Seeking career guidance and certification advice from strangers
Numerous times over the years I have seen posts from individuals on forums asking for suggestions on which certification track they should pursue to kick-start their career. Sometimes these are from people looking to change careers, but more often I see posts from recent graduates. For the most part, the posts could be reduced to something similar to the following:
I have just recently graduated from [name of university] at [name of location]. I would like to get a job working with the Oracle database. I have studied [names of courses], but have no experience with Oracle. Would you recommend that I pursue the certification track for [career choice one] or [career choice two]?
I do not want anyone to think that I am suggesting public forums are a bad place to ask questions. The Oracle Technology Network and OraFAQ forums in particular are frequented by Oracle professionals with deep reservoirs of knowledge and decades of experience. The same can be said about a number of LinkedIn groups where I see these types of questions.
That said, all of these venues are also frequented by people who have minimal experience with Oracle and questionable levels of knowledge. Many of the people with little experience hold strong opinions and are very willing to offer them. When you ask a question in one of these locations, it is much like the Forest Gump “box of chocolates” metaphor — you never know what you are going to get.
The real gotcha in this case is this: If you post a question in a forum about a strange error you received while installing a piece of software, you will likely receive a number of answers. Determining whether these answers are worthwhile is easy. Any given answer will either be right (and your installation problem will be resolved), or it will be wrong. By contrast, if you ask for advice about a career choice, determining whether the advice you receive is good or bad is not so cut-and-dried. If you take Career Path X rather than Career Path Y based on particular response, then there is no simple way to determine whether you would have been better off with the other option.
Almost without exception, any statement about one career being “better” than another is going to be a matter of opinion rather than fact. Someone who works in the industry as an Oracle developer is likely to tell you that being a developer is a better career choice than being a database administrator. An Oracle DBA answering the same question is likely to give the opposite response.
I work as an Oracle Developer/DBA and perform tasks from both job tracks. When asked, I tell people that my preference is for the development portion of my work. That does not mean that a career as an Oracle developer is better than that of an Oracle DBA. It simply means that it is better for me. Which of these two career choices would work best for someone else is based on their own personality and mindset as I discussed in an earlier CertMag article.
What concerns me most is that it seems that the people with the least experience are often the ones most likely to give very specific and emphatic career guidance. I see this happening all the time. Afterward, the original poster thanks them for the valuable advice. Presumably they plan to base their career choice on information from someone they never met and whose “industry experience” might consist of a few months working as a junior developer for a small company.
If you do get advice from someone on a forum, at the very least check out that person’s profile to see what their background is. If their profile is blank, that may be an indicator that their industry experience is minimal. That is not necessarily the case — some people simply refuse to enter profile data. Regardless, if you cannot determine whether they really know enough to be providing career advice, then you should not take their suggestions as gospel.
With LinkedIn groups, it is especially easy to get a feel for how much experience someone has. Any post can be used to link directly back to the author’s profile. If someone posts in a LinkedIn group that the sky is blue, but their profile has no photo, job history, certification, or education — I would at least look out a window before accepting their statement as being true. Anyone who has considerable industry experience and has a LinkedIn account and is active in the groups should have taken the time to make sure their profile is representative of their experience.
The people with real industry experience and with the right skills to be giving career advice will very seldom tell you to pick one path over another. If they do, it is normally because one of the paths is clearly a bad idea. If you look through some of the Dear CertMag articles on this site, you will note that the author, Wayne Anderson, seldom (if ever) tells someone to take a very specific career path. Instead, he lays out options, provides pros and cons, and suggests lines of research.
This is the type of advice that is most valuable. In order to design a career path that is going to work for you, it is necessary that you take the time to learn as much as possible about the various options and how well each fits in with your skills, aptitudes, and interests. It certainly makes sense to try to pick a career for yourself that employers are interested in. However, picking a career that is currently in demand, but that you hate doing (and are not very good at), is not going to provide a good solution in the long run.
Selecting a career path is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Make use of multiple sources (including forums) in researching your options. When it comes down to it, however, making the correct choice requires that your aptitudes and interests be included in the decision-making process.