Certifications, response to Bex Huff’s post

I was cleaning up my feedreader today and reading a lot when I found this interesting blog on Bex Huff‘s site. I started to post a comment there, but soon realized I had more to say than was reasonable for a comment. Plus, I haven’t written here in quite a while, so here goes with … Continue reading “Certifications, response to Bex Huff’s post”

I was cleaning up my feedreader today and reading a lot when I found this interesting blog on Bex Huff‘s site. I started to post a comment there, but soon realized I had more to say than was reasonable for a comment. Plus, I haven’t written here in quite a while, so here goes with my response(s).

I must offer a few counterpoints to Bex’s blog. First, while I agree that many certifications are simply brain dumps, the Oracle Certified Master (OCM) certification is a practicum-based exam that requires candidates to endure 2 days of scenarios that they must perform. They are scored based on the correctness and completeness of their solutions. IIRC, there are a few multiple choice questions (at least there were back in 2002 when I did it in the beta phase). Candidates are only allowed to use the server documentation–no online access is allowed. That’s why I still believe the OCM certification to be the most valuable of the certifications I’ve attained.

I also want to point out that not all certified individuals become certified for the same reasons. In fact, I blogged on that topic a while back. I do believe that while certifications don’t often prove knowledge, they do at least show some initiative. That is, those that get certified at least tried to do something to prove themselves. In summary of my post, most of the certifications I’ve attained were on my to-do list just because I enjoy the challenge and I like knowing what it means to have that certification. So, when someone comes to me and says they’ve achieved Oracle 10g OCP certification, I know whether it was a major accomplishment or if my grandmother could also have attained it (the truth is somewhere in between for the 10g DBA OCP case).

For the HR departments, I’m sure that certifications (or lack thereof) are sometimes used to weed out candidates, especially if the stack of resumes is large. In many cases, I think certifications are largely for this purpose. I don’t necessarily agree that this is a great practice, but I don’t know that there’s an easy-to-implement alternative.

I also think Bex overlooks the continuing education value of certification. For those of us that don’t read the online brain dumps or even use the “prep” tests/exams/books, preparing for a new certification exam is a lot of work in learning and reviewing things that a DBA either doesn’t know yet or has forgotten. So, even if I don’t pass an exam, I already benefited from the preparation that I had to do in order to allow myself to sit for the exam.

On Bex’s #8 point, I do have specific data (not opinion) that makes it untrue. I recently attended a social networking gathering where I met an executive from the “most recognized” certification company in the US (their own claim). Anyway, he informed me that the last 6 months have been among the best they’ve ever had. He said that when people start getting laid off, they look for a tune-up and some way to make themselves more marketable. Their certification enrollments are approaching record levels due to the economic “downturn” and he said their biggest problem was finding qualified people to work for them in updating and administering the exams to the influx of new candidates. I was a little surprised at first, but I suppose it makes sense.

Let me put my own disclaimer here that while I have achieved a number of certifications, almost all of them have been from Oracle, so I don’t know too much about other certification programs.

I’ll also add that I continue to disagree with Oracle Certification’s practice of requiring instructor-led training classes for some of their ceritifcations. I’ve had many discussions with the certification team on that point and still don’t understand the value of the training to becoming certified. It seems like a way to get more training classes sold to me and I think it devalues the certifications that require it (including–and especially–the OCM certification).

Lastly, I do love the fact that Oracle’s Certification team has put up their own blog and take comments on the various posts there. I’d love to see a post in the future on the rationale for requiring instructor-led training for a certification path, especially OCM, but also for OCP.

26 thoughts on “Certifications, response to Bex Huff’s post”

  1. The news here reported that all education institutions around Oregon are experiencing record enrollment numbers. This was expected, as it's a trend during economic downturns, but the demand has outstripped their estimates.

    So, while corporate budgets for continuing education are shrinking, personal budgets for education are growing.

