What Is the Difference Between a Database Engineer and a Database Administrator?

Updated November 30, 2022

Many businesses and organizations rely on information databases to support their work processes. Being able to create and manage IT databases is one of the core responsibilities for people who work in database design, development and administration. Database administrators and database engineers are two of the key roles involved with developing functional databases, and they often collaborate to support IT operations.

In this article, we explain the difference between database engineer and database administrator careers.

What is a database engineer?

Database engineers, also known as data engineers are responsible for designing and implementing digital databases. They use computing tools to create new databases or adjust the function and capacity of existing databases. Database engineers design efficient database engine processes for sorting and accessing information. They use programming knowledge to build data pipelines and integrate new information into existing databases.

Related: Learn About Being a Data Architect

What is a database administrator?

A database administrator is an IT professional responsible for handling the general management of an information database. They oversee user accounts access issues, data integrity and the overall upkeep of database operations. Database administrators work to ensure that the database works properly and people can use it to access the information they need when they need it. They help troubleshoot problems and supervise the flow of tasks within the database.

Related: Learn About Being a Database Administrator

Database engineer vs. database administrator similarities and differences

Database engineers and database administrators work in the same general field, but the scope of their work is different. Here is an overview of the key differences between database engineers and database administrators that you should consider when planning your career options:


The primary difference between database administrators and database engineers is their daily duties and the overall scope of their work. Database engineers create databases, while database administrators manage them. To accomplish these goals, they focus on different tasks.

Database administrator duties include:

  • Installing database server equipment: Setting up the initial hardware for a database is an important part of being a database administrator. Database administrators can install, replace and repair the physical equipment involved in running a database.

  • Upgrading and updating software: Database administrators also sync database software with the hardware that powers it. They keep track of software versions and make updates or upgrades when necessary.

  • Determining database storage requirements: One of the responsibilities of a database administrator is to assess how much digital space the database needs to accommodate various projects and allocating storage space to different aspects of the database.

  • Creating user accounts: Database administrators help clients and other IT professionals access database information by setting up user accounts, adding passwords and closing or deleting old accounts to optimize database efficiency.

  • Managing user permissions and access: Databases often have some information or features that are only available to specific users. Database administrators assign permissions to each user and override access requirements for situations where a user needs additional permissions.

  • Implementing database security policies: To keep database and user information secure, database administrators create safety and security guidelines. They educate users about these policies and track user activity to identify security threats or unusual behavior in the database engine.

  • Backing up data recovery files: Database administrators create backup copies of the information in a database and the database code itself to make it easier to recover information and restore database functions in the event of data loss or function issues.

  • Archiving old information: To ensure that the database has available space for important information, database administrators review old information and archive data that is no longer critical to the database.

  • Restoring crashed databases: Database administrators ensure that a database can keep operating even when the system crashes. They help troubleshoot the cause of a database disruption and perform basic maintenance to restore the system and recover data.

  • Generating database reports: Database administrators also help pull data reports by entering conditions into the database software and combining different data sets.

Database engineer duties include:

  • Determining business requirements: Because data engineers are responsible for creating completely new databases, they first have to meet with clients to determine what kind of database infrastructure they need. They discuss the purpose of the database and set essential specifications for how the database should work.

  • Developing database architecture: Database engineers develop the digital architecture and database engine that allows the database to operate. They create spaces for data storage, add categories and establish rules for entering or editing new information entries.

  • Programming database algorithms: Programming, creating algorithms and using code is a standard part of building and updating a database. Database engineers create original database programs and adjust existing code to customize database features.

  • Setting data storage rules: Database engineers determine what happens to new information and where the database stores various data sets. They establish data pipelines and rules that make it easier for users to pull data sets and properly store new information.

  • Allocating computing resources: To build a new database or expand upon an existing one, database engineers determine what hardware and software resources they need to complete computing tasks. They also allocate these resources to different parts of the database based on storage and computing needs.

  • Analyzing data sets: Database engineers analyze patterns in data and look for trends to improve database operations and provide insights to their clients about how to best use their existing data.

  • Merging databases into a shared system: When a client needs to combine data sets from multiple sources, data engineers determine how to cohesively merge them into the same system by integrating categories and adjusting data entry styles to one consistent method.

  • Optimizing database efficiency: Database engineers make updates to databases to improve their efficiency and increase the speed of the database engine. They identify data sets or specific operations that have a negative impact on database function, then make adjustments as necessary.

  • Automating database tasks: To make it easier for users to interact with a database, database engineers identify common database commands and find ways to automate or simplify those tasks. They create macros that automatically initiate each part of the data pipeline or immediately generate a certain type of data set when users perform a specific action.


