Thursday, June 23, 2005

Does Certification Matter Anymore?

I just finished the hiring process for my new DBA scheduled to start in a couple weeks. I was looking for a particular type of person to fill a particular role who would have the initiative to grow as the business grew. I've hired a few people in my time; made a couple mistakes, underestimated a couple of people. Overall, though, I've been pretty successful at evaluating individuals for the positions I want to fill. When I assembled the skills inventory to send to recruiters for my open DBA position it didn't even cross my mind to make certification required. When I look at resumes I certainly notice if the candidate is certified or not, but it doesn't sway my decision either way.

After I got through with this whole process, I read with interest Don Tennant's article (Certifiably Concerned) in Computerworld about how certified professionals get smaller pay increases than their un-certified counterparts. Don says:
So if you perceive even a subtle cultural shift away from certification in your organization, do something about it. In the process, you'll be keeping the bar up high where it belongs.

I thought to myself for a second "Am I part of the problem?". I looked at the study, but was left with more questions than answers. For example, What was the pay differential between certified and non-certified employees? Does becoming certified in technology XYZ bring an immediate pay raise?

The big question is does certification deliver any real value to the business? I think it does, but probably not for the same reasons as Don Tennant thinks. When a person starts the certification process she proves to me that she has drive and wants to learn more. A DBA shows me they want to understand what's going on instead of just reacting to the situation. I know it's just a couple of tests, but when a person dedicates themself to a goal and achieves it, I know I want them to work for me.

On the other hand, I don't need certification to show me that either. I love it when a DBA questions how things are setup and can argue why things should be different. The guy that stays all night through 8 recoveries even though he has only been there 3 weeks is someone you want to hang on to.

Apparently, Don got lambasted for his comments. I disagree that you need a "consistent, quantifiable means of documenting the skills assets of your IT organization. Otherwise, expanding and improving that institutional skill set will be an adhoc activity, and efforts to optimize the quality and productivity of your workforce will suffer". I know the quality of my workforce by two easily measured metrics; how many mistakes they make and how many service interruptions my systems have had. I know the productivity of my workforce by how long it takes them to perform a given task the first time. If it's a repetitive task, we automate it.

Certification has it's place, but experience and drive trump certification every time.

15 comments:

Thomas Kyte said...

Certification has it's place, but experience and drive trump certification every time.

Well said I say....

but, your mileage may vary. My belief -- certification matters most at the interview and much less afterwards.

Given two equal candidates, I might give the nod to the one with certification. But at the resume level (me personally), it wouldn't enter in.

But, I know there are companies where it does...

Amar said...

Well as Tom said, certification does help you get in but after that it totally depends on the person’s caliber, and experience.

I believe that even if you are good you should go for certification because that way you do look at things that you wont during your usual day-to-day DBA activity.

But don’t go for certification just because you want to have another certificate added to your resume. Have met OCPs who think views store data and run ‘exp’ on sqlplus prompt. This fails the whole purpose of certification and makes you feel OCPs are some kind of jokers. Just because of people who did certification to gain an entry.

Well, this topic is highly debatable and has been debated on many forums. End result remains the same, management wants people who are certified and newbie take advantage of this.

Tim... said...

It seems that at the moment lots of people use certification as a way of getting into the job market, hence they are taking junior roles with less pay. Most of the people with experience, who are making the big bucks, don't bother to take certifications. Perhaps this explains the pay difference. Maybe the data is skewed. Just a thought.

For myself, certification gives some structure to my learning. I try to certify in new versions as soon as possible. That way I'm forced to look at the new stuff and get a feel for how it can help me.

Over the years I've done the 7, 8, 8i, 9i and 10g OCPs and invariably when the new version has been released I've thought, "That doesn't warrant a major version upgrade." By the time I've finished the OCP syllabus I've thought, "Wow, there's alot of cool new stuff there!" I can only speak for myself, but it keeps me on the boil. But it't only the start of the learning thing, not th conclusion.

Also, writing an publishing revision notes on my website got me into the whole writing thing, so that has been an experience.

Cheers

Tim...

Tim... said...

