Saturday, December 14, 2013

The worst-laid plans of mice and men...

Oracle beta exams have their good points. However I normally prefer to wait for the production version. In this case, though, one of the winners of the 1Z0-062 voucher contest I held on this blog a couple of months ago got one through their employer after the contest was finished. The contest was over and there were no other valid entries to give it to. A brother of one of my coworkers had expressed interested in becoming Oracle certified, so I offered it to him. He considered it, but eventually decided not to. With time running out on the beta and an unused voucher, I decided to take the exam myself. The test does nothing for me since I am already an 11g OCP, but taking it could be useful in preparing my study guide for the exam.

That said -- what possessed me to schedule the exam on Friday the 13th?

Even before I realized what I had done, I knew that the beta was not going to be pretty. Normally I make sure I am well prepared before I ever schedule a certification exam. In this case, the first draft of my guide for 1Z0-062 is only about three-quarters complete.  However, with December 14th being the last day of the beta, I had to schedule it or lose out on the chance. The Pearson Vue center I normally use is not open on Saturdays, so that left Friday (I didn't really pay attention to the day of the month). I did a quick read through on the sections I have not researched yet and hoped for the best. For the record... this is an extremely bad plan.

Normally (there's that word again) when I am taking a certification exam, I make sure that I arrive at the testing center thirty to sixty minutes before my scheduled exam start. I check in with the desk to ensure I am in the right place and everything is set up, and then spend the time until the exam doing some last minute cramming. Yesterday, events conspired to keep me from leaving the house until I had just enough time to make it to the center. I thought it wouldn't be a problem. The testing center was at a community college where I have taken several exams previously. On this occasion, once I signed in at the desk, rather than taking me in to start the exam (as they have every time before), they sent me out to the lobby where about fifteen people were already waiting. I sat there for about twenty minutes watching other people get called in before one of the proctors came out and indicated that there was a problem. More people were in the room than they had on their list.

It turns out -- I (and many other people in the room) were in the wrong building. We were scheduled at the other testing center located halfway across the campus. After a hike and some time waiting in a different room, I finally got to start my exam -- exactly an hour after it was originally scheduled.

Regarding the exam itself -- John Watson contacted me after he took the exam three months ago and said he thought it was harder than it has been in the past. I would have to agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that it is even more difficult when you are not well prepared and are in a really foul mood before hitting the 'Begin Test' button.

It was not until after I got back home that it dawned on me that 'today' was Friday the 13th. It would be nice if I could point to that and seriously believe the problems were not my fault but were instead just a matter of 'bad luck'. Unfortunately, that was not the root cause here. I did not properly prepare for the exam and I did not follow my normal procedures for ensuring everything was correct at the testing center. The only positive factors are that I took the exam for free and that the results will not impact me one way or another. One thing is for sure -- I will make sure to plan better before scheduling my next certification exam.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Oracle Certifications -- What do *you* do with the certificate?

In a recent thread on the OTN Certification forum, a poster was asking about getting the paper copy of his certificate and whether he would get one of the little cards for completing his OCA. That thread, plus a couple recently on LinkedIn about people who have lost their paper certificate and wanted a new one got me thinking. What exactly do people do with the hard-copy of their certificates? Between my certifications from Oracle, CompTIA, Microsoft, and Novell -- I have a couple dozen paper certificates. All of them are sitting in a file cabinet and only see the light of day when I pull them out to put a new one in. I could not imagine taking them in to a job interview. I add the certifications to my resume and my Linked In profile so that employers know I have them. If any ask me to prove that I am certified, I would use Certview's ability to send credentials to a third party before I would use the certificate itself.

The thought of hanging the certificates on the wall or in my cubicle just calls to mind this old Dilbert strip. I am not embarrassed of having the certifications by any means, but displaying them feels like boasting -- and about the wrong things. There are several instances where one of my coding projects has saved my employer huge amounts of money. Those projects are something that show what I am capable of -- except that I did not get a certificate for them. :)

Even more puzzling to me than the certificates are the cards. I really do not see any use for them. Mine are in the same file cabinet folder as the certificates. The cards seem to be sized for carrying around in your wallet, but I cannot imagine doing so. Between credit cards, health insurance cards, auto insurance cards, and so forth -- I have enough stuff in there already. When exactly do you use one of these cards? I envision being present at the scene of a horrific database crash. Everyone is running around in circles screaming until I whip the card out and announce that everyone should keep calm because I am an Oracle Certified Professional. Or... not.

So the whole point of this post is that I am curious about you -- the person reading this article. If you have Oracle certifications -- what do you do with your paper certificates? Do you have any suggested uses for the cards? Comment away, please. Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Order Should I take Oracle Certification Exams In?

I have read (and responded to) a number of posts from Oracle certification candidates who ask what order they must take exams in for tracks that include multiple tests. The most common set I see is probably 1Z0-051 (Oracle Database 11g: SQL Fundamentals I) vs 1Z0-052 (Oracle Database 11g: Administration I). The simple answer is: "It really does not matter". However, since going with that answer would make for a very short blog post, I'm going to go with a somewhat more comprehensive answer.

You can schedule to take Oracle certification exams with Pearson Vue in effectively any order you care to. Oracle University will not stop you from taking the exams or penalize you in any way. For an example, consider the Oracle Database 11g Administrator Certified Professional credential. The full track consists of three exams and a hands-on training requirement. The most common sequence that certification candidates fulfill the requirements in is:

  1. Pass 1Z0-051 -- SQL Fundamentals I
  2. Pass 1Z0-052 --Administration I
  3. Take the hands-on training course
  4. Pass 1Z0-053 -- Administration II

However, there is absolutely nothing preventing a candidate from reversing that order entirely:
  1. Pass 1Z0-053 -- Administration II
  2. Take the hands-on training course
  3. Pass 1Z0-052 --Administration I
  4. Pass 1Z0-051 -- SQL Fundamentals I
In fact, you could pick any order and Oracle University won't miss a beat.  Either path will lead to the 11g Administrator Certified Associate and 11g Administrator Certified Professional credentials. That said, there are definite advantages to the testing candidate for the more common sequence.

Probably the most compelling advantage is that the first sequence will provide testing candidates with the OCA certification after step two. Candidates won't receive the OCA certification in the second sequence until step four (they will simultaneously complete the OCA and OCP requirements).

A second consideration is that the 1Z0-051 exam is generally considered to be one of the easiest.  The fact that it is unproctored and can be taken online means that testing candidates new to Oracle can use it to become familiar with Oracle certification exams before moving on to more complicated topics.

Finally, some candidates want to pass all three exams first and take the hands-on training afterward. While this is perfectly legitimate -- it means that anything you learn from the training is too late to apply towards passing the test. Unless you know the material in all three exams really well, it makes sense to take a training course that can improve your chances of passing and then schedule the exam. You will not receive the certification until all four steps have been completed.

Ultimately, you need to take the exams in the order that makes sense for your circumstances. If something makes it advisable to take an exam before one of the others, then do so. For example, maybe you receive a voucher for 1Z0-052 before you have taken 1Z0-051. If so -- do not be concerned that you are taking the exams 'out of order'. Once you have fulfilled all of the requirements for a given track, Oracle University will grant you the certification.

Monday, October 28, 2013

You are Either Learning or Sliding Towards Obsolescence

A couple of days ago I read an article on Career Builder: The importance of life-long learning in the IT industry, by Scott Skinger.  As the CEO and Founder of TrainSignal, it is not surprising that Scott is of the opinion that training is an important part of a long and successful career. Mind you, as the author of a series of certification guides, it is equally unsurprising that I am of the same opinion.

That said, anyone who spends just a few minutes thinking about it would be hard put to deny that being employed in the IT industry pretty much requires you to continue learning throughout your career.  Most people have working careers that span more than forty years. How much 1973 IT technology do you think is relevant today? Which companies are looking to hire individuals with knowledge of it?

