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Certified at last!

Today saw me trundling off to dear old Birmingham for the second time in 2 weeks (the first time being for the UKOUG Tech17 conference) and doing a fair impression of a nervous wreck.

That’s because I was heading to take both the SQL (1z0-061) and PL/SQL (1z0-144) Oracle certification exams.

I don’t like doing exams, mainly because I’m rubbish at revising (seriously; the most revision I did throughout all my university career consisted of 10-15 minutes before each exam. Thankfully, the Maths degree I did (and got!) involved practising stuff as part of the coursework, so I learnt by doing, rather than rote memorisation).

I was very worried that I’d fail these exams because the questions in the exam (certainly in the practice exams) don’t necessarily reflect anything like what you’d do in real life.

For example, I would never consider using NATURAL JOINs in any of my code, and I’d certainly flag it up if I ever saw it in someone else’s meant-for-production code! Why guess at what join conditions you want, rather than specifying them explicitly? Especially when that opens you up to a potential bug (what if someone adds a new column that ends up being included in the join condition?). Even the JOIN … USING form is not something I’d recommend, because then you will end up aliasing some columns but not the columns in the join; why make life hard for yourself when you can use JOIN … ON and simply alias all the columns?

Anyway, I digress. I passed both exams relatively convincingly, fortunately. It would have been embarrassing if I’d failed them, given how long I’ve worked with SQL and PL/SQL!

The main reason I’m writing this post is because Tim Hall basically asked me for an interview, and I thought I would humour him (because he definitely didn’t have a good idea. Nope! No siree! *{;-) ). And also, it’s been waaay too long since I last updated this blog!

On with the interview:

You’re a very experienced Oracle developer. What made you decide to do some Oracle certification exams at this point in your career?

I can’t take the credit for this; basically my department was allocated some budget to get everyone certified to either Associate (most of the developers) or Professional (the team leads) in 2017.

Before you say “didn’t you leave it a bit late?” I had planned on doing it at the beginning of October, but emergency surgery (I’m fine now!) the week before I was due to do it meant I had to postpone it. Today was the day!

What materials (books, blogs, training, practise questions) did you use to prepare for the exams?

The books I used were Roopesh Ramklass’s OCA Oracle Database 12c SQL Fundamentals I Exam Guide and Matthew Morris’s Study Guide for 1Z0-144: Oracle Database 11g: Program with PL/SQL: Oracle Certification Prep.

Roopesh’s book included a CD with some practice questions, so I worked my way through those. Matthew Morris’s book had a link (and discount) to a test you had to pay for, which I took and failed (this did *not* help my nerves one little bit!) and had to retake.

Plus, of course, there was the official Oracle training course for the PL/SQL exam (although I only managed the first 3 days of the online course!), plus the official practice exams provided by Transcender.

How long did you spend revising specifically for the exams?

I’ve been working with SQL for nearly 19 years and PL/SQL for at least 13 years, so you could say that I’ve been working towards the exams for a while now.

However, in terms of actually boning up for the SQL and PL/SQL exams? I’d already done a bit before life interfered – I’d read the first 3 chapters of Roopesh’s SQL book and done 3/5ths of the official PL/SQL training (I ran out of time on that one; I can’t blame the surgery for that!) plus the official practice exams.

Then I had a break of about two-and-a-bit-months, until last Monday (four days before the exams) when work very kindly gave me four days off for revision before the exams. I finished reading the SQL book over Monday and Tuesday (finishing up with the practice exams from the CD), and then read the PL/SQL book over Wednesday and Thursday (finishing up with the practice exams from the website linked to the book).

As revision goes, I couldn’t recommend my technique to anyone. I should have actually practised things more (e.g. actually creating triggers on tables, etc) but that would have taken far longer than the four days I had. Also, the SQL book didn’t cover some topics, such as LISTAGG (which I knew about) and the new FETCH FIRST… etc functionality (which I hadn’t realised would be tested), so perhaps a wider reading selection would have helped cover these extra topics.

Now you’ve passed the exams, how do you feel about the certification process?

I feel relieved, to be honest! These exams have been hanging over me for at least the past 6 months, and now they are done!

More seriously, I think they’re probably a good way to get beginners to learn a broad subset of SQL and PL/SQL, but like most text books, the examples given/questions in the exams are terribly contrived and are nothing like what you’d actually do in real life.

I think for our department (which consists of lots of PL/SQL developers, not all of whom are that familiar with SQL and/or PL/SQL) it was a good idea – at least everyone should now be at a similar level of knowledge.

I think some of the questions on the actual exams were very ambiguous. I had to spend time analysing the requirement and trying to work out what the heck they meant. Did they want employees earning over X salary that were hired in the last N months that have a manager, or was it employees with a manager plus employees hired within N months who earn over X salary? Or something else? *scratches head* I’m still not sure on that one, but I’m bloomin’ sure I wouldn’t provide an answer using set operations, which is what all the suggested answers used!

I’m convinced at least one of the questions in each exam didn’t have an answer. *That’s* not helpful. I think someone really needs to go through the exam and point out all these inconsistencies to Oracle.

Also I’m confused about why regexp and analytic functions were completely missing from the SQL exam and prep; there was one question where I could have ticked all four boxes, except it wouldn’t allow me to. I left the box that would have been covered by regexp_count unticked since that wasn’t in the training gumph.

Are you likely to do any more certifications?

Part of me is like “Noooooo, are you kidding? Why would I put myself through this again?!” but the completist side of me thinks that maybe I should go the whole hog and try for the OCP. Whether work would have enough budget for that (seeing as I’m not one of the team leads), I don’t know. I’m still debating whether I should ask or not.

Do you think you’ve benefited from the process?

I get an extra three letters to add after my name? I guess that’s a benefit.

I don’t think I learnt much of anything new, or at least nothing that I couldn’t google as part of my day-job (I mean, who remembers the syntax for creating a DDL trigger, if you only ever do it once in a blue moon?). Possibly the only thing I learnt was about PLSQL_OPTIMIZE_LEVEL, which I may bring up at work on Monday, if we aren’t already set at the highest level!

Personally, I don’t feel the need to “prove my worth” by having a piece of paper stamped with “OCA”, since I have other means of proving my capabilities, but I do think this might be of use to new SQL and PL/SQL developers. It’s not something that should be taken to indicate the person is an expert, though – experience is needed long before you can call yourself that! To be fair, I did see that mentioned on the Transcender practice exam page.

2 Comments.[ Leave a comment ]

  1. Well done!

    I’m glad you posted this. I think it’s good for people to hear the different motivations for doing, or not doing, certifications. 🙂



  2. And now I have to go and research PLSQL_OPTIMIZE_LEVEL!

    But congratulations also!


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