Sorry for the shocking typos on the last couple of lines. I need a copy editor ;-)

Jeff Hunter said...


certification matters most at the interview and much less afterwards.

I definitely agree. When the log_archive_dest fills up, I want the person at the keyboard to know enough to say "alter system archivelog start to '/u09...'" instead of "rm -rf *.arc". That comes with experience.

management wants people who are certified and newbie take advantage of this
I don't agree with this (assuming you lump me in with the the management camp because I hire.) Maybe if you're in a consulting company that likes to tout X% of our DBAs are certified, but not in corporate IT.

For myself, certification gives some structure to my learning. I try to certify in new versions as soon as possible. That way I'm forced to look at the new stuff and get a feel for how it can help me.
I kind of take that approach, but a little later. I'm typically concerned with how to get all my dbs to the most recent version before I get certified. Once the new version is in the door, then I investigate the new features and start on the certification track. But I agree, I use the cert upgrade as an excuse to learn the new features.

Tim... said...

I guess I look at it the other way. I want to know why I should bother to upgrade (support aside) before I launch into an upgrade cycle.

Jeff Hunter said...

I guess I look at it the other way. I want to know why I should bother to upgrade (support aside) before I launch into an upgrade cycle.
Ashamed to say I'm just getting of 8.1.7.4. I finally got management to say OK because support ends this year...

Pete_S said...

Working for a major outsourcing provider there is a lot of pressure to keep up the numbers of certified people (not just Oracle) Potential customer ask "how many certified xxx do you have" as part of the bid process.
But for guys who work for me I value an ability to think more than a piece of paper

Tim... said...

"Ashamed to say I'm just getting of 8.1.7.4. I finally got management to say OK because support ends this year..."

Hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it!

OracleDoc said...

I've always viewed getting certified by Oracle is just another way for Oracle to extract money from its clients and DBAs.

Oracle will always be shipping out new versions of its software and will always be ready to offer "certification" courses.

If an individual wants to keep up with the "new" features go take a "new features" class. Not only will you save yourself/company money it costs for the cert but you'll get to keep the books and use them for reference.

I'd rather spend five days in a classroom playing with the database learning new things then pounding my head on the desk trying to cram worthless information into my cranium.

Besides, it's nice to have a new features reference book at arms length away.

Here's one for you Jeff...
2 employees 5 years experience. One is Certified in 9i obtained by his previous employers expense. The other no certification but has attended 8i and 9i new features classes through their own expense. No need to answer(if you don't want to) just something to think about.

Jeff Hunter said...


2 employees 5 years experience. One is Certified in 9i obtained by his previous employers expense. The other no certification but has attended 8i and 9i new features classes through their own expense.

The differences there are pretty minute. I'd have to talk to each of them and decide based on attitude. Maybe the person that's not certified knows everything and tells you about it all the time. Maybe the guy that is certified forgot more than he remembers. Maybe one can express themselves better. With just that information, I couldn't choose.

Tim... said...

If it increases the odds of getting you to the interview stage then it's worth doing. After that it's totally down to you.

Don't forget the "hello affect". They might have the skills, but if you don't click and you don't think they'll fit in with the team then you may pick the team player, rather than erly on the skill set totally.

It's real complex process!

david.best@sympatico.ca said...

I was planning on getting my certification, I even bought some OCP books to help me get prepared and almost bought the self-test software. A few months ago tho I decided not to bother and i'll tell you why.

Over the past 6 months we've hired 2 certified DBA's for very junior positions. In a nutshell I was utterly shocked at how little they knew. Not able to figure out the syntax to create a tablespaces... Not knowing how to resize a datafile.

I personally don't expect DBA's, especially junior to know the answers off the top of their heads. What I do like to see tho is someone who is resourceful and knows where to find the answers. Maybe that comes with experience, I dunno.

I also find that the people going for certs are doing the 6-8 week programs and usually have no background in IT or computers at all. I find that people who come out of a computer science or engineering program may not know much about oracle when they start but they learn quicker and are more interested in how things work.


PS>Don't ask me how they got through the interview phase, I dunno.. I wasn't involved. :)

Jeff Hunter said...

david.best@sympatico.ca
Don't let that stop you from getting certified. Do it for yourself.

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