    I've never been a fan of certifications (or universities) as a tool to weed out resumes. Insisting on degrees from a handful of arbitrarily chosen universities or insisting on a master's or doctorate is hogwash IMO. But right/wrong/indifferent it's still a very common practice, as is screening by certifications.

    BTW, I hold no certifications.

  2. I agree that it isn't a great tool to weed out resumes, but we all know it is commonplace. I do also disagree with requiring a certain degree level for a position, but as someone that has interviewed lots of people, in general, degrees do make a difference in the quality of the applicants. Those that have more/higher degrees generally (stress, generally, not always) end up being better candidates for many reasons (not always technical ones).

    If there were honorary blogger certifications or twitter certifications, you'd already be certified multiple times :). However, by their very nature, it seems unlikely that bloggers or tweeters would support such things.

  3. I think you are pretty much spot on. I too have been so skeptical regarding the requirement of taking an oracle course – that smells of money generation to me.

    If you are good enough to pass the OCM, surely whether you have taken a course to gain the knowledge on learnt it yourself is neither here nor there, except of course to Oracle's bottom line.

  4. I lied. I hold a doctorate in fail, and I like to say hogwash, surprised it's in the Disqus dictionary, which ironically does not include “Disqus”. Ah outsourcing.

  5. Two problems…

    1) people who get lots of certifications know which ones are good, and which ones are diploma mills… the problem is that there is no third party litmus test. This is less true for application certifications, than programming language certifications… although then you're back to the problem that certifications are product-centric.

    2) the complaint about budget cuts was more that companies do not train or certify their employees… individuals may take on certifications because they believe this makes them more “marketable,” but whether or not they actually get a job is another story. The past 6 month may be great for diploma mills, but not for those who got those diplomas.

  6. #1) Okay, I suppose, but certifications that aren't product-centric are called degrees, no? I mean, if I wanted to be certified in Database Modeling, wouldn't that likely be a specialization or minor under my college degree? Obviously, the product manufacturers are motivated to create their own certifications and it would be very hard for an industry standards organization to create certifications (how do they make money?).

    #2) You're probably right. That's always the gamble I suppose, but most people figure that they need to do something and most certifications don't cost that much. So, I suppose that's part of the attraction.

  7. 1) hmmm… I suppose it would be cheating if I said I'd prefer both. Somebody who knows data modeling, PLUS somebody who knows how to implement a data model in Oracle DB. I guess I'm spoiled 😉

    2) I have absolutely no data to back up my claim… I just have this nagging feeling that training companies will lower their standards when times are tough. If I were hiring somebody, I'd have to ask “why did you get fired?” If they got fired, THEN got a certification, I would feel a lot less enamored than if they got the certification BEFORE they got fired…

    in any event, I think that people who go to conferences are a notch up. Likewise to folks who get certifications without obligation. Otherwise, they are neutral in my book…

  8. So, it sounds like you want someone with a degree in DB modeling that also has a certification (or sub-specialty, if you'd rather call it that) in Oracle DB modeling.

    I'm intrigued by your conferences comment. Do you mean that people that attend conferences are a notch up? Or just those that present at conferences? I'm not sure that attending a conference is really grounds for a notch up–I see it basically the same as attending a training course. That is, some people get a ton of good information, others just go through the motions. You'd have to interview to find out which type of person you're talking to.

    I'd agree with the timing of certifications. If someone took initiative to complete a certification while they don't really *need* it, +1 for them. Those who think about career development when they find themselves without a career will score lower for sure.

  9. again… depends on the conference…

    If they go to a general software conference, that's usually no different than a trade show. Some of them offer tutorials and training, but not all of them.

    If, however, they go to a software developer's conference — where you pay good money to learn how to design solutions with emerging technologies — then I give them a +1. Those places usually lack product sales pitches, and I always found them to be excellent places to generate new ideas.

  10. Good to hear that. You're right on target with what I was thinking too, just wanted to make sure we got that written down for the benefit of the 2 or 3 other people that read my blog :).

