An insider's guide to Oracle certification

Is an OCP certification your ticket to becoming an Oracle DBA, or is it just one of several important criteria? Check out this article for one expert's opinion.

Certification is a buzzword in the IT community with good reason. Many potential employers are keenly interested in the initials that appear after your name. But if your goal is to become an Oracle DBA, is certification enough to qualify you for the job? Or is it just one qualification among many? In this article, we’ll look at how certification fits into the bigger picture.

Value of certification
First, let’s consider the value of Oracle certification. The Oracle certification exams cost $125 each; some certifications require up to five exams. The total for all tests and additional study materials (books, classes, etc.) make Oracle certification a sizable investment, but the reward available in today’s job market makes it seem worthwhile.

Many people wishing to enter IT note the high pay for Oracle DBAs, ranging from $75,000 to $140,000 per year for employees. That figure goes up to $300,000 per year for Oracle DBA consultants. Many students believe an Oracle certification is the ticket to a guaranteed job in Oracle database administration. However, Oracle certification is just one of many criteria evaluated by prospective employers.

More to the job than technical skills
Many IT professionals fail to consider the fact that the Oracle DBA job is much more than technical. Generally, the Oracle DBA is charged with overall database design, database implementation, backup, and recovery and is intimately involved in all phases of project development. Hence, the successful Oracle DBA must possess excellent communication as well as technical skills. An in-depth understanding of operating systems and computer-science theory is imperative as well. Hence, Oracle DBAs commonly possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, information systems, or business administration.

While the OCP examinations have been very good at quantifying mastery of specific technical areas within Oracle administration, having an OCP is not necessarily a guarantee of Oracle expertise. I have witnessed the hiring of job candidates from non-computer-related fields and placed in an intensive 12-week course. The course focused entirely on passing the OCP exams. While some of these people have achieved Oracle OCP status, with only 12 weeks’ experience in the IT industry, they do not understand most of the overall concepts surrounding Oracle administration. I remember a case involving a newly graduated OCP who blatantly misunderstood the basic concepts of Oracle database administration. This person was unable to put everything together into a cohesive model in order to do any good for his or her new employer.

Certification is not the only qualification
It’s critical to remember that Oracle certification tells employers only that the job candidate successfully passed the technical aspects of Oracle database administration. In the real world, Oracle certification is just one of many criteria used to evaluate an Oracle job candidate. Other criteria include the following:
  • Excellent communication skills: The Oracle DBA generally serves as the central technical guru for the IT shop. He or she must be able to explain Oracle concepts clearly to all developers and programmers accessing the Oracle database. In many shops, the Oracle DBA is also a manager and is required to have excellent communication skills to participate in strategic planning and database architectural reviews.
  • Formal education: Most successful Oracle professionals are required to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information systems, and for advanced positions such as an Oracle DBA, many employers prefer they have either a master’s degree in computer science or a master’s in business administration (MBA).
  • Real-world experience: This is the Catch-22 for newbies who possess only an OCP certificate. It is a common complaint of people who have OCP certificates but no job experience that they cannot get experience without the OCP, and they cannot get a job without experience. This is especially true in today's tight job market.
  • Knowledge of database theory: In addition to mastering the technical details required for the OCP exams, the successful Oracle professional must have an understanding of the soft skills associated with database and data warehouse design. This includes intimate knowledge of data normalization theory and knowledge of star schema design, as well as object-oriented modeling with Unified Modeling Language (UML) and knowledge of other database design methodologies such as CORBA and J2EE.

While the OCP is not a complete measurement of a person’s skills (most notably, real-world on-the-job experience), it does provide a method for non-IT professionals to enter the Oracle job field.

A person’s depth of knowledge in computer programming concepts is far more important than his or her ability to pass the OCP exam. Employers are recognizing the pitfalls of hiring people based solely upon Oracle certification. When applying for your next job, make certain that certification is not the only qualification you bring to the table.

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