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April 12, 2006 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Which database certifications would be most useful, from the point of view of employability?

While I'm in full time parent mode I'm thinking about what I'm going to do when baby goes to school. I've had some job experience with designing and maintaining databases, but never worked extensively with any of the major software products.

One thing I'm considering is getting certified in one of the major products. I'm looking for advice on which program you think would be the most versatile credential and why. Input on certification versus some sort educational credential like another bachelors (I have a pretty stale BA in chemistry)? Personal experience with specific education bodies also great. Ability to do it mostly online a big plus. Ways to cut costs greatly appreciated. Advice on what makes a great DBA?
posted by nanojath to Education (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I knew there would be eventually be a question that was in my wheelhouse. In terms of market-share and amount I have to pay people, I find that Oracle people are harder to find and more expensive than SQL*server folks. This is probably because there is a much larger pool of Windows server people who branch out into SQL*Server.

I do value the OCP (or Oracle Certified Professional) and OCM (Oracle Certified Master) certifications. This is partly because I can charge my clients more for their time and partly because I believe that this is a fairly realistic certification that generally reflects a pretty good grounding in the underlying technology. They also have a OCA (Oracle Certified Associate) which is nearly worthless to anyone who is familiar with the program.

Obviously, practical hands-on experience is prefered to classroom time, but given a choice between similarly qualified people one of whom has a non-CS degree and a an OCP/OCM cert and one who went back for second degree in Computer Science, I'd probably prefer the certification. If you went back and got a masters, that would probably be more impressive to me.

We use Oracle's own training program, because we get a deep discount on the classes. If it is coming out of your own pocket, you should look into third party providers. I know of at least one on-line training program DB Domain, although I don't know anyone who has used them. One of my guys used "Learning Tree" at a previous job to prepare.

The exam prep book by Michael Ault is well regarded by many people in my shop. I believe that the test has to be taken live, but I would expect you could find a lot of the prep available on-line. You might find this FAQ to be helpful.

Finally, in terms of what makes a great DBA, I'd probably start with clever, curious and patient. The best ones I've known were all posessed of a strong desire to understand how and why everything worked and the intellect to find the answers. People with those skills, but without the patience to go with it often get themselves into big trouble by jumping without thinking first. A good DBA always has a plan or two (in case the first one fails). The best one I have ever know was a composer before he found nerdom. The second best was a research chemist, so I'm cheering for you.
posted by Lame_username at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2006

My advice does include leaving the house sometimes, but it's the opposite of expensive:

Try signing up for short-term projects through a local temp agency. This will help you get up-to-date on software while putting recent experience on your resume. The folks you meet with at the agency will probably have helpful answers and job-search advice, in addition to getting you set up with some experience.

Some temp agencies can give you access to free training, and I think the training can now be done from any computer (at home, for instance). I've had really good experiences with the Robert Half group, both Office Team and RH Legal; when I tested well for Word and Excel, they set me up for a free Microsoft Certification exam that I took right in their office.

I don't know much about database admin in particular, but it might help other potential advice-givers if you list the software programs you are already familiar with, so folks know what kind of database you're talking about.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2006

Well, you can learn MySQL and PostgreSQL at home, for free. That has to count for something.

When job descriptions mention database certification, it's usually Microsoft's SQL Server, with a lesser helping of Oracle. Other databases are mentioned infrequently. I think the usage pattern is something like this:

If the CEO was convinced by a salesperson: the company runs Oracle.

If the company is a Microsoft shop through and through: the company runs SQL Server.

If the company is at all thrifty: they run MySQL or Postgres.

If the company bought a database product ten years ago and is sticking with it: Informix or Sybase or whatever.
posted by jellicle at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2006

Hard numbers about market share that you can rely on are difficult to find, but I think it is clear that Oracle is the market leader in terms of dollars and installs. Between Oracle, SQL*Server and IBM's DB2 they probably control 75% of the market. We don't do much DB2 work, so I don't know much about it.

Postgress/MySQL/Firebird are undoubtedly the next largest in terms of installed base, but it stands to reason that anyone who selected a free database is probably paying less for support staff than the companies who have huge amounts invested in the database product. However, there are certainly more and more people running open source databases. We support a number of MySQL installs, particularly for cetain web applications. In general, our MySQL people are paid less, unless they also know other useful stuff.

Informix was bought by IBM and appears destined to dissapear in the foreseeable future and Sybase hasn't mattered in years.
posted by Lame_username at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2006

Thanks for great answers so far, particularly from Lame_username - while I continue research, I'll have to check into a little MySQL and PostgreSQL self-learning, jellicle so thanks for bringing that up. I've done a lot of temp work, Sprout, including with Robert Half so if I start to get serious I'll have to chat with my people there about possibilities - it's not that I'm against leaving the house, but I'm committed to being full time day care for at least another year and up to 3 more years, so I'm thinking about things I could start now.

The questions are coming so fast today I don't know if this will stay on the radar for long so I really appreciate the rapid responses, and I will keep checking in.
posted by nanojath at 12:43 PM on April 12, 2006

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