Introduction: Is certification worth it?
The biggest trend in IT careers is certification. You see it everywhere you look... certification books dominate the bookstores, classroom training now guarantees a "pass," and IT professionals even sign their emails with a list of their "certs." Is it worth the effort and attention?
First, understand that an entire industry profits from certification. Trainers sell certification-oriented courseware, consultants push training, publishers market books, and vendors sell all the above. The upshot is that you can't take most articles on certification at face value. Let's take a different tack. We'll try to look at the issue objectively, from the standpoint of the IT professional.
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 certify with a product that has major market share.
Look at at IBM's annual report, and you'll see strong growth in a company whose software, hardware, consulting, and financial services span a range that no competitor can match. Organizations around the world maintain business relationships with IBM and look to IBM as their preferred partner. Along with DB2's technical excellence, this ensures DB2's position as a leading database management system.
Consider the situation by platform. DB2 completely dominates on mainframes and the IBM System i, with over 90% of the database market share for each. IBM is one of the top two commercial database vendors for both UNIX® and Linux® systems. On Windows® servers, Microsoft's SQL Server leads in market share, yet DB2 presents a reasonable presence nonetheless.
For direct comparison between DB2, Oracle, and SQL Server certifications, Certification Magazine's worldwide annual salary survey of 35,000 IT professionals provides this revealing contrast:
Table 1. The version 8 DBA certification path
|IBM DB2||IBM-certified DB2 DBA||93,790|
|Oracle||Oracle OCP DBA||84,910|
|Microsoft SQL Server||MSDBA||74,780|
While your mileage may vary, this chart speaks volumes about the value of DB2 certification.
Regardless of the studies, you need to verify the marketability of DB2 credentials in your own mind before you start the certification process. Talk to your peers in person and in online forums. Review the ads on prominent job services like Monster, Jobster, Dice, and JustDB2Jobs. Find out what the market needs.
Whether you can enhance your career through certification often depends on how you approach it. Here are examples from my own experience where IT pros have leveraged certification to their benefit:
- A DB2 programmer wanted to shift into database administration. Getting her DBA cert bagged her the transfer.
- A DB2 developer was great with Java™ but felt too narrow because he didn't know about other approaches to DB2 application development. Getting the "developer" cert gave him the breadth he needed.
- A stay-at-home mom wanted to reenter the workforce after a 10-year absence. She got certified and successfully leveraged this as "proof of currency" for her skills.
- A new college grad desperately wanted to be a DBA but only received programming job offers. He proved his devotion to his goal by certifying as a DB2 DBA, which led to an entry-level DBA position.
- A mature database veteran realized he needed to update his skills. Certifying both did this for him and supplied the proof. Age discrimination? His certification is as current as anyone else's.
Benefits must be weighed against costs. Discussion on popular certification web sites like Certification Magazine and CertCities indicate that most IT pros take from two to six 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 certification, 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).
My own certification experience has been very positive because certifications yield instant credibility with potential employers who've never met me. They give me a trump card in job interviews at a time when the job market is constricting.
Employers desperately want some standard measurement to quickly separate qualified from unqualified candidates. Fair or not, they've adopted IT certifications as that yardstick. The bottom line? 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
You certify by passing one or more exams. The Roadmap to DB2 Version 8 certification in Figure 2 shows that you certify as a DB2 Database Associate by passing the required entry test, "DB2 9 Family Fundamentals, 730."
Then take any of the five additional certification exams, depending on your area of interest. For example, to become a certified DB2 Database Administrator for Linux, UNIX, and Windows (or"LUW"), pass the "IBMCertified DatabaseAdministrator exam 731." Or certify as a mainframe DB2 DBA by passing the equivalent exam for z/OS,exam 732. You may also choose to become an IBM-Certified Application Developer by passing exam 733.
Note that if you've already passed the DB2 Version 8 “Family Fundamentals" test 700, you can present this as prerequisite to DB2 9 exams 731, 732, and 733. You don't need to take the DB2 9 “Family Fundamentals" test. You can use your IBM Database Associate certification for Version 8 DB2 as the basis for taking the advanced DB2 9 exams.