If you want to continue to have skills and knowledge that make you valuable to your current employer and interesting to prospective employers, you must continually learn and adapt to changes in technology.  If you become expert in any given area and decide that you know enough, you will eventually discover your error.  This may take years depending on how deeply invested companies are in the technology that you are expert in. Eventually however, something will come along to replace it. If you have established yourself as the 'Go-To-Guy' for the legacy technology, you will likely be tapped to maintain the legacy system until its replacement.

I am reminded of a quote from an old movie, Other People's Money.  The main character in one scene says: "You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?" Do you really want to be the last employee at a company maintaining the code/system/application they are actively working to replace?

You should always be looking to learn new technologies and diversify your skills. This makes you look like a proactive employee and thereby adds job security.  Having multiple different skills also reduces your chance of becoming obsolete. Even if one becomes less important over time, others should continue to be relevant.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wanted: A Very Short Book That Has All the Basics of PL/SQL

A recent forum posting from someone just starting out with the Oracle database requested suggestions on a PL/SQL book for beginners.  He had some fairly restrictive requirements for it:

The book should...

  • Require no prior knowledge.
  • Be 200 pages or less.
  • Contain only the most most important elements of PL/SQL.
  • Function as a survival guide.

I write Oracle certification study guides.  By design, I make them as concise as possible in order to have a final product that can be used to help direct certification candidates while they prepare for the test and still be short enough to re-read a day or two before the exam date as a review. My guide for the OCA PL/SQL exam,
Study Guide for 1Z0-144: Oracle Database 11g: Program with PL/SQL, at 178 pages is not far from the supplied maximum.  However, by no means could the topics covered on the 1Z0-144 exam be considered '...
the most most important elements of PL/SQL'.  They are simply a reasonable set of the basic knowledge required to develop in PL/SQL.

In addition, even on the relatively focused subset of PL/SQL covered by the exam, the guide does not go into the depth that these subjects require for complete understanding.  Oracle professionals that have used PL/SQL will be able to put the information into context.  People new to PL/SQL will need to supplement the guide with other sources to really understand the material covered by the exam.  That is why I provide links to more details on the 1Z0-144 page on my companion website.

From this I can state with great confidence that there is no way that a 200 page book can simultaneously cover all of the important aspects of PL/SQL and be something that is written at a level that would be useful for someone new to the language.

One book that I consider to be an excellent A to Z resource for people just learning PL/SQL is Oracle PL/SQL Programming by Steven Feuerstein and Bill Pribyl.  It meets all of the required elements except for the page limit.  At 1,232 pages, it is just over six times the maximum requested.  No reason was supplied for the 200-page restriction.  Whatever the reason, if someone wants to start a career with Oracle as a PL/SQL developer, my advice would be to use the best resources available to learn the language rather than setting an arbitrary restriction on the size of that resource.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Free 12c Beta Vouchers -- the Winners

I had a number of people ask for the vouchers. A couple did not follow the rules and were eliminated. There were six people that provided one or more links. I looked at the contents of each of the links and rated them based on how useful they would be for the exam. One link was for an article that was not about 12c and another was a duplicate of one provided by an earlier poster. These two were not counted at all. A number of links were perfectly valid articles about 12c... but on topics not covered by the 1Z0-052 exam. I gave these links half credit... worthwhile to read, but not part of a study program for the exam.

After evaluating all of this, the winners are:

+Bobin Varghese with four full-credit articles and one half-credit article.
+Henry FC with two full-credit articles and two half-credit articles.
+Андрей Басов1 with two full-credit articles.
+Yovanni Carpio with one full-credit articles and three half-credit articles.
+Daniele Pasian would have been fifth with one full-credit article. However, he won a voucher on Tim Hall's contest at Oracle-Base. Since he does not need another, the sixth-place entrant gets it.

+Hayde Castillo with three links on 12c (but none on exam topics) comes in sixth and squeaks in since Daniele has a voucher already.

For those of you that have won, use the 'Contact' page on my website to give me an email address to send the vouchers to.

How Difficult are Oracle Specialist Certifications?

Over the past decade and more, I have taken a number of Oracle exams. The list includes multiple exams for OCA, OCP, and OCE certifications. One of the more popular articles that I have written is "Oracle Certifications: What Is the Difference Between OCA, OCP, OCE, and OCM?" where I discuss the differences between the various types. Mind you, I have not taken an OCM (yet), but I am familiar enough with it that I was able to point out the differences between it and the other three. Notably missing from that article, however, are Oracle specialist certifications. I deliberately left OCS out because I had no information with which to compare this class of exams to the other four. That changed yesterday when I took 1Z0-460: Oracle Linux 6 Implementation Essentials. I should note that while I have read that there is no official acronym for these certifications, I see OCS used to designate Oracle Certified Specialist fairly often. It is certainly handier than constantly spelling out Oracle Certified Specialist.

I recall enough of my college statistics class to realize that a single data point makes for a really bad sample population. 1Z0-460 may be an outlier and have little in common with any of the other OCS exams. However, I do not have any plans to take another OCS exam in the next several months, so it will have to suffice for now.

Going into this exam, I really expected it to be a walk in the park. It is titled Linux Essentials after all, and I have used Linux for years. I will grant that doing work at the OS-level is not my main function -- I am a developer first, a DBA second, and a Linux system admin a distant third. Still... this is an essentials exam, and intended to give the employees of Oracle partner companies a basic grounding in the technology. I figured it was likely an OCA-level exam, maybe a bit lower.

I hate it when I underestimate exams.

1Z0-460 certainly was not at the level of an OCE exam. It probably did not even make it to the difficulty of an OCP exam. However, I would judge the difficulty closer to that of an OCP exam than an OCA one. It contained a fair number of simple questions that would have had no place in an OCP test. However, a number of the questions required a level of detail about Linux commands, and configuration files, and directories that surprised me.

Anyone who has used Linux much knows that there are huge numbers of commands and many have dozens of options. Likewise there are scores of configuration files and scripts located throughout the file system. I do not normally memorize any but the most common of options for a given utility. That is what 'man' is for. Likewise, I do not memorize the locations of every file. That is what 'locate' is for. Many more of the questions were practitioner-type questions than I expected to find.

That said... I passed the exam, so all is right with the universe today. For anyone planning to take a specialist exam (and assuming that 1Z0-460 is typical of the breed), I would suggest that you not design your study plan with the idea that essentials=easy. For that matter, you should always allocate more study time than you really think any exam needs. No one has ever failed a test because they were over-prepared for it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Your chance at a free voucher for 1Z1-062: Oracle Database 12c: Installation and Administration (CLOSED)

This contest is over and I have selected the winners.

This afternoon I was contacted by a representative of Oracle University. She had five vouchers for the 1Z1-062 beta exam, Oracle Database 12c: Installation and Administration and wanted to know if I could come up with a way to get these to five of my readers. I told her that I have it covered.

Before I explain how you can get the vouchers, I want to talk a bit about the exam. 1Z1-062 is one of two exams in the Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Associate track. The other can be 1Z0-061: Oracle Database 12c: SQL Fundamentals or one of several other SQL exams. My previous blog post discussed all of the various SQL exams that meet the requirement and why they were created. Passing 1Z1-062 and a valid SQL exam will qualify you to be an Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Associate.

1Z1-062 is currently in beta and the vouchers are only valid while it is in beta. The beta period is currently scheduled to end on October 19, 2013. If you have not started preparing for the test and plan to take it, you had best study fast. A month of study time is a very low-end figure for an Oracle certification exam. This is especially true here as the 062 exam covers eighty-five topic areas. Putting that into perspective, the 11g Admin I exam, 1Z0-052, only had fifty areas. That is a seventy percent increase in the number of topics! If you have not started studying and are not willing to put in a lot of preparation for the exam, I would strongly suggest passing on this offer. For those of you that have been studying for it and will be scheduling the exam soon -- great! Read on and I will get to the 'free voucher' part... eventually.

If you have never taken an Oracle beta exam, you should know that they are long. The exam duration is 2 1/2 to 3 hours and there will be 150-220 questions.  Production exams, by contrast, are normally about 70 questions and 1 to 2 hours in duration. An earlier post in this blog talks about Oracle beta exams -- Oracle Beta Exams -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I highly recommend reading that post before committing to a beta exam. I took one Oracle beta and was not fully prepared for what it would be like. Having the proper expectations would have made the experience easier. That said, the biggest advantage betas have is that they cost less than the production exam. If you get one of these vouchers, the exam is completely free... bonus.

