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: