Out with the old: When certs get the gold watch treatment
As we start a new year, it is worth taking a look back at shifts that took place in the Oracle Certification Program in 2013 and what changes might be ahead in the coming year. In any IT certification program, you can take it as a given that the programs that are available will be in a constant flux. As fast as this industry changes, any vendor that does not continually update its offerings will rapidly lose relevance in the global market. Even with that lead-in, however, the changes Oracle made to its certification landscape last year are significant. Oracle University went on a retirement spree in the second half of the year. There were 11 exams retired in July, another eight in August, two more in October, and a final two in December. Another six MySQL exams were originally scheduled to end in December, but Oracle University pushed those out until March after receiving feedback from exam candidates requesting additional time.
The fact that they were able to retire 23 exams in a single year demonstrates just how much the program has grown. In January of 1998, Oracle opened their certification program with four certification exams for the Oracle 7.3 Database Administrator Certified Professional track. In the 15 years since, the number of exams available from their certification program has exploded. Oracle University has added exams and certification tracks for PL/SQL development, Oracle applications, their engineered systems, and multiple specializations for the Oracle Partner Network. In addition, many of the companies that Oracle has acquired over the years had their own certification programs that were pulled into Oracle University. The Sun acquisition in particular expanded the Oracle Certification Program considerably, with exams for multiple technologies, including Java, MySQL, and Solaris.
At this time, the Oracle Certification Program as a whole contains more than 200 distinct exams. With the 23 retirements last year, they turned over a little less than 11 percent of their catalog. At that rate, OU could replace every exam in their inventory in nine years (assuming the total number of exams stayed at two hundred). Realistically, this is not something that will ever happen. A nine-year life span is not practical for all of the certification tracks offered by Oracle. Companies continue to use older releases of the Oracle RDBMS long after new ones become available. Oracle must continue to offer the associated certifications to support their flagship product for years after new versions have been released. Oracle’s 9i Database administrator track was in place for more than 12 years before being retired.
However, other exams can and will have considerably shorter life spans. In particular, the Oracle Partner Network specialization certifications are likely to switch fairly rapidly. They are intended primarily to ensure that the people selling and implementing Oracle software and hardware are familiar with the features of the current products. The essentials exams make up the largest single block of certification offerings, with more than 130 currently available. Despite that, only two of the retirements in 2013 were for specialist exams: 1Z0-545: Oracle Identity Analytics 11g Essentials and 1Z0-536: Oracle Exadata 11g Essentials. That disparity is likely because the specialization exams are a relatively recent addition to the Oracle Certification Program. Depending on what lifetime Oracle sets for them, it may well turn out that 20-plus exam retirements per year will prove to be the new “normal” for Oracle’s certification team.
The biggest event of 2013 for Oracle was the long-awaited general release of the 12c version of the Oracle database. In order to pave the way for the associated database administrator certification track, Oracle University retired four exams from the 9i database administrator track: 1Z0-007, 1Z0-031, 1Z0-032, and 1Z0-033. The first exam of the 12c database administrator track, 1Z0-061: Oracle Database 12c: SQL Fundamentals was released immediately to production, bypassing the normal beta testing. This exam has better than a 90 percent commonality with the topics on the SQL Fundamentals exam for 11g (1Z0-051) so the vast majority of the exam content had already been vetted in a production environment.
The second exam of the 12c Database Administration track, 1Z0-062: Oracle Database 12c: Installation and Administration, completed its beta period on Dec. 16 and will be in production in the very near future. The final exam in the track, 1Z0-063: Oracle Database 12c: Advanced Administration will go into beta later this year. I would not expect it to be available for beta testing before the second quarter, though. Until a reasonable number of people pass the 1Z0-062 exam, there will not be enough potential candidates to for the 1Z1-063 beta exam to serve its purpose.
Beyond the database administration track, Oracle University recently released the first of the 12c essentials exams into beta: 1Z1-497: Oracle Database 12c Essentials. It will be interesting to see how long the 1Z0-514: Oracle Database 11g Essentials remains in production once the 12c version is in production. If Oracle University’s policy is going to be to keep essentials exams for multiple releases, as it does for the database administrator tracks, then the number of certification exams in the Oracle Certification Program is going to significantly increase.
If the policy is going to be to keep only the most recent release for essentials exams, then 2014 is liable to be another really big year for retirements. Beyond 1Z0-514, there are four more essentials exams tied directly to the database (Data Warehousing, Security, Real Application Clusters, and Spatial). In addition, there are another 15 specialization exams under related technologies such as Enterprise Manager, SOA, WebCenter, Business Intelligence and more which are referenced to the 11g release. Whatever ends up happening with the 11g essentials exams, it is certain that a host of new Oracle certifications based on the 12c release are in the Oracle Certification Program’s pipeline for the near future.
There is no denying that 2013 was a banner year for changes to the program. However, given how this year has started out and the potential for 12c-induced changes, I think that it is very possible that the will see even more changes this year. I look forward to finding out what happens.