Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Oracle Certification Process

In late 1997, on what was a very shiny day (for all of DBA-kind I am sure), I proudly exited my local facility that proctored Oracle certification exams. On this glorious day I had passed the last of four exams required to obtain the coveted Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) title. I was certified on Oracle 7.3 and could not have been more proud. After waiting a few weeks to receive my certificate I brandished it in my home study. Make no mistake about it. I felt this had legitimized my 3 long years of Oracle work to date - I had reached an Oracle summit. At that time the OCP title was not nearly as pervasive as it is today. In hindsight, I suppose my enthusiasm was not entirely unjustified.

Let’s roll time forward nine years to 2006. I have not renewed my certification. For all practical purposes I am not an OCP. I certainly wouldn’t claim such on my resume having only achieved version 7.3 certification. Why haven’t I renewed my certification? After all, Oracle has bent over backwards to assist this erstwhile OCP by offering an upgrade exam. I can take a single exam and immediately upgrade my certification status to an Oracle 9i OCP. If I labored a bit more, I could take another upgrade exam and attain the highest OCP level available. Does this mean that I could, nearly overnight, claim expertise in all of the concepts and elegant nuances Oracle has built into its database since version 7.3? Professionally, on my resume, I suppose the answer is yes. Realistically, the answer is, no way!

I feel the only real way to stay current with our Oracle knowledge and exhibit the technical acumen associated with a proficient Oracle practitioner is to read (and reread) documentation and test features. There is absolutely no substitute for good old-fashioned studying in conjunction with trial and error exercises. I have interviewed dozens of Oracle Certified Professionals over the years, many of which struggled with the basics. I do believe that today, more than ever, the ubiquitous OCP title provides little insight into the qualifications of an Oracle DBA. However, I do believe that the certification process can lay an excellent framework for a strong understanding of the Oracle database. Just, not by necessity. It varies from person to person. One person with the same temporal experience with Oracle and an OCP title might appear lacking when compared to another with equal “qualifications” and accomplishments. Why? We all have different approaches to storing information for retrieval. I remember cramming for exams in college for the courses I loathed. I always seemed to make out okay. But, did I really learn the material or just buffer it long enough so that my mind could hurl it back out in the nick of time? I know, for those “undesirable” classes it was the latter. For me to learn I must:

1. Want to learn.
2. Be passionate about the topic.
3. and study, study, study.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, those supremely intelligent humans that roam the earth with a glut of gray matter that have little need for 3), leaving it for the rest of us to toil.

Am I a better DBA than I was nine years ago? I certainly hope so. Could I augment the breadth and depth of my Oracle knowledge by revisiting the certification process? Absolutely. But, couldn’t I really do the same by studying the material covered by the exams? After all, I am passionate about the topic and want to learn. I know. I know. It sounds like a really cheap excuse. Read the material, but, uh hum, skip the exams right? How convenient.

For those of you with your OCP please don’t think I am minimizing your achievements. I am certainly not doing so. I believe that the Oracle certification process can yield a very productive learning experience, insofar as we really take the time to authentically learn the material we are studying. It has been my experience, that if I have ostensibly forgotten what I have learned, as long as I truly understood the material while in the learning process, re-learning can be a very quick enterprise.

By the way, I think I will take the upgrade exams this year. But, this time I refuse to cram. I will revisit the exam topics with a cheerful willingness, as the science of Oracle database administration is a very exciting and challenging branch of knowledge.


Blogger Steve Eck said...

Sadly, I've interviewed quite a few OCPs who struggle with the basics as well.

I guess its the nature of trying to put a test on something as complex and multi-faceted as Oracle administration.

4/28/2006 8:54 AM  
Blogger Beth Breidenbach said...

I agree that a certification by itself means little, if anything.

For myself, studying for the cert introduced me to a few specific topics I might not have otherwise dipped into.

It's a nice set of letters to put after my title, but doesn't make me anything other than what I am: A database professional with over a decade of experience, but only 2 in Oracle.

Maybe in another couple years I'll stop considering myself an Oracle newbie, but not yet and certainly NOT because of some certification....

4/28/2006 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I became certified in 7.3 ( the first one available ) about the same timeframe as you did. Unlike you I have upgraded ( eventually ) release by release mostly because I have been teaching the OCP curriculum (usually 2 or 3 courses a year on nights and/or weekends ) for a local community college. Not long ago I completed the 10g upgrade.

The 9i exams I did individually one by one ( intro, admin 1 and 2, performance and tuning ) -- I thought it was kind of old to tell my students "well when I took the 7.3 exam in this area 7 years ago ... ".

There are always some things that you learn and are reinforced by passing the OCP exams -- that's a good thing.

The reason most people these days decide to do the OCP certification route has much more to do with getting through a job application and the HR screening process than from the knowledge it delivers. For 10g, you can know be certified as an OCP in 2 exams ( 2 five day classes ) -- a scary idea for those candidates (and people hiring them) who don't have the work experience to go along with an OCP.

4/30/2006 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen people with very little knowledge pass OCP exams and people with very high level of knowledge failing them.

It is sad that HR departments have to use OCP certification as a filtering factor. In the above mentioned case they will let good candidates go.

5/02/2006 11:07 AM  
Blogger mattypenny said...

FWIW, I've found the upgrade process fairly useful. I started at 7.3 then upgraded through 8.0, 8i and 9i. Each time I did the new features exam.

The joy and the pain of these are that they force you to cover the new stuff (and only the new stuff)in some detail - both the bits that look interesting and/or are heavily trailed at User Groups etc, and the rest.

In terms of making yourself more employable - I've been to more than one interview where there has been nobody there who can ask the right technical questions - so it can only help.

Finally all the above probably needs to be set in the context of the fact that I commute by train for more than an hour a day, so I have more time to read up than most people!

5/05/2006 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed it on the head. I am forever seeing posts asking whether getting OCP is worthwhile or not. This is usually followed by a huge number of posts going on about how great or useless it is. The fact of the matter is you get out of it what you put into it.

5/06/2006 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why pick on OCP ? I have been OCP certified since '97 and upgraded through to 9i but am also certified with MCSE 3.51, and upgraded that through to Win2K and similarly Netware 3.11 through to 5.0

No employer has ever asked me for proof of any of my certifications so you can argue they were all a waste of time anyway :-)

For me, I find the exams as a good incentive to check how much I actually remember/understand a particular topic and gives an excuse to delve into areas I wouldnt normally go into every 2-3 years

I would agree that a non-techy academic could read a few books and probably pass any exam that is based on multiple choice but you will notice Oracle and Microsoft are both now bringing in "Masters" type certifications which are practical based tests.

I think an OCP or MCSE certification proves that the person is capable of understanding technical concepts and has enough enthusiasm and grasp of commercial reality to want to pass these exams which must be a good thing

In any case, you can put the same arguments up against any non-practical type of exam... be it GCSE or a University degree, what does a piece of paper actually prove ? Many school leavers in the UK have little grasp of mathematics or english language (for example) despite having an exam to say they are proficient

5/30/2006 8:15 AM  
Blogger Joel Garry said...

I've been asked for proof for some government contracting jobs, the contractors have to have a lot of paperwork done. Actually, they don't have to ask you, since they can ask oracle education directly. Also, I've been given to understand some Oracle Partners have to have certified Masters for some reason or another to be Partners.

6/05/2006 12:57 PM  
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