Interview: Oracle IT Architecture Certification from Oracle University

by Bob Rhubart

May 2012

The following is based on highlights from a transcript of an OTN ArchBeat Podcast interview with three members of the team behind Oracle IT Architecture Essentials, part of a new Oracle IT Architecture certification and specialization program being developed by Oracle University, in collaboration with Oracle's Enterprise Architecture group and the Oracle Partner Network.


Listen to the interview

Participants:

  • Lindsey Pickle: Director, Database Partner Enablement, Oracle Partner Network
  • Bob Hensle: Director, Oracle Enterprise Architecture Program
  • Paul Sorensen: Senior Director, Global Certification Programs, Oracle University
 

B. Rhubart: Let's talk about Oracle IT Architect accreditation. I know that the beta exam has been available for several months, but it's my understanding that the beta process is ending. So for starters, is this just an exam, or is it a course of study?

L. Pickle: : It's really a combination of the two. Someone can take the exam to become a certified IT Architecture Specialist. But that architecture specialization actually encompasses several of our existing specializations, including database and Application Grid, Application Integration Architecture, and our Linux and Solaris operating systems. That provides a foundation for our partners and allows them to learn how to leverage the different skill sets and pull them together to provide better end solutions for our customers.

B. Rhubart: Bob Hensle, you're deeply involved with Oracle's Enterprise Architecture program. What's the tie-in between that program and this IT Architect accreditation?

B. Hensle: The material we used to create the first exam is focused on the core material in the Oracle Reference Architecture, so that's the tie-in. That's the source material you're being tested on to see if you understand how you should build solutions using the Oracle Stack, using Service Orientation. It's really about testing your architecture skills.

B. Rhubart: I assume you're talking about the Oracle Reference Architecture available in the IT Strategies from Oracle library...

B. Hensle: Yes, that's correct. The Oracle Reference Architecture is just the core material. There's a lot of other material in IT Strategies from Oracle, around SOA, around BPM, around Cloud. But that's not part of this certification.

B. Rhubart: Okay, so drill down into that a little bit. What, specifically, are we talking about in terms of this core information?

B. Hensle: IT Strategies from Oracle is structured around a core piece that we perceive as the kind of architecture, kind of technology, kind of capabilities that every modern IT environment needs to have. There's a variety of material in there, covering, for example, how do you do a modern user interface? How do you do security from the user interface all the way through the application tier into the database? How do you do development in a fully robust environment so that you can share assets and reuse them? How do you do monitoring in management across the entire stack, and so on. All that material is in the core of the Oracle Reference Architecture.

B. Rhubart: Paul, what's the connection? Bob just described some of the stuff in the IT strategies from Oracle Library that's involved as part of the curriculum for this certification. How does Oracle University turn that into an exam?

P. Sorensen: Whenever we build exams we follow a very set methodology. It's a very scientific process, based on what is called psychometrics. Our goal is to make sure that we're testing people on the stuff that's important to test people on. It sounds kind of dumb and elementary, but you want to make sure that once people have accomplished the certification that they are able to understand it and have the skills and the knowledge to be able to do things associated with competent functioning in that role.

All of our exams are written by subject matter experts, people who are truly knowledgeable within these domains. We go about a process of gathering the requirements, the objectives, understanding that role, building out a blueprint for what the role entails. We blueprint our exam based on that understanding and then build the questions out, which is an extremely tedious process. From there we actually beta test it. Then, based upon the results of our beta test we make adjustments to make sure that each of the questions that go on the final form of the exam are actually valid tools for measuring competency and whether someone has the necessary skills and knowledge to perform in that role.

B. Hensle: It's a very structured process. The exam's authors -- myself and the other authors who created the questions -- we weren't operating in vacuum. We knew how many questions we needed for each topic, what level the questions needed to be at, how difficult it was for the person taking the exam, how much they needed to know, and so on. This was the first time I've been involved in writing a certification exam, but I thought it was a very good process, and we learned a lot about how to write correct type of questions.

