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Best Database Certifications for 2020

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Savvy, talented and knowledgeable database professionals are always in demand. Here are some of the best certifications for DBAs, database developers and anyone else working with databases.

Savvy, talented and knowledgeable database professionals are always in demand. This article covers some of the best, most in-demand certifications for database administrators, database developers and anyone else who works with databases. 

During the past three decades, we've seen a lot of database platforms come and go, but there's never been any question that database technology is a crucial component for all kinds of applications and computing tasks. 

Database certifications may not be as sexy or bleeding-edge as cloud computing, storage, or computer forensics. That said, there has been and always will be a need for knowledgeable database professionals at all levels and in a plethora of database-related job roles. 

To get a better grasp of the available database certifications, it's useful to group these certs around job responsibilities. In part, this reflects the maturity of database technology and its integration into most aspects of commercial, scientific and academic computing. As you read about the various database certification programs, keep these job roles in mind: 

  • Database administrator (DBA): Responsible for installing, configuring and maintaining a database management system (DBMS). Often tied to a specific platform such as Oracle, MySQL, DB2 or SQL Server. 
  • Database developer: Works with generic and proprietary APIs to build applications that interact with a DBMS (also platform-specific, like DBA roles).

  • Database designer/database architect: Researches data requirements for specific applications or users, and designs database structures and application capabilities to match.

  • Data analyst/data scientist: Responsible for analyzing data from multiple disparate sources to discover previously hidden insight, determine meaning behind the data and make business-specific recommendations.

  • Data mining/business intelligence (BI) specialist: Specializes in dissecting, analyzing and reporting on important data streams, such as customer data, supply chain data, and transaction data and histories.

  • Data warehousing specialist: Specializes in assembling and analyzing data from multiple operational systems (orders, transactions, supply chain information, customer data, etc.) to establish data history, analyze trends, generate reports and forecasts, and support general ad hoc queries. 

Careful attention to these database job roles highlights two important technical issues for would-be database professionals to consider. 

First, a good general background in relational database management systems, including an understanding of Structured Query Language (SQL), is a basic prerequisite for database professionals of all stripes. 

Second, although various efforts to standardize database technology exist, much of the whiz-bang capability that databases and database applications deliver come from proprietary, vendor-specific technologies. Serious, heavy-duty database skills and knowledge are tied to specific platforms, including various Oracle products (such as the open-source MySQL environment and Oracle itself,) Microsoft SQL Server and IBM DB2. That's why most of these certifications relate directly to those enormously popular platforms. 

It's important to note that NoSQL databases – referred to as "not only SQL" and sometimes "non-relational" databases – handle many different types of data, such as structured, semi-structured, unstructured and polymorphic. NoSQL databases are increasingly used in big data applications, which tend to be associated with certifications for data scientists, data mining and warehousing, and business intelligence. Although there is some natural overlap, for the most part, we cover those certs in our annually updated "Best Big Data Certifications." 

Before you look at our featured certifications in detail, consider their popularity with employers. The results of an informal search on several high-traffic job boards show which database certifications employers look for most when hiring. Though these results vary from day to day (and by job board), such numbers provide a useful perspective on database certification demand in current job listings.

Job board search results (in alphabetical order by certification)*

Certification

SimplyHired 

 Indeed 

 LinkedIn Jobs 

 LinkUp 

Total

IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2

463

607

845

747

2,662

Microsoft SQL Server database certifications**

1,661

1,955

1,259

1,373

6,248

Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL Database Administrator

205

342

182

142

871

Oracle Database 12c Administrator

235

295

695

214

1,439

SAP HANA

101

150

84

80

415

*See our complete methodology for selecting top five certifications in the "Best Certifications" series.

**Combined totals for MCSA: SQL Database Administration (540), MCSA: SQL Database Development (569), MCSE: Data Management and Analytics (640) and MTA: Database (503).

If the sheer number of available database-related positions isn't enough motivation to pursue a certification, consider average salaries for database administrators. SimplyHired reports $86,415 as the national average in the U.S., in a range from $60,960 to over $128,000. Glassdoor's reported average is somewhat higher at $93,164, with a top rung for experienced, senior DBAs right around $135,000.

Top 5 database certifications

Now let's look at the details of our top five database certification picks for 2020.

1. IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2

IBM is one of the leaders in the worldwide database market by any objective measure. The company's database portfolio includes industry standard DB2, as well as IBM Compose, Information Management System (IMS), lnformix, Cloudant and IBM Open Platform with Apache Hadoop. IBM also has a long-standing and well-populated IT certification program, which has been around for more than 30 years and encompasses hundreds of individual credentials. 

