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Evaluating the Credibility of Oracle Information on the Internet
Don Burleson
SearchOracle
19 April 2005

With powerful web search tools like Google, terabytes of information are right at your fingertips, even the Oracle documentation.  Nobody buys the hardcopy Oracle documentation manuals anymore (I'm not even sure Oracle still prints them), and the Oracle documentation CD's are rarely used.  Instead, they just do a Google search, and it's all there on the web.

Today we see online wiki web pages suffering from lack a of credibility, and people are getting fed-up with the fake experts on the web.

Back in the 1980's the Internet was the exclusive bastion of students, professors, and scientists.  It was customary to sign your messages with your qualifications, so everyone immediately had a way to evaluate the credibility of your content.  He term "Men of Letters" was used to describe well-qualified professionals, and the phrase originated from the routine practice of stating your credibility (with abbreviations) when you sign your name (Sincerely, John Doe, BS, MS, OCP, CCNE, MSCE, McDBA). 

Today it's much harder to "learn about" the author of advice on the web.  This article will discuss the perils and pitfalls and give you some guidelines for finding high-quality credible Oracle technical information. 

In Oracle on the Internet, we see hoards of self-proclaimed "Oracle Experts", all proclaiming "Listen to me".  

Today, the web has become anonymous and there is a trend in the Oracle industry where it is becoming very difficult to evaluate the credentials of people who give you technical advice about Oracle.  

As a matter of practical reality, we must now take the time to evaluate the credibility of any Oracle technical content on the web.  Are the publications of an Oracle "Expert" the pontification of an experienced consultant or the ruminations of an elementary-school dropout?  Frankly, we need to know.

"I don't need no stinkin' high-school to be an Oracle Expert"

Of course, the question of credibility is important in a world of self-proclaimed Oracle "experts".  But what about someone who says they are an Oracle "expert"?  Does this self-granted title tell us anything about their real skill and experience? 

 Most people agree, you need to be able to "trust your source" and verify the experiential, academic, scientific and research credentials of anyone offering-up Oracle technical advice on the web.

The web has evolved into a dangerous place, and today you have to take any Oracle information on the web with a grain-of-salt, especially when you cannot verify the qualifications of the expert. When evaluating the credibility of anyone who is labeled an "Oracle Expert" or "Oracle Scientist", you can quickly see if their qualifications (provided that they have published their resume and experience).  Here is the Google syntax that I've automated (using the fantastic Google API) to quickly see a resume' or C.V. for someone you don't know:

   oracle "experts_name_here" (CV | C.V. | resume | experience| worked')

 

In this web-world of fakers and posers, all Oracle professionals need to have strong "BS" radar. 

 

But can a Google search really tell you how much credence to give to the assertions of any Oracle Expert or Oracle Scientist?   

Janet Burleson, author of "Conducting the Programmer Job Interview" has a resounding "NO".  Burleson notes a disturbing industry trend for Oracle professionals to submit fraudulent qualifications.

"Almost one-fourth of the Oracle resumes that I receive have falsified or unverifiable academic degrees and Oracle certifications"

 

Let's take a closer look at Oracle information on the web and see the perils and pitfalls.

Credibility and the Web

It's amazing how gullible some Netizens can be, studies noting that the majority of people believe that the web is credible and reliable.  I've devoted a section in my latest book "Web Stalkers" to this illusion of credibility on the web.web spoof

Leveraging on the knowledge that Grandma will believe everything she reads on the web, savvy pranksters have moved-in to fill the void of misinformation. 

My favorite web spoof is the "Bonsai Kitten" web site which was created by some naughty MIT students (make sure to read their guest book).  My daughter (a College freshman) told me that she recently saw a petition that was being circulated around campus to ban this shocking practice of Bonsai Kittens. 

Another personal favorite is "Primate Programming", a web site devoted to replacing computer professionals with chimps and Orangutans (check it out they have a section on Oracle consulting too!). 

 

We also see "parody" web sites devoted to misinformation such as The White House, The Onion and many others.

So, in this world of web fakers and pranksters, how to we find the "real-deal" for Oracle technical information?  Many countries have strict laws that require a college degree and a license in order to use the titles of "Oracle Engineer" or "Oracle Architect".  For example, a Canadian court recently ruled that Microsoft may not issue the title of "Engineer" (The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer program) because, by Canadian law, all Engineers must have a college degree in Engineering. 

In the USA we also see that some states are considering lawsuits to require college degrees and licenses for anyone using the title "Engineer" or "Architect":

"Complicating the software-licensing controversy is the fight between the national licensing boards and industry over the proliferation of "certified engineers." Microsoft and Novell, in particular, have been promoting training programs that "graduate" Microsoft-certified or Novell-certified "engineers.

The State of Delaware, according to IEEE-USA, is eyeing a lawsuit to stop the use of the word "engineer" in those titles. Indeed, Novell and the state of Nevada licensing board have gone to court over Novell's use of the word "engineer" to describe trainees who may or may not have an engineering degree."

We can be confident that a Software Engineer has an engineering degree and a Database Architect is duly licensed.  But what about the Oracle Experts and Scientists?