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  11. Came upon this from Log Buffer #132. As I read through this, then Bex, then the original article, I was thinking “this issue hasn't changed much since the original OCP came out.” Then I noticed the original article was, what, 10 months ago (I didn't see an actual date)? Anyways, this is quite a good summary of the issue.

    Personally, I didn't take the OCM because I just didn't see it being cost-effective for what I do. I wish it were (or conversely, someone else would pay for it).

    When you start factoring in what companies expect, I must say, I've seen places where I just wonder what the heck they are thinking. Like, having a team of 15 programmers reinventing wheels they could just buy way cheaper. The skill sets they “need” reflect this. So I wind up in places doing by myself the work of 10 (how many of the 15 are useless?).

    The integration issue mentioned in the original article is definitely not addressed by training or certification. You only know under fire. And I've certainly seen good Oracle DBA's (from Oracle, which means MSCS plus training plus experience) throw up their hands at stuff that seems straightforward to me – given that I look at it from the 3rd-party vendors viewpoint in addition to the Oracle viewpoint.

    Maybe Oracle needs an OCX – keep people up for 24 hours straight, then start throwing basic exp/imp questions at them…

  12. Glad you posted. If you're a tweeter, you should also follow mediaguy777. When he's not spouting on about video production, he is part of the Oracle Certification team. There's also an OracleCert twitter account, I think (you'll find it in my friends list).

    Good thoughts. I hope you will share/blog/email the response you get, if any.

  13. That's an interesting take for sure. Charles (comment above) suggested that there be a new, higher level of certification for those that really know their stuff. I think a reality-based scenario like you mention is an interesting one to contemplate for such a certification. Maybe we shouldn't wait for Oracle to do something like that, but start it from a user community group instead?

  14. A user community based certification…. now that would be interesting. But how it would it gain more publicly-acceptable credence than what Oracle U offers? And what do you do with consultant companies that are very involved in user communities – would they be allowed to sponsor such a certification? Wouldn't that be a little awkward? =)

    The PSOUG is putting on a Boot Camp. Could one get a certificate out of that? Would Dan Morgan be willing to “sell” or otherwise share the curriculum (I already asked earlier this month – still waiting to hear back)?

    It does seem that Oracle U lacks competition. And it certainly seems that they have sullied the good name of Oracle by decreasing the quality/cost ratio. But maybe that's just me.

  15. Interesting ideas, I dunno the answers, though. I'm probably going to see Dan at RMOUG in a few weeks, so maybe we'll get into chats there.

    To your other question, I think having a cert that is NOT offered by Oracle might very well be a positive thing. It'd take time to gain street cred, but so did OCM, I think.

  16. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your support. I agree with many of your points and many of the comments that people have made. I believe that certification should only be one (of many factors) used in hiring/screening decisions. Certification should not be entirely discounted though – it's particularly valuable one has gone through a legitimate process of preparing (study, training, practice) for the exam or exams. This can be tremendously valuable.

    I'll get up a post in the regarding our position on the course requirement. I've been meaning to do this for some time.

    Paul Sorensen

  17. Couldn't agree more with you. From what I've read of the OCM, it's something to take notice of when someone gets one. I have an OCP, and got one mainly to get myself to learn the material. A means to an end, I suppose.

    Also a “hear hear” to not requiring in-class training. That's just a golden goose for training partners, IMHO. I had done most of my studying before the class, and so was pretty much tuned out during the class. I asked a few questions that I thought would help the other students when I felt the instructor was going too fast, but that's about it. Although it *did* get me to go to Schaumburg for some Portello's.

  18. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I'm sure we're all looking forward to the post on course requirements. I suspect that may be a lively thread!

  19. Don,

    I think your motives are the same as many people’s, including mine. I took the tests mainly to see if I knew what I thought I did and also to force me to study material well enough to be drilled on it. We’ll all stay tuned for Paul’s forthcoming blog on the course requirement too!

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