So... free vouchers (finally). Oracle University left it up to me to determine how to distribute them. I decided to make it a test of your research ability.  If you have been to my Oracle Certification Prep website, it contains hundreds of links to articles, white papers, and videos on topics for various Oracle certification exams. If you want to have a chance at the vouchers, find an article, white paper, or video that is relevant to one or more of the topics on the 1Z1-062 exam. You can see an example of the type of link I am looking for in my page for 1Z0-052. Once you have found a good source for the exam, create a comment to this post linking to it. If you want to include more than one, feel free to include up to five sources.

That's it.  Because the exam is scheduled to close in a month, I want to pick five winners fairly soon.

EDIT:  With five valid responses, I will definitely choose the winners on October 5th.

Some rules:
1. No brain dumps.  A comment with links to a brain dump or sites that sell them will simply be deleted without consideration even if it contains links to other valid sources.
2. I will be looking at the content in the linked articles.  If you supply a comment full of articles unrelated to the exam, or advertisements, etc. -- the comment will be deleted.
3. Yes -- the Oracle documentation is a great source.  No -- it will not count for this.
4. Do NOT put your email address in the comment.  I do not believe in feeding spambots.  I will announce the winners in a later post along with how to get in touch with me for the voucher numbers.
5. If two people supply a link to the exact same source, only the first will receive credit for it.
6. I will decide on the winners based solely on the quality of the content in the links. Telling me why you really really really need this voucher will not affect my decision-making process.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oracle's SQL Fundamentals Exams and Database Releases

Oracle Education released 1Z0-061: Oracle Database 12c: SQL Fundamentals a few weeks ago.  It is now the fourth introductory SQL exam created by Oracle University.  The earlier exams were:

  • 1Z0-001 -- Introduction to Oracle: SQL and PL/SQL
  • 1Z0-007 -- Introduction to Oracle9i SQL
  • 1Z0-051 -- Oracle Database 11g: SQL Fundamentals I

While the first two exams have been retired, candidates who have passed any of the above four (or the SQL Expert Exam, 1Z0-047) will be given credit for having met the SQL requirement for any certification track that requires one.  Put another way, it is not necessary for a certification candidate who wishes to become an Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Associate to take the 12c SQL Fundamentals exam.  The candidate could take 1Z0-051, or be grandfathered in for having passed 1Z0-007 or 1Z0-001 before they were retired.

While I was creating a study guide for this new exam, I asked myself, why are the SQL exams associated with a database release if it doesn't really have implications for the certification?  

In developing an answer, I thought about why each exam was developed.  1Z0-001 obviously was created because a SQL (and PL/SQL) exam was needed.  1Z0-007 was the first of the 'SQL-only' exams and was created around the same time as 1Z0-147: Program with PL/SQL.  Effectively the move split 1Z0-001 into two more focused exams and allowed for the new PL/SQL developer track.  Because of the content split, 1Z0-007 is a significantly different test than 1Z0-001.

Oracle University did not create a 10g SQL Fundamentals exam (although the SQL expert exam was first created during this release).  However, for Oracle 11g, a new SQL Fundamentals exam was created. The reason was largely because the 9i SQL Fundamentals exam had several topics that had become obsolete.  Namely, it had some that were about iSQL*Plus, which Oracle had since discontinued.

The 1Z0-007 and 1Z0-051 exams have about 85% commonality between the material covered.  The 11g version swaps the iSQL*Plus topics out in exchange for a handful of additional SQL topics.  Oracle University could not simply alter the topics of the 1Z0-007 exam itself, since that would make any existing book, self-test, or class materials obsolete. As an author of certification study materials, I know that such a change would really make me upset.

Coming back around to the topic this post started out with -- 1Z0-061 has been released.  It drops one section that had been on 1Z0-051 (Creating Other Schema Objects) and adds an 'Introduction' chapter that covers some basic details about 12c features and RDBMS theory. I confess to not really being sure why this exam was created. My best guess is that OU is shifting the SQL Fundamentals exam topics slightly further away from the SQL Expert exam.  If you are choosing an exam to take, selecting 1Z0-051 or 1Z0-061 is something you can leave to a coin toss.

The release numbers applied to SQL Fundamentals exams are really just a convenient way for Oracle University to create versions with updated topic lists. However, all of the SQL exams contain enough information in common to ensure that candidates have a firm grasp of basic SQL. Therefore, Oracle does not require a specific SQL exam for those certification tracks that are release-specific.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I know nothing about Oracle... but I want to be a DBA.

I see numerous posts on LinkedIn groups and forums from people who currently have no knowledge of the Oracle database but want to know where to begin learning so that they can start a career working with it. This is a perfectly reasonable goal. There are thousands of highly skilled Oracle professionals in the world today, but at some point in their lives, every single one of them knew absolutely nothing about the Oracle database. In this article I will suggest some ways for people starting at or near ground zero to begin acquiring knowledge.

Possibly the single best starting point for someone completely unfamiliar with Oracle is the Concepts Guide. This book is part of the documentation for every release and can be easily located from a Web search. It is free to download, well written, and provides an excellent grounding in the Oracle database. Locate this book and read it cover to cover.

Choosing a second step is a bit harder because there are many possible options. If you do well learning from reading, there are a number of other books in their online documentation you could read next. Oracle has several manuals intended to provide an overview of information for a given area that are designed to be covered in two days. There is a 2-Day DBA book that would be a reasonable second step in your Oracle introduction. Like the Concepts Guide, this and many other books are easily found online and freely available to download.

Alternately, there are a number of Oracle video tutorials available on YouTube. Some of these are quite good and might be a better second step if you learn better in an environment where information is presented by an instructor. I have put together links to a number of these tutorials in the exam details page for the SQL Fundamentals exam on my Oracle Certification Prep website.

If you complete all of the sources above, you will have started building a foundation of Oracle knowledge. One option to move forward might be to study to become an Oracle Database Administrator Certified Associate. If you go this route, you should understand that what makes the OCA valuable is that it gives you a defined set of curriculum to learn. The topics selected for the exams are intended to give you a reasonable set of knowledge areas that beginning DBAs ought to be aware of. Too many individuals starting out with Oracle believe that the value of the OCA is in the piece of paper you get for passing the required tests.

Moving forward from this, there are dozens of sources of information about the Oracle database. The Internet is filled with thousands of articles about the Oracle database. There are hundreds of books available on the subject. The more you learn about Oracle, the less you should need someone suggesting what to learn next.

The biggest pitfall that I see far too many people fall into is looking for shortcuts and easy answers. The use of brain dumps to pass exams and books with answers to interview questions both seem to be increasingly popular. Both have the same basic intent -- to make someone appear to have knowledge they really do not. The reality is that you cannot build a successful career with Oracle by faking competence with it. There are plenty of legitimate sources available that will allow you to learn everything you need to become an Oracle professional.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What defines an Oracle Expert?

From numerous postings on Oracle certification forums and on LinkedIn groups, it appears to me that there is a common misconception about the Oracle Expert certifications. It seems many people feel that if you study for and pass one of these exams that you become an expert on the topic -- even if you had little or no knowledge prior to your exam preparation. This is simply not true. The study process no more makes you an instant expert than reading a medical textbook and putting on scrubs and a mask would instantly make you a surgeon.

Just to be clear -- I really like Oracle's expert series. I hold the expert certifications for Application Express, SQL, and SQL Tuning. I enjoy the fact that the topics are covered in greater depth than is typical for OCA and OCP level exams. In addition, they are some of the hardest Oracle exams I have ever taken, which pushes me to work harder when preparing. That said, I have been writing and tuning SQL for over seventeen years and programming in Apex since it was HTMLDB. I was an expert in these topics before taking the tests. I did not pursue the certifications in order to become an expert but rather to refine and expand what I already knew from having worked with them for years.

