If you have chosen to pursue a career as a database designer, I have good news for you. You can aim for a good salary. With time and experience, you may get an even better salary!
Reports of the IT market for database designer jobs often vary in salary and growth prospects. But even the most pessimistic analysts agree on good to very good salaries and growth in demand. This makes the prospect for a database designer even better 5 years into the future.
But before I get into the economic details, let's look at what database design is. Who are database designers, and what do they do in their day-to-day lives? Besides the prospects of a well-paying job, data modeling is also fun!
What Is Database Design?
Database design is part of the data modeling process, which in turn is part of the organization’s overall data strategy. Broadly speaking, data modeling involves understanding and/or defining the form in which the organization’s data should be stored and used for efficiency and productivity. Data modeling has many benefits that help organizations save money and gain competitive advantages by increased efficiency in manipulating their data.
The output of data modeling and database design are data models, the structures that underlie the manipulation and storage of data. They should be secure and serve as a solid foundation for the organization’s applications, whether they are operational, transactional, or for decision support.
A data model is composed mostly of:
- Data objects, that is, the entities for which you want to store information.
- Rules or constraints that govern the information stored in them.
What a Database Designer Does
The most tangible task in building a data model is creating entity-relationship diagrams (ERDs). Tools like Vertabelo make this task very easy if you know how to give meaning to ERDs. But the most important parts of the database designer's job happen before and after drawing ERDs.
The Work Before the ERD
Before drawing diagrams, a designer reviews requirements and interprets them to derive data models. Sometimes the requirements are already written, and the designer only needs to read and understand them. Other times, the requirements are in the minds of users and stakeholders, and the designer interviews them and documents what they need from the databases.
After drawing the ERDs, the designer assists in creating or modifying the databases. Among many other skills, a database designer needs SQL language skills. At a minimum, the designer needs to be able to interact with the database administrators (DBAs) to help implement the data models he/she has created. Sometimes, the designer puts on a DBA hat and implements the database from his/her own knowledge of the relational database management system (RDBMS).
You may think the designer's job ends when the database is up and running. But that is not the case. The designer needs to accompany the evolution of the database throughout its lifecycle.
He/she must be part of the development team to respond to the needs for model changes. This involves either adapting the model to the changes in the requirements, refactoring it, or improving the performance of the applications.
But first things first! Let’s start with how to become a database designer.
How to Become a Database Designer
The first step to becoming a database designer is to earn a degree, either from an associate or bachelor's degree program. You can also take a course in database design specifically, although these courses commonly have prerequisites in general aspects of computer science. Or you can learn on your own by reading a good book on database design.
This needs a hyperlink to the survey at the minimum for two reasons: (1) Attribution; (2) 65%+25% = 90% - if 65% had a bachelor's or better and 25% less, then what did the remaining 10% have??
I added the hyperlink. The numbers are approximate, so it could be that part of the remaining 10% didn't answer, or have no specific education in software development
The worldwide averages of annual database designer salaries (source: SalaryExpert).
If you’re applying for a database modeling job, check out some typical database modeling interview questions you may be asked.
Any one of these learning options gives you enough to apply for a job as a junior database designer. Your responsibilities as a junior designer typically include working with ERDs to normalize schemas, generating schemas from existing databases, generating SQL scripts to update databases, and performing other basic design tasks that do not involve making crucial decisions.
Proficiency in the SQL language is a must for working in database design. You use it daily to write or review scripts that alter the structure of a database, query data, or add/modify/delete data in database tables. In a , SQL ranks fourth among the most commonly used languages, just below Python in third place.
According to SalaryExpert, the average entry-level database designer salary is around 26,000 USD per year. However, this varies greatly by region, as you see below:
Average annual salaries for an entry-level database designer, by region (source: dSalaryExpert). The definitions of the regions come from.