Oracle Experts and Credibility

Chris Lawson, author of the bestselling "Art and Science of Oracle Performance Tuning" book, gives his advice for establishing credibility in the Oracle community:

Probably the easiest way to enhance your credibility is to write articles for technical journals. Besides the local user groups, they are numerous technical journals that are happy to review submissions-even from unknown writers.

Many popular Oracle authors have used this strategy. For instance, Don Burleson advertises that he has penned over 100 articles! In contrast, why would a publisher listen seriously to someone who has not bothered to publish even a single technical article?

In the USA being "legally" declared an Expert is a matter of law.  Many of my compatriots have been evaluated and declared to be an Oracle Expert by the U.S. court systems, as are many other scientists who testify in computer-related disputes. 

In the course of performing Oracle forensic consulting, both parties hire database experts and scientists to evaluate their-side of a technical issue, and provide "expert" opinions.  All expert witnesses are evaluated by the court and the judge determines if their academic, research and experiential background warrants declaring them an "Oracle Expert".

When publishing, these authors have a right to call themselves "Oracle Experts" as a matter of law, having met their burden of proving their expertise to the satisfaction of a court.

Other Oracle experts are concerned about relying on information from people who will not share their experience and qualifications.  Mike Ault, author of over 20 Oracle books notes:

"I pay no attention to any technical information when I cannot verify the identity or qualifications of the author".

Let's take a closer look at what "qualifications" really mean to the credibility of an Oracle professional.

What constitutes valid Oracle Qualifications?

In my book "Conducting the Oracle Job Interview" I note that that management routinely check all aspects of a job candidate's experience and qualifications.  These include:

        Experience - Was this person intimately involved with the internal machinations of Oracle at Redwood?  Nobody knows Oracle like the folks who built and maintain it (especially if they have source code!). Is this job candidate a consultant who has worked on hundreds of databases or a day-job person with a more-limited breadth of experience? 

  • Academics Does the candidate demonstrate the hard-work and persistence required to graduate from a rigorous collegiate program?  Were they able to compete effectively for entrance into a competitive graduate school?
     
  • Publications There are many portals where Oracle professionals can share their knowledge and many expect any "real" Oracle expert or Oracle scientist to have a demonstrable commitment to the advancement of Oracle knowledge by publishing in at least one of the following areas:

         Books Oracle technical books or academic press publications.

         Conference papers - OracleWorld, RMOUG Training Days, Database World, etc.

         Trade Periodicals - Oracle Magazine, Oracle Internals, DM-Review, Dr. Dobbs journal, IOUG SELECT, etc.

It appears that Ault is biased towards high-quality real-world experience, as this comment from the Mike Ault blog shows his belief that extensive real-world experience is far more important than researching Oracle on a PC: 

"I have been at over 24 client sites in the last 6 months doing tuning, optimizing and database evaluations."

Another hotbed of controversy is the value of a College education in becoming a successful Oracle professional.  Let's examine both sides of the issue.

It's all Academic?

The majority of US Oracle employers now require that a DBA have (at least) a bachelors degree in Computer Science or Information Technology, "or equivalent experience".  Many of the top-paying senior Oracle jobs now prefer Masters Degrees. 

But what is "equivalent experience?" What kind of experience qualifies as the equivalent to a rigorous 4-year degree program?  I used to be employed by the State Universities of New York (SUNY) to grant college credit for real-life, college-level learning, and many non-College people don't know whether their work experience is College-level learning.  Click here to read about some of my interview nightmares.

Oracle Academy (a new program for aspiring Oracle professionals) notes that a Bachelor degree is required for their four career paths: 

Database Engineer, Junior Consultant, Database Administrator and Sales Consultant:

Imagine having a job where you are continually learning and constantly solving problems while having loads of fun and making lots of money.

What about the quality, selectivity and rigor of a university?  Many of the major database employers shop for their new graduates at the top science schools, and they make no secret that they prefer graduates from high-quality programs.  This from the book "Conducting the Programmer Job Interview" by Janet Burleson:

"Computer programmers must be highly motivated and self-starting in order to be effective.  These qualities are often shared by those who have gained entrance into competitive schools with rigorous admission standards."

Microsoft Corporation also requires a College degree for computing professionals, and it's ironic that Bill Gates (a college drop-out from Harvard) does not meet the standards required by his own HR department.  Oracle hires their software developers from universities with rigorous requirements and Oracle recruits "top candidates" for product development from MIT, Stanford, CMU (likely Carnegie Mellon University), Princeton, Wisconsin, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Caltech, Berkeley, Harvard and Cornell.

Many people say that anyone wearing a "Brass Rat" (The MIT class ring) is almost always highly-trained and brilliant, and others note the high-speed information uptake skills from graduates of Stanford, Harvard, Duke, West Point, and many other first-tier universities.

For example, Lt. Col. John Garmany (with his West Point education in Electrical Engineering and Software Engineering), can diagnose Oracle performance problems at every level, right-down to the chipset instruction, and people are amazed at how quickly he grasps and solves an Oracle problem.  Is it his West Point discipline, his Master of Science degree in software engineering, or his training as an Army ranger?  (Garmany says that his fast problem-solving skills are the natural result of his rigorous academics of 60-80 hours a week of study for six years).  Many employers agree, and rely on the top science schools to find the "best and the brightest". 

