For those contemplating launching a career in Oracle database administration, there are essentially three routes:
- Oracle education and certification (OCP)
- Third-party educational programs (University and private training)
- Self-directed study and experimentation
Most entering into the field assume that to be employable, they must become an Oracle Certified Professional (OCP). They might be surprised to know that most working Oracle professionals do not have this certification.
Although having an OCP is a nice way to show a prospective employer that you are serious about your profession, this certification has never gained the kind of universal traction that Microsoft’s MCSE has. There are a few reasons for this:
- Oracle education has not matched curriculum with business needs
- The Oracle certifications are very expensive
- Generally, companies hire Oracle DBAs based on technical merit, not paper certifications
Oracle’s classes and exams emphasize memorization of syntax and specific values and settings, instead of broader concepts. The kind of minutia that must be retained to pass an OCP exam is easily referenced day to day in the Oracle manuals. Senior professionals in our field frequently do not know specific syntax and parameters. What makes them senior is their broader, holistic understanding of Oracle systems, and the ability to solve problems.
The OCP certification costs over $2000 and exposes candidates to a minimum amount of practical hands-on experience. Candidates must attend just one 5-day class in person or on-line and pass two exams to complete the program. Needless to say this does not prepare anyone to face the real-life challenges of managing enterprise production systems. It simply graduates people skilled at memorization and test taking.
More and more, the meritocratic culture of the Internet has pervaded hiring strategies for Oracle professionals. That means that a person who has a broad and holistic knowledge of systems, and can ace a phone screen, is more valued in hiring decisions than someone who simply boasts an OCP credential. Interviewers are much more likely to ask, “How would you deal with the following scenario…?” rather than “What is the exact syntax for …?”
The value of private education and self-directed study
Many universities and private companies have crafted programs to provide education services that seek to fill the void left by Oracle University’s lack of practical orientation. These programs emphasize hands-on lab exercises, concepts and best practices.
Blue Gecko has taken a keen interest in one program at the University of Washington: UW Professional and Continuing education’s Certificate in Oracle Database Administration. This weekly three-hour night class runs from October 2010 through June 2011. Blue Gecko’s president, Chuck Edwards serves on the academic board for this program, and it is largely taught by… me!
Two things make the University of Washington program unique:
- Each student maintains their own 64-bit Linux Oracle server on Amazon EC2 for the duration of the program, compliments of Amazon Web Services
- I deliver the course simultaneously in person in downtown Seattle at the UW’s Puget Sound Plaza, and over the Internet via Adobe Connect. This means that students from anywhere in the world can take the course by attending virtually.
Even with the benefit of a class like the UW certificate program, anyone serious about becoming an Oracle DBA must be self-directed, and engage in plenty of independent experimentation and study. Oracle’s development license allows anyone to download their software and run it for purposes of independent experimentation. My course at the UW is designed to orient students so that they are prepared to build independently on the knowledge they gained in the course. During the course, I assign independent projects and reading. The goal of the course is to prepare students to think critically and formulate intelligent solutions both on the job and in job interviews.
Being an Oracle DBA can be a lucrative and interesting career. But trying to break in using the Oracle certifications may prove more challenging than some might expect. Consider the third-party education route, combined with independent study for your best chance at professional success.