After redesigning its certification programs and categories, IBM's major data-centric certification category is called IBM Data and AI, which includes a range of database credentials: Database Associate, Database Administrator, System Administrator, Application Developer and more. It's a big and complex certification space, but one where particular platform allegiances are likely to guide readers straight to the handful of items that are relevant to their interests and needs. 

Database professionals who support DB2 (or aspire to) on Linux, Unix or Windows should check out the IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2 certification. It's an intermediate credential that addresses routine administration, basic SQL, and creation of databases and database objects, as well as server management, monitoring, availability and security. 

This certification requires candidates to pass two exams. Pre-exam training is recommended but not required.

IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2 facts and figures

Certification name

IBM Certified Database Administrator – DB2 11.1 (Linux, UNIX and Windows)

Prerequisites and required courses

None required; recommended courses available

Number of exams

Two exams: IBM DB2 11.1 DBA for LUW (exam C2090-600) (60 questions, 90 minutes)
plus
DB2 11.1 Fundamentals for LUW (exam C2090-616) (63 questions, 90 minutes)

Cost per exam

$200 (or local currency equivalent) per exam ($400 total). Sign up for exams at Pearson VUE.

URL

https://www.ibm.com/certify/cert?id=08002109

Self-study materials

Each exam webpage provides exam objectives, suggested training courses and links to study guides for sale through MC Press. Click the Exam Preparation tab for detailed information. You can also visit the Prepare for Your Certification Exam webpage.

 

2. Microsoft SQL Server database certifications 

SQL Server offers a broad range of tools and add-ons for business intelligence, data warehousing and data-driven applications of all kinds. That probably explains why Microsoft offers database-related credentials at every level of its certification program. 

Microsoft has taken significant steps over the last year to change its certification program from technology-focused to role-centric, centered on the skills one needs to be successful in specific technology jobs. With these changes in mind, Microsoft now identifies four job tracks in its certification program: Developers, Administrators, Solution Architects and Functional Consultants. You will find a wide variety of skills and technologies within each of those categories, but we'll concentrate below on the company's SQL Server certifications.

MTA: Database Fundamentals

The MTA program includes a single database-related exam: Database Fundamentals (98-364). This credential is ideal for students or as an entry-level cert for professionals looking to segue into database support.

MCSA

Microsoft offers several SQL-related credentials at the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) level:

  • MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014 (three exams)
  • MCSA: BI Reporting (two exams)
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development (two exams)
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration (two exams)
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development (two exams)

MCSE

There is one SQL database credential at the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert level: Data Management and Analytics. This certification has the MCSA as a prerequisite (a list of valid items follows in the table) and then requires passing one elective exam.

Microsoft SQL Server database certification facts and figures

Certification name

MTA: Database Fundamentals
MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014
MCSA: BI Reporting 
MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development
MCSE: Data Management and Analytics

Prerequisites and required courses  

No prerequisites:
MTA: Database Fundamentals
MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014
MCSA: BI Reporting
MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development

MCSE Data Management and Analytics prerequisites (only one required):
MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014
MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development
MCSA: Machine Learning
MCSA: BI Reporting
MCSA: Data Engineering with Azure

Training courses are available and recommended for all certifications but not required.

Number of exams

MTA: Database Fundamentals: One exam

  • Database Fundamentals (98-364)

MCSA: BI Reporting: Two exams

  • Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Power BI (70-778)
  • Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Microsoft Excel (70-779)

MCSA: SQL Server: Three exams

  • Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 (70-461)
  • Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 Databases (70-462)  
  • Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 (70-463

MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development: Two exams

  • Implementing a SQL Data Warehouse (70-767)
  • Developing SQL Data Models (70-768) 

MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration: Two exams

  • Administering a SQL Database Infrastructure (70-764)
  • Provisioning SQL Databases (70-765) 

MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development: Two exams

  • Querying Data with Transact-SQL (70-761)
  • Developing SQL Databases (70-762) 

MCSE: Data Management and Analytics: One exam (from the following)

  • Developing Microsoft SQL Server Databases (70-464)
  • Designing Database Solutions for Microsoft SQL Server (70-465)
  • Implementing Data Models and Reports with Microsoft SQL Server (70-466)
  • Designing Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server (70-467)
  • Developing SQL Databases (70-762)
  • Implementing a Data Warehouse Using SQL (70-767)
  • Developing SQL Data Models (70-768)
  • Analyzing Big Data with Microsoft R (70-773)
  • Implementing Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB Solutions (70-777

All exams administered by Pearson VUE.

Cost per exam

MTA: $127 (or equivalent in local currency outside the U.S.)
MCSA/MCSE: $185 (or equivalent) per exam

URL

www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/certification-overview.aspx

Self-study materials

Microsoft offers one of the world's largest and best-known IT certification programs, so the MTA, MCSA and MCSE certs are well supported with books, study guides, study groups, practice tests and other materials.