Figure 1. DB2 9 certification roadmap
A really nice feature of the DB2 certification program is its modularity. After passing the "DB2 9 Family Fundamentals" entry test #730, take whichever exam(s) you like. Each one you pass gives you another certification.
For Linux, UNIX, and Windows DBAs, the roadmap shows three ascending levels of certification:
Table 2. DB2 9 LUW DBA certification path
|Step||Exam number||Exam title||Certification|
|1.||730||DB2 Family Fundamentals||Database Associate|
|2.||731||DB2 Database Administration||Database Administrator|
|3.||734||DB2 Advanced Database Administration||Advanced Database Administrator|
If you're already certified as a DB2 Version 8 Database Administrator, the DB2 9 certification program offers a single test by which you can upgrade your certification to DB2 9. This is the "DB2 9 for Linux, UNIX and Windows Upgrade Exam, 736." If you are a Version 8 certified DBA, you can either take this upgrade test (you must have passed Exam, 700, DB2 UDB V8,1 Family Fundamentals), or simply pass the standard database administration exam 731 to upgrade your DBA cert to DB2 9. The upgrade test features fewer questions and is a shorter test, but some prefer to take the more comprehensive DBA test, 731. It's your choice.
To take any certification test, simply visit Prometric, the testing organization. This Web site lists 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 using a standardized multiple-choice interface. Table 3 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 3. Exam information
|Exam||Exam title||Number of questions||Correct questions to pass||Time (minutes)|
|730||DB2 9 Family Fundamentals||64||59%||90|
|731||DB2 9 DBA for Linux, UNIX and Windows||69||59%||90|
|732||DB2 DBA for z/OS||73||57%||90|
|733||DB2 9 Application Developer||70||55%||90|
|734||DB2 9 Advanced Database Administrator for Linux, UNIX and Windows||51||64%||90|
|736||Upgrade test (DB2 Version V8 DBA for LUW to DB2 9 DBA for LUW||38||55%||60|
The IBM Information Management certification page provides information on the DB2 certification program and details for each exam. The DB2 9 exam preparation brochures make it easy to understand the certifications and their requirements.
It's critical to review IBM's “test objectives" for any exam you'll take. These tell what the exam covers, and how much of the exam focuses on each topic. View the test objectives by clicking on the link for the exam that interests you in the left-most column of Table 3 above.
There is an IBM podcast available to quickly orient you to the DB2 9 certification program. (You'll find a link to a whole series of free DB2 podcasts from IBM on various certification and technical topics in the Resources section.)
Before committing to certification, review IBM's certification policies and the Certification Agreement to ensure you understand and feel comfortable with them. You'll find links to these in the Resources section of this article.
What are the tests like?
Different candidates have different experiences. Nevertheless, there exists some conventional wisdom on the subject. Compared to other database vendors' exams, the questions on the DB2 tests are difficult. But as Table 3 shows, the percentage of questions you need to answer correctly to pass is low. Experience at IDUG conferences indicates a pass rate of about 60%.
All questions are multiple choice, so answer every one. Tthere is no penalty for wrong answers, so at least guess at every question. The exam software allows you to mark questions to return to later, so you can skip hard questions and return to them.
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 by email.
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.
My recommended strategy to pass the exams is a four-pronged effort covering these essentials:
- Study a certification book
- Take practice tests
- Get hands-on DB2 experience
- Use IBM's free study resources
The next section discusses which certification book(s) you should study. Subsequent sections cover the other points. I'll especially emphasize free resources -- IBM's free materials are exceptional. You can leverage them to pass the tests while keeping your certification costs low.
Which book should you study?
Books that specifically target certification are your best bet. Their coverage matches what you’ll face on the exams. Other DB2 books can be useful in pursuing your goal as well, but concentrate your effort on those designed to help you certify. Table 4 lists DB2 certification books and other worthy tomes. (IBM Database Magazine also maintains a nice list, and IBM's certification website offers a similar certification book list. See the Resources section for links to those lists.
