acquainted with Oracle's Certified Professional Program
May 24, 2000
The computer industry has always been plagued by a
lack of standard milestones by which to measure competence. Unlike the Bar exam
for prospective lawyers or the accounting exam for CPAs, computer professionals
until recently had no way to certify their mastery of the technology that is
indispensable to performing their work.
The Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) Program is the most recent of a string
of data processing certifications that dates back to the 1970s. The first
computer certification for database professionals was the Certificate in Data
Processing (CDP), offered by the Institute for Certification of Computer
Professionals (ICCP). This was a rigorous exam covering all areas of data
processing. For programmers, the ICCP offered a Certified Computer Programmer (CCP)
certification and an easier Certified Systems Professional (CSP) program for
those who were less technically inclined.
The whole area of computer certifications languished in the backwaters until the
CNE and Microsoft MCSE certifications began making the industry a whole lot of
cash. Another impetus for the growing appeal of certifications was the rapid
increase in the demand for computing professionals. Once upon a time, computer
science was the bastion of those who possessed a natural talent for computing,
and college programs were able to maintain rigorous standards to discourage
those who were not well suited to the profession. This began to change in the
1970s when the demand for qualified (and naturally talented) professionals far
outstripped the supply.
The Oracle certification exams are the natural result of a bombardment of
unqualified and untalented Oracle professionals. Sadly, a majority of those
entering Oracle DBA (database administration) jobs are doing it solely for the
salary (Senior Oracle DBAs average over $100,000/year) without any regard for
their qualifications or analytical abilities. This plague of under-qualified
Oracle professionals has strongly influenced the certification program as a
method for screening Oracle ability.
The Oracle certification exam evolved from the original Oracle7 Certified DBA
exam that was introduced by Oracle in 1997. The OCP Program has created separate
certification tracks covering the specific responsibilities of a range of Oracle
jobs. For the DBA, the track is composed of a series of five tests developed
from the content covered by courses of the same name included in the Oracle
Education curriculum for DBAs.
The Oracle certification process
In keeping with its desire to maximize profits while providing standards for
Oracle technical competency, Oracle has given the exams associated with the
Oracle Certified Professional Program a huge amount of internal Oracle support.
Oracle provides in-depth technical specifications and sample exams to assist
candidates in preparing for certification. And it provides extensive information
about the program here.
The OCP DBA exam
The most highly coveted of the OCP exams is the DBA exam. Those who
successfully complete the certification have been known to obtain entry-level
DBA jobs at salaries that often exceed $60,000 per year.
Oracle offers DBA certification programs designed for each release of Oracle.
The original Oracle DBA certification was called "Certified Oracle7
DBA." Oracle now offers tests for Oracle8 and Oracle8i. By offering new
certifications for each release, Oracle can ensure a constant stream of revenue
from the test-taking public.
The DBA exam consists of five sub-tests, each of which requires a comprehensive
- SQL and PL/SQLThis test measures knowledge of Oracle's access
- Basic Database AdministrationThis test measures knowledge of
basic DBA techniques and concepts.
- Backup and RecoveryThis test measures knowledge of Oracle
Enterprise Backup Utility (EBU) and Recovery Manager (RMAN).
- Performance & TuningThe most difficult of the exams, this
one measures knowledge of Oracle internals and performance concepts.
- Network AdministrationThis exam covers distributed Oracle
databases using their SQL*Net and Net8 tools.
The DBA certification exam has a reputation for being valid and comprehensive,
and these tests provide a thorough overview of all areas of Oracle technology.
Oracle certification tests are scenario-based, providing an effective means to
assess your hands-on competence and time-critical, problem-solving skills. To
become an Oracle Certified Professional for a specific job-related track, you
must successfully complete all of the specified tests.
It is important to realize that the OCP Program is constantly evolving, and the
test questions are constantly being refined to reflect changes in technology and
the goals of the marketplace. The hottest OCP certification is the DBA program,
but the Application Developer program has also become very popular. In addition,
the new Oracle Designer Certification promises to be quite popular among systems
The OCP DBA certification program consists of several tests, described on
Oracle's education Web site.
