A friend recently asked me what I thought of certification. I have a number of DB2 related certifications, and even one Oracle certification. I thought I would share my opinions.
Company Requirements and Recognition
The company that I work for is an IBM Business Partner. As such, IBM requires a certain number of certifications, and certain types of certifications based on what IBM products we sell, implement, or support. There are some people on my team who have been requested to get specific certifications by management. However, our smaller DBA team has always been ahead of the curve, so there is only one we have ever been specifically asked to get – that was an Optim “Mastery” certification.
Outside of checking a box that we have the basics, there is no overt benefit or recognition for certifications where I work. It is important to know how and how much your company values certification. In some companies, certification will qualify you for a raise or a promotion. So before persuing certification, find out what the overt benefits might be in your current position.
How Good are You at Taking Tests
One of the things that any certification test measures is how good you are at taking tests. I have always been good at test taking. I often finish well before tests end, and I do not find it hard to answer tricky questions. But I have seen good DBAs struggle, even when they know the material. A few basic test taking skills will help immensely.
Know whether the test you are taking is progressive or whether it allows you to go back and review questions and change answers. If you read questions very carefully, sometimes a later question will give you the answer or a clue to the answer of an earlier question. Every IBM certification test that I have taken lets you go back and review questions and change answers.
Is guessing beneficial? This thought comes from studying for the SAT/ACT back in high school. Some tests will penalize you for an incorrect answer, so know when it makes sense to guess and when it doesn’t. Even if you are working with a test that penalizes you, sometimes eliminating a single answer will stack the odds enough to make answering the question worthwhile. I have not yet seen any IBM test with a wrong-ansewer penalty.
Read the question very carefully. Sometimes, they give you way more information than you need to answer a question. Make sure you understand the question fully before answering. I read almost every question at least twice, and if it is a complicated one, I sometimes write down what I think it is saying to make sure I understand.
Think about how you are answering each question. There are few questions where I immediately know the right answer. Even if I do, I work through each of the other answers to understand why I can eliminate them. If I don't know the answer, then I start eliminating the ones I know are not right. If I find more than two answers I think are correct, I go back and re-read the question to make sure I understood it properly. I also trust my instincts. I often mark my answer quickly, and if I am not sure, I come back to the question, but I only change my answer if I understand something in a way I didn't and have a good reason some other answer is correct. If I don't have a good reason, I don’t change the answer, because sometimes some part of my brain knows when I can't articulate why, and for me personally, usually my first guess is likely to be right. Learn how this works for you,nd whether changing answers is a good idea for you.
If you do not know the answer, think about similar syntax or methodologies in other areas of DB2. No, things aren't always consistent! But sometimes they are, and it is a good place to start if you do not know.
If a legitimate prep test is available, always take it. It is so worth the money. But beware – while I have seen the exact same question on a real test that was on a prep test, I have also seen a question that was changed just slightly so it had a different answer. Taking a prep test gives you a good idea of what the questions are like and how tricky the test is likely to be. It also gives you an idea on how crowded for time you are likely to be.
Finding a Job
One area where having certifications is particularly useful is in job hunting. While a real DBA knows there is so much more to the job than a test, the recruiters and HR staff can use certifications to weed out some candidates. They may help you get that second look or that interview.
My favorite benefit of certification is how much I learn when studying for a test. Even if the certification covers one of my core areas of expertise, there are still areas that I don't do or don't do much. Through studying for a certification test, i learn about those areas, and can present them as options when the right situation arises. I love random little factoids, and studying for certification is full of them.
It is certainly possible for a good test taker to study only books and still pass a certification. But, if you are working with the product every day, and put in the study time, a certification is a good validation of your skills.
Conferences often offer low cost or free certification tests. My recommendation is that, if you are working with DB2 and you want to continue doing so, get certified!