Of course, not everyone agrees, and many claim that a College education can actually be detrimental to the Oracle professional.  Let's take a look.

No Degree Required

Not everyone agrees about the value of a College Education in Oracle technology.  Doug Burns, an Oracle DBA in England believes that Oracle is more of a trade than a science, and that a college degree is not necessary:

Mr. Don Burleson, you talk rubbish. I have a very basic high school education but left pretty quickly to play around with computers and taught myself.

I've lost count of the number of degree-educated colleagues who I wouldn't allow near a database.

This is a craft, so I'll be judged by the quality of my work and not pieces of unrelated paper.

We also have Bill Gates, the brilliant founder of Microsoft who designed one of the world's bestselling operating systems, all without the benefit of a degree or formal training in Software Engineering.  Gee, the robustness and reliability of Microsoft Windows speaks for itself.

Personally, I don't think that a degree is required to be an Oracle DBA (but it can be very helpful) and I've seen loads of "Educated People", with advanced degrees but no common-sense or real-world experience.  Don't get me started.  It is not uncommon for larger corporations to hire inept academicians, and these stereotypes are so common that IT professionals have special names for them, the most common being the Educated Idiot, or EI, for short.

The EI  has an impressive resume, a PhD and dozens of citations to research projects (with no practical application) and publications (in obscure academic journals that few people ever read).  The hallmarks of the EI include degrees in "easy" majors (Art History, Elementary Education), poor judgment, no common sense, and very poor interpersonal skills.

Reviewing Oracle Book Credibility

If someone tries to establish credibility because they are the author of a book, it's easy to go to Amazon and read their book reviews.  However, many people don't know that Amazon book reviews can be done anonymously, and superlative reviews with bad grammar (e.g. "This is absolutely one of the best technical books I've done read.") may have been made by the author's Grandma or their favorite Aunt Sara. 

Many savvy Oracle professionals pay no attention to "5-star ratings" because they expect that Grandma and Aunt Sara are expected to chime-in with their whole-hearted admiration of the work of their brilliant offspring.

Oracle professionals are seeking alternative books and the top Oracle authors are starting their own publishing companies.  nd Rampant TechPress.  These "alternative" Oracle publishers have been very successful in providing hot topics at low prices and they have very positive feedback for their novel approach to Oracle publishing:

This has been the most enlightening book I have ever read. The concise nature of the text gives me the chance to consume a large amount of new information in much less time. Thank you ...   Rod Fredette

Printed books are one-thing, but what about the online Oracle information?  Should we go to an Oracle forum for advice?  Are all Oracle forums the same?  Let's explore some sources of reliable and professional Oracle information on the web.

The "Fear of Forum" Syndrome
 

In some Oracle forums, beginners have a justified fear of being ridiculed by the moderator and other forum participants if they ask a "stupid" question or if they use poor grammar and typing:

 

Worse yet, many innocent Oracle professionals may find themselves the target of profanity, mocking and ridicule.  

My company (Burleson Consulting) has a strict professional code of conduct, and everyone must treat our customers with respect and dignity.  However, there are dozens of Oracle forums and not everyone agrees about Netiquette conventions. 

Many Oracle professionals are saddened by this disturbing tendency for Oracle forum members to impersonate others, arrogantly toss-out the arguments without sharing their background or qualifications, or hurling offensive personal insults. They say that it's unprofessional and tarnishes the respectability of the Oracle profession. 

As a result of these disturbing trends, many Oracle professionals avoid all Oracle forums, while others are very careful to avoid any Oracle forum that:

  • Is un-moderated (or moderated by someone who allows unprofessional content).
  • Allows anonymous unverifiable postings, and impersonation. 
  • Contains profanity, off-topic remarks, or gratuitous insults.

Safe-Haven Sources

Does this mean that there are no valid sources of credible Oracle information on the web?  No, there are many forums that require verifiable identities and have real-world Oracle experts.  Best of all, beginners never have to fear being embarrassed for their lack of knowledge and non-USA customers never have to fear being mocked for poor English skills. 

Conclusion

The Latin "Caveat Emptor" applies here, and it is your responsibility to ensure that the source of your Oracle information is reliable and credible.  We have seen the issues with verifying the background of self-proclaimed Oracle Experts and Oracle Scientists and we have seen the hazards of relying on Oracle information in some online forums. 

In sum, if you are planning on taking Oracle advice on the web it's your responsibility to always take a minute to check-out the credibility of anyone who proclaims themselves an Oracle Expert or Oracle Scientist.

Special thanks to Mike Reed for allowing the use of his fantastic Flame Warriors cartoons in this article.
 

 

 


 

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Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

Verify experience! Anyone considering using the services of an Oracle support expert should independently investigate their credentials and experience, and not rely on advertisements and self-proclaimed expertise. All legitimate Oracle experts publish their Oracle qualifications.

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