All of the OCP tests last 105 minutes, which includes 15 minutes for an optional
tutorial and to answer survey questions at the end of the exam. Most candidates
report that this is enough time to answer all the questions.
In addition to the OCP DBA exams, Oracle is now offering the following
certification exams for Oracle application developers and designers:
- Oracle Designer Certification
- Oracle Certified Java Developer
- Oracle Certified Application Developer
- Oracle Financial Applications Consultant Certification
- Oracle Operator
Oracle certification tests are administered by Sylvan Prometric at local
sites throughout the U.S. and overseas. Each computer-delivered certification
test challenges candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and experience by
answering 60-70 multiple-choice questions in the space of 1.5 hours.
Most of the multiple-choice questions are straightforward and have been
carefully screened by real-world Oracle DBAs to remove questions that are
superfluous or misleading. Some questions even provide "what-if?"
scenarios, but these constitute a small portion of the exam and are often
presented as multiple-correct, multiple-choice questions.
By requiring a series of these tests for each job-related certification track,
Oracle can verify that a candidate has both the knowledge and experience
required for successfully administrating an Oracle database.
The OCP exams have no trick questions. However, they assume familiarity with the
Oracle documentation, and some test questions address documentation samples.
Because of the complex nature of Oracle database administration, you aren't
expected to memorize all the tens of thousands of facts; rather, the test
assumes that you know where to go to look up the information. Unless you're
familiar with the Oracle documentation, you may not have enough time to research
some of the questions.
Taking the exam
During the exam, you may bypass any questions you're not sure about and
return to them later in the test. The best strategy is to make one pass through
all of the questions, marking the answers you are most confident about. The exam
also allows questions to be answered and flagged, so that you can return to them
later on. This enables you to make the best use of your time and ensures that
you'll get through the entire exam at least once in the allotted time. If you
plan carefully, you'll have time at the end to go back to those questions you
weren't sure about. The best policy is to answer every question if possible. If
you can eliminate even one answer, you should venture a guess because there is
no direct penalty for guessing.
The OCP exam informs you immediately of your pass/fail status and also provides
a listing of all missed as well as correctly answered questions. You'll receive
a hardcopy version at the end of the exam.
Preparing for the exams
Many candidates are afraid of the rigorous reputation of the OCP exam and
often put off taking the test even after they have registered. However, there
are a wealth of books and online tools to assist students in test preparation,
and candidates who have been diligent in their studies often pass the test with
relative ease. I've written High Performance Oracle8 Tuning, published by
Coriolis Group, to provide a good reference for helpful information related to
Oracle8 OCP performance and tuning, which the exams rigorously test.
There are several other books, as well as online training tools, that can help
you prepare for the OCP exam. The most popular of these include:
These sample exams closely reflect the content of the real thing and are
useful for understanding the type of information Oracle requires for
certification. You can download more than 10 separate sample exams.
The OCP exams are designed to be complete and to adequately test your
familiarity with Oracle products and the procedures associated with them. While
there is no substitute for knowledge, you can improve the score significantly by
taking as many of the sample exams as possible.
Certification is not everything
The advent of Oracle certification has changed the landscape of the Oracle
marketplace. Prior to the exploding demand, entry-level DBA jobs were reserved
for the top masters degree graduates from major universities. Now that demand
has outstripped supply, the OCP certification exams have removed a barrier to
entry and help candidates demonstrate minimal (or entry-level) competence with
Of course, a certification is no guarantee that the DBA will be able to manage
your multimillion dollar database. I've known very bright individuals who
pursued the OCP and obtained entry-level DBA jobs solely for the money. These
people possess knowledge of the technical details but are woefully lacking in
experience and analytical ability. These "certified beginners" are
often very dangerous in a production environment. Again, OCP DBA certification
is a great demonstration of technical memorization skills, but it is not a
substitute for real-world experience.