Read reviews of the books written by those who have used them to certify at online booksellers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Or flip through the books at your local bookstore. You want to be certain you pick a book you like, as you'll be spending a lot of time studying it.
Table 4. DB2 9 certification books
Take practice tests
The second part of your preparation strategy is to work with some practice exam questions. These get you used to thinking of your DB2 knowledge in the way the tests require: as answers to challenging multiple choice questions.
Start with the “self-assessment exams" IBM provides on their Web site. These give you an example of what the exams are like and help you judge your current level of knowledge. To access these tests, see the links in the Resources section for the following tests: 730, 731, 732, 733, 734, 736. The self-assessment exams cost $10 each and can be paid for online using a credit card, as described on the Information Management Certification Online Practice Tests page.
Study the free questions DB2 expert Roger Sanders posts in every issue of IBM Database Magazine Mr. Sanders also provides sample questions at the end of each chapter in his certification study books listed in Table 4 above. (These sample questions are as a major advantage to Sanders' certification books versus some of the competitors.)
The book IBM DB2 Interview Questions, Answers and Explanations: IBM DB2 Database Certification Review by Jim Stewart consists of nothing but practice questions. It has 150 of them plus answers and full explanations. (This book can also be purchased as a downloadable PDF e-book.)
Several companies sell certification practice tests. These simulate the real thing and present realistic questions along with an option to explain the answers. Vendors include CertFX, Pass4Sure, and Pass-Guaranteed.com. Avoid Web sites that claim to sell you the actual exam questions. These have a reputation for inaccuracy, plus they violate the “terms and conditions" you agreed to in the certification program. You're much better off buying materials from a reputable company and studying them.
Get hands-on experience
Hands-on DB2 experience is critical to passing the tests. You might be able to get this at work. Ask your manager for some dedicated practice time for DB2 certification, and most bosses will not only give you that time, they'll also be impressed by your ambition and your desire to get ahead. Another option is get some hands-on at work after regular hours.
Just a few years ago it would have been very difficult to get DB2 experience on your own if you did not have access to a corporate server or mainframe. Today that's all changed. You can download and install DB2 Express-C edition with its no-cost license and run it on your Windows or Linux desktop or laptop.
DB2 Express-C is “real" DB2 -- not some sort of stripped-down version like some of the competing free databases out there. It has the features you need to learn to pass the certification exams.
You can supplement your certification effort with free study materials. One of the great advantages of certifying with DB2 is that IBM offers a ton of free resources. (Compare the free materials offered by Oracle and Microsoft for certification candidates, and you'll be glad you chose DB2.) Many candidates spend no more than the cost of a single book and the testing fee in their quest for DB2 certification
There are so many free resources available that space forbids listing them all. I'll concentrate on those most useful to passing the certification exams.
Let's start with IBM's free self-study courses. The Information Management Training site lists generic self-study topics, such as a tutorial series on DB2 SQL and XQuery. It also lists an excellent group of certification-specific self-study courses including:
- DB2 9 Fundamentals Exam 730 Certification Preparation Tutorial Series
- DB2 9 DBA for Linux, Unix and Windows Exam 731 Certification Preparation Tutorial Series
- DB2 9 Application Development Certification Exam 733 Preparation Tutorials
- DB2 UDB Version 8 Family Fundamentals Tutorials
- DB2 UDB Version 8 DBA for Linux, UNIX, and Windows Tutorials
- DB2 UDB Version 8 Application Development Certification Tutorial Series
- DB2 Content Manager Version 8.3 Certification Preparation Tutorial Series
- DB2 Content Manager Version 8 System Administration Workshop
Studying the appropriate free tutorial is key to your preparation for the certification exams. These tutorials present the material IBM considers most important, so they give you a good idea of which DB2 features show up in the tests.
I've included the DB2 Version 8 tutorials for those working or certifying with that version. Sometimes people ask if they should certify for Version 8 because they still use it in their company. I believe it's always best to certify for the latest product release. Your company will undoubtedly upgrade soon, and with your new-found knowledge you can lead the transition. All the reference information you need to pass the DB2 certification tests is freely available on the Web:
- DB2 9 Information Center for Linux, UNIX, and Windows
- DB2 9 manuals for Linux, UNIX, and Windows (These also come with the DB2 product.)
