Are Oracle’s new Junior Associate certs setting the bar too low?
In May, the Oracle Certification Program started beta testing the first of a new type of Oracle certification exam. The five credentials that have been possible until this time were the Associate, Professional, Expert, Master and Specialist certifications. Earning a passing score on Oracle Database Foundations (1Z0-006) will grant certification candidates the Oracle Database Foundations Certified Junior Associate credential. I assume the preferred acronym for this credential will be OCJA.
When 1Z0-006 was first listed on the Oracle Certification website, I requested some information on it from my contacts there. The program manager of the exam provided me with some details about Oracle’s intentions behind creating the new certification class. He confirmed exams granting the Junior Associate credential will be aimed at candidates with little or no job experience. At this time, the only other exam that leads to the OCJA credential is the Java Foundations Junior Associate exam (1Z0-811) which also started its beta period last month.
The Oracle Database Foundations exam is designed to attract an audience that is relatively new to the Oracle RDBMS. The intention of the exam creators is to provide candidates with a test that covers the critical topics regarding database concepts, data modeling and SQL without being excessively challenging. Unlike most Oracle certification exams, there will not be a recommended training course from Oracle University to prepare for it.
Oracle’s expectation is that candidates should be able to pass this exam based on their academic education. To help ensure that the difficulty of the questions is matched to the target audience, the beta exam will be by invitation only to a set of candidates who have been pre-selected by the Oracle Certification program.
In my opinion, the Database Foundations exam fills a hole in the Oracle Certification Program’s coverage of the knowledge required by Oracle developers. Prior to the introduction of 1Z0-006, the exams most commonly considered as an entry point for new certification candidates were those covering SQL Fundamentals. Understanding the basics about the SQL language is certainly a core requirement for developing solutions for the Oracle RDBMS. Unfortunately, using the SQL language as an entry point assumes that a candidate already knows the underlying concepts of a relational database.
From personal experience I can attest that someone can pass the SQL Fundamentals exam and still have gaping holes in their understanding of database concepts. Anyone who plans to have a successful career as a database developer needs to know how to gather application requirements, perform data modeling, normalize tables, enforce business rules, and resolve table relationships. None of this information is covered to any significant degree in the SQL Fundamentals exams but they are integral to the Oracle Database Foundations exam.
When I first looked over the topics covered by 1Z0-006, I was struck by the similarity to the CIW Database Design Specialist (1D0-541) exam. Both certifications are aimed at essentially the same audience and cover three basic areas: database concepts, database design, and SQL fundamentals. Taking the Database Design Specialist exam has been on my (very long) list of things to do when I have time. So far it has not made it to the top of that list, but it will get there eventually. From the topics listed for both exams, it appears that 1Z0-006 goes into more detail than 1D0-541, but I cannot be certain of that.
I have been developing Oracle applications for years and do many of the requirements and modeling steps without much conscious thought anymore. It is entirely possible, however, that I would be a better developer if I put more structure into the design process. I am a good application designer, but arguably do not always spend enough time in the requirements and design steps because I want to get started on writing the code. Additionally, I have worked with other developers over the years who were good coders, but terrible at application design. The results of their efforts were often haphazard even though the code itself was top-rate. A poor design process often leads to an application that is not what the users want or need.
Candidates who invest time preparing for this certification should learn the skills and techniques to create a good database application design. Later certifications will deal with the knowledge required to actually build that application. Oracle Database Foundations is broken into five major sections:
What is a Database? — This section deals with the basic concepts of databases and their usage in an organization.
The Language of Database and Data Modeling — This section introduces terminology that is used in relational algebra and relational databases and the importance of primary and foreign keys.
Data Modeling – Creating the Physical Model — This section covers normalization, relationships between entities, attributes and unique identifiers.
Mapping the Physical Model — This section revolves around creating and utilizing Entity Relationship Diagrams.
Introduction to SQL — This is a very high level overview of SQL language capabilities and syntax.
While I really like the fact that this exam has been introduced by Oracle, I have to admit that I am concerned about the stated intention. It is my firm belief that the value of any certification lies in the amount of knowledge required to pass the associated exam(s). I am leery of the statement that this test is being designed such that candidates should be able to pass it “based solely on their academic education.”
I can understand the desire to avoid setting the bar too high for an introductory certification, but setting it too low creates problems as well. The topics covered by this exam are all core information and understanding them should be a given for database professionals. The fact that the topics themselves are about core concepts should be what makes this exam easier than higher certification levels.
If the questions being asked are too simple, then a passing score will not really ensure that the candidate has a solid grasp of relational database concepts. That, in turn, would have serious implications regarding the value of taking the exam. I may, however, be worrying needlessly. If anything, the general direction of Oracle certification exams in recent years has been to increase the difficulty. Perhaps that trend will be borne out here as well.