P. Sorensen:It's an extremely tedious process. Even if you are a subject matter expert, and have written tests, you find out pretty quickly you don't just hop into a room and come out with 25 questions. You're lucky if you can come out with one question, or maybe five questions in a day, working that whole day. It's a big investment of peoples' time, and a lot of effort on Oracle's part goes into putting these things together. We want to make sure that they are high quality exams that will accurately measure someone's ability to be able to do something, or perform in a specific role.

B. Rhubart: What did you learn in the beta process with this exam?

P. Sorensen: We learn several things during the beta process. Two are really simple to describe, one is more difficult.

The first is that you've got a range of people who take the beta test, people with various levels of skill and training, from very advanced to beginners. You would expect someone who is highly advanced, highly trained, to do really well on the test overall, and on each individual question. Someone who isn't very well trained and not very experienced won't do well on the test. So one of the things that the beta exam tells us is what items are too easy. If everyone gets the right answer on a particular question, that question may not be a good measurement tool.

On the other hand, you can have questions that are too hard, even for the most advanced people. So we can make some adjustments, revisit those items and tweak them. We try to rework those if we can, but sometimes you just can't -- especially those that are too easy. We set those items that are too hard or too easy aside, take them out of the main pool that becomes a production exam.

The third factor is a correlation of all questions in comparison to each other. For example, there is an expectation that a highly advanced person will get each question right. We can build a correlation factor to determine whether that expectation is a valid measurement.

When we build tests we build a lot more test questions than we actually need. We have to overbuild, and it's actually very painful for the subject matter experts to see their questions get thrown out. But it's a healthy part of the process. To come up with a test that might have 65 questions on it, we might build 30% or 40% more than we need.

B. Rhubart: Lindsey, what's the Oracle Partner Network's connection to all of this?

L. Sorensen: The Oracle Partner Network worked directly with Bob Hensle's team and with Paul's organization to help develop the exam and to get it into place and to define the specialization. We formed an oversight committee, made up of subject matter experts from around the world, as well as different people from different product organizations. In some cases partners are members of these oversight committees. As we define the specialization itself, and the criteria that leverages the certification, we can determine the necessary steps that would most benefit partners in earning these types of credentials.

So we work with all the different organizations to put together the credentials for the specializations. We worked directly with Bob Hensle and his team, as they've been major contributors to the question writing. We then worked with Paul's organization to complete the publishing and of the specialization and certifications.

B. Rhubart: Who's eligible to take this exam?

P. Sorensen: Everyone's eligible to take the certification exam -- Oracle employees, an individual working at a private company, an individual consultant or a partner who wants to become certified and have the credentials. We encourage everyone to participate and take it.

B. Rhubart: So it's not limited strictly to members of the Partner Network?

P. Sorensen: There are two components. There is the certification, which is the exam itself, which is open to everyone, and there's the specialization, which is the credential that is given to a partner company. The specialization is open to Gold Members of the Partner Network.

B. Rhubart: Are there other certification exams in the works? Bob, you mentioned that there is a lot of stuff that's covered in the IT Strategies from Oracle Library [ITSO] that is actually not covered in this initial accreditation exam, which focuses on the core Oracle Reference Architecture content. What about all that other stuff that isn't included in this exam?

B. Hensle: There are actually two topics there. First, there are many other certifications that are part of a partner becoming a specialist. For example, we require that they have a database certification and that they have app server certification. Adding the architecture essentials certification, they become that specialized partner. So there's kind of a ground level of certification required for the partners.

Now, as we said, this first exam is based on the core Oracle Reference Architecture material that is part of ITSO. But we've started working on two others -- one focused on the architecture for Business Process Management, based on the ITSO BPM practitioner guide for using BPM technology. For example, how do you decide which processes you should tackle for automation, how do you do actual automation?

The other exam we're working on is for Service Oriented Architecture certification, based on the ITSO SOA practitioner guide. Same kind of thing -- how do you use the service infrastructure properly, what services should you build? And once you've decided what services to build, how do you build them so that they can be reused? All that will be part of these next two certification exams.