Both database engineers and database administrators should have at least a bachelor's degree in information science, computer science or a related field. Some roles that involve managing large databases require database administrators or engineers to have a master's degree in IT. Database engineers may also choose to major in a subject like engineering or mathematics with an emphasis on software and computer-related topics.

People interested in becoming database administrators should select college courses that help them develop the knowledge and skills to manage a complex information system. Examples of subjects to study during college for aspiring database administrators are:

  • Cybersecurity

  • Information theory

  • Computer organization

  • Optimization techniques

  • Server administration

  • Data analysis

Data engineers should consider studying these courses when working toward their undergraduate degree:

  • Applied mathematics

  • Business intelligence

  • Software development

  • SQL

  • Operating systems

  • Database architecture


You typically need existing IT experience to qualify for database administrator roles. Working in IT support, software development, system administration or data analysis for a few years is a great way to develop the hands-on skills and experience you need to get a job as a database administrator. Getting entry-level roles that allow you to familiarize yourself with IT administration and database programming can show employers that you're proficient in all of the concepts related to database administration.

Database engineers should also have prior experience related to IT and programming. Because database engineers build the infrastructure for other IT staff, they generally have a senior role within the IT department. Previous experience with software engineering is essential for database engineers to show that they know how to develop computing architecture. Database engineers should also have experience in a role related to data modeling or data analysis.

Related: How to Become a Database Administrator


Database administrators need to be able to demonstrate a range of characteristics and skills to successfully manage database operations. This includes technical skills and soft skills for managing information and solving problems. Some of the top skills for database administrators are:

  • Metadata management: Good database administrators have an excellent understanding of how metadata works and how to manage metadata within database systems.

  • Attention to detail: Paying close attention to each aspect of a database is an important part of managing user behaviors as a database administrator.

  • Multitasking: Database administrators may have to run multiple complex programs at once while balancing tickets and requests from database users.

  • Data modeling: Information systems use data models to organize informational elements. Database administrators should understand how to use data modeling programs and apply the results.

  • Code review: While database administrators may not write code for a database, they should be able to review code and programming for any structural issues. Code review involves knowing how different programming languages and algorithms work and how they influence database behavior.

  • Strategic thinking: Database administrators should be able to think strategically to balance all database operations and anticipate user needs. Strategic thinking helps database administrators create a plan for long-term database maintenance and management.

  • Networking: Many clients use digital networks to access database information, so database administrators should be skilled in basic networking tasks and concepts. This gives them the knowledge to ensure stable database connections.

  • Organization: Staying organized is important for database administrators because they have to balance priorities for all database users. They use organization skills to plan database maintenance and make it easier to access database information.

  • Communication: Database administrators use communication skills to explain concepts to users, provide troubleshooting instructions and interpret reports about database issues.

Database engineers use interpersonal skills, planning and technical knowledge to create custom database infrastructure for their clients. Examples of important skills for database engineers are:

  • Programming languages: Being able to write code in multiple programming languages is an important qualification for database engineers. SQL is especially important, but database engineers should also be able to incorporate other programming languages.

  • Debugging: Database engineers review code to find the source of bugs, glitches and errors. They should be proficient in multiple debugging tools and manual troubleshooting practices.

  • Business management: Business acumen and knowledge helps database engineers communicate with clients. They need interpersonal skills and basic business management skills to host meetings, set objectives and develop project specifications.

  • ETL: One of the common database integration skills is ETL, which means extract, transform, load. ETL skills help database engineers submit information into databases and merge data sets.

  • Machine learning: Database engineers develop programming infrastructure by using machine learning to study computer algorithms. Machine learning skills enable database engineers to use AI to improve database automation.

  • Focus: Building database infrastructure is a complex process that requires focus and commitment. Database engineers need to have the ability to pay close attention to a single process throughout the completion of a project.

  • Data analysis: To get the most out of databases, database engineers use data analysis skills to recognize trends and learn about how users interact with data seta.

  • Problem-solving: Database engineers work to solve problems for their complex by building computing systems. They use problem-solving during the planning phase, when testing their database and when implementing updates and making modifications.

Related: 8 Invaluable Data Engineering Skills


Both database administrators and database engineers can both earn a lucrative living. Because database engineers have a more advanced technical position, they tend to have higher salaries. Database engineers make $131,673 per year for their average salary while database administrators earn $97,007 per year on average.

Work environment

Database administrators and database engineers have a similar work environment. They typically work full-time in an office environment, where they use computers to complete their work.


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