The Oracle Certification Process

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In late 1997, on what was a very shiny day (for all of DBA-kind I am sure), I proudly exited my local facility that proctored Oracle certification exams. On this glorious day I had passed the last of four exams required to obtain the coveted Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) title. I was certified on Oracle 7.3 and could not have been more proud. After waiting a few weeks to receive my certificate I brandished it in my home study. Make no mistake about it. I felt this had legitimized my 3 long years of Oracle work to date - I had reached an Oracle summit. At that time the OCP title was not nearly as pervasive as it is today. In hindsight, I suppose my enthusiasm was not entirely unjustified.

Let’s roll time forward nine years to 2006. I have not renewed my certification. For all practical purposes I am not an OCP. I certainly wouldn’t claim such on my resume having only achieved version 7.3 certification. Why haven’t I renewed my certification? After all, Oracle has bent over backwards to assist this erstwhile OCP by offering an upgrade exam. I can take a single exam and immediately upgrade my certification status to an Oracle 9i OCP. If I labored a bit more, I could take another upgrade exam and attain the highest OCP level available. Does this mean that I could, nearly overnight, claim expertise in all of the concepts and elegant nuances Oracle has built into its database since version 7.3? Professionally, on my resume, I suppose the answer is yes. Realistically, the answer is, no way!

I feel the only real way to stay current with our Oracle knowledge and exhibit the technical acumen associated with a proficient Oracle practitioner is to read (and reread) documentation and test features. There is absolutely no substitute for good old-fashioned studying in conjunction with trial and error exercises. I have interviewed dozens of Oracle Certified Professionals over the years, many of which struggled with the basics. I do believe that today, more than ever, the ubiquitous OCP title provides little insight into the qualifications of an Oracle DBA. However, I do believe that the certification process can lay an excellent framework for a strong understanding of the Oracle database. Just, not by necessity. It varies from person to person. One person with the same temporal experience with Oracle and an OCP title might appear lacking when compared to another with equal “qualifications” and accomplishments. Why? We all have different approaches to storing information for retrieval. I remember cramming for exams in college for the courses I loathed. I always seemed to make out okay. But, did I really learn the material or just buffer it long enough so that my mind could hurl it back out in the nick of time? I know, for those “undesirable” classes it was the latter. For me to learn I must:

1. Want to learn.
2. Be passionate about the topic.
3. and study, study, study.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, those supremely intelligent humans that roam the earth with a glut of gray matter that have little need for 3), leaving it for the rest of us to toil.

Am I a better DBA than I was nine years ago? I certainly hope so. Could I augment the breadth and depth of my Oracle knowledge by revisiting the certification process? Absolutely. But, couldn’t I really do the same by studying the material covered by the exams? After all, I am passionate about the topic and want to learn. I know. I know. It sounds like a really cheap excuse. Read the material, but, uh hum, skip the exams right? How convenient.

For those of you with your OCP please don’t think I am minimizing your achievements. I am certainly not doing so. I believe that the Oracle certification process can yield a very productive learning experience, insofar as we really take the time to authentically learn the material we are studying. It has been my experience, that if I have ostensibly forgotten what I have learned, as long as I truly understood the material while in the learning process, re-learning can be a very quick enterprise.

By the way, I think I will take the upgrade exams this year. But, this time I refuse to cram. I will revisit the exam topics with a cheerful willingness, as the science of Oracle database administration is a very exciting and challenging branch of knowledge.

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