|DB2 version 8 certification: Everything you need to know >>|
Certification has arrived, no question. But as a DB2® professional, should you certify? Will it increase your abilities or help your career? How can you do it quickly and inexpensively? That last thought is key -- knowing the inside story on DB2 certification before you proceed will save you a ton of time, stress and money. This article tells you what you need to know to decide if DB2 certification is for you, and if so, the secrets to doing it successfully, quickly and inexpensively.
Is certification "worth it"?
Why certify? Some do it for the challenge of demonstrating their knowledge, or for the inner satisfaction that comes from mastery of the material. Whether a "certified DB2 developer" is better than one that is not certified is, to say the least, highly debatable. What we can say for sure is that if you certify you'll end up knowing more about DB2 than you did when you started.
Many certify for career benefits. If you view it this way, you need to:
DB2 marketshare continues to expand. How did IBM pull off such a feat in a "mature" market? The company bought Informix® for one billion dollars and shrewdly invested another billion in the Linux marketplace, positioning DB2 as the leading database on this exploding platform (3). But the real reason may be what I learned while doing an informal survey of the database market last year. One manager after another told me: "DB2's features and technology are second to none, yet it costs way less than Oracle."
Since database marketshare varies by platform, which platform you work on should factor into your decision. DB2 completely dominates on mainframes and the IBM e-server® iSeriesTM (AS/400), with over 90% of the database marketshare for each. IBM comes in a strong second in UNIX® database marketshare, and a distant but growing third on Windows® Server. Data for Linux is sketchy, but DB2 appears dominant among the commercial databases (3).
The most practical way to verify the marketability of a certification is simply to check out job ads on the Web. Do they mention it? And when they do, is it considered preferable or a job requirement? Few ads today specifically mention DB2 certification. This likely reflects of the newness of the DB2 certification program more than anything else. Given the investment IBM is making in the database market and the statistical trends cited above, the most likely scenario is that DB2 certification becomes increasingly valuable as a career credential.
Whether you can enhance your career through certification depends on how you approach it. Here are examples from my own experience where IT pros have leveraged certification to their benefit:
Benefits must be weighed against costs. Discussion on popular certification web sites like Cramsession.com and Certification Magazine indicate that most IT pros take from two to five weeks studying for each test. You'll also have to take an "update" test as new DB2 releases come out, once every couple years, to remain current. The dollar costs can potentially run into the thousands of dollars per cert, but as we discuss below, you can certify for little more than the cost of a few books, if you know how (my DB2 DBA cert cost me less than $150). Finally, consider the "opportunity cost" of certification. What other use would you make of the time you would spend certifying if you did not certify? Some might prefer non-directed, serendipitous learning or extending their knowledge into entirely new areas.
As a contractor, I've directly benefited from certification. It gives me instant credibility with potential employers who've never met me and serves as my trump card for contractor interviews. It deals me an Ace in today’s extremely competitive job market.
Employers desperately want some standard measurement to quickly separate qualified from unqualified candidates. Fair or not, they've adopted IT certifications as that yardstick. There is little question that DB2 certification can help your career, but ultimately each person must decide for him or herself whether it's worth the time and effort.
How to certify
A really nice feature of the DB2 certification program is its modularity. After passing the “DB2 Family Fundamentals” entry test #700, take whichever exam(s) you like. Each one you pass gives you another certification.
IBM introduced several new features in the Version 8 certification program. First, there is a tripartite path yielding three ascending levels of DBA certification. This clear path replaces the grab-bag of advanced “Certified Solution Expert” (CSE) exams in Version 7:
Table 1. The version 8 DBA certification path
The Version 8 program also introduces a single test by which Version 7-certified DBAs can upgrade their certification. This is called “DB2 for Linux, Unix and Windows Version 8 Upgrade Exam, 706.” If you are a Version 7 certified DBA, you can either take this new upgrade test, or simply pass the standard database administration exam #701 to upgrade your DBA cert to Version 8. The Upgrade test features fewer questions and is a shorter test, but many more study resources are available to help you pass the standard DBA test, #701. In Version 8, IBM introduced a new test called the “DB2 Problem Determination Mastery Exam”. The exam covers problem determination using DB2 tools, for installation, configuration, communications and the like. Technically, it is not a certification exam, so it has no formal pre-requisites, nor do you achieve an official certification by passing it. This test will be of great interest to those who certify as a DBA and want to strengthen (and prove) their problem identification and resolution abilities. The test costs only $40 and can be taken online via the web. For full information on this exam, and a free, downloadable set of nine study tutorials, visit the exam web page at http://www.ibm.com/software/data/support/pdm/db2exam.html.