- DB2 9 Information Center for z/OS
- DB2 9 for z/OS Technical Information portal
- IBM IBM Redbooks® publications (These are technical manuals on specific topics. They're free for download or can be purchased in hardcopy.)
- IBM Publications Center (where you can find any IBM published product, free or not)
IBM's developerWorks Information Management homepage is the portal through which IBM passes information and free products to DB2 users. The Web page's Developers and DBA tabs direct you to the relevant parts of the site, depending on your interests. At developerWorks you'll find news, information, downloads, tutorials, white papers, podcasts, wikis, webcasts, blogs, forums, conference news and everything else DB2.
There are also many free DB2 9 resources available from other sources. For example, the International DB2 Users Group offers their free online magazine IDUG Solutions Journal, an Online Learning Center, a variety of DB2 blogs, and other resources. Web sites like Database Journal, Database Toolbox, and DB2 Pipeline cover DB2. For quick access to essential DB2 resources, I especially like the menu panel at Ten Digit Consulting.
Among the blogs I've found most useful is PlanetDB2, an “aggregator blog" that consolidates important postings from other blogs, and the Blog Spot at IBM Database Magazine. You can find many more just by googling for “DB2 blogs."
Peer interaction helps in passing the cert exams. Discussing the material is vital to learning, and you'll need to ask questions as you study. Fortunately, many active online forums cover DB2, most of which are open to all:
- IBM's developerWorks multiple forums for DB2
- DBForum's DB2 forum
- IDUG's DB2 listservs
- Expert forum for mainframe DB2
- Tek-Tips' DB2 forum
- DB2 Development forum
- Certification Magazine's generic certification forums
Your challenge will not be locating DB2 information – it will be identifying and studying those resources most relevant to the certification exam you intend to take. The key to success is to follow IBM's exam objectives (follow the links in the first column in Table 3). You can't learn everything about DB2, so stay on track for a “pass" by studying what the test objectives dictate.
While I've listed free resources thus far, there are also many purchasable resources that could be well worth the investment. Here are a few that'll help you pass the exams.
You might seek face-to-face interaction with your DB2 peers. IBM and the independent International DB2 Users Group both offer technical conferences. These include IBM's Information on Demand and Information Management Technical Conferences as well as IDUG's conferences for North America, Europe, Australasia, India, and Latin America.
IDUG also maintains a worldwide list of regional and local users groups. View the list to find out where and when your local DB2 users group meets. In any urban area, local user group meetings are easy to get to and have low admittance fees.
IBM offers a wide selection of instructor-ld and self-study courses. To see IBM's specific course recommendations for each certification exam, access any of the links in the Resources section for specific exams.
Learn more about what's available by visiting IBM's Information Management training home page or the Training and Certification page. Among the offerings are self-paced virtual classes, instructor-led online training, onsite training, and group training discounts through programs like the Education Pack.
You can also google "DB2 training" and find dozens of certification-oriented courses from competing vendors.
Do you need instructor-led training to pass the exams? I believe IT pros experienced in the area in which they are testing do not (although a course is always useful). Those new to their testing topic probably will need a class. The DB2 exams are difficult and it's unlikely you'll pass without hands-on experience otherwise.
Pass with partners
I've known several IT pros who successfully certified by creating a study group, or teaming up with a study buddy. You've seen by now that certifying requires some up-front work in gathering resources and making judgments about what and how to study. The whole process can be a lot easier (and more fun) when done with friends.
If you take this approach, be sure you've all got compatible goals and a common schedule. Members must take exams in the same time frame for the group to succeed.
Don't have local friends with the same certification interests? Form a virtual community at one of the forum sites above.
How to minimize costs
Ultimately, whether you choose to certify is a cost / benefit decision. I've already described the benefits. Some are tangible, if not easily measured, like the edge certification gives you in job interviews and increased job effectiveness. Others are intangible, like the pride and satisfaction you'll gain from professional growth
The costs include your time and effort and the monetary investment. Use this certification cost calculator to ensure you've taken all costs into account before committing to certification.
