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Database administrators create databases that are used by companies, governments, and researchers. This database administrator shares her experiences in this field, including how she found herself in a technical field with a liberal arts degree, and how she has overcome bullying on the job. If you've ever felt lost on the job, this professional literally can relate!

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I am a database administrator for a research project at a local university. I've been doing this job for about 5 years. Describe myself in three adjectives? Clever, helpful, and indispensable come to mind.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am an Italian American female. I don't think this has ever hurt me really. I might have had some problems with age discrimination as I was coming up. I think I scared some co-workers who were only a few years older than I was, so they felt the need to put me in my place, but I think that was more bullying because they knew I was good and were afraid for their own jobs. It wasn't like the age difference between us was enough to really matter or anything. Seven years was the largest spread between the office bullies and me.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: I create databases that report information to researchers. I make interfaces for entry and design the reports. It really is a "people" job, which has to be one of the major misconceptions. I have to work very closely with the database users to find out how to make their jobs easier or get the data to do what they want. I couldn't do that if I only hid in my office at the keyboard.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: On most days, on a scale of 1 to 10, my job satisfaction has to be a 10. How could I be happier? I have ownership of a major project that is helping people get what they need. I can take time out to code short projects. I can express my artistic side through interface design. I can talk to people to get input on what they want out of my database. I'm not sure if my full enthusiasm needs to be unleashed, but if it does, I would love to be able to include some of my 3D art skills.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I can't say my job actually moves my heart. I'm reasonably content, but I'm not really moved exactly. Right now I'm in a comfortable niche, but I have a longing to make things and do things that are real. All my work product for my adult life could be wiped away by some well placed electromagnets. If someone did that, what would be left to say I was even here?

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I feel my situation is very unique and worth knowing about. I have a degree in Classical Studies. I am proof that Liberal Arts majors are employable and useful, even though I had to struggle to prove it to my first employers. I feel that I'm better at my job for my experience translating Latin. It makes me very detail oriented.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: How did I get started as a database admin? Oh, that's a funny story! I knew how to program databases from a previous job, but I had fallen into hard times and had to take a job as a front desk receptionist. I had been working there a couple of weeks when a planned Labor Day vacation came up. I was going to a science fiction convention. I had been working all summer on my costumes. I was still working on a corset I planned to wear. The result of this was that I had been up all night sewing. I literally put down my needle, got in the shower, dressed and went to work. So, of course, one of the professors in the department needs a document given to all of the students in a particular service. I asked my boss if there was a list and she handed me the college directory and explained how I had to go through each name and look up the service. This was too much for my sleep deprived brain, but it is at times like this that inspiration strikes. The computer is a metaphorical brain. If I couldn't think well enough to do the task, I could make the computer do the task for me. By the end of the day, the departmental database was born. Within a month, I had a new career. If I could go back and change it, I might have thought to make the database earlier. There were some things I had to do as the receptionist that would have been so much easier with that database.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: From this particular job, I learned that if you don't really want to make the coffee for the office, it's best not to make the coffee well. I learned it by accidentally pouring too much coffee in one day. I never had to do that again. I wish I'd known sooner.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: Once I got out of school, I learned that if I can't make them laugh at the interview, I don't want the job. When my best interviews are over, everyone in the room is light hearted. Whether or not I get the job, we part like old friends. Every job interview works both ways. They are trying to decide if I am a good fit for them and I should be trying to decide if they are a good fit for me. I was at an interview once where they actually sat there straight faced and took notes on everything I said, no matter what it was. They asked me about the relevance of my education and I found myself unable to keep from telling them, in a funny accent, that I was trained in the art of Philology. They wrote that down too, frowning the whole time. It was the worst interview ever. I hate to think of what it would have been like working there. I think it would have been cheerless.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: The strangest thing that ever happened to me in this job has to be the day I got lost. My office is in the basement of a hospital. There are some very strange places in the basement of a hospital. I was sick, running a fever and I had to go to an office in the new building. It was cold outside, so, sick as I was, I decided to make my way to the door closest to the new building. I got a little lost and gave up on finding the best door. As soon as I found any door that seemed to lead out, I went through it. The door locked behind me. I was standing in a small, open air plaza. There were four walls around me, three other locked doors, and four shaded windows. A tree was growing in the middle of the plaza. The building went up on all sides for about four stories. It was very peaceful. I tried knocking on doors and windows, but it was about two hours before anyone came by to let me out. I felt lucky. I could have been trapped there all weekend. It wasn't even possible to get a cell phone signal. I don't know why we even have a space like that.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I get up and go to work every day because I know what I do makes other people's jobs easier. I felt really good and proud when the data entry team personally thanked me for changes I had made to their forms that allowed part of the data to preload from other tables in the database. They were able to find what they needed all at once. The previous database admin had not thought well enough of the data entry team to do things like that. She simply wanted to drive them harder and remind them that they worked for her. That's not me. That's not how I am.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: There are a few challenges in my job, but the biggest has to be dealing with paper. People are much too wedded to paper, even today. One of the studies I worked with collected forms from the public. A lot of these forms were contrasted with data that was collected clinically. When I started working with that study, the database was already set up. Each form had its own table and entry form. If six forms had the patient's name, the patient's name was typed into the database six times. The same thing was true with the age and other personal data. I had to explain that there were pieces of information that should only be in any database once. If they conflict, then the information should be verified rather than stored. It took a lot of work to make them understand the need to redo that database. What makes me want to quit? Silence. I cannot work in a silent workplace. I literally did quit a job once because the employer demanded silence. I can do anything as long as I have some audio input.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job can be very stressful at times, especially when things get down to the wire and everyone needs everything from me all at once. I keep chickens, ducks, and goats in my spare time. Having something real that loves and depends on me helps balance everything else.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: I make about $20,000 per year, which is very low for my position, but right now I'm happy to have a job when so many others don't. I live relatively simply, so I can afford what I need most of the time. I think everyone would love to have a raise, but right now that's not really going to happen. I take on freelance assignments sometimes to get by and it helps.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take a few days here and there. Sometimes I take a week or so if there is a family event, like a reunion or a wedding. It doesn't seem like enough when the stressful times hit, but I manage.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: A computer related degree and certifications help get you hired in this field. Unless you trip and fall backward into a data base admin job like I did, a lot of places won't even consider you without education in the field. Experience helps when you apply for other jobs, but getting the experience to begin with is the difficult part, if you don't have the degree.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: If a friend were considering becoming a database admin, if she were a good friend, I would tell her to run away fast unless she likes working on coding, logical puzzles and once in a while doing large amounts of entry, just to see if she can break the database. It isn't for everyone. Most people would find my job boring.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: As much as I like my job most of the time, I always talk about making chairs for a living instead. I think it's because chairs are something real that I can touch. So I guess if I had unlimited resources, I would be making the greatest wooden chairs on earth in five years.