DBA certification

Craig Mullins tells you why you should, or shouldn't, care about DBA certifications.

This tip originally appeared on TechTarget's Expert Answer Center as a post in Craig Mullins' blog. Craig served as the on-demand expert on the Expert Answer Center for two weeks in February, during which he was available to quickly answer questions on EAC topic as well as to write daily blog entries. Keep an eye on the Expert Answer Center for topics that could help your IT shop.

 Professional certification is a popular trend in IT and is available for many different IT jobs. The availability and levels of certification have been growing at an alarming rate for database administration. Certification programs are available for most of the popular DBMS platforms including IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle. The concept behind DBA certification is to certify that an individual is capable of performing database administration tasks and duties.

This is a noble goal, but the problem is that passing a test is not 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 and focusing on the questions you miss can help to point out areas of weakness upon which you can improve. But does anyone really believe that someone passing a formalized test will be as capable as someone with several 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.

I do recommend that professional DBAs take the time to study and pass the certification exams. Not because certification will make you a better DBA, but because it will make you more employable. Some companies will hire only certified professionals. The trend toward using certification to guide hiring practices will increase because of increasing IT complexity. If you think you might change jobs at some point in your career (and who among us will not), then certification is 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 textbooks 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 structure is a waste of time because it is complex and changes 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.

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.

And one you earn your certification, make sure you display it proudly on your resume and your business card (if your company allows it).

The following Web sites contain information about professional certification for the most popular DBMS products.


DBMS Web site with certification information
Oracle http://www.oracle.com/education/certification/index.html
Microsoft SQL Server http://www.microsoft.com/learning/default.asp
IBM DB2 http://www.ibm.com/certify
Sybase Adapative Server http://www.sybase.com/education/profcert/


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