Your biggest potential expenditure is for instructor-led courses (online or in a vendor classroom). Fortunately you can easily avoid this cost, as long as you're committed enough to study and learn on your own.
The most difficult costs to avoid are those for certification study books and exam fees. But these costs are low, with cert books going for $35 to $70 USD and the exam fee at a modest $150 USD. Even then, you can reduce them. Here are some suggestions:
- Buy used cert books rather than new. If you buy more than one book use Amazon's "Better Together" discount.
- Participate in one of IBM's frequent "certification specials."
Example: At the time of writing, a special promotion gives you a voucher to save $75 USD on an exam when you buy an approved certification study book. Check developerWorks for future specials.
- Test free at IBM DB2 and IDUG conferences.
Examples: You can test for free at IBM's Information on Demand Conference and the Information Management Technical Conference, plus all IDUG conferences in North America, Europe, Australasia, India, and Latin America
- Give a presentation in exchange for free admittance (and testing) at IDUG conferences.
- Test outside the United States, where fees are often much less. This often works for those on green cards or work visas if they can schedule their testing appropriately.
Perhaps the most important cost factor is whether your company supports you in your certification effort. Many companies budget a set amount annually for each employees' education. Use this to fund any certification course you need. Other companies will pay for conferences or informal training (such as your certification study guide, testing fee, or an online class). Even companies that won't defer any expenses will often give you time at work to prepare for cert exams. Companies view certification as a win-win for employer and employee. Rare is the employer that does not support, in some manner, its workers who commit to self-improvement through certification.
Whether DB2 certification is worth it is a highly personal decision. Most find the benefits compelling, and as I've pointed out, there are many easy ways to minimize the costs.
The key is to be aware of the “unwritten rules" to successfully certifying. Candidates who learn about these before testing have a distinct advantage. I've included these DB2 certification secrets in this article. Good luck!
- IBM Information Management certification page: Get information on the DB2 certification program and details for each exam.
- DB2 9 exam preparation brochures: Read these brochures to understand the certifications and their requirements..
- Podcast on certification: Listen to this podcast fora quick orientation to the DB2 9 certification.
- Voices of the DB2 Community - Podcast series: Interviews and discussions on topics vital to DB2 users.
- IBM certification policy: This page will answer many of your questions about privacy and testing policies.
- IBM professional certification agreement: Get the details on the terms of the certification agreement.
- IBM Database Magazine: This on-line magazine provides a world of resources for DB2 and other IBM data servers.
- IBM Database Magazine list of DB2 Certification Guides: Check here for the latest list of DB2 certification books.
- IBM Information Management Books site: Check here for a list of certification books organized by type of certification.
- Information Management Certification Online Practice Tests: This page explains how you can take on-line practice tests or assessments.
- Learn about the sample assessment or
practice tests for these tests:
730, 731, 732, 733, 734.
- PDF ebook: IBM DB2 Database Interview Question, Answers: This book lists over 150 certification questions, answers, and explanations.
- Visit the developerWorks resource page for DB2 for Linux, UNIX, and Windows to read articles and tutorials and connect to other resources to expand your DB2 skills.
- Learn about DB2 Express-C, the no-charge version of DB2 Express Edition for the community.
- In the Information Management area on developerWorks, get the resources you need to advance your skills on DB2.
- Browse the technology bookstore for books on these and other technical topics.
Get products and technologies
- Download a free trial version of DB2 Enterprise 9.
- Now you can use DB2 for free. Download DB2 Express-C, a no-charge version of DB2 Express Edition for the community that offers the same core data features as DB2 Express Edtion and provides a solid base to build and deploy applications.
- Download IBM product evaluation versions and get your hands on application development tools and middleware products from DB2, Lotus®, Rational®, Tivoli®, and WebSphere®.
- Participate in the discussion forum.
- Check out developerWorks blogs and get involved in the developerWorks community.