As an ambitious database administrator, you want to get ahead of the crowd and expand your knowledge. The best way to do that is to get certified in the technology you’re working with. This article and infographic will guide you through the most popular database administrator certifications on the market today.
If you’re here, you’re passionate about working with databases, like many other IT professionals. Being a database administrator (DBA) will open up an IT field of pure engineering, with little consideration of the business side of your organization. As a database administrator, you’ll be tied to the specific relational database management system (RDBMS) implementation that your company has chosen as its main system. On the job, you’ll regularly start, end, and tune all databases—and even occasionally save them from ruin.
To get ahead of the crowd and bump up your salary, you should invest some time and energy into getting certified. Some companies even require database administrators to get certified for salary increases. In this article, we’ll look at the most common certifications for the two most popular RDBMSs used today in the enterprise environment: Oracle and Microsoft SQL server. For both the Oracle and MSSQL Server path, it is important to remember a couple of things:
- DBA certifications are tied to specific database releases (DBA for Oracle 12c and MCSE for MSSQL 2017).
- Certifications have an expiration date and need to be refreshed.
- Tests, as well as certain certification steps, change frequently for certifications.
Here are my general recommendations regarding certifications:
- Follow the current state of certifications paths based on specific RDBMS releases.
- Get recertified for new releases. The best time to renew your certification is as soon as the new version of the certification is published, since there is usually a beta period of certification in which the price is lower.
- Only certify the technology you are actually using—a certificate is NOT a substitute for experience.
Oracle has one of the oldest and most well-known certification paths for database administrators. Over the years, the price of Oracle certifications has increased with the complexity of the topics they have tested. However, the main structure of the path has remained the same. First, you pass a foundation test on basic SQL concepts. After the foundation test, you can go on to become an Oracle Certified Associate (OCA), followed by an Oracle Certified Professional (OCP). Most senior DBAs are required to have an OCP as a testament to their knowledge and experience. The final milestone beyond the OCP is the Oracle Certified Master (OCM). This represents the pinnacle of Oracle knowledge, and it’s a certification that few Oracle professionals have.
Before paying for your entry certificate as an aspiring Oracle professional, you will have to pass some exams that demonstrate rudimentary knowledge of SQL basics. Once you pass these tests, you will NOT yet gain any certificates. Rather, these tests are intended to gauge your understanding of basic SQL so you can proceed to the main certification tests.
As of this writing, the basic SQL foundation test for an Oracle DBA is the Oracle Database SQL exam. You can take other tests to get the prerequisites needed for an OCA, but they will soon be deprecated. These tests cost something in the ballpark of $250. As these are gateway tests, you do not get any certificates after passing the Oracle Database SQL test (1Z0-071).
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Oracle Certified Associate (OCA)
The Oracle Certified Associate for DBAs is a basic certificate that demonstrates above-average knowledge of Oracle database workings. I would recommend that not only database administrators but also analysts and developers working with Oracle pursue this certification. To get certified, you will need to pass the foundational exam and the Oracle Database 12c Administrator exam (1Z0-062). At this level, there is no need to pay for Oracle training, but you may find doing so helpful.
The average salary of an OCA database administrator is around $90k in the U.S.
Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)
The Oracle Certified Professional for database administrators is an advanced certification that demonstrates that you know how to use Oracle databases in their entirety. The prerequisites for gaining this certification are:
- An OCA certification
- Taking one of the Oracle courses listed on the Oracle Education site
- Passing the OCP exam Oracle Database 12c: Advanced Administration (1Z0-063)
Unlike the OCA certification, the OCP certification requires that you take one of the Oracle courses related to database administration. As these courses can cost up to $2500, plus $250 for the exam itself, this certificate can be quite expensive—but it is considered an industry standard for senior Oracle DBAs.
The average salary of an OCP database administrator is around $110k in the U.S.
Oracle Certified Master (OCM)
When I was younger, there was a rumor that before you could become an OCM, Oracle would lock you up in a room with a physical server, throw a bucket of water on the server, and tell you to get the database up and running in two days.
Of course, that’s not true (hopefully), but it demonstrates the difficulty of becoming an OCM. Currently, according to Oracle, there are only 140 Oracle Certified Masters in the world. To become a master, you’ll need to:
- Already be an OCP
- Take two of the Oracle courses listed on the Oracle Education site
- Take a grueling two-day Oracle Database 12c Certified Master Exam 12COCM exam
By far the most expensive of all certificates, the OCM exam alone is priced at around $2500, with the two required courses priced at around $2500 each, for a grand total of $7500. The difference between this certification and the others is that it’s more interactive—Oracle staff will interview you in person. Naturally, this drives up the price.
Masters are so rare that their average compensation is a mystery.
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As a very popular database, Microsoft SQL Server is giant in its own right. Simple setup and quick operations make MSSQL a breeze to use. Like Oracle, Microsoft has three major milestones in its certification stack. Unlike Oracle, Microsoft lets you certify specific aspects of MSSQL, like BI or Azure development, to demonstrate a deeper knowledge of certain business domains.
Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
Unlike Oracle, Microsoft lets you obtain a starter certificate for a database administrator path as soon as you begin your career. The best certificate at this level is the Database Fundamentals certification (Exam 98-364/Course 40364A). It’s nice to have but it is not a prerequisite for the MCSA certificate, so you can skip it if you’d like. The Database Fundamentals certification costs around $100. To get this certificate level, you will need to master SQL concepts.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
As with Oracle, the Microsoft SQL stack is tied to specific releases of the MSSQL database. Currently, the MCSA certification is designed for MSSQL 2016. To become an MCSA, you’ll need to pass two exams that test your knowledge of setting up, monitoring, and provisioning an MSSQL database:
Unlike Oracle, Microsoft also covers certain aspects of cloud databases on its 70-765 exam. Cloud databases are here to stay. So if you plan to be a Microsoft DBA, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with Azure, as that’s where the company flagship database is going.
The average salary of an MCSA is around $65k in the U.S.
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Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
While Oracle only offers one exam for you to be designated as an expert in database administration, Microsoft offers a large variety of exams that you can take to become an MCSE in Data Management and Analytics. This lets you emphasize certain aspects of your professional career and pursue more specialization in database administration.
To get your MCSE certification, you will need to:
- Be MCSA certified
- Pass one of many available exams for a topic that you would like to master
The exam costs around $150. There are no prerequisite courses for the certification, unlike with Oracle.
The average salary of an MCSE is around $90k in the U.S.
I hope this article cleared things up for you on your certification path. Now it’s time to act! Database administration certificates give you visibility in the community and help you get that higher salary.
Of course, cost can be a major consideration when pursuing a DBA certification, but your company may pay for you to get ahead. Go ahead and talk to your boss to see if your company would be willing to pay for your certification. In any case, we wish you the best of luck in your endeavors! Database administration certainly isn’t easy, but it’s a rewarding and worthwhile career path.