In this blog entry I attempt to answer some questions about certification, namely:
- what is certification?
- why is it so popular?
- and is certification worth it for DBAs?
Professional certification is a popular trend in IT and is available for many different IT jobs. The availability and levels of certification has been growing at an alarming rate for database-related positions. You can take tests to become a certified DBA, programmer, trainer, etc. Let’s just focus on the DBA certification programs, though.
DBA certification programs are available for most of the popular DBMS platforms including IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle. The concept behind certification of DBAs is to certify that an individual is capable of performing database administration tasks and duties.
This clearly is a laudable goal, but the biggest problem with the concept is that passing a test is not really a viable indicator of being able to perform a complex job like database administration. Some things you just have to learn by doing. Now I am not saying that certification is useless. Indeed, taking the test(s) and focusing your subsequent practice and study on those areas where you performed poorly can help you to improve your skills. It is easier to better yourself when you know your areas of weakness. But does anyone really believe that someone passing a formalized test will be as capable as someone with years of experience as a DBA? Organizations should hire DBAs based on past experience that indicates a level of capability. Of course, someone with both experience and certification is better than someone with only one of the two, right?
So for some folks, taking the time to study and pass the certification exams can be a useful exercise. Certification will not necessarily make you a better DBA, though it might make you more employable. Some companies will hire only certified professionals. The trend toward using certification to guide hiring practices will almost certainly continue because of increasing IT (and DBMS) complexity. If you think you might change jobs at some point in your career (and who among us will not), then certification can be a worthwhile pursuit.
Keep in mind that the DBA certification tests sometimes ask arcane syntax questions that are not really good indicators of a DBA’s skills. Getting the syntax 100% accurate is what manuals and design tools are for. There is no reason to memorize syntax because it tends to change quite often. It is better to know where to find the syntax, parameters, and answers to your questions when you need them. That is, which manuals and text books contain the needed information.
DBAs should possess a broad over-arching knowledge of DBMS concepts, IT fundamentals, and a good knowledge of the way in which their organization’s database systems work. Memorizing every detail about SQL syntax and database commands is a waste of time because things are complex and changing all the time. In other words, it is better to know off the top of your head that something can (or cannot) be done than to know the exact syntax for how to accomplish it.
Of course, a solid knowledge of basic syntax is useful because you don’t always want to be running to a manual just to do your daily job!
So what advice can I give you? Well, if you decide to pursue certification, take the time to prepare for the tests. There are books and self-learning software titles available that can be quite useful. These books and programs cover the most likely test topics and provide sample questions to help you prepare. In many ways it is like preparing for a college entrance exam, like the SATs. You might have to take the test(s) more than once to earn your certification. Don’t be dissuaded if you do not pass the first time you try — just study harder and try again.
And once you earn your certification, make sure you display it proudly on your resume and even on your business cards (if your company allows it).