Somebody has to say it, so it may as well be me. It is not too late to pursue the Oracle8i Certified Professional Database Administrator certification. If this is something you want to do and you are relatively new to Oracle and you have not started yet, today (this was published at the end of June 2004) is the day you need to start studying--even if you are an old hand at Oracle. I will lay out a short background about why the certification process has taken a beating as of late, why becoming certified is a desirable goal, and a recommendation of what you can do to get certified in a relatively inexpensive and efficient manner.
A Short Background
Like other certifications, and as alluded to in previous articles, the fame and glamour of earning the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) designation is, well, somewhat lacking. Why has the glamour worn thin? Start by looking at what Oracle's website has to say about being certified: Oracle Certified Professionals have proven skills managing a large-scale database or developing robust applications that are deployed enterprise-wide. That sounds impressive, but it reminds me of a line from the movie Independence Day (when the Secretary of Defense responds to the President's denial about the existence of aliens and UFO's at Area 51). "Uh, excuse me, Mr. President, but that's not entirely accurate." No doubt, some OCP's have proven skills doing the aforementioned, but many do not. The somewhat overstated selling of what being certified "guarantees," combined with the proliferation of brain dump and cheat sheet websites, and combined with the fact that (and you are going to be somewhat guilty of this) people with practically no experience can become certified, have all contributed to the decrease in stature.
Why Getting Certified is a Good Thing
On the other hand, the fact that you (the same one just mentioned) can pass the exams does, to a large degree, guarantee familiarity with Oracle database administration. New doctors do not know everything; that is why they have internships. New lawyers do not know everything; that is why many of them work as clerks (that's clerking for a prominent judge, not clerking in the HR department). A new pilot (depending on the program) does not immediately start off as a captain; that's why there are flight engineers and co-pilots. Newly certified and (new to Oracle) DBAs do not (no surprise here) start off managing large-scale databases and enterprise-wide applications; that is why there are junior DBAs. The point is this: you have to start somewhere, and getting certified gives you a boost in knowledge and familiarity, so why not take advantage of a learning program that bestows a credential upon you at the end.
At the risk of ruffling some feathers, there are some experienced DBAs who have shunned the certification for one or more of the following selfish reasons: fear of failure, fear of being exposed (the negative connotations associated with failing one or more exam areas; "So, Mr. DBA, what is it exactly that you do know?"), or laziness ("Sure hope this certification thing dies out pretty soon or I may have to do some extra work."). Others have chosen to forego certification for reasons ranging from lack of time (over three years now?) to a personal bias against certifications in general. The fact of the matter is certifications are here to stay. Let a certification help you get the interview, and from there you can talk up or sell your experience. How could it possibly hurt you to be certified?
A Certification Road Map
Count on spending between 10 and 20 hours per week for four weeks (before or after work, weekends, whenever) preparing for each exam. After you have taken an exam or two, you can "calibrate" your study efforts accordingly. Here are four items you can use to be certified.
1) A copy of Oracle8i. Oracle8i Enterprise Edition (8.1.7) is still available for download at OTN (http://otn.oracle.com/software/products/oracle8i/index.html). If you use 9i, you will have to translate a few items, but that's not a show stopper.
2) A set of third party study guides or exam prep books. You can use the Sybex or Exam Cram series. Each series has its pros and cons, supporters and detractors. If you purchase the Sybex series, you have two options: buy each of the three books for around $75 (two of the books each have two exam areas in them), or buy the one combined book for around $55.
Coverage of RMAN in Sybex's Backup and Recovery material is somewhat weak, so you may want to supplement your studying of this topic by using Oracle's documentation or another book. It is a small portion of the overall exam, so if you feel good about the rest of B&R, you can afford to miss several RMAN questions. See http://www.bookpool.com for good prices and great service.
When using the Sybex books, take the end of chapter quizzes. If you can consistently score 80% on the quizzes, you will be adequately prepared for the real exam. If there is a list shown in a chapter (e.g., Oracle's tuning methodology), you can count on one or more questions about the list. If there is a summary of V$ views and dba/all/user_whatever tables, you can count on questions about these views and tables. Most examples are shown using UNIX, but that really does not matter. What is important is the command syntax.
3) The source material for the exams. If you can obtain a copy of Oracle's ILT books (the ones issued to students in the instructor-led courses) from a friend or via private purchase, you will have THE source material for the Prometric-administered exam questions. Regardless of whether or not you can obtain the ILT books, you can and should get the test content checklists from Oracle's website (http://www.oracle.com/education/lang/fr/certification/objectives/index.html?dba8i_tcc.html).
4) A test prep engine. If you are on a less restrictive budget and can afford extra, buy the Self Test Software exam packs for the 8i DBA track. You can buy the CD version, download the CD material, or "rent" the software and use it online (it is generally good for 30 days). If you buy the exams separately, it will cost you more. As a special offer to readers of this article, Self Test Software is offering a 30% discount on any of the 8i exams, including the 8i DBA bundle. Use this link to take advantage of the offer (the discount will be applied when you checkout, and the offer is good until the end of the year): http://www.selftestsoftware.com/bpc/?p=Oracle8isc0604_mtc&dt=1&d=6050&t=1
An unstated fifth item is the set of five exam vouchers you have to purchase (http://www.2test.com, sign up for Oracle, select a test center, and select a date and time). If your company is in the Oracle Partner Program, you pay slightly more than $80 compared to the full price of $125. As of this writing, the OTN20 promotion code may or may not be in effect (it provides a 20% discount).
There is sufficient time remaining to become 8i certified. If you start now, you will be able to finish with some time to spare. Remember, if you fail an exam, you have to wait 30 days before retaking that particular exam. You do not need to max an exam (good for you if you do). Your goal is to pass on the first attempt and not spend an inordinate amount of time preparing. Which exams are the hardest? I have seen people complain about each exam topic, so there is no definite answer to this question.
If you forego this opportunity to certify with Oracle8i, you and your pocketbook may deeply regret it later if you want to be certified because of the ILT requirement for someone starting from scratch with Oracle9i. For less than the cost of attending an Oracle University course for one day, you can easily afford to buy everything (books and STS software) you need to prepare for the five Oracle8i exams. That's it. We're done. No more talk about Oracle8i certification.
P.S. When you are finished taking the 8i exams, jump on the 9i upgrade. Take advantage of the study habits and test-taking skills you have developed over the past few months. STS also offers exam preparation for the 8i to 9i upgrade exam.