DBA Certification: Is It Worth It?
This article is the first in a three-part series on DBA certification. It weighs the benefits and costs of DBA certification to answer the question: “Is it worth it?” We take a different approach than the marketing pieces that try to convince you to certify, and instead look at the issue objectively, from the standpoint of the typical DBA.
The second article in the series will compare the DBA certification programs for Oracle, DB2, and SQL Server. It will contrast the marketability of the three competing credentials, compare their costs, and list the tests you must pass to obtain each. The three major DBA certifications are quite different in what they require and in what they give you in return.
The last article in this series will tell you what to study to pass the DBA certification exams. Experience shows that candidates score much lower on their first exam than they do on subsequent ones. This proves the importance of knowing what to study and how to study. The final article will reveal these “certification secrets” and tell you what you need to know before you take your first exam.
Many articles urge you to certify, but are biased. Consultants sell training, authors sell books, vendors sell testing, and software firms sell courseware.
Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft have vested interests in their DBA certification programs. They know that if you certify with one database, chances are very slim you’ll certify with another. If they can sell you on their certification, you’re effectively mating your career to their product to the exclusion of their competitors’. For example, how likely is an Oracle-certified DBA to recommend SQL Server for a project? Vendors consider certified DBAs their unpaid adjunct sales force. Their goals are not nefarious, but be aware they have unadvertised agendas. Make sure you feel comfortable with the direction of the vendors’ product and certification program before committing to it.
Should you certify? Perform your own “cost / benefit” analysis before deciding. We give you a start. This article discusses the general nature of the benefits and costs, while the next article in this series contrasts the specific costs and benefits of the three major DBA certifications.
Table 1 lists certification benefits. Many IT professionals focus on the career impact, especially in these days of a tight job market. But the career benefit varies by the certification, and even by your own background. For example, if you need to strengthen your credentials, certification can put you on equal footing with competitors in the job market:
- If you have little hands-on product experience
- If you’re new to the IT labor force or are re-entering
- If you’re switching from one job function to another (for example, if you’re trying to make the switch from developer to DBA)
- If you’re switching your career focus from one database to another
- If you want to improve your value to your current employer
(especially if your employer tracks skills quantitatively)
- If you fear discrimination on age or any other basis, your certification speaks as strongly as anyone else’s
If you prefer unstructured, serendipitous learning, certification may not be for you. Ditto, if you prefer to generalize across products rather than specialize in one, or if you prefer to learn in your own fashion. Understand that certification narrows technical talent to a specific product. It values product skills over broader DBA knowledge.
If you’re already experienced and have good credentials, certification may offer little career benefit – unless the marketplace demands it as a “job requirement.” And there’s the rub: will employers require certification?
Employers desperately want a simple yardstick by which they can “qualify” job candidates. They need a quick, easy way to decide whether a candidate is worthy of their time. Fair or not, some have latched onto certification as that credential. For a few technologies, certs have become vital to careers. With database administrators, the market isn’t at that point and probably never will be. Few companies lock you out of consideration if you lack a cert, but certification could be the credential that squeezes you past other candidates at some point in the job competition.
Certification can be useful as a quick way to communicate your professional legitimacy. It’s a “diploma” that proves basic abilities.
Beyond the career benefits, certification is personally satisfying. It structures learning, keeps you current, and helps you master your profession. It gives you a proven “road-map” to follow to deepen your product skills or expand them to a new product. Study what’s in the certification books, and you’re on track to become a product expert.
Table 1: The Benefits and Costs of Certification.
The Costs of Certification
Certification has three direct costs:
Table 2 isolates the key factors that determine your monetary costs and tells how to minimize them.
The big cost factors are:
- Which cert are you pursuing? Their differing requirements drive the overall cost.
- Will your employer pay for all or part of certification costs?
- Can you avoid paying for classroom training (the biggest single cost in certification)?
- Will you seek out and leverage the many free study resources available on the web from the vendors and other sources?
DBA certification can cost from a few hundred dollars well up into the thousands. The next article in this series explores exact dollar amounts for Oracle, DB2, and SQL Server certifications, while the final article points you to the many freely-available study resources.
How much time does certification require? Discussion at sites like Certification Magazine and Cramsession.com indicate that most candidates take from two to five weeks to study for one certification exam. If you pass an exam a month, you are progressing at a good clip. Multiply these figures by the number of tests you must pass, and you get a good idea of the total effort. For the “standard” DBA certifications, you must pass 4 exams for either Oracle9i or SQL Server 2000, or 2 exams for DB2 Version 8.
Remember that even if your employer pays certification costs and gives you study time, the process requires effort. And certifications must be kept current. DBA certs typically require passing one “upgrade test” every time a new database release comes out (usually once about every 18 to 24 months).
|Get your employer to pay for certification|
|Get your employer to give you work time to study or time off to take the exams|
|Gain product experience through work|
|Select a certification with lesser requirements (fewer exams, no course requirement)|
|Leverage free study resources (off the web, provided by vendors, shared from friends)|
|Forego classroom training|
|Take exams with reduced fees (beta exams, free testing at certain conferences, etc.)|
Table 2: How to Minimize your certification costs.
Whether you decide to certify is a highly personal decision. Every DBA weighs the costs and benefits differently to come to his or her own conclusion. Don’t be swayed by what others decide or by propaganda from the booming “certification industry” — do what’s right for you.
Our next article compares the DBA certification programs for Oracle, DB2, and SQL Server. It contrasts the marketability of the three credentials, compares their costs, and describes the requirements you must fulfill for each.
Howard Fosdick is both an Oracle-certified DBA and an IBM-certified DB2 UDB DBA. He has written many technical articles and is a popular conference speaker, and he has worked hands-on as an independent DBA contractor since 1989. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributors : Howard Fosdick
Last modified 2005-04-12 06:21 AM