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.