Friday, March 21, 2014

Famine to Feast -- Completing four new OCPrep Study Guides

I had big plans over the 2013 holiday season.  Oracle Certification had several new exams in beta. My goal was to write study guides for several of them ahead of time and have everything ready for when they were released to production. Life intruded. Well... strictly speaking, laziness intruded. I found it very easy to spend the holiday season relaxing and very difficult to stare at my laptop for hours on end tippy-tapping out study guides.

The sheer number of options caused a second problem. One of my great strengths is the ability to focus all of my attention on a single objective (something my wife will swear to... and swear at when she is trying to get that attention). Both as a developer and an author, I will sometimes get into a writing fugue where everything around me goes away and my productivity goes through the roof. Unfortunately, when I have numerous competing goals, my ability to focus on just one goes right out the window and I often dither between all of them.

This is not to say that I cannot multitask. I am great at multitasking... just so long as I only have to do one thing at a time.

The upshot is that when the middle of January rolled around, I had three books about a third completed and a list of potential study guides that continued to grow. Around that time, I was offered a voucher for the 1Z0-497: Oracle 12c: Essentials exam. One more target should have increased the logjam of potential study guides. Instead, it ended up fixing the problem. I had a hard deadline for completing that book... the end of the beta. I had scheduled my exam on February 21st, so I had to finish the guide before that date.  So I did.  Two of the study guides that I had partially complete were for 1Z0-060: Upgrade to Oracle Database 12c and 1Z0-062: Oracle Database 12c: Installation and Administration. Much of the research I had done while writing 1Z0-497 was applicable to them -- plus I was on a roll. I finished 1Z0-062 and published it. With my inertia now geared towards writing, I was able to finish the guide for 1Z0-060 and publish it. Then, with all of this Oracle 12c administration research sitting around in my notes (and my head), I went on to write the initial draft of the Oracle Certification Prep study guide for 1Z0-063: Oracle Database 12c: Advanced Administration. Oracle Certification has not even released the beta for that yet... but when they do, I'm ready.

Most of my posts on this blog exist to help Oracle certification candidates or to announce something new in the certification universe. This one was really for me. I will note however, that true to the promise I made in my first post of this blog... it is about Oracle certification, and it is not about what I had for breakfast, where I went on vacation or what amusing things my (nonexistent) cat did today.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

1Z0-060 Exam Preparation Seminar

One of my contacts at Oracle University gave me a sneak peek at a new training option that is about to be released for 1Z0-060 exam candidates. Their new exam seminar will be a set of recorded videos and presumably will be offered under their existing 'Training on Demand' model. While I did not get a chance to review any of the videos, I saw the complete set that will be made available and the duration of each. The seminar contains 43 videos (44 if you count the 2-minute intro), with a total length of almost exactly twelve hours. You can see a YouTube video with a brief intro here.

Since the current recommended training on the Oracle Certification site for 1Z0-060 is Oracle Database 12c: New Features for Administrators, I compared the content of this course to the seminar. The 12c new features course runs for five days and OU's Training-on-Demand version of it runs $3250. Oracle University courses vary somewhat, but from the ones I have taken in the past, each day nets about 5-6 hours of instruction (with labs and class discussion consuming the rest). A five-day course would have somewhere around 28 hours of lecture time, give or take a few hours. I did not get a price for the seminar (and it may not even be set in stone yet), but it will almost assuredly be lower than the five-day New Features course.

The two courses are not quite an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of content. The new features course is geared towards the features added in 12c but has no information dedicated to the 'Core DBA Skills' portion of the exam. The seminar is focused strictly on the topics covered by the exam. The net result is that the 1Z0-060 seminar is covering more topics than the new features course... in well under half the time. 

Mind you -- I am not saying this is a bad thing. Covering the exam topics in a very concise fashion is what my study guides do after all. However, just as I recommend that exam candidates use my guides in tandem with another source of information, I would recommend the same for those who decide to use this seminar. I do not believe that most people will be able to use this seminar to go from zero knowledge about the new 12c features to being test-ready just by watching the videos. I think candidates who opt for this seminar should use it as either the cornerstone or capstone of their exam preparation. Start with this seminar, or end with it, but be sure to include some time preparing with other materials as well. I suspect that it would work best as a capstone. Prepare for the exam using the documentation or white papers, or OTN articles (e.g. the type of stuff I link to on the 1Z0-060 page of my website). Once you feel that you have covered all of the topics through those sources, the seminar would be a valuable means for reinforcing the information and helping to catch anything that might have been missed in your earlier preparation.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Should I attempt the Oracle RAC certification exam?

I was recently sent the following question about RAC certification by a colleague:

"I don't have hands on experience with Grid and RAC 11gR2 (I last did RAC in 9i 9.2 on Tru64 and Linux). I am quite competent with the core database itself. 
I have been reading the recommended material (e.g. books suggested on your certificationprep site). Do you think it would be worthwhile to attempt the exam without hands-on experience?"

My answer to the question is 'Yes'.  I realize that completely kills any possibility of generating suspense in this post. The more cynical readers might well think that asking that question of me is much like asking a car salesman if now is a good time to purchase a new vehicle. In this case, though, I have no conflict of interest since there is no Oracle Certification Prep study guide for either of the 11g RAC exams.  The two possible options are:

1Z0-058 -- Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) 11g Release 2 and Grid Infrastructure Administration
1Z0-593 -- Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) 11g Essentials

The Essentials exam covers background information on the 11g RAC solution and how to install it. It is not a deep-dive intended for people planning to administer a Real Application Cluster system. I believe his intended exam is the one for Grid Infrastructure Administration. The topics on this test get into the nuts and bolts of configuring, monitoring, and diagnosing an 11g RAC database environment.

The base question that I am answering is "Would be worthwhile to attempt the exam without hands-on experience?" In this context, "Worthwhile" can be read in a couple of different ways.  It can be taken as "Would I pass the exam?" or as "Would pursuing the exam be worthwhile to my career?" The two are very different things.

In terms of passing the exam, I am confident, based on what I have seen from forum postings of the individual who asked the question, that he will invest sufficient preparation time required to learn the exam topics. Even without a study guide specifically for that exam, there is a wealth of relevant information available. He is correct, however, in being concerned about not having hands-on experience. Having worked with Oracle RAC in 9i is a plus, but there have been a lot of changes in the technology between 9i and 11g.  That said, if he is really serious about acquiring the required skills, it is certainly possible to set up a RAC test environment to obtain that hands-on experience.  Tim Hall has an excellent example about setting up an 11g RAC system using VMWare. It requires a computer with a hefty amount of RAM, but that should not be an impossible obstacle. Even if you have to skimp on memory and the system is dog-slow once setup, the process of installing and configuring it will provide much of the hands-on experience that will be useful for the exam.

In terms of being worthwhile from a career standpoint -- that is a harder question to answer. To answer it well involves knowing a great deal about the career goals of the person asking (which I do not), and being able to predict the future (which I cannot). However, I am a firm believer that it is almost always worthwhile for an Oracle professional to learn more about the Oracle database -- even if it is regarding a particular technology that they are not currently using. I have found it extremely useful in my own career to have a very broad knowledge of the Oracle technology stack.

Summing up, my advice is specifically to use the topic list from the exam as a checklist. Use the resources listed at my website to research the various topics.  Try to locate other resources on the Web -- it is extremely unlikely that I found everything out there (if you find some good links, please pass them on to me and I will add them to the site so others can benefit). I highly recommend setting up a test system.  You can download and use the software for the purposes of preparing for the exam, so the only potential expense is the hardware. I am confident that you can pass the exam and that the knowledge you gain will prove useful to you in the future.