Craig S. Mullins

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August 2002





The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins  

DBA Certification

Professional certification is a recent trend in IT and is available for many different IT jobs. The availability and levels of certification has been accelerating rapidly for database administration lately. Certifications programs are available for most of the popular DBMS platforms including IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle. Consult the accompanying table for web sites that contain information about professional certification for the most popular DBMS products.

Table.  Sources of DBA Certification Information


Web Site With Certification Information



Microsoft SQL Server




Sybase Adaptive Server


The concept behind certification of DBAs is to attest 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 necessarily a viable indicator of being able to perform a complex job like DBA. Some things you just have to learn by doing. Now I am not saying that certification is useless. Indeed, taking certification tests 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.

All of the above notwithstanding, I do recommend that professional DBAs take the time to study and pass the certification exams. Not because certification is required to make you a better DBA, but because it will make you more employable. Some organizations will hire only certified professionals. If you are not certified, you automatically exclude yourself from certain companies and certain jobs.

The trend toward using certification to guide hiring practices will increase because of increasing IT complexity. With new DBMS versions available annually that contain additional features, functionality and options, DBAs who keep up-to-date with their certification will at least have some understanding of the latest DBMS capabilities. So, 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 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 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.

Also, be prepared to spend some money to acquire, and maintain, your certification. It is not free to take a DBA certification test. And DBA certification is likely to require multiple tests covering fundamentals, SQL, and administration topics. Recently, Oracle has added the requirement of a formal, hands-on class that is required for DBA certification – and that can get very expensive.

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



From Database Trends and Applications, August 2002.

2002 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.