It is possible to pass the Application Express expert certification while having no aptitude whatsoever at creating a web application using that environment. The exam cannot test someone's ability to program and does not attempt to. Instead it tests the candidate's knowledge of the development environment. That said, studying for the exam was valuable for me as an experienced developer because it forced me to learn portions of the interface that I had previously not made use of.

The same holds true for the SQL and SQL Tuning exams. People with little or no experience of Oracle SQL will not instantly become skilled at writing or tuning it simply by studying the exam topics. The expert exams are designed to help experienced Oracle professionals to backfill any knowledge gaps and enhance their skills. They are not designed as a shortcut for freshers to prove that they are knowledgeable.

One of the biggest pitfalls with inexperienced professionals gaining expert certifications is that it can set them up to fail. Going back to the earlier 'surgeon' analogy. You memorized the textbook, you look great in scrubs, and you somehow convinced a hospital to hire you as a surgeon. This is great -- who needs medical school or years in a residency program? However, sooner or later someone is going to expect you to be able to perform surgery...

In the real world, it would never get that far, of course. Someone pretending to be a surgeon would almost certainly get caught early in the hiring process. Likewise, someone portraying themselves with Oracle expertise that they do not really have is almost certain to be tripped up during the interview. Misrepresenting yourself is likely to result in your resume being tossed in the trash. Your best bet is to pursue certifications that are appropriate to your level of Oracle proficiency.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Value (or Lack Thereof) of Oracle Certifications

I received a comment earlier today on my earlier article Should I Get Certified as an Oracle 11G DBA or as a 12c DBA?. The subject is one that I felt rated a separate post in order to provide a sufficiently detailed response.

I dislike certifications intensely, even though I hold several, and hope that someday they will lose their popularity. I got my certifications by studying and reading, but don't necessarily have experience in all of the areas in which I hold certs. However if I put all my certs on my resume, I get invitations to interview for senior positions based on these certifications! 

Such stupidity is sickening. It's definately unfair to the qualified people who don't hold the certification. Now I just list the certifications in which I have the most job knowledge. 

Certifications have little to no value in my view, and do NOT equate to job knowledge. Only relevant work experience can provide that. I always point this out when I speak to anyone who hires. 

-Susan Hanover

I find it difficult to understand why anyone would consider it stupid to be offered an interview because their resume contains certifications relevant to the position. I agree that it would be extremely unwise if the employer did not perform due diligence during the interview to ensure the candidate is qualified for the position. However, resumes and LinkedIn profiles are simply a way for employers to attempt to locate a pool of individuals that might fit their needs. Certifications are just one of many ways to locate potential candidates.

Likewise, I do not see how employers using certifications as part of their interview filter is unfair to individuals without certifications. By that logic, an employer who requires candidates to have a four-year degree is being unfair to any individuals that could do the job but never completed college. Nothing prevents experienced (but uncertified) Oracle professionals from pursuing certifications. If they choose not to, that is their decision. However they cannot decide not to certify and simultaneously complain that they are missing out on opportunities afforded to certified professionals.

I will agree that being able to pass a certification exam does not guarantee that an individual will be able to perform the job properly. I do not agree with the statement "Certifications ... do NOT equate to job knowledge". The following topics are a handful from those in the 11g Admin II exam (1Z0-053):

  • Configure multiple archive log file destinations to increase availability
  • Create and configure a recovery catalog 
  • Using RMAN to Create Backups
  • Recover from a lost redo log group  
  • Implement Automatic Memory Management

Each of these topics is very important for DBAs to know. It is knowledge that is required in order to be able to do the job of a DBA properly. The vast majority of topics on the 1Z0-053 exam are likewise either useful or critical for administrators to know. Studying for Oracle certifications does provide knowledge useful for the job. It is more correct to say that for someone brand new to the Oracle database, learning all of the topics in the OCP exams is not sufficient to become the sole DBA maintaining a mission-critical database. Job experience beats certification knowledge alone. However, job experience plus knowledge gained studying for certifications beats job experience alone.

I hold many Oracle certifications, including several of the Oracle Expert series. I would never point to any of them and claim that I am an expert because of the certification. I am, however, expert at several areas of Oracle. Studying for certification exams helps me to increase my expertise further because I make sure that I learn as much as possible from every one. The knowledge in my skull is why I am able to earn an enviable salary. The way in which I prepare for certifications increases what I know about Oracle and so they provide value to me. If having a certification on my resume also gets me an interview that wouldn't have happened otherwise or allows me to negotiate a higher salary -- that is simply a bonus.

Friday, June 7, 2013

My article series on TechTarget

A bit over a month ago I contracted with TechTarget to write a series of articles for their SearchOracle division.  The articles that I have written for this blog and and other sites have been directed towards advising certification candidates about certification and career goals.  What I will be developing for SearchOracle articles is a series of technical articles written to cover Oracle certification exam topics. I am not writing the articles in any particular order and the exams covered will rotate. I will link to each of the articles from the relevant Exam Details page at as they are published.

At this time, the first four articles have been published.  I will be providing the next four articles to my editor shortly. If the series is popular, in a few months there will be a significant number of articles available to boost the amount of free materials available to prepare for Oracle certification exams. You can access all of the articles (as well as any I write in the future) from my TechTarget Bio.

The four articles currently available are:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The path to becoming an Oracle DBA

For those of you keeping count, this is the third article that I have written on this basic topic. As with the second (written less than a week ago) this one was born of a question sent to me by a reader. He just completed a Computer Science degree and obtained his OCA in the Database Administration track. Ultimately he wants to be an Oracle database administrator. However, right now he has a job offer from a company using Oracle's Enterprise Resource Planning application. He asked whether I thought that taking this position would help him to be closer to his goal in five years. Would it help him to gain experience with Oracle that could help him to get hired as a DBA? Alternately would it have a negative effect, moving his career further from the administration track?

Barring some sudden influx of wealth (winning lottery ticket anyone?) careers tend to last a really long time -- forty to fifty years. Every job you have during your lifetime will move you along that path. However, you have to provide the steering. If you do nothing except the work required by the position you are currently in, there is nothing to provide direction that could shift your career to a new path. If you are not in a job you want to have in five years, then this is a problem.

Working with Oracle ERP would not have been my first suggestion for a job to gain experience that would lead to a DBA position. The commonality between the two is not hugely significant. That said, you would be working in an environment using the Oracle database. Depending on the company, you might well have contact with the DBA that supports the database. Also, there are job postings that specifically request DBAs that have experience with Oracle systems running specific applications. In a few years you might become the DBA for a company running Oracle ERP. If you decide to work for the company, see if they will pay for the Oracle hands-on training required to earn your OCP certification and/or for the certification exams. There are many ways that you can use a job to advance your career in the direction that you would like. It is your responsibility to find those opportunities and make use of them.

Above I indicated that a job working with ERP would not have been my first suggestion. I should expand on that. Otherwise it is almost certain that someone will ask, and I will be writing about it anyway. I would generally suggest that becoming an Oracle developer, either in PL/SQL or in Java, would be the best 'first-Oracle-job' for someone looking to become a DBA. Applications such as ERP that run on top of Oracle interpose an interface between the user and the database. Users may never log directly in to the database to view the low-level objects that are maintained by DBAs. However, developers that work with PL/SQL or Java will be working directly with tables, views, and other low-level objects. They will almost certainly be exposed to a great deal of SQL as well. The normal routine of people in these jobs will gain them more experience that is directly relevant to the work of a DBA. In addition, there are many companies that specifically hire DBA-Developers when they need both skills. Because developers have a much lower level of privileges in a database than administrators (unless the database is being run by a very bad DBA), it is easier to get a developer position without having significant real-world experience. The bottom line is that a bad DBA can destroy the database while a bad developer can only damage it (and a good DBA would be to repair that damage). While working as a developer, you still need to look for opportunities to direct your career towards administration, but they will be a more natural extension of your job.