Note that, with the rise of remote work and the trend in offshore resource hiring, salary variations have less to do with where you live or work. Instead, it has more to do with the location of the paying (i.e., hiring) organization. If you get a job as a database designer for a company in Western Europe, you can expect a salary between 41,000 and 67,000 USD per year (depending on the country), even as an entry-level designer.
Gaining Experience and Raising Your Salary Expectations
To move up the ladder in seniority and income, you have to broaden and deepen the knowledge you learned in a degree program, in a course, or from a book. I’m sure you have learned about normal forms, but only practice teaches you how to spot when a schema is not normalized and how to normalize it.
By the same token, through practicing with real-world databases, you learn how to decide correctly when to use a natural key and when to define a surrogate key. Real-life practice exposes you to situations for which you need to create views. It teaches you how to create indexes to prevent performance problems even before the database is populated with data.
Another important requirement for moving out of the junior designer rank is the mastery of data warehousing concepts. To design a data warehouse for OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing), you must understand denormalization and how to apply it for performance benefits. You also need to know about dimensions and dimension types (conformed, role-playing, slowly changing, junk, etc.), types of fact tables (transactional, periodic snapshots, and cumulative snapshots), and the different types of data warehousing schemas (star, galaxy, and snowflake).
The ability to make correct design decisions, explain your decisions, and document them move you up the seniority ladder and allow you to reach for higher salaries.
Look at the following chart for an idea of the annual salary of a mid-level database designer, which roughly implies 1 to 4 years of experience.
Average annual salaries for a mid-level database designer, by region (source: SalaryExpert). The definitions of the regions come from.
Reaching the Top
To take your career to the highest level as a database designer, you need several years of experience – five or more, to give you an idea. You also need to master to perfection all the concepts in database design to the point of, for example, being able to bring a schema to the 3rd normal form at a glance. And you need a set of specific data modeling skills including those beyond the technical realm.
These extra skills you need to become a senior database designer are the so-called “soft skills.” This is in contrast to the “hard skills,” which are mostly technical skills. Soft skills are necessary for doing, among other things:
- Leading workgroups.
- Aligning the results of your work (or those of your team) with the business objectives of the organization.
- Communicating those results to the stakeholders of a project.
- Acting as an interface between the database team and other work teams.
Key soft skills you need to become a senior-level database designer include business vision, communication skills, and interpersonal skills.
The business vision is important for ensuring databases meet the organization’s business objectives. For example, the decision to use a surrogate key or a natural key may be critical for a database to meet performance or functionality goals.
Communication and interpersonal skills are key for senior database designers. They need to lead work teams, discuss design decisions with clients and stakeholders, and collaborate with leaders of other work teams or other units of the organization.
If you have the experience and the soft skills needed to become a senior-level database designer, you command the highest database designer salary. Of course, you need all the hard skills, also.
As you see below, if you land a senior database designer job for a Western European company, your annual salary may exceed 90,000 USD.
Average annual salaries for a senior-level database designer, by region (source: SalaryExpert). The definitions of the regions come from.
You can climb even higher. But that means you go for a database architect position. Database architect salaries reflect the typically greater responsibilities than those of database designers.
Before you get too excited about these salaries, be warned. The “soft” parts of the senior database designer job description take you away from the parts of database design work you may consider more fun.
As a senior-level designer, you spend less time dealing with tables, attributes, indexes, diagrams, schemas, etc., and more time dealing with people. And for some of us, dealing with people is more exhausting than dealing with abstract entities like objects in an ERD. And that’s why the salaries of a senior designer are so much higher than those of a mid- or entry-level designer.
What Database Designer Salary Do You Want?
If you are a nerd like me, you may prefer to settle for a mid-level database designer salary to spend more time with your beloved design tools. You may want to spend less time in meeting rooms where you have to make businesspeople understand database stuff, such as table naming conventions, surrogate keys, or even why a schema topology is called snowflake if it doesn’t look like a snowflake at all. So, choose wisely!