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Oracle Masters earn gold stars

The Oracle Certified Master (OCM) certification is only for top-tier Oracle gurus who spend years gaining real-world experience before being tested on far-out IT scenarios.

Opinions on the value of Oracle professional certifications may vary, but there is apparently plenty of agreement...

that the Oracle Certified Master (OCM) designation carries a lot of weight.

With the introduction last year of the OCM certification, Oracle was attempting to convert certification cynics, and many database administrators say the company has been successful.

"I didn't value the OCP [Oracle Certified Professional] program and thought it needed improvements to be a better measure of skill levels," said Dan Norris, a senior consultant at Overland Park, Kan.-based Celeritas Technologies and one of 65 OCMs in the world.

"I thought OCM would be the same, even on the morning of the exam, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was a difficult exam," said Norris, whose eagerness to be intellectually challenged is typical of OCMs. These Oracle gurus typically have years of hands-on experience and a thirst for ongoing Oracle education.

The exam, designed to measure 9i skills, is a two-day laboratory practicum, and it's setting a new standard for certification programs. Unlike traditional written exams that can be passed by IT pros who have little real-world experience, the OCM exam requires several years of practical experience and, perhaps more important, the ability to master complex DBA tasks that not everyone sees on the job.

OCM Torsten Reichert, a senior DBA at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, had more than 10 years of Oracle experience under his belt when he took the exam. Still, he had to study hard to pass.

"You have to prepare for the exam," Reichert advises. "You can't trust what you already did."

Reichert installed an Oracle database instance on his home computer and went through all the scenarios he could think of, basically crashing the database and trying to recover it. The topics the exam covers are published on the Oracle Web site, and Reichert said he tried to think of all the possibilities connected to them.

The work paid off. Like Norris, Reichert passed the test and became one of the first few members of the elite OCM class.

Still a rarity, these distinguished DBAs have gained recognition, respect and "probably a raise," according to Reichert. His department is quite proud of the achievement, he says. "They announce it all the time. It can get embarrassing."

Reichert does appreciate the added respect and credibility he has attained from passing an exam so difficult that only half pass on the first try.

"OCMs are a really rare breed, and the exam isn't multiple choice, so it's objective proof [of knowledge]," Reichert said. "It helps underline what I recommend or decide, and some people listen closer now, saying to themselves, 'I have to consider what you are saying.'"

Norris agreed. "In my company, sales definitely uses it to put us ahead of competition," he said. "They announce that there is an OCM in ranks because it is still fairly rare."

And that's exactly how Oracle's director of certification, James Dilanni, wants it.

"It's a very rigorous process, and many people have to go through it twice," DiIanni said. "It has a sufficient level of credibility, and it is highly sought after."

DiIanni estimates that 200 to 250 people will try for OCM certification this year.

Only Oracle Certified Professionals can start the OCM track, which consists of two advanced classes and the exam. In addition to the cost of classes and $2,000 for the two-day exam, candidates must travel to one of five test sites worldwide.

Reichert suggests having at least five years of experience using Oracle in a work environment before trying to take the exam. "Anything less than that isn't broad enough," he said. "I've seen less experienced DBAs who are great with administration, but they are just missing the broad approach."

Reichert, Norris and a handful of other OCMs recently had the opportunity to meet one another last month at OracleWorld in San Francisco. The OCMs formed an instant connection, discussing individual approaches to the testing process.

Reichert, for one, plans to keep in touch with his newfound peers.

"Even being a master, it doesn't mean I know everything," Reichert says. "Each of the OCMs are a new resource, and I can ask them, 'What do you think of this problem?'"

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