If you have just graduated and are entering the workforce, essentially any employment can provide at least some assistance towards becoming a DBA. Even if a job has no relation to the Oracle database, it can help you pay your living expenses while you learn more about the Oracle database, gain more certifications, and watch local job listings for a position that will move you a step closer to your ultimate goal. There is no one that can (or should) do more to guide your career than you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oracle Certified but not Oracle Employed

I see variations on a common story fairly frequently on forums and Linked In groups. An individual decides they want to become an Oracle DBA. They are told (often by an instructor for a training course) that Oracle Certified Professionals find positions easily and rapidly. They take the course, they pass the exams, and they get their certification. However, the story derails at this point. No employer rides out of the mists on a white horse to offer a great job with an incredible salary (after a brief glance at the shiny new certificate).

I wrote an article several months back with some tips on getting your first job as a DBA. If you have not read it, you might take a look: I Just Got an Oracle Certification - How Can I Get Hired As a DBA? An individual who is living the story above read that article and wrote to ask me if I could provide any further assistance. Frankly, I’m not sure that I can. I looked at the article this evening and I think my tips were reasonably comprehensive. I decided to take a somewhat different approach in this post.

I worked in tech support for various companies (including Oracle) for many years. One of the things I learned from that is that once you completely understand the problem, you are eighty percent of the way towards finding a solution. Anyone who believes having an Oracle certification without having Oracle experience will always lead to rapid employment does not yet understand the problem.

Anyone that goes to fast food restaurants much has encountered 'The New Employee'. This is the employee on their first day of work being trained on the register. Your order will take three times as long as it should and either the newbie or the trainer will apologize and note it is the cashier's first day. You never get an apology about someone's second or third day.  This is because it takes less than one day to learn the job of a cashier at a fast food restaurant. This is also why these employees are paid so little, which is why fast food restaurants have such high employee turnover rates, which is why we encounter so many employees running a cash register on their first day. A job that can be learned in a day will never provide much job security or income.

This post is not targeted at prospective fast food engineers, but prospective Oracle Database Administrators. The paragraph above is to point out that what makes Oracle DBAs valuable is the amount of time required for them to learn their job. It is simply not possible to learn to be an Oracle DBA in a single day. If it cannot be done in a day, then how long does it take?  Would it make sense to measure the time in weeks? No, I do not think anyone would accept weeks. If not weeks, then would measuring in months make sense? Frankly, I think any experienced Oracle DBA would not accept that either. The rule of thumb is that it takes three to five years of experience with Oracle to become a reasonably knowledgeable DBA. Senior DBAs would be expected to have more experience than that. Companies will often hire junior DBAs with less experience, but they would be expected to work under the supervision of a more experienced administrator.

The question then becomes how Oracle certification compares to Oracle experience. To do this, it makes sense to compare time spent studying to time spent working. When talking about ‘years of experience’, specifically the assumption is that the years are for a full-time job with a forty-hour work week. The amount of time a candidate needs to study in order to pass Oracle certification exams varies widely. I wrote an article here that deals with some of the variables. As a general rule I spend about a hundred hours studying for exams. This is not a hard number. Some exams take more time and others take less. I’m also a fast reader and very experienced with the exams. I would expect most individuals to require more study time. To be reasonably conservative, I will triple that figure. Three hundred hours of a full-time job would be seven and a half weeks. On this timetable, the three exams required for the OCP DBA track would take about five months assuming forty hours per week. However, time spent specifically reading documentation or other study materials is more valuable in many ways than an equivalent amount of time spent working as a DBA. On the job you tend to do the same things multiple times.  You are not constantly learning something new. If I were comparing two candidates for a junior DBA position – one with an OCP and one without, I’d probably grant the person with the certification as having the equivalent of an additional year of experience, possibly as much as eighteen months.

And now (finally) we have the problem defined. Most companies expect a DBA to have three to five years of experience before they are placed in charge of a database. I doubt most people have given as much thought to it as I have, but no one with knowledge of Oracle will treat someone with an OCP but no experience as equivalent to someone with three years of experience working as a DBA. That does not mean the certification has no utility.  The equivalent of twelve to eighteen months of Oracle experience is a great deal more than zero months, which is what you (presumably) have without the OCP. However, it is generally only enough by itself for a junior DBA position.

As I indicated in the article mentioned above, the one thing that you must not do is sit back with your certificate in hand and wait for the job offers to roll in. Implement the suggestions from that article on making yourself more visible to employers. Keep in mind that what makes Oracle professionals valuable is the knowledge contained in their head combined with their experience using the database. Being visible is good, but if you want to be recognized as valuable, you need more knowledge and more experience. You also need a way to demonstrate that you have it. One of the things that make Oracle certifications valuable is that they are one method of demonstrating knowledge. Find others.

Oracle XE is free. Download it. Build databases using it that are well designed and actually do something. Document what you have done. Build an ERD for your system. Create (and document) a backup strategy and a disaster recovery plan for your database. Create a website using Application Express and build an application that showcases what you have been doing in Oracle. You can build one for free at or you can get a professionally hosted one for as little as ten dollars a month. My OracleCertificationPrep website is hosted with MaxApex but there are many others out there. One thing that you can do with a hosted Apex instance that you cannot do with one at Oracle’s free site is point a custom domain name to it. Registering a domain name for a year costs about twenty dollars. This means that for less than the price of one certification exam, you can purchase a year of a website with a domain meaningful to you showcasing your skills with Oracle. You can then put that URL on your LinkedIn page and your resume.

The above suggestions are off the top of my head. There are countless things that you can do to increase your knowledge of Oracle and your experience with the database. Pick one and do it. Anything that adds to what you know right now can only be beneficial to your Oracle career.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Which Oracle Certification is the Best?

A few days ago I received a question from the contact page of my OracleCertificationPrep website. An Oracle professional had recently earned his Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Associate certification and wanted advice about the next step to take. In particular, he asked whether it made more sense to pursue the "1Z0-141: Oracle Forms: Build Internet Applications" exam to become an Oracle Forms Developer Certified Professional or to study for the "1Z0-146: Oracle 11g Advanced PL/SQL" exam in order to become an Oracle Advanced PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional. He did not mention the third option which is to take the exam “Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g: Build Applications with Oracle Forms” to become an Oracle Certified Professional, Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g Forms Developer. Oracle Education recently scheduled 1Z0-141 to be retired (and then issued a temporary retrieve). For this reason, choosing 1Z0-151 might be the better option for professionals with a goal of becoming a Forms developer.

Both of the Forms certifications are for individuals who will be doing primarily client-based PL/SQL supporting Forms applications. The Advanced PL/SQL certification is for individuals who will be doing primarily server-based PL/SQL development. I cannot get deep into all of the differences between the two without turning this post into a novel. However, I’ll note that Forms PL/SQL development will be within the confines of the development environment and tends to be small blocks to provide specific functionality to a given page. Server-side PL/SQL is often (although not always) considerably larger blocks. These are normally stored in packages and perform a wide range of functionality.

The actual question asked (and one I see a great deal on the OTN certification forums) was “Which certification is best?” (hence my post title). Unfortunately, that is a question without an answer. If one certification was the best option in every case, then all other certifications would be irrelevant. What he really meant by the question was "Which certification is most likely to get me hired?" Now that question there is an answer to. Unfortunately I do not know it. He is in India (although he did not indicate which part). I do not keep track of the job market in India, but common sense says that the job market is not the same in all parts of the country. One city might have a need for Forms developers while another might need server-side PL/SQL developers. 

The best way to find out is to do some research on job openings in the desired area – preferably over a period of several months. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to tell what type of PL/SQL developer a company is seeking. This is largely because the Human Resources people writing job descriptions don't understand the difference. If the job description for a PL/SQL developer mentions Forms or Oracle Fusion, you can be reasonably sure that the position is for a Forms developer. If it doesn't, then the position is probably for a server-side developer. That said, you can start as either a client-side or server-side PL/SQL developer and move to the other at a later date. The hardest task for professionals just starting out is getting their first position working with Oracle.

