| Craig S. Mullins
The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins
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
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
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
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).
Trends and Applications, August 2002.
© 2002 Craig S. Mullins, All rights reserved.