Opinion: If you're a DBA and want to retrain, what should you learn?

Awesome image by Timothy Eberly

On our SQL Down Under email list today, someone asked:

My title is DBA but my job is more into SQL Developer, fixing data involved in applications. Do you think if I study Power BI that I can get a better job?

I get asked this sort of question regularly, particularly from traditional DBAs who see their roles disappearing.

The most basic answer is to adapt what you're doing across to roles that are still in need like data modelling, query performance tuning, DB design in general, etc. However, I wanted to make some more broad recommendations for those considering something more radical.

Historical Answer

Over the years, when I've been asked this, I point out that a key advantage of BI is that it tends to appeal to the people who pay the bills.

Awesome image by Sharon McCutcheon

If you work on core business systems like invoicing, order entry, accounting, and so on, you can have a rewarding career. However, you'll be spending your life working in what the organisation sees as a cost of doing business. And that's something that they want to minimise.

Awesome image by Krill Sharkovski

The higher you can move higher up the IT ladder (in terms of value to the business), the better funded your projects usually are, and the more interesting your role is likely to be.

BI Example

A simple example, let's consider a company like Amazon. The people who do all their IT for core order processing, shipping, etc. will have busy and probably interesting jobs. But their life will be full of head count restrictions, budget cuts, and an endless desire to minimise their costs. To get funded, most new projects will need to show that they lead to a reduction in existing costs.

Then consider the people who do the "hey you bought this, I really think you should consider this as well" code.

I can't say for sure, but I'd almost guarantee their projects are funded at an entirely different level, largely because they can directly affect the profitability of the company. New projects in these areas are much more likely to be seen as investments. They will also be likely to attract funding from outside the normal IT chain of command, probably from the Marketing team.

(I've seen predictions years ago that most of IT will eventually report to Marketing).

That advice has worked well for us, and still works now, but it's yesterday's advice, and now I see things differently.

Today's Answer

Tomorrow's corporate battles, and even potentially the survival of the companies will be largely based around their ability to implement AI.

The first generation of AI was all about super-specialists, deep thinking, and looking for breakthroughs.  It was owned by the 7 big corporations working in AI and their association to a handful of universities doing advanced work in the area.

This next phase of AI (following on from the development of deep learning) is all about implementing these current AI concepts, and applying them to so many aspects of business and the community. Even though the biggest wins will come to those who own the big data sets, there are and will continue to be amazing opportunities for commercialising existing AI concepts.

Our most interesting projects today are ones that are based around AI tooling, that's letting us solve business problems that we simply could not have solved any other way, at least not economically.

And if you want an area that's crying out for short to medium term wins, that's security.

Awesome image by Liam Tucker

The problems in this area are now almost already completely out of hand. There are estimates that this year alone, there will be shortages of hundreds of thousands of IT security people, but we're talking about serious security people. And this is going to get much worse.

The only foreseeable way to solve most IT security issues is via AI.

I'm not too worried about retraining now but if I was in my 30's or 40's, aiming directly at the intersection of AI and advanced IT security would seem a really safe bet.

2 thoughts on “Opinion: If you're a DBA and want to retrain, what should you learn?”

  1. I've been in BI space for a long time and I am noticing skilled DBA's trying to enter the BI space.
    Trying to recruit BI positions is a challenge in that there are many candidates but there are very few good candidates. I would suggest instead of looking for a "better job", look for jobs that excite and motivate, allowing you to do your best.

    1. Totally agree Pete. While I'm suggesting ideas on where I think it's worth being, the primary thing you always need to do is find something that makes it worth getting up every morning to do it.

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