For candidates who already have jobs and who are developing in server-side or client-side PL/SQL (and have no desire to change), choosing between the exams is much easier. Many years ago, I did some Forms development, but the vast majority of my development experience (and my interest) is in server-side PL/SQL. When I pursued my OCP in the development track, my intent was to improve my programming skills in server-side PL/SQL. With that as a goal, the Advanced PL/SQL certification was obviously the better choice. I may take 1Z0-141 or 1Z0-151 at some point in the future simply to continue expanding my skills. However, the more relevant exam for gaining my OCP was obviously 1Z0-146.

If you have no personal or job-market related reasons for choosing one over the other, my own suggestion would be to go for the Advanced PL/SQL Developer. Some of that is certainly bias on my part, but it also seems to me that Oracle Forms is on a down slope in usage. I don't think that it will go away entirely for quite some time – certainly not in the next five years and probably not in the next ten. However, I suspect that its usage will steadily decline. By contrast, neither Oracle nor server-side PL/SQL is likely to decline in use any time in the foreseeable future. Whichever option you decide to pursue, good luck on the exam.

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.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Using Gap Analysis when Preparing for Oracle Certification Exams

Gap analysis is a technique that can make your study time more efficient and can significantly increase your chances of passing an exam. However, many (possibly most) candidates do not specifically include this step in their study process. In a nutshell, gap analysis is the process of going through each of the test objectives and determining which of them you do not know, or do not know very well. Joel Goodman, a senior trainer with Oracle University, gave a free webinar recently: 'Top 5 Preparation Tips for your Database Certification Exam'. He talked a bit about how the exams are created, discussed the kinds of questions seen on the various exam types, and gave some insight into how the beta process worked. For me, one of the most interesting portions of his discussion was when he talked about identifying knowledge gaps when preparing for an exam. I might note that all of this was in addition to the five tips. The tips themselves were not actually the highlight of the session for me, but it was definitely worth attending. Oracle University is making Joel's presentation available again on May 16th and you can register for it free of charge here: Top 5 Preparation Tips Registration.

Performing Gap Analysis
The very first step everyone should perform when preparing for an Oracle certification exam is to visit the topics page for it on the Oracle Education website. This is an ideal time to make an initial gap analysis. As you are reading through each of the topics, make an assessment regarding your knowledge of it. For people new to Oracle or to the specific genre of the exam, most or all of the topics will be ones where you have a significant gap. However, if you are experienced with Oracle and the subject of that exam, then you should only have gaps on a subset of the topics. When studying for the exam, you should make an extra effort on the topics where you have significant gaps. Ignoring the topics where you feel there are no gaps is not advisable, but certainly you should budget a smaller amount of your study time for them.

Later in the process when you think that you might be ready to schedule the exam, you should go back through the topic list again and perform another gap analysis. On this second assessment, you must really work at honestly gauging what you know about it. It can be tempting to write off a topic because you find it boring rather than because you really understand it. You should recognize exactly what each topics refers to and be able to recall a significant amount of the information about it. If you cannot do this, then you probably still have a gap that should be addressed.

Difficulties in Performing Gap Analysis
While performing the initial gap analysis is fairly straightforward, the same cannot be said of the second one. On the first analysis, it is relatively easy to decide that you do not know enough about a given topic for the exam. On the second analysis, you will have studied the subject and know something about it.  The question on the second assessment is not whether you know something about the topic but whether you know enough. This is the nail-biting concern that everyone (including me) has in the final stages of exam preparation.  Have I prepared well enough for this exam? Breaking the question down to the individual topics rather than the entire exam can make the question a bit easier to answer.  Stepping through them can help you to locate areas of weakness.  Some exam preparation materials can also assist in identifying gaps.

  • Practice tests are designed almost entirely to perform gap analysis. Many have a 'study mode' where the answers to questions and a brief explanation are shown.  However, once you use the study mode, the test becomes less useful for identifying gaps. You will have learned to answer that specific question, but not necessarily another on the same topic. Retaking the test will make it seem as if the gap has been closed, however.
  • The Oracle Certification Prep study guide series that I write is largely targeted at helping to identify gaps. They also contain information that can assist in preparing for the exams, but should be supplemented with more comprehensive materials such as the Oracle documentation.
  • The Oracle Press series is an excellent resource for closing knowledge gaps. The information contained in these books is at a level of granularity equal to or exceeding that of the Oracle documentation. I have found that the self tests at the end of the chapters, however, are geared more towards ensuring reading comprehension (i.e. did you read the chapter) than to reproducing the types of questions you will see on the actual exam.

When I first started taking IT certification exams, I used practice tests regularly for gap analysis. In recent years, they are no longer part of my process because I am better at assessing my knowledge gaps. It is impossible to know the specific questions that will be asked on any given exam.  However, with enough experience, it is possible to guess with reasonable accuracy the likely subjects, types of questions, and the level of detail that may be required. After you have taken a few Oracle certification exams, you should also be able to make use of past testing experience to assist your study process. Until you have that experience, you may want to make use of a self-test near the end of the study process to assess your gaps.

When choosing a provider, you should be aware that the vast majority of 'self tests' that you might locate on Google are not legitimate study materials but rather are brain dumps that can endanger your certification status. Listing all of the names is not possible because they change all the time, but if a test provider indicates it contains 'Actual Test Questions', then it is a brain dump and should be avoided. The two best options are Transcender and SelfTestSoftware. Both of these are recommended by Oracle and make a quality product. You can also use to check if a given company is considered to be a brain dump provider.

Whether or not you use practice tests, or perform a manual assessment of your knowledge, adding gap analysis to your exam preparation schedule can help to increase your chances of success.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Perils of Being Comfortable

A few days ago a former coworker lost his job. He worked as a programmer for a company with government contracts and his position fell victim to the sequester. For the past several days, his LinkedIn account has been a flurry of profile updates, new contacts, endorsements, and more. It is obvious that he was completely blindsided by the news. Now he is scrambling to dust off his credentials for this unexpected re-entry into the job market.

No matter how comfortable you are with your current job, it is always a good idea to keep your resume current. In recent years, I do this by always keeping my LinkedIn profile up to date. If I ever need to have a polished resume in a hurry, the data from my profile can easily be converted to that purpose. Because I have tweaked my LI profile over several years, I know it contains no spelling or grammar errors and I am happy with the wording of my previous positions. In addition, my profile generates a fairly constant stream of emails from recruiters. While I am not looking to change jobs at the moment, it is very comforting to know that my skills are in demand if that were to change suddenly.

In terms of certifications, they can certainly help when you find yourself in the market for a job. I have seen jobs where Oracle certifications are listed as a requirement. My certifications came up during the interview for the position I hold now and I am confident they were a factor in winning out over the other applicants. However, if you find yourself in the same position as my colleague, it is a bit late to wish you had another certification on your resume or that a certification you have was for the current release. Unlike tweaks to your LinkedIn profile, adding a new certification or upgrading an existing one is not something that you can do in a couple of days. Granted, not having a job means that you would have plenty of time to study. It is a bit of a reach to consider that a positive result, though.

Take some time and look at your LinkedIn profile (or your resume if you have no LI account). If your job went away tomorrow, would you be comfortable sending that information out to prospective employers?  If the answer is no, you might want to invest some time into fixing the deficiencies. This is something that is a lot easier done when it is not an emergency.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Oracle Beta Exams -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I should preface this post with the disclaimer that I do not really care for Oracle beta exams. I have taken exactly one, many years ago. It was the Oracle 8 DBA upgrade, so you can work the math on how long ago it was if you are so inclined. I passed the exam, but the experience was not one I care to repeat. That said, I know people who really enjoy taking beta exams. This post is not going to be all about why you should avoid these exams, but I wanted to make my own preferences clear in case it colors my writing.

The Good
Beta exams are cheap. They cost about one quarter the price of the production exam. Exam costs vary somewhat, of course, but generally in the US the production exams are $200 and beta exams are $50. If you have to pay for your own certification expenses, then this is obviously a significant incentive.

If you pass the exam, you will be one of the first Oracle professionals to do so. If this is an exam that will directly result in a certification, such as an upgrade exam or an exam in the Expert series, then you have the potential to add this credential to your resume very early. Becoming one of the first Oracle professionals certified in Oracle 12c for example could help boost your career. Realize, however, individuals who take the production exams in the first few weeks after its release will have the same advantage.

