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Why Am I Learning Oracle?

In the last several years, I have built and expanded my career based on my knowledge of Microsoft SQL Server. However, I am in the process of learning more about the flagship product of Microsoft's chief rival: Oracle.

n the last several years, I have built and expanded my career based on my knowledge of Microsoft SQL Server. I've used the product as both a database developer and as a database administrator, going so far as to become certified to teach courses on them (MCT) in addition to obtaining the MCSE certification. Each version that comes out provides additional improvements and features that make it an even more powerful and user-friendly tool.

However, notwithstanding my feeling towards SQL Server, I am in the process of embarking on a somewhat heretical approach to further my career. I am in the process of learning more about the flagship product of that archenemy of Microsoft: Oracle. Over the next year I hope to become an Oracle Certified Administrator.

In this series of articles, I will attempt to convince you of the soundness of my decision and perhaps get some of you to join me in this endeavor. These articles will document my progress and point out what, to me, are some significant issues involved in understanding Oracle. I will also provide reviews of the books and other resources I use in this journey.

Now let's see if I can convince you that I'm not totally insane.

Microsoft and Oracle Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Reading the literature that Microsoft and Oracle put out about each other, I find that one common theme is evident. Both companies would like to convince you that there is absolutely no need ever to know or even contemplate using the competitor's product. However, I believe reality is a little more complicated.

It is pretty clear to me that Unix is not disappearing anytime soon. In some cases, just the opposite has occurred; witness the increasing popularity of Linux. Microsoft SQL Server will never run on Unix. Therefore, shops with Unix as their OS are more than likely to choose Oracle as their database of choice. Similarly, it is hard to argue with the smooth integration of SQL Server and Windows (NT or 2000). SQL Server will continue to be popular in Microsoft shops, especially when ease of use is a priority.

Now that you hopefully agree that both products will stick around for a while, I'd like you to consider the following cliché: Every problem looks like a nail to a person with a hammer. All of us have heard stories of projects that used the wrong tools for the job simply because they were the tools most familiar to the developers at the time. I want to be able to demonstrate to my client that if I recommend one tool over another it's not because I don't know any other tool but rather because I truly believe that the one I've chosen is the best one for the particular situation.

Problems Don't Have Just One Solution
Knowing more than one tool deepens my understanding of both. All database engines face common challenges such as supporting the ACID (atomic, consistent, isolated, durable) properties of a relational database. Knowing more than one tool, and seeing the different ways that each vendor has tackled the same problems, provides me with a deeper understanding than I could gain by just knowing a single product.

For example, users of SQL Server might be convinced that the only way to handle multiple users accessing the same data is to use read locks. Oracle users might be convinced that the only practical method is to use a redo buffer to keep a copy of the data as it looked before a user changed it. I find myself better able to appreciate the consequences of the architectural decisions of either method by contrasting the different solutions chosen by each vendor.

As I Learn More, I Can Earn More
Lastly, but not least, knowing more than one tool makes me that much more marketable. I haven't done an exhaustive survey of salaries and the number of jobs available for each database package. However, I have checked with friends and headhunters in the business and looked through the help-wanted pages.

Oracle is both popular and in short supply. The combination of the two makes for a nice premium paid to Oracle-skilled people. I saw that myself this year in a situation where I helped a client of mine search for a SQL Server and an Oracle DBA in the New York metropolitan area. It was hard to find competent candidates for either position. However, the client was able to fill the SQL Server position within several months. The Oracle position took between three to six months longer and cost over 30 percent more than the SQL Server position.

Of course, there are other database products out there besides Oracle and SQL Server. For some people, the situation they find themselves in might make a product like IBM's DB2 more attractive—for example, someone with heavy mainframe experience. (DB2 is very popular in mainframe shops.) However, for myself, I feel confident that learning Oracle will prove a significant addition to my arsenal of tools and my marketability.

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