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Data Boom Puts Database Careers On Growth Trajectory

Number of database administrators has jumped 36% in four years
Think the hottest Tech job going is systems management or software engineering? Nope, it's database administration.

As data not only inundates U.S. companies but becomes more vital to business success, the pool of database administrators has swelled faster than other IT-related jobs. The number of people calling themselves database administrators jumped 10% from a year ago and 36% since 2001, according to InformationWeek's analysis of the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data used each month to determine the unemployment rate. That compares with a 0.4% dip in the overall IT workforce in the last four years.

"In today's environment, IS components are business critical, and the key part of every process is data," says Robert Omerza, president of the International DB2 Users Group and a longtime database administrator for a major courier service.

No one knows exactly how much data flows through them, but the size of databases continues to skyrocket. The largest data warehouse today contains 100 terabytes of information, a nearly ninefold increase from four years ago, according to database research company WinterCorp. "We're swimming in data, and unless we sort it, get rid of stuff we don't need, we'll die in it," warns Jeff Jones, IBM's director of database strategy.

Demand for database administrators is expected to continue. Labor Statistics projects a 66% growth in jobs through 2010. Only seven other occupations in all job categories will have a greater growth rate. More evidence: As of last week, U.S. employers posted 2,821 database-administrator jobs on employment Web site Dice.com last week, up 41% from a year ago.

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IT unemployment fell last quarter to 3.2%, a 0.3 point drop from the second quarter and 1-1/2 points lower than a year earlier, as calculated using Labor Statistics data. The number of IT pros with jobs rose 17,000 during the third quarter to 3.44 million; that's up from 3.32 million during the third quarter of 2004. And the number of out-of-work technologists fell last quarter by 10,000 to 113,000. A year earlier, 164,000 IT pros were jobless.

Though database administrators, among the eight IT job categories Labor Statistics tracks, had the largest percentage increase since the beginning of the decade, it remains by far the smallest segment and the only one not topping 100,000 in the last quarter. Ninety-eight thousand Americans consider themselves database administrators, only 3% of the nonmanagerial IT workforce.

The job is more demanding today than even a few years ago. "We no longer have DBSes--database baby sitters--those who sit in a center, wait for an alert to happen, and then turn a few dials and pull a few levers," says Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group.

Database products have become highly automated, performing many of the mundane tasks once done by database administrators. "In some respects, senior DBAs are becoming business-intelligence experts within their companies, giving advice to senior executives on how best to use information," says Mark Townsend, Oracle's senior director of database product management.

To succeed, administrators must know both their businesses and their industries. "It's one thing to be book-smart about database-management systems, but it's more important to understand how other companies and other database-management systems handle similar problems," International DB2 Users Group president Omerza says.

The unemployment rate for database administrators is the second highest among all IT professions, at 4.1% (the overall U.S. jobless rate in September was 5.1%). But some say finding highly qualified database administrators with new skills and specific industry know-how is tough. "It's hard to find good people," says James Sobieski, CEO of Fourth Millennium Technologies Inc., a company that provides database-administration services to clients such as Prudential Insurance and Home Depot. "The market may ebb and flow, but there's a shortage of good DBAs."