 

3. Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator 

Oracle runs its certifications under the auspices of Oracle University. The Oracle Database Certifications page lists separate tracks for Database Application Development (SQL and PL/SQL), MySQL (Database Administration and Developer) and Oracle Database (versions 12c, 12c R2, and 11g, and Oracle Spatial 11g). 

MySQL is perhaps the leading open-source relational database management system (RDBMS). Since acquiring Sun Microsystems in 2010 (which had previously acquired MySQL AB), Oracle has rolled out a paid version of MySQL and developed certifications to support the product. 

A candidate interested in pursuing an Oracle MySQL certification can choose between MySQL Database Administration and MySQL Developer. The Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator (OCP) credential recognizes professionals who can install, optimize and monitor MySQL Server; configure replication; apply security; and schedule and validate database backups. 

The certification requires candidates to pass a single exam (the same exam can be taken to upgrade a prior certification). Oracle recommends training and on-the-job experience before taking the exam.

Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator facts and figures

Certification name

Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator

Prerequisites and required courses

None required

Recommended: MySQL for Database Administrators Ed4 five-day course; on demand for $2,325, classroom for $2,785, live virtual for $2,650

Number of exams

One exam: MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator (1Z0-888) (75 multiple-choice questions, 120 minutes)

Cost per exam

$245 (or local currency equivalent). Purchase exam voucher through Oracle University. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/db_pages.getpage?page_id=654&get_params=p_id:260

Self-study materials

Exam topics and links to recommended training are available on the exam webpage (click the Exam Preparation tab).

 

4. Oracle Database 12c Administrator

Most Oracle DBMS credentials require candidates to attend authorized training classes to qualify for the related exam, but MySQL (and Sun-derived) credentials often do not. Oracle certifications also represent a true ladder, in that it is generally necessary to earn the associate-level credentials first, professional-level credentials second and master-level credentials third, culminating with the expert level. 

Oracle Database 12c R2 is the latest version, which includes enhancements to Oracle Database 12c. Oracle 12c certifications are currently offered at the associate, professional and master levels. 

A Foundations Junior Associate certification (novice level) is also available for Oracle Database 12c, as are three specialist designations: the Implementation Specialist, the Oracle Database Performance and Tuning 2015 Certified Implementation Specialist, and the Oracle Real Application Clusters 12c Certified Implementation Specialist. 

Available expert-level credentials include the Oracle Certified Expert; Oracle Database 12c: RAC and Grid Infrastructure Administrator; Oracle Database 12c Maximum Availability Certified Expert; Oracle Certified Expert; Oracle Database 12c: Data Guard Administrator; Oracle Certified Expert; and Oracle Database 12c: Performance Management and Tuning. Oracle still offers 11g certifications as well. 

NoteAlthough premium support for Oracle 11g Database ended on Dec. 31, 2014, extended support lasts until December 2020, so it's probable that Oracle Database 11g will remain in use for the short term. 

We focused on requirements for Oracle Database 12c certifications. One important consideration is that Oracle 11g is forward-compatible with Oracle 12c, but Oracle 12c is not backward- compatible with the prior version. Because Oracle 12c is a newer version, IT professionals with Oracle 11g certifications should consider upgrading their 11g credentials.

Oracle Database 12c Administrator facts and figures

Certification name

Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Associate (OCA 12c)
Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Professional (OCP 12c)
Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Master (OCM 12c)
Oracle Database 12c Maximum Availability Certified Master

Prerequisites and required courses

OCA 12c: Training recommended but not required

OCP 12c: OCA 12c credential and one training course required; complete course submission form

OCM 12c: OCP 12c or 12c R2 credential and two advanced training courses (must be different from the course used to achieve the OCP); complete course submission form; submit fulfillment kit request

Oracle Database 12c Maximum Availability Certified Master: Three credentials

  • Oracle Database 12c Administrator Certified Master
  • Oracle Certified Expert, Oracle Database 12c: RAC and Grid Infrastructure Administration
  • Oracle Certified Expert, Oracle Database 12c: Data Guard Administration

Oracle training: Classes typically run 2-5 days; costs range from $1,360 to over $5,580.