B. Rhubart: The current exam is still in beta. When will the production version be available?

L. Pickle: Right now we're at the very final phases of the beta exam. As Paul mentioned, there's some very rigorous processes that go around it, so we need so many exams to be taken before we can finish it up. We're at the last one or two that are being taken by folks, and then we'll enter the post-beta phase that Paul defined. So hopefully by the end of May or maybe the middle of June we'll have a production-ready exam available. But obviously a lot depends on the beta to see what comes out of it, as Paul described -- how the questions did what adjustments need to be made.

B. Rhubart: Then what about the two additional exams that Bob mentioned. Any time frame on those?

B. Hensle: Not yet. We're just beginning to look at the questions that we're going to write. As Paul mentioned earlier, writing the questions is a considerable amount of work. That was quite eye-opening for me when I started writing the questions -- that it takes a long time to do a relatively small number of questions. So the BPM one is further along -- we've written quite a few questions for that. The SOA one is just getting started.

Then we go through the whole beta process for each of those, as well. So they won't be live for several months.


B. Rhubart:
Can we expect additional exams in the future?

B. Hensle: Yes. I hesitate to say which ones we'll tackle next. Probably Cloud, given that we have a bit of material on Cloud and it's a hot topic.

B. Rhubart: So anyone interested in these things long term would probably be well advised to start diving into the ITSO material.

B. Hensle: Yes, and that's kind of the idea. IT Strategies from Oracle is the foundational material on which all of the specifics are built. We did it that way is so we don't have to repeat all of that foundational material every time we do another Enterprise Technology Strategy. It can leverage what we've already done for the core.

P. Sorensen: The concept is that the first step is for people to the IT Architecture Essentials to become certified as a specialist. They can then follow with the BPM, SOA, and Cloud exams as they become available. Almost like a training plan.

B. Hensle: Right. In fact, for a partner to earn BPM specialization, they'll be required to first have Oracle IT Architecture Essentials certification.

B. Rhubart: Okay, I was curious about the various prerequisites at each stage.

L. Pickle:There is a foundation of prerequisites that ties together Oracle's database technology with our operating systems and with our middleware technology, and shows how to leverage all this together. So someone going into the IT Architecture knowledge zone will be able to see the actual prerequisites for the specialization.

B. Rhubart: What's the value of this to the person who's considering taking this exam, or any of these subsequent exams? Obviously any accreditation, any kind of certification is a good thing to have, but specific value of this accreditation?

P. Sorensen: Regarding Oracle certification in general, we survey the certified community frequently, and very consistently we have a very high number of people telling us that the number one reason they're getting certified is to gain skills and knowledge, because it is a learning process. The goal isn't to just run them past the test, the goal is to learn as you do that. The means are a lot more important than the end because you learn as you go. The test is what forces you to do that. Learning is number one.


Number two is credibility. Increased credibility among peers, customers, employers, and family is the second most common reason mentioned. Certification is an accomplishment -- just as these exams are difficult to write, they are very difficult to pass. We don't make any of this easy, and we do that on purpose because we want you to learn and grow, and we want it to mean something in the end. Eighty to ninety percent of those with certification say that they are better able to manage complex issues, they're better able to provide better service to their constituency, whether it's an employer, an outside customer, whatever. They also say very frequently that their job prospects improve significantly. It doesn't necessarily happen overnight, but their job prospects, because of their certification, do improve.

Also, our salary surveys indicate that those with Oracle Certification make about 16% more than their non-certified counterparts. So there are a lot of benefits to becoming Oracle certified. But I'll let the other gentlemen talk about this specific credential.

L. Pickle: This certification and specialization has tremendous value for partners, as well as for our customers. As Paul mentioned, it brings credibility. So when a customer reaches out and looks for a partner to do business with, to do their implementations, they know that if they have a specialized partner, they have that expertise and they have members on staff that have passed these exams and have proven the knowledge.

