Monday, October 19, 2015

How many certifications is too many?

This afternoon, a reader sent me a thank you note for creating my study guide for the 1Z0-060 exam (Upgrade to Oracle Database 12c). I sincerely appreciate the sentiment.  I am always pleased when someone finds one of my guides useful.  However, the most memorable portion of his message was the first sentence:

"I have way too many certifications already but taking the 12c OCP upgrade shortly."

On reading that, my initial thought was to wonder exactly how someone determines the point at which they have too many certifications. Alternately -- how does an Oracle professional decide that they have too few? The critical goal though, would be figuring out what number represents the Goldilocks zone where you have exactly the right number of certifications.

Unfortunately, when I checked out his LinkedIn account, Oracle certifications were not broken out individually on his profile. As a result, it was not possible for me to get a count of the number he felt had become excessive. Looking beyond the certifications section, his profile indicated a highly experienced Oracle professional, with seventeen years of experience as a database administrator, two stints as a presenter at Oracle events, and recognition as an Oracle Ace.

From this, it is readily apparent that his goal in accumulating certifications is not demonstrating knowledge of the Oracle database to potential employers. If that were the case, presumably the credentials would at least be listed on his profile. Instead, his motive is almost assuredly related to a note in the 'Interests' section to the effect that he likes keeping current with Oracle technology.

In fact, this is the same reason that I regularly take Oracle certification exams. I have just passed my second decade working with the Oracle database. Given my experience, no employer in the world would doubt my knowledge of Oracle even if I had never taken a single certification exam. By extension, adding new OU credentials to my profile is unlikely to make a noticeable increase in an employer's perception of my skills. However, taking an exam or two a year is an excellent means of ensuring that my Oracle knowledge does not become stale.

The return on investment of earning a multitude of credentials is not the stack of certificates collected. In my case, that stack only sees the light of day when I open the file drawer to add another certificate. The value of any Oracle professional lies in how much they know and how proficient they are at applying that knowledge in the real world.

At what point should an Oracle professional decide that they know enough about Oracle such that learning more has no value? To be clear, I certainly do not mean to imply a binary solution set exists: either earn certifications or stop learning. There are other methods for keep your skills current that do not involve pursuing certifications. However, they are certainly a convenient method for achieving this goal -- especially for something like the new features exams.

So... in answering the question posed in the title, my opinion would be that an Oracle professional probably has enough certifications when they are two or three years from retiring. Until that point, I have difficulty believing that learning ever stops being worth the time and money invested.