Oracle Corporation has completely revised its database administration (DBA) certification program for version 9i of its database software. The major changes since the Oracle8i certification include:

  • A new, instructor-led training requirement.
  • Restructured, tougher exams.
  • Certification split into three “tiers.”
  • Performance-based testing.

I’ll give you a tour of the new program and its requirements, what it means for those seeking certification, and how those with 8i certification will be affected.

Instructor-led training required…
By far, the most controversial of the changes is a new requirement, announced in June, that 9i DBA certification candidates take at least one Instructor-Led Training (ILT) class, either from Oracle University or from an Oracle-authorized training center such as a university or technical school. Oracle had extended an exemption deadline for those interested in pursuing 9i certification to September 1 by allowing them to take one exam in the 9i DBA OCP track instead of the ILT class.

The approximately 140,000 existing Oracle Certified Professionals (OCPs) are exempt from the requirement, as are candidates already in the program. Everyone else must go to class.

In an interview, Mike Serpe, certification director at Oracle, said that although many third-party training centers do a good job, others mislead candidates into believing that they can read a book or attend a boot camp and be qualified to administer a database.

“Our main intention is to make sure that the people we certify are actually ready to go out and do the work,” he said.

…but not welcomed by everyone
While some agree with Oracle’s philosophy, they balk at the implementation. Steve Bobrowski, founder and CEO of the training company Animated Learning, Inc., recently highlighted Oracle’s change in his newsletter. He says his customers are looking at the move as an attempt by Oracle to increase revenues at the expense of certification candidates.

“There were a lot of customers…that were furious about it,” he said. “One in particular…had taken Instructor-Led Training classes not from Oracle, was ready to take the exams, and Oracle was going to require him to take the exact same class again from them. He was irate.”

Serpe says that it’s a misconception, however, that candidates have to come to Oracle University—the corporation’s education division—to fulfill the requirement. Through Oracle’s Academic Initiative, the same courseware has been made available to numerous universities and technical schools.

There are also lower-cost, non-Oracle alternatives available. Besides, if this were an attempt by Oracle to generate revenue, it would be a poor one, Serpe says, because a single major customer’s licensing fees dwarf the amount of money the requirement would generate for Oracle.

Bobrowski’s own analysis is that the requirement won’t accomplish what Oracle wants, because the more advanced classes all have Introduction to Oracle9i SQL as a prerequisite, so that’s the course everyone will take to fulfill the requirement.

“I guess Oracle feels that if you get some hands-on training doing SQL, you’re prepared to do advanced administrator stuff like backups and recovery and performance tuning,” Bobrowski said. His advice to Oracle: Improve the testing process; don’t limit candidates’ choices about how to obtain their training.

Exams restructured and tougher
Not all of the changes have been that controversial. Two areas that received a lot of attention from Oracle are the upgrade of the content and format of the exams.

The original five exams required of Oracle8i OCP candidates—Introduction to Oracle: SQL and PL/SQL (1Z0-001); Oracle8i: Architecture and Administration (1Z0-023); Oracle8i: Backup and Recovery Workshop (1Z0-025); Oracle8i: Performance Tuning Workshop (1Z0-024); Oracle8i: Network Administration (1Z0-026)—have been compressed into four.

The four exams are now:

  • Introduction to Oracle9i: SQL (1Z0-007).
  • Oracle9i Database: Fundamentals I (1Z0-031).
  • Oracle9i Database: Fundamentals II (1Z0-032).
  • Oracle9i Database: Performance Tuning (1Z0-033).

The material from the fifth 8i exam, on Oracle’s networking features, has been folded into the other exams, primarily Fundamentals II. Bobrowski sees this as a good move: Network configuration is an important part of database systems and it’s appropriate for OCP candidates to encounter it earlier in their studies.

A newly revised Oracle9i Candidate Guide is available at Oracle’s Web site. It contains all the requirements, including what material is covered on each test.

The Introduction to SQL exam is available online, as well as at a testing center. No preregistration is required for the online exam, and the fee is lower too: $90 instead of the usual $125. This makes the first exam more accessible, in Oracle’s view.

If you have passed the earlier exam, Introduction to Oracle: SQL and PL/SQL (1Z0-001), you’ll be given credit for it toward the 9i certification.

The first Fundamentals exam is similar to the 8i Database Administration exam; it covers basic architecture, data storage, and security.

The exam format is quite a bit tougher as well. At least 50 to 60 percent of questions on a typical exam are scenario-based, according to Serpe. They require the candidate to apply their knowledge to real situations, instead of merely regurgitating memorized information.

“The 9i success rates for those exams [have] dropped by more than 20 percent over the 8i success rates,” Serpe said. The bar has been set higher.

Three-tier certification track
In the 8i certification track, candidates were required to pass all five exams before earning a credential. The 9i program consists of three related DBA credentials, not just one.

“We’ve been hearing from our clients and the partner community that they wanted to be able to better differentiate the different levels of ability within someone’s career,” Serpe said.

To accomplish this, Oracle split the OCP into two levels, then added a third above those two:

  1. Passing the first two tests qualifies the candidate as an Oracle Certified Associate (OCA). No Instructor-Led Training requirement applies at this level. OCAs are qualified to take on junior-level DBA jobs or work as part of a development team as a database analyst.
  2. Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) requires all four exams plus the ILT class. An OCP is positioned to act independently as a full DBA in charge of installing, configuring, and tuning Oracle databases. The fourth exam, on Performance Tuning, becomes available in September 2002.
  3. The new level, Oracle Certified Master (OCM), will become available in October 2002. It requires the candidate to complete two advanced DBA courses at Oracle University, plus a unique, two-day, lab-based exam called a practicum. Candidates will complete a number of scenarios and troubleshooting exercises to prove their skill with the Oracle database. OCMs are the Oracle gurus who can be expected to do virtually anything with Oracle technology.

The future of Oracle certification
Oracle is investing heavily in its certification program, not only to improve its visibility among employers but also to provide more value to the candidate.

During the next few quarters, Oracle plans to inform its OCPs about revised membership benefits, including reduced-cost education (free, in some cases), special events and VIP treatment at conferences, and networking opportunities within Oracle’s partner community.

Expect performance-based training to filter down from the OCM level to the mainstream OCP, says Serpe. “If you want to get your pilot’s license, you don’t just take a multiple-choice test.”

He sees no difference between such professionals and DBAs, whose actions on the job can affect an entire company and its applications. Requiring certification candidates to demonstrate skills in a lab environment will improve the credibility of the program so hiring managers can depend on it.