P. Sorensen: The reality of this certification is that it's win/win/win. It's a win for the individual, it's a win for the partner, and it's a win for their end customer. It's a big investment on a personal level, and it's an investment for the company. But, it's worth it to all of the parties that are involved.

B. Rhubart: Well, if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

P. Sorensen: Exactly.

B. Hensle: I'd also like to point out that this particular certification and the other upcoming ITSO certifications are a bit different from what people are used to doing for a product company certification. This certification isn't at all product specific. It's much more about how you fit together various products to make a larger solution so that you're using the correct capabilities from the various products and technologies and standards to build something sound and reusable, something that's not going to lock you into the wrong place in the future for your IT environment.

B. Rhubart: So, it's very much an architectural focus.

B. Hensle: It is. Very much an architectural focus.

B. Rhubart: How is that reflected in the broader industry? Obviously, cloud computing, as we mentioned here, is huge. Mobile computing is also becoming huge; big data, another huge topic. It seems that as IT evolves, there's a shift that places greater and greater emphasis on architecture.

P. Sorensen: We've moved out of these silos of IT information and we're bringing everything together, and data's becoming more agile and it's becoming used in so many different ways and pulling from different areas. As Bob alluded to earlier, if you start off on a foundation that doesn't have flexibility, your company is going to be limited. And so, to have a good solid foundation that can adjust as IT changes over time, it's going to benefit you and it's going to save money and it's going to help you compete.

B. Hensle: And I think we see across the industry that enterprise architecture has become more and more important as companies realize that they've got aging technology and they don't want to pick the wrong approach to go forward with. You can see that with, for instance, TOGAF -- how much more important TOGAF has gotten, or the FEA, the Federal Enterprise Architecture, or DoDAF for the Department of Energy. There's been a push across multiple areas in the IT environment to do a more holistic approach in building solutions for business. So architecture is becoming much more important and people are realizing it. CIOs and CFOs are realizing that architecture isn't just this ivory tower exercise. It actually has real benefit when done properly.

P. Sorensen: Really, with architecture now, it's taking your IT organization's goals and aligning it to the business goals, making sure that everything's in place so IT can adjust as the business adjusts. That's a very strategic part of enterprise architecture.

B. Hensle: And that's a big question that we ask with all of our certifications: what is the business benefit that's driving you to this type of technology, to these types of capabilities?

B. Rhubart: Oracle University offers several different courses that relate to architecture or are architect-relevant. Can you describe some of what's available?

P. Sorensen: Oracle University has about 4,000-plus individual unique courses, and there's a ton of content available for people in every area across Oracle's technology stack. And not just our products, but based on technologies and different domains. There are many, many courses and they're taught by super instructors. And there a variety of methods for taking the courses -- in class, live online, on-demand. There are a lot of ways to get that information.

The list of course changes continually, so I encourage people to visit the Oracle University website and search. [Editor's note: Click Training by Job Role . You'll see "Architect" listed among the roles.] Our certification website -- certification.oracle.com -- offers over 130 unique credentials. People can search there and drill down and find certifications that are offered in their areas, including a variety of those that we've discussed today.

B. Rhubart: Bob Hensle, let's get back to the IT strategies from Oracle library. I think by last count there are something like 36 documents in there. What's on the horizon for that collection? Can we expect any new documents?

B. Hensle: Yes, there are many documents in the works. We are working on Big Data documents. There's an Enterprise Information Management document already in draft form, and there's a Business Intelligence document also in draft. Those two together give you everything you need for a full Big Data infrastructure. We also have some more cloud documents that are in the works, more about how to be a cloud builder, how to be a cloud broker.

And we just did a refresh of all of the SOA material. So, anyone who has downloaded the SOA material in the past should take note. There are newer graphics, we've fixed some inconsistencies, and updated best practices. Best practices evolve over time, so where we've got better ideas or more information or a better approach, we've integrated them into the refresh of the SOA documents.


Bob Rhubart, manager of the OTN Architect Community, is the host of the OTN ArchBeat Podcast, the author of the OTN ArchBeat Blog, and a columnist for Oracle Magazine.