Certifications still important for DBAs

While hands-on experience simply can't be beat when it comes to being a DBA, don't give up on attaining multiple certifications just yet.

Today's DBA is a coat rack of sorts, with each peg representing a different certification on any number of the big vendor platforms available in the enterprise domain.

This is the way it has to be, said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., because it has become quite a rarity to see an enterprise using just Oracle for its database needs.

The days of a decade ago, Yuhanna said, when a company could be content to go exclusively with an Oracle database offering and a Oracle-certified staff are long gone, replaced instead with a patchwork deployment that could very well place Oracle 10g next to IBM's DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server.

While hands-on experience helps tremendously when working with databases, Yuhanna cautioned that the importance of DBA certifications should not be underestimated.

"Real-world experience is certainly important as well," Yuhanna said. "[But] DBA certifications are without a doubt important, and I think the reason is that databases have become more complex over the years."

Yuhanna said during the past decade, that increased complexity has required that the DBA's skill set increase in complexity along with it.

When a company is actively seeking a DBA, certifications give the hiring manager peace of mind that the applicant's capabilities will meet the multifaceted issues that are certainly to arise. And arise they have, with 25% or all database outages last year being related to human error.

This analysis does not gel with information released last week by New Canaan, Conn.-based IT research firm Foote Partners LLC, which reported that pay for non-certified skilled professionals grew almost five times as much as certified counterparts in the first three months of 2005. Pay for non-certified skilled IT pros grew 2.8% from January through March, while certified workers saw a 0.6% increase during that same time period.

But even as the pay for non-certified skilled professionals rose as a whole, Yuhanna still stressed the importance of certifications in the DBA space, especially when a candidate has more than one.

"We are finding that in more and more cases the enterprise is living in a heterogeneous world, where it is no longer Oracle only or SQL Server only," Yuhanna said. "Ten years ago it was only Oracle DBAs, but that has changed now; a DBA must wear multiple caps."

The growing demand for more versatile DBAs may discourage those trying to break into the field, but Yuhanna said opportunities still exist for junior DBA positions that may require less experience.

Oracle consultant and author Robert G. Freeman, in an interview with SearchOracle.com in April, agreed with Yuhanna's comments on junior DBAs and demand.

"Since DBAs tend to be responsible for a critical company asset -- data -- they [companies] tend to prefer those with some degree of experience," Freeman said. "However, on the other side of the coin, there is a certain demand curve that seems to outstrip the experience supply. That being the case, there is some opportunity for the junior DBA."

If such an opportunity does exist, then the junior DBA will already have IT experience as a developer or a system administrator, and becoming a junior DBA is a place to put your foot in the door without having all the necessary certification just yet.

At the end of the day, Yuhanna said two certifications out of the big three (Oracle, DB2 and SQL Server) would be adequate, with any more than that running the risk of "being overkill."

"Overall, the DBA must ultimately understand more than the database: How do applications integrate with the database, and how does the database relate to the infrastructure?" Yuhanna said. "The database is only one component; it's the entire stack that matters.

This article originally appeared on SearchOracle.com, a sister site of SearchSMB.com.

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