Employers, their clients and IT practitioners appear less attached to certification in Oracle applications and tools than for some other technical and soft skills. Gary Flood explores why.

There is little debate that Oracle certification supported by the $18bn (£9bn) software giant is comprehensive and tough.

'To become a Master at the dba level you are basically put in a three day seminar environment and have to fix a load of broken kit - you have to take this very seriously to pass it,' says Ian Bainbridge, an instructor with Learning Tree International. 'You have to re-qualify with every new release and that means taking the Oracle-certified courses.'

Oracle has a full qualification programme in place. See Oracle's website. It offers a structured programme with a set of 'OCx' qualifications in not just its core database platform but some of its allied applications and development tools as well. Note that Oracle has acquired a lot of software firms, for example, BEA and Siebel, recently, and is in the business of absorbing them.

The OCx qualifications range from the OCA (Oracle Certified Associate) to OCP (Oracle Certified Professional) up to OCM (Oracle Professional Master).

John McAllister, principal Oracle technologist at training firm QA-IQ is full of praise for the rigour and extent of the Oracle certification structure: 'It is definitely using courses to push the importance of having real-world skills and the practical stage in all its exams are very, very good.'

Is it worth the pain? Oracle's website claims: 'An Oracle certification is widely viewed as one of the most valued benchmarks in the marketplace. It gives you a competitive edge, differentiates your expertise with validated learning, and provides increased professional credibility.'

However, not many in the field, in the UK, at any rate, appear to rate it quite so highly.

Satnam Brar, managing director of Maximus, a London-based recruitment company specialising in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market, says: 'Oracle is always promoting certification - but the demand out in the marketplace just isn't there. I have not heard of any employer, for instance, with any kind of structured Oracle qualifications training structure in place. While we always recommend getting qualifications from "the mothership", and there is plainly not enough investment in getting such qualifications from Oracle freelancers; clients seem to prefer experience.

'The only people who want to talk to us about certification in Oracle are those trying to break into the industry.'

David Phizacklea, MD JoraPh Consulting, an Oracle software development and support specialist, is one of many who say he has never been quizzed on Oracle qualifications for his staff.

'Clients tend to look primarily for experience when seeking Oracle skills - certification tends to be seen as an addition to that. Employers don't want walking dictionaries, they want people they can be sure are able to perform the tasks required.'

Bainbridge agrees: 'It is very rare to see Oracle jobs advertised that insist you are OCP qualified.'

Even those that defend the certification admit that it's not got the kudos of some other major certification scheme. McAllister says: 'It's not true that no-one is interested in Oracle qualifications, but it is true that Oracle doesn't play this up as much as Microsoft does with MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer).'

Bill Walker, technical director of training house Xpertise, sounds a similar note: 'While certification is important in the Oracle arena, it is not as popular or as much of a requirement as it is in the worlds of Microsoft, project management or ITIL®.'
However, Oracle certification appears to hold more sway elsewhere in the world.

Phizacklea says: 'There is just not as much interest in Oracle certification in the European market as there is in the US.'

Bainbridge agrees: 'In the US, Oracle certification is taken very seriously.'

That said, Tom Kyte, one of the world's acknowledged top Oracle wizards based in the US, does not have an Oracle qualification (see either his own blog, tkyte.blogspot.com, or the 'Ask Tom' facility on the main Oracle site, asktom.oracle.com).

Are things changing? QA-IQ's McAllister thinks so, with younger Oracle practitioners in particular looking to get more formally trained.

'There is a good number of people out there looking into this. I recently did a straw poll in a class on how many there were OCA or OCP level, and between a quarter and a half put their hands up. I am sure the idea that it is worth the effort to get Oracle qualified is quietly gaining ground.'

It is also worth remembering that Oracle does lots of things in addition to what was once its sole business - developing and selling relational database management systems; through acquisition and organised development it now has a family of other software, from development tools to customer relationship management (CRM) to business intelligence (BI) to applications to middleware.

Given Oracle's expanding portfolio, many organisations will no doubt need skills in its products, but certification appears still to have some ground to cover to steal a march over experience.