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The MySQL Certification Program

Facts and Viewpoints from the Inside

For this installment of my recruiting/certification column, I have decided to turn my attention to the MySQL certification. It's another one of the open source-based certification programs that seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the marketplace. We, as most of you probably know, continue to see companies implementing MySQL as an alternative to proprietary databases on the market. As a result we have seen a dramatic increase in searches by companies looking for people with MySQL experience. Therefore, it's only prudent that we take the time out to learn more about this relatively new certification.

As with the previous article on the Zend Certified Engineer, ZCE, I have decided to take the same approach when exploring the ins and outs of the MySQL certification. In essence, I figured the best way to learn about the certification is to get viewpoints from people in the field. To learn the basics about the program, I spoke with Carsten Pedersen, who heads up the certification program for MySQL AB. From there, I exchanged e-mails with Ian Gilfillan of Independent Online, a leading newspaper in South Africa, and author of a book on MySQL to get an insider's viewpoint as to why he feels it is of value to spend corporate dollars on providing the certification for his employees. Last, I spoke with Mark Nielsen, who at the time of this interview was a MySQL DBA at Google and is now at CNET, to learn about the benefits he has gotten from being certified and how it has assisted him in his job searches over the recent past.

Interview with Carsten Pedersen of MySQL...

LWM: How long has the exam been in existence (Core and Professional)?

Carsten Pedersen: We started with the Core exam in the late fall of 2002. The Professional exam came into existence about half a year later (early 2003).

LWM: What is the number of certified MySQL professionals presently (Core and Professional)?

CP: To date, we have delivered more than 1,200 exams worldwide. About a quarter of these are Professional certification exams. It's been a slow start, but we're really seeing things pick up now. At our recent User's Conference, we had two certification tutorials and they were both among the ones most attended.

On our Web site (www.mysql.com/certification) you can find a list of certified people (it's incomplete, as not everyone wants their name published).

LWM: What is their breakdown of location? How many in the U.S., Europe, etc?

CP: North America accounts for about 50% of the delivered exams; of these, 85% are in the U.S. and 15% in Canada. In Europe, which accounts for another 40% of the exams, most are delivered in Germany and the United Kingdom. The remaining 10% are delivered across the rest of the world.

LWM: What percentage of the people move on to take the Professional certification exam after obtaining the Core certification?

CP: About one-third of the people who have the Core certification move on to attempt getting the Professional certification.

LWM: What is the pass rate of the number of people who take the exam (both Core and Professional)?

CP: For first-time exam takers, the pass rate on the Core exam is about 65%. For the Professional exam, this number is close to 50%.

LWM: What is the level of experience that you recommend for someone looking to take the exam (Core)?

CP: We recommend that those who want to take the Core exam have at least a few months worth of full-time experience, and those who go for the Professional title have six months or more of experience. But this is very hard to quantify: if you take one of our courses and do some intensive self-studying, you might be able to do the whole thing in three weeks. If you're learning on your own and not doing full-time MySQL work, it may take you many months to gain the knowledge and experience needed to pass just the Core exam. The type of work you do during the time you are getting ready for the exam also influences how much time you should expect to invest.

LWM: Do you advise people to purchase the study guide?

CP: Certainly! Of course, being one of the co-authors, I'm bound to say so. :-)

From what we are told the Study Guide does help those studying for the exams. I've also had many people telling me that it's one of the best sources around for learning the ins and outs of MySQL and (after the exams) a great reference tool. The main authors, Paul DuBois and Stefan Hinz, are both recognized as some of the best authors on the subject of MySQL.

There's good financial sense in getting the Study Guide, too. It contains a voucher that pays back 25% of the exam cost when you go to your first exam. For a lot of people, this means that you basically get the book at zero cost or some even get money back!

LWM: Do you happen to have any data that suggests the differentiation in salary levels for people with the certification as opposed to those without it? Any increase in compensation for people with Professional versus Core?

CP: We do not and, quite frankly, I doubt that any certifying body has the numbers to make such claims with any sort of reliability. Sure, there are studies out there claiming that certified people tend to get a higher salary. However, once you start digging into the background data, several questions on statistical validity and methodology raise their ugly head.

For MySQL certification, the problem is compounded with certification holders being spread across the globe - salaries and benefits vary too much from one area to another to make any valid comparisons.

That said, I have indeed spoken with several people who have told me they got hired into a company or got a better placement within their organization because they had invested the time in studying for the exams. I have also heard from consultants who are convinced that they would not have landed a specific job, if they had not been certified. Mind you, in all of these cases, certification was only part of the overall picture they were able to present to their employers or customers - but they were indeed what put people "over the barrier."

MySQL is becoming more and more accepted in the enterprise sector, and here certification is the norm, not the exception. If you're to even be considered for a job with one of these companies, there's no way around getting certified.

LWM: Is it strictly a multiple-choice exam? If not, what else is involved?

CP: On the current exams there are also a few questions that will require you to "fill in the blank" with a word or two. However, for a number of reasons, we are moving away from this type of question and strictly into multiple choice.

LWM: Where is the exam administered?

CP: Our exams are mainly distributed through more than 3,000 Pearson VUE testing centers across the globe (www.vue.com/mysql). At times, we also offer exams during events such as the MySQL User's Conference and other conferences or trade shows.

LWM: Do you plan on collaborating with other vendors, such as Zend, to offer a certification that comprises more components of the LAMP stack?

CP: We have talked with both Zend and LPI about doing exactly that, but currently there are no specific plans to do this.

More Stories By Brent Marinaccio

Brent Marinaccio has been with HotLinuxJobs since its inception in early 2000. HotLinuxJobs is a recruiting firm that specializes in the placement of Linux/Open Source professionals. As director of open source recruiting, Brent has gained considerable insight in the subtleties of recruiting in the Open Source world.

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