Some Guidance Please - How to become a database Administrator/Analyst

I have a question on which path to take on becoming a database administrator. I have spent the last several years working in inventory control for a nonprofit organization. I managed IT inventory and also played a small role in helping to implement an inventory database. I participated in gathering business requirements, user acceptance testing, and helped with data cleansing. I have a degree in business and entry level IT certs (A+, Net+) which seem irrelevant in today's market. I'm not sure which path to take in order to achieve my goal of becoming a database analyst. At least that is what I believe the position would be called. I'm looking for insight on certifications or training that would be needed to enter this field. I have been trying to learn SQL on my own and have a long way to go. I guess I am trying to decide if formal education is the way to go (i.e. going back to school) or if there are certs/training that can help me. Any feedback is welcome.

While Oracle gets a bad rap, they have plenty of courses available. I'd look into some of those. In general, I don't know that you'll find IT certs much use, and while a business degree can help, it'll be more late career stuff than entry level Database Admin work.

First let me preface this and say that my title is software developer, however I've done a lot of database heavy development/ "DBA-type" work in the past. You are correct. Certs don't seem to be as a big of a deal now as they were before. I would also note that I learned more at internships and summer IT contract work then I ever did while I was in school. Trial by fire so to speak. With your degree already in hand, I would focus on learning the skills necessary for the job you want. I would look for internships, temp to hire, or something where you can get experience "shadowing" or assisting a current DBA. I would bet DBA's are a tougher sell to smaller businesses who usually just hire a developer or network admin who does the DBA work in addition to their other duties (the case I was in before we hired a DBA). If this holds true outside my past experiences, you may have to look for these positions at bigger companies.

Like AnimeJ said, Oracle does courses. I know Microsoft offers courses for SQL Server as well. As a potential DBA, SQL is going to be very important as you are going to have to know how to optimize queries for speed, performance, and cost of using vs. another approach. Of all the things I've taken with me from job to job, SQL has been the most transferable. I would also do some experiments with the products themselves. Download the trial versions of the big ones (SQL Server Express and Oracle) and learn to set them up. Play around with settings. Being familiar with the application, knowing some SQL, and talking semi coherently about them are going to go a long way for a potential internship.

You mentioned Database Analyst, but I've never seen the title at any company I've worked for (doesn't mean it doesn't exist!). Gathering requirements and user acceptance testing sound a lot more like things a business analyst (this might be your current job??) would do. With your business degree that would probably be a lot easier to migrate to without being database specific. Perhaps that's the direction you were intending? Hope that helps and let me know if you have any more questions!

Entry level DBA jobs are pretty rare. Most DBAs tend to work their way into the role starting out as a report writer, BI analyst, or developer convert.

If you're going Microsoft, go pick up a copy of SQL Server 2008/2012 developer edition. It costs about $50, the license is for learning/testing only, and is a full enterprise class install. Then you go to codeplex and get the AdventureWorks and AdventureWorksDW databases (lots of sample data, the DW is "Data Warehouse" for BI/Cube work). After that you get books, and do online exercises. For example, you want to learn how to modify a cube, technet has the tutorial. For DBA stuff, SQL Server 2008 R2 Unleased is a great bible.

Lastly as CPT said, learn SQL, learn it well. Inside and out. Once you have a grip on things, look for entry level positions and start networking at local user groups. There are SQL Saturdays, SQL SIGs, and even PASS (professional association sql server) events that occur all over the country. Great place to learn and network.

Getting the certification doesn't hurt, but without experience it's not going to provide as much value unless you get in with a contracting firm.