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I would like to have feedback from the serverfault community about my database administration career.

I used to use mainly Linux for 14+ years. I worked as a network administrator at a small ISP, being responsible to install, configure, and maintain a dozen servers. I have a few small open sourced projects coded in C and Perl. I must admit that my knowledge of Linux servers is broader than Windows servers.

In the last 5 years somewhat my career has changed a little: I have been the so-called "accidental DBA" on SQL Server. My job requires me to administer production SQL Servers, do a lot of T-SQL coding, and deal with performance tuning, troubleshooting and general database mantenance issues.

I have been an IT generalist, and I feel the need to specialize in something. I have just decided to go on to a DBA career. Five years being a part time accidental DBA made me thirsty for being recognized as a professional DBA and gain deeper knowledge of databases systems.

I must admit that I like SQL Server very much, for some reasons:

  • It is a solid product. In those 5 years I had never had a serious issue. My disaster recovery plan is used only for testing and training.
  • The official documentation is throughout, vast. There are lots of books, articles, forums, and a great community.
  • T-SQL programmability is decent.

My decision must go now on what product I should specialize in. As a Linux guy, going into SQL Server as a professional DBA makes me feel that I am throwing my past experience out the window, as I understand that I must "breathe" SQL Server and a purely Microsoft world to be truly good at it. Besides the reasons shown above, I know that 5 years with production experience on SQL Server makes a lot of difference.

I have less experience with another DBMS:

  • I use PostgreSQL with some software I coded, and I like it. Unfortunately, I think that it would narrow my job possibilities, since it is less widely used than SQL Server. The number of jobs posted can show this.
  • Never had experience with Oracle and DB2. They are nice because they are solid, widely used and multi-platform and run under Linux.

I know that it is a difficult decision, but I ask you for some advice to help me decide my DBMS product of specialization. Should I go deeper with SQL Server or learn another DBMS?

Your help will be much appreciated.

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Although it would be a bit of a trip for you, you may want to check out the SQL PASS summit in Seattle, Washington coming up in a couple of months in November. It'll give you some great in site into the product, and will help you decide if working with SQL Server is where you want to move your career towards. The site is www.sqlpass.org. –  mrdenny Sep 12 '09 at 5:43

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I would stick with SQL Server, honestly like you say, it is a great product, and in terms of performance it ranks up there with the rest of them. I also like the fact that SQL Server has excellent documentation, T-SQL is pretty good, and understanding how the database works is fairly simple again as the documentation is clear.

I sense you have a strong loyalty and preference to Linux as the host OS, this too is totally understandable, but make no mistake, MS SQL Server on Windows is a serious database as you rightly note, and being a specialist in SQL server with do more than put food on your table.

I have a background in FreeBSD, and today mainly administer MS SQL Server, and I have found that my FreeBSD background has given me the ability to have a much finer grasp of issues that you face when tuning and administering the MS SQL Databse (things such as disk volume layout and optimization, location of transaction logs etc.)

If you enjoy the product, like the way it is put together, and you can see yourself doing that more and more, go for it. Don't under estimate the value of being interested in, and enjoying the product you work on.

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Five years of SQL Server experience trumps zero years experience with anything else.

Microsoft's technology integration means that there is a lot of interesting stuff that you can do with SQL Server as a platform, especially in the .Net arena.

Your Linux skills won't be a liability. Your focus may change to middleware vs database, but as long as you're dealing with networked systems, it's all relevant in some way.

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Experience with Linux can be very handy. While SQL Server only works on Windows, many none Windows systems talk to SQL Server. Having a background where you know how to install and configure JDBC drivers on Linux can be good to have.

Moving into a SQL Server DBA role you wouldn't lose your Linux experience. You probably won't use it as much, but there are shops out there that you will be able to use it to some extent.

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What you could do is get in on the ground floor with Drizzle, a fork of MySQL. It's new, so nobody has much experience with it. Your experience with SQL Server and Postgres speak to your ability to navigate new systems. Your Linux experience would also help, since it doesn't support non-posix systems like Windows.

The advantage here is that you're targeting a (currently) small cluster of positions, and can tailor your resume accordingly. Nor do you need to buy a vendor certification so HR can screen you. But Drizzle seems like a good opportunity to discover the inner workings of DBMS's, since you can add and remove modules.

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You will only be really good at something if you enjoy it, as ColtonCat eloquently put it. It is very difficult to be an expert in an area if you don't find yourself tinkering with it in your spare time. You have to have an interest, a passion for it. If you find yourself hankering to work on Linux systems, then I strongly suggest you try and orientate yourself so that you can transition your skills from SQL Server to Oracle or DB2 on Linux. You might feel more at home on these systems, and your skill level will rise further than if you stay on Microsoft/SQL Server because you are more interested in it.

Obviously I am making an assumption here that you prefer working on Linux to Windows. If you really enjoy working with SQL Server on Windows, then why not stick with that? That's what I have done for the past 13 years and whichever workplace I am at, I am usually the best person with the deepest knowledge. This has only come about because I like tinkering with it at home, setting up VMs - trying out clustering, replication, etc at home. I know it sounds a bit sad, but this level of passion is required to gain the deeper knowledge you seek.

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