Brainbench DBA certification

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Occasionally, Brainbench offers some tests for free as a promotional offer. I tried the "Sybase 12.5 administration". Here are some guidelines to prepare you for it and my personal opinion about the exam.


Before taking the exam you need to know at least the System Administration and the Performance and Tuning manuals. You can also expect questions about the various ASE tools (for instance optdiag), Component Integration Services, etc, so this means that you roughly need to cover everything. During preparation you can focus on the system administration aspects for ASE and you can safely skip development oriented stuff. However, you should know about the various side effects of certain constructs with for instance the use of temporary tables in stored procedures.

The exam never asked me for any syntactically constructs like "What's wrong with the statement 'insert into table my_table exec my_proc'". This means that you do not need to study the Reference Manuals for syntax details.

I did not encounter any questions about the optional components of ASE like Java in the database and Distributed Transaction Management. You can expect questions about High Availability. No questions were asked about the features added later on in 12.5, like multiple temporary databases.

The exam

Some of the questions in the exam can be quite difficult. However, since you can do this exam at home or at a quiet place at work you can be quite relaxed. It is permitted to use any documentation or Google. This can be quite handy when you need to check the details of something quickly like the reservepagegap clause in the create index statement.

The exam is taken through the BrainBench website, so you only need your standard internet browser (I used Mozilla without a problem). No software downloads are needed.

You will be given 40 multiple-choice questions, each timed for 180 seconds. Each question has 4 or 5 possible answers with only one right answer. Some questions are written in such a way that you can get the idea that multiple answers should be given, but this is not the case. During the exam you can take a short break for 15 minutes, but the break starts after you answered the current question. All in all, the exam takes about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

The quality of the questions and the answers can definitively be improved. In one case the right answer was just not there (I'm very certain about this), but almost there. In some other cases I strongly suspected an error in the answer. When you spot such a situation go for the answer that seems closest to the right one.

Some answers try to trick you by mentioning something that does not exist in ASE, for instance "you can improve performance by reducing the number of threads".

After the exam

Immediately after the exam you get your results, pass or fail. A score is calculated on a scale from 1 to 5 and an indication is given about how you relate to other candidates: you did better than x % of other candidates. The minimum score to pass is 2.75. A good thing is that all questions are grouped into categories and each category is given a score. This is very useful to identify your knowledge gaps.

Also, a separate mail is sent to you with all your scores.

With your BrainBench account you can create a personalized web-page that you can use to link to from your website. The exam I took was part of a promotional campaign, so it was free of charge. This means that the paper certificate is not free, it costs USD 14.95.

The value of the BrainBench certificate

The best thing of this certificate is that you have some proof of your theoretical knowledge. When you apply for a position at a company and indicate on your resume that you are certified, this probably puts you ahead of most other people. Sybase itself also has a test to become certified and I expect that most companies think that this certificate has more value, and I think so too. On the other hand, what's the likelihood that several people apply for a position as Sybase DBA and some of them are certified? Over here in The Netherlands this is very unlikely but this will vary per country.

I think the minimum score to pass (2.75) is quite low, a score of 3 would be better.

The certificate is valid for three years. Since this exam is for version 12.5 it will loose its value in the coming years anyway now that 15.0 has already been released. Most Sybase customers will spend a year or so before upgrading to version 15 so it's not completely useless to do the test untill mid 2006.

A final word: a certificate is not a replacement for several years of experience working as a Sybase DBA. However, to become a successful DBA you will need the theoretical foundation and having this certificate proofs that the foundation has been laid.