The beta exam will contain all of the possible questions that will be used on the production exam. Since the beta is testing all of the potential production questions, beta testers will see the complete set. During the post-beta review, some will be discarded and others may be modified somewhat. However, beta exam takers are the only candidates that get such a close look at the entire exam. If you think of the beta in terms of practicing for the production exam, it is cheaper than any commercially available practice exam and will provide you with 'actual' rather than 'similar' questions. If you were to purchase a practice exam from Transcender for $150, I guarantee that no matter what score you get on it, Oracle will not give you a credit for passing the test. However, if you pay $50 to take a beta exam, you have a reasonable possibility of passing it and receiving credit toward the associated certification path. Even if you fail the beta, you have been given enormous insight into the content. This can assist you once the production exam is available. My earlier blog post on what to do if you fail your certification exam can help with this.

The Bad
To my mind, a significant downside is the uncertainty about whether you passed or failed the exam for months. If you were to take the beta on the last day it is available, you would not know if you passed or failed for about twelve weeks. People who take the test near the start could wait for over twenty weeks before learning if they passed. This might not bother some people, but I hate being in the dark about my score for so long.

The exam will be buggy. Beta exams, just like beta software, are intended to locate problems that must be fixed before going into production. Flawed questions will not directly impact your score. These should be caught during the post-beta process and the results thrown out. However, they will indirectly affect your score by wasting your time and throwing your thought process off. When a question does not make sense, I do not automatically assume the question is flawed but that my understanding is flawed. It is possible to spend a lot of time trying to find the correct answer to a question that does not have a correct answer. If you are like me, you will read and re-read, and re-re-read the question and the answers trying to figure out why none of the answers makes sense.

There will not be any third-party study materials available to use in time for the beta. You will be restricted to using the Oracle documentation and secondary sources like articles on OTN and the Oracle Learning Library. All of these are good sources to use, for beta or production exams. However, if you normally use Oracle Press books or other such materials when studying for certification exams, do not expect any to be an option for a beta. Third party materials provide short-cuts to the information you need by compiling it into a single source. Without such materials, you will need to allocate additional time to prepare for the exam.

The Ugly
The tests are long. They are really... really... long. Years after I took the one beta, that is what I remember most clearly about the exam. I probably was not as well prepared for it as I should have been (that memory I find easy to repress). However, I clearly recall that I was ready to be done with that test before it was two-thirds complete. By the time I was ninety percent of the way through, I had a splitting headache and no longer cared whether I passed or failed so long as the exam would just end. In order to do well on a beta exam, you need to plan for this. Drinking a big glass of soda before any exam is not a wise choice. Doing so before one that will last for three hours can leave you unable to concentrate for a sizable portion of the exam. You should not schedule this test in the late afternoon after you will have had a full day of work. You want to be rested, alert, and energetic at the time you start the exam. I highly recommend that you take it in the morning for this reason. Of course that is also what I suggest for production exams... just to a lesser degree of importance.

I also suspect that there is a bit less time on average per question for beta exams than is the case for the production version. I cannot substantiate this because Oracle does not post specific times and question counts for beta exams. However, beta durations are listed as 2.5 to 3 hours and the question counts as 120-150. Picking the top numbers, 150 questions in three hours is 72 seconds per question. Using the bottom two numbers gives 75 seconds per question. It seems reasonable to assume that the target time per question on betas is somewhere between 72-75 seconds. By contrast, the 1Z0-117 and 1Z0-053 production exams have 112 and 92 seconds per question respectively. I have not done exhaustive checking, but 75 seconds is definitely a low-end number for a production exam.

The Conclusion
If you simply count the negative points I have presented in this post, they outnumber the positive ones. It is not my intent, however, to imply that taking beta exams is a bad idea. As I indicated at the beginning, there are people who enjoy taking them. If there is a point that I hope people come away from this post with, it is that you should go into beta exams with your eyes wide open. Do not spend a quarter the amount of time studying for the test just because it costs a quarter the amount of money. In order to be successful, they require more study time than the production version. The more familiar you are with the material, the faster you will be able to answer questions. This means that the increased question count will affect you less, the reduced time per question will be a smaller issue, and it will be easier for you to identify flawed questions.

Based on threads I see reasonably often in the OTN Certification forum, cost is a major concern for many individuals pursuing certification. My employers have always reimbursed me for exam expenses so their cost has never been a factor for me. This in turn means that betas do not provide me with a significant upside. However, for IT professionals pursuing certifications on a limited budget, there is no less expensive route to Oracle certification than studying using the online documentation, and then taking (and passing) a beta exam. For these individuals in particular, the Oracle beta program provides an excellent method to boost their career prospects inexpensively.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Failed my Oracle Certification Exam. What Should I do Now?

First off -- I'm sorry you didn't make it.  That said, if everybody that took any given certification test passed, then the test would have no value.  It's not much of a consolation prize, but this is validation that the certification you are pursuing has relevance.

That aside, over the years I have taken twenty Oracle certification exams plus another ten or fifteen from various other vendors such as Microsoft, Novell, and CompTIA.  In recent years I have dropped into a pattern of preparation for the exams. I wrote these up as an article at Oracle Certification: 10 Tips for any Exam.

That list of tips stops with submitting the test, so it does not cover my 'after-test' routine.  However, tip number nine suggests marking every question that you are not positive about and then going back over them them at the end of the test (if you have time).  I normally do a bit more than that.  When re-reading the questions at the end of the exam, I also try to cement the subject of each question in memory -- not the exact wording, just the base elements.  Once the test is submitted I will return to my car and write these elements down.  One thing needs to be perfectly clear, though, I do not make any attempt to write down exact questions or answers.  That behavior is effectively creating brain dumps and is specifically prohibited by the Oracle Candidate Agreement.  My notes might look something like:

Parameter "X" -- valid values?
"Y" command -- syntax?
How  to perform "Z" operation?
and so on...

With this information, once I am home and have access to documentation, I will look the answers up.  I do this regardless of whether I pass or fail the exam because it is information that I should know even if I passed.  This data is, after all, part of what the test is validating that I know. If I fail a test, the list gives me a starting point in studying for the retake.

If you are reading this, presumably you failed an exam, and probably did so days or even weeks ago. The above information would obviously have been considerably more useful to you before taking the exam. Hopefully you can still remember some of the questions that gave you trouble. You have one big advantage that you did not have before -- you have seen exactly what the exam is like. Make the most of that advantage before time blurs the details. Create a set of notes as I suggest above to the greatest degree possible.  Your score report from Oracle will indicate the topics you missed questions on.  Look over them -- they may help you to recall some of the questions that you could not answer.  Even if they do not, the list of problem topics is a valuable resource to use in preparing to retake the exam. Go back to your study resources and read over portions on these topics again.  If you do this soon enough after taking the exam, the material itself may help you recall questions that you were unable to answer with confidence.

Possibly the single biggest uncertainty after failing an exam is how long you should prepare before attempting it again. The absolute minimum period mandated by Oracle for proctored exams is fourteen days. The amount of time that should be spent preparing is entirely dependent on you. If you were close to passing and feel that all of the problem areas have been identified and resolved , then fourteen days may be sufficient. Keep in mind, however, that you are very unlikely to get the same questions. You may find the set of questions on the retake harder or easier than the first attempt.

If you read my GoCertify article at the link above, the first tip suggested calculating how many questions can be missed while still passing the exam.  The same basic technique will allow you to figure out how many questions you were from getting a passing score.  Oracle rounds the percentages, so it is only possible to estimate the number of questions.  However, if you scored 61% on a 70 question test, you probably got 43 questions right (70 * .61 = 42.7).  If the passing score was 66%, you needed to get about three more questions correct in order to pass. You should use that information in making a decision about how much additional preparation to budget for. Be conservative. Allocating a week more study time than you really need is much better than taking the test a second time and realizing (too late) that another week would have made all the difference. Getting certified is not a race.  Take your some and prepare until you are comfortable with all of the problem topics before rescheduling the exam.

