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.

I’m one of those guys

It’s official, I’m one of these guys. I’m excited an honored to join the ranks and look forward to meeting the other Oracle ACE Directors at OpenWorld in November. I’m also looking forward to interfacing with Oracle more closely and continuing my blogging and writing habits as well. There are some truly amazing technologists in the Oracle ACE Director program–I’m lucky to be among them.

To the other Oracle ACE Directors and 39,000+ other of you, see you in SF in November! πŸ™‚

BTW, for those that are interested, check out my ACE profile.

Another Oracle Certification Exam

Tonight I took another Oracle certification beta exam, Oracle Application Server 10g: Administration II (1Z1-312). Since it was a beta, the fee was only $50 and I knew some of the topics to be covered, so I figured I’d wing it and see how I did. I doubt I passed as I wasn’t well-prepared–especially for the questions related to Application Server Guard and some of the questions on Cold Failover Clusters. We’ll see in a few months if I managed to squeak by it or not (they don’t announce scores for the beta exams for about 10 weeks after the beta period ends). The good part about beta exams is the price, but the bad part is that they have you answer all the questions in the test pool. For this exam, there were over 215 questions in 180 minutes (3 hours). I should know better than to schedule such a span through dinner time, but that was all I could fit in to my schedule this time!

Another reason it was challenging for me was due to a thought that occurred to me as I got about half way through the exam. That is, why are Oracle ACE Directors (for Middleware, Database, or otherwise) not required to have completed some certification. I’ll be the first to agree that having a certification doesn’t necessarily mean you know what you’re talking about. I also know from friends that have already been given the ACE Director honor, the process can be a long one and, at least for them, there were several technical interviews that were required as well. I guess if I were in Oracle’s Certification Program Office, I’d sure like the ACE Directors to take and pass my exams as a sign that the exams were worth taking and that they actually stood for something meaningful. After all, if the ACE Directors are required to take them, it would add at least a little legitimacy to the certification program, wouldn’t it?

I’m not looking to start a flame war or drag the ACE Director program over the coals. I am wondering what others may think of certifications. Note that I’ve already posted my thoughts on certifications, so you’ll see I’m not proposing that certifications be the sole measure of anything. However, they are an interesting tool and provide at least one relatively objective metric as a starting point for evaluating a candidate (for a job or for an elite honorary title like ACE Director).

Let’s see if anyone’s reading…comment away! πŸ™‚

The Value of Certification Exams (to me)

I’ve taken many certification exams over the course of my career. Digital UNIX, HPUX, Red Hat, Sun and, of course, Oracle. One might look at the list of certifications I’ve obtained and conclude that I just take all the tests I can to get all the certifications possible because it makes for better marketing. Well, I can tell you that certifications haven’t helped me get much additional business (that my other charms didn’t already have in the bag). Instead, the reason I take certification exams is because I talk to a lot of people in the course of my work and volunteerism. Many of the people I meet have taken these exams and obtained certifications and I like to know whether or not those certifications really mean anything. I’m sure many of you have taken an exam and thought to yourself that passing the exam was quite an achievement. When you meet someone that has also lived through and passed the same exam, you have a respect for them that you might not have appreciated without your experiences. So, I take the exams because Continue reading “The Value of Certification Exams (to me)”