To take any certification test, simply visit Prometric, the testing organization. If you’re outside of North America, visit testing organization Pearson VUE. These Web sites list testing locations (there are usually many to choose from in any city), and you can sign up for exams online. Show up at your scheduled exam time with two forms of picture identification. They'll assign you a PC onsite, where you'll take the test via a standardized multiple-choice interface. Table 2 shows how many questions are on each DB2 exam, how many you need to correctly answer to pass, and how long you have to take the exams.
Table 2. Exam information
Before starting the certification process, read the IBM "terms and conditions" and current explanation for their program to ensure you understand and feel comfortable with it before committing.
What are the tests like?
The time allowed for the exams is generous. You'll only consume the allotted time if you check your work carefully. When you're done with the exam, click the Done button and the software instantly shows you whether you passed. You can print copies of your score on the spot via the LAN-attached printer. If you pass, IBM sends you a certificate via mail for printing and framing. You may also request one by mail.
What if you do not finish the test in the allotted time? The screen freezes, a message tells you the exam has ended, and you'll see the same pass or fail message you would if you had clicked the Done button yourself. Oops!
You must study for the exams. Being a DB2 guru won't help if you don't study! The tests are broader than most IT pros' knowledge base and also very specific in what they ask. They are designed to be rigorous.
Compared to competing database vendors' exams, the IBM DB2 tests seem to have fewer overly specific trivial pursuit questions and more questions requiring deep thought. The exams are intended to test your DB2 knowledge and ability to figure out DB2 problems (not just your ability to memorize what's in the certification study guides). My feeling is that they achieve this a little better than competitors' tests. Be prepared to stay cool while facing some tough questions. Remain secure in the knowledge you'll only need a low percentage of questions answered correctly to pass.
Useful background information on certification is freely available at Certification Magazine's Web site and Cramsession.com. You can always seek technical help while you study in discussion forums at DBAZine, Database Journal, IDUG's Web site, the IBM DB2 Developer Domain, DBForums.com , and Database Toolbox. These are great resources, with tons of technical articles and active online communities from which to learn.
What should you study?
My personal recommendation is the DB2 V8 certification guides written by Roger Sanders. Each book covers one DB2 exam and includes “practice questions” to hone your exam-readiness. The books hew strictly to what you need to know for the exams: they don’t waste your time with extraneous material, and they don’t leave anything out you need to know (full disclosure – I have no financial interest in these books but have acted as an unpaid reviewer and wrote a foreward to one).
Table 3. DB2 version 8 certification books
Whichever certification guidebook you choose, you increase your chances of passing by supplementing them with complementary study resources. Here are some suggestions.
IBM offers two free courses that you install and learn from on your PC. Both are GUI-based and interactive. The first is oriented to the DB2 developer cert (exams 700 and 703), the second towards the Linux/Unix/Windows DBA tests (exams 700 and 701). Download both from IBM at http://www7b.software.ibm.com/dmdd/trainingcertification.html. These courses are excellent.
IBM also offers a series of six free interactive online tutorials that prepare you for exam 700, downloadable from http://www7b.software.ibm.com/dmdd/trainingcertification.html, or directly from http://www7b.software.ibm.com/dmdd/library/tutorials/db2cert/db2cert_V8_tut.html. These are great background if you’re new to DB2.