Number of exams

 OCA 12c: Choose one exam from the following:

  • Oracle Database 12c SQL (1Z0-071) (73 questions, 100 minutes)
  • Oracle Database 12c: Installation and Administration (1Z0-062) (67 questions, 120 minutes)

OCP 12c: One exam: Oracle Database 12c: Advanced Administration (1Z0-063) (80 questions, 120 minutes)

OCM 12c: One exam: Oracle Database 12c Certified Master (12COCM), a two-day, performance-based exam

Oracle Database 12c Maximum Availability Certified Master: None

Cost per exam

OCA 12c: 1Z0-071and 1Z0-062 cost $245 each.
OCP 12c: 1Z0-063, 1Z0-082 and 1Z0-083 cost $245 each
OCM 12c: 12COCM costs $2,584; contact Oracle for pricing/availability of upgrade exam.
Oracle Database 12c Maximum Availability Certified Master: None

Note: Prices vary by geography.

URL

https://education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/ou_product_category.getFamilyPage?p_family_id=32&p_mode=Certification

Self-study materials

Each Oracle certification exam webpage lists exam topics as well as recommended training courses, seminars and practice tests. A variety of self-study guides are available on Amazon. Oracle Database certification candidates benefit from student manuals, labs and software provided as part of class offerings.

 

5. SAP HANA: SAP Certified Technology Associate – SAP HANA (Edition 2016)

SAP SE has a large portfolio of business application and analytics software, including cloud infrastructure, applications, and storage. The foundation of the SAP HANA platform is an enterprise-grade relational database management system, which can be run as an appliance on premises or in the cloud. The cloud platform enables customers to build and run applications and services based on SAP HANA. 

SAP offers a comprehensive certification program, built to support its various platforms and products. We chose to feature the SAP Certified Technology Associate – SAP HANA cert because it aligns closely with other certifications in this article and is in high demand among employers, according to our job board surveys. This certification ensures that database professionals can install, manage, monitor, migrate and troubleshoot SAP HANA systems. It covers managing users and authorization, applying security, and ensuring high availability and effective disaster recovery techniques. 

SAP recommends that certification candidates get hands-on practice through formal training or on-the-job experience before attempting this exam. The SAP Learning Hub is a subscription service that gives certification candidates access to a library of learning materials, including e-learning courses and course handbooks. The annual subscription rate for individual users on the Professional certification track is $3,048. This online training program is designed for those who run, support or implement SAP software solutions. Though this may seem like a steep price for online training, you will likely be able to pass any SAP certification exams you put your mind to by leveraging all of the learning resources available to SAP Learning Hub Professional subscribers. 

Typically, SAP certifications achieved on one of the two most recent SAP solutions are considered current and valid. SAP contacts professionals whose certifications are nearing end of life and provides information on maintaining their credentials.

SAP Certified Technology Associate facts and figures

Certification name

SAP Certified Technology Associate – SAP HANA (Edition 2016)

Prerequisites  and required courses        

 None required
 Recommended: SAP HANA Installation & Operations SPS12 (HA200) course ($3,750)

Number of exams

One exam: SAP Certified Application Associate – SAP HANA (Edition 2016), exam code C_HANATEC_12 (80 questions, 180 minutes)

Cost per exam

$552

URL

https://training.sap.com/certification/c_hanatec_12-sap-certified-technology-associate---sap-hana-edition-2016-g/

Self-study materials

The certification webpage includes a link to sample questions. SAP HANA trade books and certification guides are available on Amazon. The SAP Help Center offers product documentation and a training and certification FAQs page. The SAP Learning Hub (available on a subscription basis) provides access to online learning content.

 

Beyond the top 5: More database certifications

Besides the ones mentioned in this article, other database certification programs are available to further the careers and professional development of IT professionals who work with database management systems. 

While most colleges with computer science programs offer database tracks at the undergraduate, master and Ph.D. levels, there are few well-known vendor-neutral database certifications. The Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) is part of this unique group, offering its Certified Data Professional and Certified Data Scientist credentials. Find out more about ICCP certifications here

EnterpriseDB administers a small but effective certification program, with two primary certs: the EDB Certified Associate and the EDB Certified Professional. PostgreSQL was the fourth-ranked relational database management system in October 2019, according to DB-Engines

Credentials from GoogleMarkLogicTeradata and SAS may also be worth considering. All of these credentials represent opportunities for database professionals to expand their skill sets – and salaries. However, such niches in the database certification arena are generally only worth pursuing if you already work with these platforms or plan to work for an organization that uses them. 

Ed Tittel
Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant, and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro and GoCertify, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems. 

Earl Follis
Earl is also a 30-year veteran of the computer industry, who has worked in IT training, marketing, technical evangelism, and market analysis in the areas of networking and systems technology and management. Ed and Earl met in the late 1980s when Ed hired Earl as a trainer at an Austin-area networking company that's now part of HP. The two of them have written numerous books together on NetWare, Windows Server and other topics. Earl is also a regular writer for the computer trade press, with many e-books, whitepapers and articles to his credit.

 

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