud hosting companies are not DBA’s enemies, they are in for a business (read money) plus, technology is always changing. Anyone remember Clipper programming, classic ASP and many other technologies we have used/supported during our careers? If you do, and you are still working in IT, means you have evolved as and when needed. I was s#!t scared when my databases were taken away from me but then I got into Snowflake and now I am a certified Snowflake SnowPro. I am aware that this is just a step to the next shiny thing (whatever it will be) but I enjoy technology and I am ready to learn. Pandemic has taught us one thing very clearly, there is no guarantee of anything tomorrow. Live today and prepare for tomorrow as much as we can. Enough philosophy, wearing my IT hat again. Stay safe and enjoy your life/family.

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