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The Database Certification Landscape

Databases are key repositories for corporate information assets. Today, managing and providing ready access to such assets explains why database certifications on both the administration side and the development side are so important. Follow author, columnist, and certification expert Ed Tittel through this landscape as he explores credentials aimed at those who design, operate, and manage databases as well as credentials aimed at those who build applications around databases (particularly to provide access to database assets through the Web).
Editor's Note: Updated 8/8/03
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After more than seven years spent watching the IT certification marketplace, I enjoy the occasional opportunity to focus on specific regions in the certification landscape. It gives me a chance to take stock of their features and to visit the many possible credentials such areas often include. In this article, I plan to conduct a survey of database-related certifications—subject to a careful definition where the boundaries on this part of the landscape lie, with a peek over the edges at nearby elements that may or may not straddle those boundaries. I may even follow up with details about some more prominent database certifications in future articles. Certainly, if this topic interests you or you want to hear more about it, please drop me an email to let me know.

Defining "Database Certification"

Given that working in and around a database management system, or DBMS, encompasses so many different job roles and responsibilities, and so many technical specializations, I feel compelled to begin by describing what certifications fall within those boundaries (and by extension, what kinds of certifications either straddle those boundaries or fall immediately outside them).

Given as exhaustive a survey of this landscape as I could conduct, here are two lists of job roles and responsibilities that define what lies completely within the database certification category as I see it, and what lies on its boundaries (where possible, I use actual certification titles sans platform or product names).

The following is a list of proper database job roles and titles:

  • Authorized (Product) Engineer
  • Certified (Product) Professional
  • (Product) Database Operator (DBO)
  • (Product) Database Administrator (DBA)
  • (Product) Database Professional
  • (Product) Database Designer
  • (Product) Database Manager
  • (Product) Database Specialist
  • (Product) Implementation Specialist

The following is a list of job roles and titles on the "database boundary":

  • (Product) 4GL Developer
  • (Product) (Advanced) Technical Expert
  • (Product) Database Developer
  • Enterprise Developer
  • (Product) Solution Expert
  • (Product) Solution/Platform Developer (Oracle, Sybase, IBM, SQL Server, etc.)

Examination of both lists illustrates two things. First, those whose work means direct involvement with database operation, design, management, and pure reporting or other input/output functions fall completely within the boundaries of my database certification region. Second, those whose work involves access to or manipulation of organizational data sources and resources, development of database-driven applications, or who bring databases and the Web together, straddle the boundaries between database certification country and other development roles.

As far as the foregoing lists are concerned, it's also interesting to note the ubiquity of product or platform affiliations with these certifications. Although some organizations—most notably, general training and testing organizations such as Brainbench and U2test—offer vendor-neutral database-related certifications of a sort, most serious credentials in this field can't help but revolve around specific database management systems. I believe strongly that this reflects the complexity of such platforms, their numerous rich and specialized tools, utilities, and APIs, and the inescapable allegiance to particular implementations that such platforms usually require.

In the sections that follow, I examine core or "proper" database certifications and boundary certifications that tend to require knowledge and experience from other realms of technical knowledge and expertise—primarily, programming skills. But because building applications around databases is such an important aspect of their use, the lines I draw between proper and boundary database certifications are necessarily fuzzy, as are the lines I draw between the boundary database certifications themselves, and those that touch on related programming disciplines, platforms, tools, and methodologies.

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