The Three Hottest Database Certifications Right Now

Overwhelmed by Big Data

You like data. I like data. Everyone likes data. Data allows us to see patterns, create patterns where they don't exist, and make vital business decisions. One of the best ways to prove how much you like data, how much you know about it, and demonstrate how adept you are at managing it is to get certified.


The available database certifications differ as much as the people trying to achieve them. When making your selection you should ask: where am I going? What it is I want to administer, create and develop? Then ask yourself what data your organization needs.


You'll have to choose your own path for certification, but for the purposes of space and time, let's look at three of the hottest data certs currently available: Oracle's Certified Associate, Microsoft's MCSE: Data Platform (multiple tests) and Cloudera's Hadoop Developer Exam.


The big players in database certification right now are: Oracle, known for being rich, wait, that's the owner Larry Ellison. Oracle is one of the biggest database companies in the world and sits at the forefront of database technology. Oracle databases are object-relational, storing data in tables, hooked to other tables and having an "instance" of the actual server/database itself.


If you're familiar with databases and their traditional format, then you'll understand how Oracle platforms are laid out. You can query rather than "mine," and stored procedures are commonplace. The Company's move into "Big Data" came with Real Application Clusters, or Oracle RAC, where you can have multiple instances (usually on different servers) attached to a central storage array.


This scenario offers advantages such as better performance, scalability and redundancy. Support becomes more complex, however, and many sites do not use RAC. In version 10g, grid computing introduced shared resources where an instance can use, for example, CPU resources from another node (computer) in the grid.


Oracle's certifications are as vast as their product offerings. Navigating Oracle's site for certifications is cumbersome and the paths are not laid out clearly, but the one you want to go for is the Oracle Certified Associate (OCA).


The OCA requires you to pass two exams, the Oracle Database 12c: SQL Fundamentals (1Z0-061), and the Oracle Database 11g: Administration (1Z0-052). OCA will test your knowledge of administration on Oracle, light query selection and a complete overview of the platform. I recommend taking version 12 or higher for any certification tracks. As best practice, one should always take the highest and newest version possible of any certification.


The total cost of taking both Oracle exams will run you $500, and take just about that many study hours. Each exam consists of 70 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 90 minutes. Although passing scores for these exams are subject to change without notice, a 65 percent will usually get the job done. Just be sure to check Oracle's site for any last minute changes.


Microsoft's flagship database product, SQL, which also stands for Structured Query Language, is similar to Oracle in that it is a relational database, allows queries and stored procedures and has similar scheme. In my opinion, it has a big following because of its ease of use and almost childishly simple interface. While the underlying mechanics are mature and the scalability of Microsoft's product is robust, the ability to newly step into the product is very easy.


Microsoft's certification track is far easier to navigate than Oracle's. It's clearly laid out and, at least in my experience, has an overall higher track record of passes.


Their database certification of choice is the new MCSE: Data Platform. To achieve this cert you will need to pass five exams:


? Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014
? Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 Databases
? Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014
? Developing Microsoft SQL Server Databases
? Designing Database Solutions for SQL Server


Note that by passing the first three exams, candidates will earn an MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014 certification. Microsoft's does a great job of laying out the path to this certification, it's very easy to follow. These set of tests cover the entire range of the data product. There is arguably no piece of knowledge that is able to be gained outside of these test, these tests cover everything you'll need to know.


Each qualifying exam consists of multiple-choice questions and occasional scenarios to be completed within a certain period of time. Make sure you check with Microsoft to find out the number of questions, duration and passing scores before you begin your preparation. The MCSE certification track is a bit on the expensive side because of the number of exams required. You can probably get out from under your MCSE: Data Platform addiction for $1,500, and around 1,000 hours of study time.


Big Data on my mind

Our next offering is from Cloudera, who, according to their website is "revolutionizing enterprise data management by offering the first unified Platform for Big Data: The Enterprise Data Hub." Cloudera offers enterprises one place to store, process, and analyze all their data, empowering them to extend the value of existing investments while enabling fundamental new ways to derive value from their data.


Founded in 2008, Cloudera was the first, and is currently the leading, provider and supporter of Apache Hadoop for the enterprise. They also offer software for business critical data challenges including storage, access, management, analysis, security, and search".


Cloudera also specializes in "Big Data," a term so overutilized that is has almost lost its meaning. Words like "data science" and "machine learning" will take its place before they are kicked to the curb by the first, true Artificial Intelligence they spawn. (We'll have to let our robot overlords make that call.)


Cloudera's CCA175 exam takes the cake for ease of understanding. The web page for this certification is delightfully simple to follow. Unfortunately, knowing the content required to pass the test, well — I would say that this one is easily the most difficult of these certifications.


It's important to note, once again, that Cloudera's certification is testing Hadoop, which is not their product. Hadoop is an open-source software framework for storing data and running applications on clusters of commodity hardware. It provides massive storage for any kind of data, enormous processing power and the ability to handle virtually limitless concurrent tasks or jobs.


The CCA175 exam will set you back $295. This is a very challenging hands-on Internet-based exam. It consists of 10-to-12 performance based tasks to be completed in two hours. A score of 70 percent is required to pass. Like I said above, this exam is incredibly detailed. I strongly recommend that you work with the product as much as possible before taking the exam.


Each of the three certifications we've discussed differ in marketplace demand. Oracle comes out on top with more than 700 job offerings on various job sites with that certification listed in the "desired certifications." Microsoft is second with around 300. Cloudera doesn't rank specifically, but the "machine learning" and "big data" references triple even Oracle's mentions.


As I said in the beginning, the best way to travel a database certification path is to follow the road that leads where you want to go. Always ask yourself, does the company you WANT to work for use Oracle or Microsoft? Is your current job or promotion hanging on Big Data Knowledge? Where do you want to be or get to or learn? Answering these questions will help you to select the right database certification for you. Doing so will benefit your career.


I would offer one last tip: Whichever certification you pursue, have fun doing it.


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About the Author
Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive.

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.