DBA versus Developer as 35-year-old
October 8, 2011 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I moved into work in IT in my early 30's, and am now 35. I have had 2 Jr. DBA positions in that time period, although I do not have any database certifications.

I took on this Jr DBA work with the intention of becoming a back-end developer. However, now I'm wondering -- is it better, considering my age, to pursue the career of DBA for good?

The last few years, I've taken coursework in PHP, Ruby on Rails, and database design. As for my portfolio, I've written some simple PHP-based Facebook apps and done some volunteer work customizing websites for local nonprofits.

But in my brief career, I've seen few programmers over the age of 40 working for an organization. Quite a few move into other roles or whole new fields. And companies seem more interested in hiring a promising 21-year-old with any degree, and training that person, than hiring an older programmer.

I do see older programmers in the public service , like at the university, but right now I would rather have private-sector pay. However, even at the most youthful companies I see older DBA's and SysAdmins -- age befitting the seriousness of the roles, I guess.

I would guess, given my experience, that I'm an average programmer with room to grow. However I seem to be skilled at database concepts that even some programmers have difficulty with.

At age 35, is it better to start out as a DBA than a developer?
posted by ElisaOS to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think many developers move into management -- it tends to be the next step up after being a senior developer. I agree it's a question of what you enjoy doing more but if you have no interest in managing a group of developers and would rather stay hands on technology-wise (most the tech leads/managers I know don't have time to program), being a DBA might be a better fit.
posted by bluesapphires at 5:06 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Which do you enjoy doing more?

I definitely enjoy programming more, even if it is just writing a perl-database interface.

Have you passed an SDE interview yet? Have you tried one?

I've had to demo basic knowledge (ie fizz buzz) for a position, but other than that I haven't even gotten my foot in the door to such an interview. Data Warehousing/Data Managing/Data Documenting/ and DBA, I am asked to interview.
posted by ElisaOS at 6:25 PM on October 8, 2011

I agree it's a question of what you enjoy doing more

So my fear of being 'aged out' is due to a misperception based on limited experience? They're willing to hire a 40-year-old programmer with 5 years' experience, for example?
posted by ElisaOS at 6:26 PM on October 8, 2011

DBA work pays for a number of reasons, one of them being that even other IT folk imagine it to be off-puttingly boring. If it's not off-puttingly boring to you, then it definitely can be a remunerative occupation of an extended period.

Be ready to adapt to virtualization, though.
posted by NortonDC at 6:58 PM on October 8, 2011

My last few dev hires were 35+. The market is great right now for developers, and having the additional DBA skills would make a candidate more attractive to me. It probably depends on where you are, but what I see in SF suggests people who have strong generalist skills are more in demand than specialists.
posted by judith at 9:19 PM on October 8, 2011

No one will have a problem with your age. Rumors of age discrimination in the software world are greatly exaggerated. Your experience as a DBA, on the other hand, may be a problem...a lot of developers have a very negative opinion of DBAs. You need to figure out how to neutralize that. Perhaps emphasizing soft skills you've developed as a DBA can do that.

If you enjoy DBAing, though, I'd say stick with it! An experienced DBA specializing in Oracle or DB2 can make substantially more money than a developer, and with shorter hours to boot. When your job is running a million-dollar database cluster with all a company's enterprise data on it, it turns out you get treated very well. You do need to learn the ins and outs of your chosen DB, but that investment will last a long time -- databases change very slowly. Certificates are a big deal for DBAs, so start studying!
posted by miyabo at 11:09 PM on October 8, 2011

ElisaOS: "I do see older programmers in the public service, like at the university, but right now I would rather have private-sector pay. "

You might want to reconsider that. In my experience as a programmer at a university, university IT tends to be competitive with the market. They also have better vacation packages, benefits packages, and qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years, etc. If you work for a state uni, you might also qualify for a 457 retirement plan, which the more I look at it, the more ridiculous it gets. Basically, the "salary" is low, but the total compensation is comparable.

You might also get access to a research library, tuition reimbursements, and training. And student discounts with your ID and .edu email address ;)
posted by pwnguin at 7:48 AM on October 9, 2011

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