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.