If your result was not reasonably close to the passing score, you might also consider making use of a practice test after you have done some more preparation and before you schedule the real exam again. There are a handful of vendors that offer legitimate practice exams, including Self Test Software and Transcender.  Oracle Certification Prep has also started offering low-cost practice tests that can be found at this link.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How to Dump Your Oracle Career in One Stupid Step

There have been a number of articles written about how you really shouldn't use brain dumps when preparing for certifications. Heck -- I wrote one just under a year ago. I can't honestly claim that I believe writing one more will magically convince someone who is planning to use illicit materials that this is 'A Really Bad Idea'. However, the recent surge in requests for brain dumps on what is effectively the official LinkedIn group for Oracle Certified Professionals (or at least the only one directly linked from the Oracle Education website) made me want to do something -- however futile.

My youngest daughter has a problem with doing things she knows are wrong and then lying about it. One of the most irritating things about the situation (and about dealing with liars in general) is the automatic assumption that I am dumb enough not to recognize the lie. My daughter is eight. Her lies are pathetic. She steals candy then leaves the wrappers in her wastebasket. She doesn't put her clothes away and dumps them behind her bed. She doesn't do her homework but claims that she has. The lies are transparent as soon as I see her wastebasket, look behind the bed, or glance at her workbook.

People who use brain dumps think they are being clever by taking the easy method to pass an exam in order to get a certification that effectively lies about their skills. In reality they are following the same basic thought process as my eight year old. I have been working with Oracle for over seventeen years. Do you honestly believe that I cannot determine whether or not someone is knowledgeable about Oracle?  Prospective cheaters might ask why they should care what I can do. They should care because it is people with experience like mine that generally make the decisions about who gets hired. I have been part of that decision making process in the past and I am sure that I will be again in the future. There may be companies out there where human resource personnel with no knowledge of Oracle hire the DBAs (I hope I never work for one).  However, for the most part junior DBAs and developers are interviewed by senior DBAs and developers.  Senior personnel know how to do their jobs and can generally figure out when prospective (or new) employees can do theirs.

Let me make it perfectly clear that experienced Oracle professionals detest people that cheat on certification exams. These people are treating us like we are stupid and it is extremely irritating. The vast majority of people looking for brain dumps are individuals with little or no database experience that are trying to get their first job working with Oracle. The reason for this is because anyone who has worked with Oracle for any length of time knows that getting the paper without the knowledge is not only useless but actively dangerous to their career. If you get a certification that indicates you have knowledge of a topic, and then demonstrate in your work environment that you do not have that knowledge, this is a bright red flag that you either lied or cheated. When you raise that flag, you are likely to get fired.

What absolutely astounds me is the number of people who request these materials from their LinkedIn account. This account is what most employers will first see when researching your background. I will certainly perform such a check. If I see a candidate has requested dump material, their resume will be trashed immediately. You might as well put as part of your profile summary "I lie on my resume and cheat on tests. If hired, I will probably steal office supplies and key my manager's car."

I cannot think of any way to make it clearer. No one with so little Oracle knowledge that they need to use dumps is likely to get through an interview with me. If someone does and I find out about it after they are hired, I will do my level best to see that they get fired and I will report the incident to the OCP fraud team as well. I am fairly certain that my attitude is typical of the professionals that are employed as senior Oracle DBAs. Cheat if you must, but do not bother sending your resume to any company I am associated with.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Picking an Oracle Release for DBA Certification: 10G vs 11G

As it turns out, I don't need to get a cat to generate something to blog about. So long as people read my blog and keep asking leading questions, I have topics. As an added bonus, readers don't shed, claw my furniture or cough up hairballs. My article about choosing between Oracle 11G or 12c when selecting a DBA certification was overwhelmingly in favor of 11G. A reader asked what my thoughts were on getting a DBA certification in 10G instead of 11G.

My recommendation between these two releases is not quite as black and white as that between 11G and 12c. While 12c does not even exist at this time, both 10G and 11G are being used in production databases. I tried to locate some market share numbers to see how they compare, but was unsuccessful. I am certain, however, that 11G installations have long since passed 10G. Premier Support for 10.2 ended in July 2010 and Extended Support will end July 2013.  Companies use Oracle for enterprise-class databases and they want to be sure that Oracle support is available if they have a crisis.

Some companies that are still running 10G databases will upgrade due to the release of 12c (even if they only upgrade to 11G). Others will upgrade when the Extended Support period for 10G ends next year. While it is certain that a number of companies will continue to use it for years to come, they will make up only a tiny fraction of production Oracle installations. I would have to recommend that new DBA certification candidates pursue 11G unless they have a specific reason why 10G certification makes sense for them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Upgrading from Older Releases of Oracle

A reader of my prior post about choosing between 11G or 12C when pursuing a new DBA certification asked for advice about upgrading. He currently holds the Oracle Certified Professional DBA certification for release 8i and wanted to know if he should upgrade directly to Oracle 11G. Rather than making a quick reply in a comment, I decided to create a larger blog post on the topic.

What is Possible?
It is only possible to upgrade if you have the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) designation. There is no upgrade path if you only hold the Oracle Certified Associate (OCA) designation. You can also only upgrade where a test exists. Below are the six upgrade exams that Oracle Education currently offers:
  • 1Z0-030 -- Oracle9i New Features for Administrators
  • 1Z0-035 -- Oracle9i DBA New Features for Oracle 7.3 and Oracle8 OCPs
  • 1Z0-040 -- Oracle Database 10g: New Features for Administrators
  • 1Z0-045 -- Oracle Database 10g DBA New Features for Oracle8i OCPs
  • 1Z0-050 -- Oracle Database 11g: New Features for Administrators
  • 1Z0-055 -- Oracle Database 11g: New Features for 9i OCPs

The specific question asked was about upgrading directly from an 8i OCP to 11G. As you can see from the list above, there is no single upgrade test available to jump directly between those two releases. That said, there are four possible combinations of exams that will upgrade an OCP certification from 8i to release 11G:
  1. 1Z0-045 & 1Z0-050 -- This path will add two additional releases to your credentials. After passing both exams, you will be certified in three releases of Oracle: 8i, 10G and 11G.
  2. 1Z0-030 & 1Z0-055 -- This path also requires only two exams and results in three certifications, but the releases of Oracle will be 8i, 9i, and 11G.
  3. 1Z0-030 & 1Z0-040 & 1Z0-050 -- This route adds one more exam, but also results in a an additional certification. Upon completing the three exams, you will be certified in four releases of Oracle: 8i, 9i, 10G and 11G.
  4. 1Z0-052 & 1Z0-053 -- Strictly speaking, this isn't an upgrade path. However, this route came up some time ago in the OTN Oracle certification forum. I was assured by a certification manager that for an 8i OCP, taking these exams would result in the candidate being Oracle 11G certified, and would not require a hands-on training class. In the end, the candidate would be certified in 8i and 11G.

What is Practical?
Taking certification exams costs money and preparing for them takes time. You want to get the best return on the time and money invested. Getting a certification that you'll never get any value back from is simply a waste.  Of the four options above, three will provide you with one certification per test.  The last provides only a single certification in return for passing two exams.  I don't see any reason to use that particular set of tests to upgrade to 11G.  Either of the other two-test upgrade paths will give you more in return for your investment.
In order to choose between the other two-test routes, you must decide which version you would rather skip.  From that perspective, as a general rule, the older a release, the less value that you will gain from being certified in it.  Oracle 9i is definitely losing market share to the newer releases.  Skipping that release when upgrading makes considerably more sense than skipping 10G.
If you have some personal reason not to skip a release and you have no objection to spending extra time and money on an additional exam, then you can certainly take the three-test route (1Z0-030 & 1Z0-040 & 1Z0-050). However, for most people upgrading from Oracle 8i, I would recommend upgrading to 10G, and then to 11G (1Z0-045 & 1Z0-050).  For DBAs upgrading from even older releases (7.3 or Oracle8), I would recommend a similar path using the 1Z0-035 upgrade exam and then 1Z0-050.