Friday, May 10, 2013

What is Certification?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article on LinkedIn entitled "What is College". It was an interesting read. While the article did not contain anything profound, the author provided a reasonable template of the goals that attending college is meant to provide. I thought about the same question as it applies to Oracle certifications. Many people do not really spend much time thinking about why they are pursuing certification. Over the years I have found that individuals pursuing certifications fall into two distinct classes. 
  •  The first class, usually new to Oracle, is focused only on the piece of paper. Getting the certificate and adding a line to their resume is the extent of their goal. They assume that getting a certification is an easy means to get hired. As a rule, they are looking for the easiest, fastest, and cheapest means of doing so. It is this class of individuals that is most commonly interested in using brain dumps. I have written articles before on my opinion of people who use brain dumps so I will not go down that path in this post.
  • The second class of candidates is focused in the material covered by the certification. Whatever the subject of the exam, their goal might be to learn about it from scratch, broaden their existing knowledge of it, or to demonstrate that they have already mastered it. Regardless, passing the exam is vindication that they understand the information. The certificate is an afterthought and will probably be put away in a filing cabinet and forgotten.

I wanted to discuss the two before getting into some ways to think about certification. The five points below really only apply to the second class of individuals. For the first class, the only way to think about an Oracle certification is: "A fancy piece of paper with your name on it." If you are part of the second class, you might consider the following points:

A planned learning agenda. The topic list was designed by a team of people very knowledgeable about the Oracle database. The subjects covered are intended to provide a broad cross-section of the information that might be needed by Oracle professionals. Not every topic will be applicable to every individual that pursues the certification. However, understanding that a capability exists can be valuable even if you are not currently using it.
A path for staying relevant. Information technology changes constantly and rapidly. In this field, if you are not learning, you are falling behind. It is certainly true that a motivated Oracle professional could increase their knowledge without having to pursue Oracle certifications. It is possible to learn continuously and keep up with the changes introduced by new releases by reading white papers, web articles, third party manuals and the documentation. That said, using Oracle certifications as a method for learning new technologies takes a similar amount of effort, but provides professional recognition of the time you spent.
An incentive to learn. As with the prior point, Oracle professionals can read articles or books, view instructional videos, or take classes to improve their skills. However, it is all too easy to do any of these things without actually retaining anything. Everyone has had the experience of reading something (especially something technical and boring) only to realize that they cannot recall the last three paragraphs (or pages... or chapters). When I am studying for a certification, the certainty that there will be a test at the end helps me to stay focused on absorbing the material rather than simply skimming over it.
A indicator of commitment. There is no reason to obtain Oracle certifications if you have no interest in pursuing a career as an Oracle professional. That is not the same thing as saying only people with certifications are interested in their Oracle career. However, earning certifications requires a commitment of time and money from the candidate. I have spent many nights and weekends reading through Oracle documentation and other sources while I could have been doing something much more enjoyable. When someone puts a significant amount of their personal time into professional certifications, it is a reasonable indicator that they want to be good at their job.
A means of networking. There is no club house, no silly hat, and no special handshake. However, earning a certification makes you part of a huge group of Oracle professionals in the world. Quite often they (we) are in senior positions at companies and are influential in making hiring decisions. I will not claim that I would recommend a candidate with a certification over a more qualified candidate without one. However, candidates that hold Oracle certifications will positively influence me -- unless their answers to my interview questions scream 'brain dump user' at me, of course.

Oracle certifications only reflect the value that the candidates earning them put in. When used as a means of continuously improving your knowledge of Oracle, they can be quite valuable indeed over the course of your career.