SQL Server Career Choices

By:   |   Updated: 2021-11-10   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Career


I have been working with SQL Server for a little while and now I am looking to start a career that is focused on SQL Server. There are all kinds of job titles in the marketplace and I need to make sense of them.


This tip is going to look at a series of common job titles to help understand what sorts of functions a person holding that title will be expected to complete along with the core competencies that are commonly required for each one.


While this tip will use some language and reference some technologies that are specific to Microsoft SQL Server, most of the information will be equally as valid for any data platform from any vendor with a simple substitution of technology names.

The first thing to understand about these different roles and titles is that there are very few firm rules surrounding them. This can lead to a lot of confusion in the marketplace. In fact, often times this author sees job postings where the specifics do not match the title at all! It seems that there are many people who are unaware of all the different types of SQL Server roles and just choose a job title that "sounds good". When searching for a SQL Server role it almost always makes sense to review the specifics and not rely exclusively on the job title to determine if the position is a fit.

The second thing to be aware of during a job search is that at many smaller firms there is only one person or perhaps a small team doing all of these tasks and the job titles don’t end up meaning too much. In these situations, an employee is expected to be able to contribute to most or even every facet of the SQL Server environment.

Finally, many of these job titles can be found with Sr, Jr, or numeric (I, II, III) decorations added to them. These indicate a level of experience expected of the candidate, but do not change the areas of expertise required. A "Lead" prefix or suffix indicates that the candidate is expected to have some ability to manage and teach others in a similar role.

Since the rules regarding these positions aren’t firm, this tip will do its best to attempt to generalize based on the author’s point of view. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below!

Check out these tips - SQL Server Career Paths, SQL Server Career Planning and Starting your SQL Server Career Path.

Common Job Titles

Operational Database Administrator (DBA)

The operational DBA is responsible for the production SQL Server environment. Their focus is on security, availability, and performance of the environment.

It is this role that will create logins and set permissions as needed. They will be the ones to determine necessary outages and to apply patches therein. All maintenance jobs for indexes, statistics, backups, and consistency checks will be their responsibility. Anything in the operating system space that might affect the instance such as disk space or IO subsystem performance would also fall under this role.

This position is sometimes referred to as a Production DBA.

Check out this tip - What does it mean to be a SQL Server DBA.

Development Database Administrator (DBA)

The development DBA is responsible for pre-production environments. They will focus on ensuring code that accesses the database to be efficient and secure.

This group will work with developers, database developers, and data architects (see below) to achieve that goal. In the event that there aren’t database developers or architects within the company, those roles will generally fall to the development DBA.

This position will also accept input from Operational DBAs on inefficiencies that may be found in the production environment. The 2 groups can then work together to improve the code or, perhaps, modify indexes to reduce the performance impact.

Check out this tip - Starting a SQL Server DBA Job.

Database Administrator (DBA)

DBA, without any specific distinction, is one of the most common job titles found when searching for SQL Server careers. When a position is posted like this it usually means that it encompasses both the operational and development roles. If the hiring firm is small enough it may also include several (or all) of the other roles listed in this tip. Reading the full job description is the only way to know for sure.

Check out this tip - SQL Server Database Administrator.

Data Modeler

A data modeler is responsible for designing and creating the actual database that others will use. They do this by taking requirements from the business, turning them into a conceptual design, and, later, building the script to generate actual tables, columns, keys, and relationships. The data modeler also builds and maintains an accurate data dictionary to be used by the other member of the data team.

Data Architect (DA)

The Data Architect is responsible for making high level decisions about the data environment. They will choose technologies (i.e., SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, HDFS), versions (SQL Server 2017 or SQL Server 2019), and HADR strategies (AlwaysOn Availability Groups, AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instances, or Log Shipping). They may also help choose other data-related technologies such as those used for extract, transform, load (ETL) projects.

In the event that the Data Modeler isn’t an independent position, those responsibilities generally fall to the data architect.

SQL Developer

A SQL Developer writes code that interacts with the database. This usually encompasses both T-SQL code such as stored procedures, functions, or triggers, and ETL code using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) or another ETL tool.

SQL Developers will work very closely with the Development DBA and the development team.

Check out this tip - SQL Server Database Development Career Questions.

Data Analyst

This is, by far, the most widely misused job title in the industry. A Data Analyst should be someone that looks at existing data and attempts to organize it for themselves and others such that it can be used to search for patterns.

Countless job postings can be found where a "Data Analyst" is asked to be a DBA or SQL Developer. Much like an unspecified DBA position, when encountering a Data Analyst position it makes to review the overall job description to find out what the hiring manager actually wants.

BI Developer

There are 2 areas of responsibility for a BI developer. First, they write the ETL code to build a reporting environment such as a Data Warehouse. Second, they will write reports using a reporting tool such as SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).

At some firms the BI developer will focus exclusively on the reporting aspect and the ETL will be written by SQL Developers.

Check out these tips - A Day in the Life of a BI Developer and Starting as a SQL Server Business Intelligence Developer.

Final Thoughts

There are many components to a company’s data platform that can be divided up among many people. Think about which components are the most interesting to you and look for a career that matches them!

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Eric Blinn Eric Blinn is the Sr. Data Architect for Squire Patton Boggs. He is also a SQL author and PASS Local Group leader.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Article Last Updated: 2021-11-10

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