How do you know a database administrator candidate is
technically competent? Vendor certification programs are one piece of the
puzzle. But there are so many acronyms and levels in the various certification programs,
you almost need a certification in certifications to understand them.
Also, certification programs change over time. New versions
of database software include new features to be mastered, and sometimes the
certification programs themselves are updated.
Here is the current state of three current and upcoming DBA
certification programs, aimed at gauging competency in Oracle, Microsoft SQL
Server, and MySQL. This guide will enable you to include relevant certification
titles in your job listings, and also to interpret a candidate’s certifications
when you interview them.
Oracle Corporation revamped its certification program at
the 9i release of its database, and kept the same basic structure for the
current release, 10g. The certifications map to the different levels of DBA
Certified Associate (OCA) – This
certification at the 10g version requires only a single exam on database
administration fundamentals. It is designed to map to the junior DBA job role,
and shows knowledge of basic Oracle architecture and DBA skills.
Certified Professional (OCP) – The original Oracle certification, the current
OCP requires a second exam on advanced administration topics, as well as at
least one hands-on, instructor-led course be taken at an Oracle University or
other authorized training center. Most Oracle DBAs will seek this level of
certification. It maps to the full DBA job role.
Certified Master (OCM) – Very few candidates will have this certification,
as it is designed for the most senior DBAs. It is available to OCPs who
complete additional advanced courses at Oracle University or other authorized
centers. In addition, a two-day hands-on practical exam (the Practicum) is
The Oracle 9i certification program also included a special
accreditation for managing Oracle on the Linux platform. Although not many DBA
candidates will have it, it should be considered a desirable plus if a position
being filled is Linux-related. It was not yet available on 10g when this guide
was written, but is planned.
Microsoft SQL Server
Microsoft is in the process of changing its entire certification
program for all specialties, and it’s starting with Microsoft SQL Server 2005.
Those professionals certified on SQL Server 2000 will retain their old
certification, the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA); but new
exams for the 2005 version will lead to a new multi-tier certification.
Certified Technology Specialist: SQL Server 2005 – The MCTS level of certification is designed
to focus on a specific Microsoft product or technology, but to include more
breadth than the older entry-level certification, the Microsoft Certified
Professional (MCP). For SQL Server 2005, it requires one exam that covers
implementation and management of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 databases. This
certification maps to the Junior DBA job role (or to the DBA job role in
Certified IT Professional – SQL Server 2005. The MCITP level of
certification is broader, and replaces the “premier” Microsoft
Certifications. For SQL Server 2005, an MCTS and two additional exams are
required, covering the full range of SQL Server features such as high
availability scenarios, recovery from backups, reporting, and security. This certification
maps to the full DBA job role.
Certified Architect – This senior certification is still in the works. It will
be limited in numbers and require a peer review process via a board of existing
MCAs. Don’t look for this on candidates’ resumes any time soon.
MySQL AB, developer of the open source MySQL database, also
offers a certification program. Although the current MySQL version is 5, it is
only recently released and most companies are still using version 4. There are two exams for MySQL 4, given
through Pearson VUE testing centers:
- MySQL 4
Core Certification – This is an end-user and developer certification that
demonstrates fundamental skills with MySQL, such as creating tables, inserting
and modifying data, and retrieving data via the various forms of the SELECT
statement. It is more targeted at developers than DBA job roles.
- MySQL 4 Professional
Certification – This certification is more aimed at database
administration, and includes security, optimization, database management, and
The recent release of MySQL 5.0 marks a change in the MySQL
certifications to the names Developer and DBA. Upgrade exams from the two MySQL
4 certifications are available.
- MySQL 5.0
Developer Certification – Available as a beta exam as of this writing, it
tests for the skills necessary to develop and maintain applications that use
MySQL as a back-end database.
- MySQL 5.0
Database Administrator – Not yet available when this kit was written, beta
release was expected very soon. This
certification demonstrates the ability to install MySQL, monitor its
performance, do backup and recovery, and other DBA skills.
The Bottom Line
One caveat: certifications should not be the sole criterion
for judging candidate quality. Some candidates with excellent experience and
skills either don’t test well, or aren’t interested in certifications.
Certification programs are sometimes criticized as being “paper
credentials,” capable of being attained without any real world experience
by studying. And by their nature, certifications can only test what was best
practice in the past. By the time a good certification exam is written, beta
tested, and vetted as statistically valid, the product has often gone to the
next release, rendering the exam dated.
Despite these criticisms, however, certifications remain a
valuable screening tool. The tests have gotten much more challenging over the
years, and do demonstrate knowledge of the product. Candidates who have taken
the trouble to become certified show initiative, because certifications are
generally not required to practice database administration as they are in other
professions such as medicine or law.
For these reasons, you should consider certifications as a
desirable part of a candidate’s qualifications, but not the only one.