It is essential that you take “practice tests,” mock-ups of the real thing with similar questions. You need to be test-ready. IBM offers a free online test for each certification exam. Take any of them via the web from http://www7b.software.ibm.com/dmdd/trainingcertification.html or http://certify.torolab.ibm.com/ice/displayPage/en. You must have Internet Explorer 5 or above or Netscape Communicator 4.7 or above to take these practice exams. The other source for practice questions are the certification books by Roger Sanders mentioned earlier.
The DB2 Developer Domain has free DB2 tutorials, technical articles, and sections where you can "ask the experts" and even "meet the experts." Bookmark this site in your browser as a top choice for learning DB2.
You'll need hands-on experience with DB2 to pass the exams. Get it at work, or install DB2 UDB V8 on your home PC running Windows or Linux. You can directly download DB2 UDB for free from IBM’s DB2 Developer Domain (just click on the IBM support and downloads tab at the top of the webpage). Many of the certification books for the core tests include a CD-ROM with a trial copy of DB2 UDB V8 for Windows PCs. The trial versions shipped in the books have a special trial period of 180 days. The trial version that is downloaded is 90-days. You can always reinstall the program if your certification effort takes longer.
If you need any of the DB2 manuals, all come with the product and are accessible when you install the database from the CD-ROM. Or you can download any manual for free from IBM in PDF format. You can also obtain IBM redbooks on advanced topics by free download from http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/, specifically DB2 redbooks.These web sites allow you to order hardcopies, if you so choose.
Do you need classroom training? My feeling is that IT pros experienced in the area in which they are testing do not need it to pass. But those new to their testing topic should consider it. The DB2 exams are difficult enough that it's very unlikely you'll pass from book learning alone. IBM's training site can help you decide.
IBM posts the official test objectives, suggested resources, and training information, and short self-assessment exams. Review all of them to ensure your progress is on target.
The most effective certification effort encompasses three essentials:
How to get certified for (almost) free
If your company does not cover certification or training costs, you can still minimize your expense. The key is to take advantage of the many free resources IBM offers. A great beneift of certifying with DB2 (as compared to Oracle or SQL Server), is the outstanding breadth and quality of the free, IBM study resources.
Leveraging these resources makes it possible to certify with DB2 for very little. For example, my Database Adminstrator certification came in at a total of less than $150. This reflects the only cost you really must bear, purchasing the certification books you’ll study. You can avoid paying the exam testing fees (currently $120 per test) by attending conferences that offer free testing, such as those of the International DB2 Users Group (IDUG) and the DB2 Technical Conference.
We've mentioned above how to take the core exams for free, where to get free PC-based courses, tutorials and study guides, how to get DB2 UDB for free, and where to download free DB2 manuals and redbooks. Table 3 summarizes these resources and where to get them. Together with the certification books, they represent everything you need to pass the tests.
Table 4. Recommended FREE DB2 resources
While the monetary cost of DB2 certification is minimal, your time is also a valuable, limited resource. Here again, look to your employer first for support. Even companies that do not pay for employee certification will often offer study time at work. The key is to show them that they will receive a tangible benefit from your effort. Most organizations want to quantify training and progress in skills. This fits perfectly with certification, since it produces a quantifiable result. To sell managers on the value of certification, there is no better pitch than that written by the marketing professionals at the vendors themselves. Show your manager IBM justification for certification.
If your company won't support your certification effort, we've shown how to minimize your out-of-pocket expense. Even if your company doesn't let you study at work, the certification books, DB2 manuals and redbooks, and other DB2 resources are all legitimate tools for solving work problems. No one is likely to object if your productivity and problem-solving abilities soar as you use these materials at work.
Pool your resources
If you take this approach, be sure you've all got compatible goals. It doesn't matter much if one person in a study group drops out before completion, but a shared schedule is critical. All members must commit to taking the exams in the same order in about the same timeframe for the group to succeed.
Don't have local friends with the same certification interests? Try a virtual community at one of the web sites below.
There are unwritten rules to successfully certifying with any product. Candidates who are aware of them prior to testing have a distinct advantage. I've included these DB2 certification secrets in this article. Happy testing!