Oracle’s new recertification policy: A calamity of Biblical proportions?

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The Oracle Certification Program recently announced a significant policy change. A number of certifications related to older releases of the Oracle database now require candidates to recertify in order for their credentials to remain active. The policy affects 11 certifications for release 9i and older that will require action by Nov. 1, 2015. Another five certifications for release 10g will require action by March 1, 2016. You can find more information at Oracle’s Recertification Policy Questions page. What I have seen of the early reaction to the announcement from the Oracle community has been largely negative and can be broken into three broad classes:

The Sky Is Falling

What's the worst that could happen? A new recertification policy from Oracle.Much of what I have read magnifies the potential effects of this change hugely out of proportion. One article proclaimed that Oracle DBA certifications would soon be “a worthless piece of paper.” The real value of any certification is the information in the brain of the person who earned it. This knowledge does not disappear if a recertification requirement is not met. The article implies, however, that the piece of paper for a certification earned years ago for an obsolete release of Oracle has value today until that certification is marked “inactive.” I have a problem with that logic.

Someone who earned a 9i Oracle Certified Professional credential 10 years ago, who has been active as a DBA since then, may decide that upgrading their OCP to a current release is not worth the study time and money required. Given that much job experience, this is a defensible position to take. Making that decision, however, and additionally claiming that inactivating their 9i credentials will cause a problem, is not. Either the certification is of value and is worth keeping current, or it is not of value and recertification is irrelevant. You cannot have it both ways.

Recertifying Adds No Value

The comments I saw to this effect were from a part of the Oracle community that feels job experience is everything and certification is worthless. I fully agree that Oracle job experience trumps certification and zero experience. That said, the mantra I constantly push is using certifications to acquire new skills and promote continuous learning. As I noted in an earlier article, certification can have value even for experienced Oracle professionals. Earning one or two certifications a year helps keep your knowledge up to date and demonstrates interest in your career. Earning a single certification and then never updating it does not show the same level of commitment.

The recertification is tied to exam retirements that are in turn tied to discontinued support of Oracle releases. Certifications will become inactive a year after the qualifying exam has been retired if the recertification requirement is not met. I like this better than the arbitrary timeframe that is used by other certification vendors.

For example, I earned a CompTIA Security+ certification which expired after three years. The information that I learned when preparing for that exam is still relevant today. By contrast, a fair amount of information related to my Oracle 7.3 DBA certification is not. Certifications tied to a release of Oracle that has dropped off of extended support are of dubious value — even without this announcement. The policy change simply makes this official.

Show Me the Money

In every venue where this announcement is being discussed, one or more people suggest that Oracle has implemented a recertification policy to generate additional income. There is no doubt that Oracle likes making money — companies need to earn lots of it to survive. I did some cocktail-napkin calculations to see what this policy change might do for their profit margin. From their Q4 financial report, Oracle’s total revenue for 2014 was more than $37 billion. There are too many unknowns to calculate a solid figure of how many people will take a DBA upgrade exam in a given year, but I worked up an estimate. (Originally, this article had a paragraph describing that estimation process. I removed it after judging the result to be mind-numbingly boring to most readers.)

My end figure was 50,000 individuals taking a DBA upgrade exam each year. I am confident that estimate is extremely high. Even so, the income from that number of exams would add less than 0.03 percent to Oracle’s annual revenue. The additional income derived from the recertification requirement would be considerably less. The only increase would be from people who currently do not upgrade their certifications but decided to do so because of this policy change. However you look at it, the final figure will be essentially a rounding error to Oracle’s bottom line.

The Upshot

Despite the furor over the announcement, this strikes me as an evolutionary change rather than a revolutionary one. All of the other major vendors that offer IT certifications have recertification requirements. This change will align Oracle’s program to the same standard. Also, I have noted in previous articles that the Oracle Certification Program seems to be raising the bar on their credentials recently.

New exams that have come out of the program in the past year have been larger, more comprehensive, and more difficult than what I have seen from the program in the past. The 12c DBA track in particular is on a completely different level than the equivalent exams for Oracle 11g. Looking beyond database administration, the SQL Expert exam was recently updated, adding a number of new topics that broadened its scope significantly. Given the retirement last year of the 9i tracks and next year of the 10g tracks, I believe the certification team wants to entice Oracle Certified DBAs in older release to transition to the more comprehensive certification requirements currently in place.

I see the new requirement as part of a series of incremental steps being taken by the Oracle Certification Program to strengthen the program and improve its reputation. In order for credentials provided by Oracle to be respected by employers, they have to create an environment that rewards individuals who are dedicated to improving their knowledge and job skills. Achieving that goal benefits both existing and potential Oracle Certified Professionals.

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Matthew Morris

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Morris is an experienced DBA and developer. He holds Oracle DBA Certifications for every Oracle release from 7 through 12c; Expert certifications for SQL, SQL Tuning, and Application Express; and is an Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional. He is the author of more than 20 study guides for Oracle certification exams, as well as a suite of Oracle practice tests that are available at ocpexam.com.

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