Recently on the Oracle Technology Network certification forum, someone posted a question asking what steps they could take to "earn the Ace certification." John Watson, a well-known author of Oracle certification books responded in the thread and suggested that they pursue an Oracle Master credential instead. Ultimately, the original poster decided that the Oracle Master was a better goal for his needs. What I decided is that an article comparing and contrasting the two designations would be valuable to a number of Oracle professionals.
The lure of rarity
While the Oracle Ace and Oracle Master designations are extremely different animals, they share one key trait: People who have either one tend to stand out from their peers. A recent post on the Oracle Certification blog indicated that there are 2 million people who have earned Oracle certifications. By comparison, there are currently less than 700 individuals who are recognized as an Oracle Ace.
The number of Oracle Certified Professionals who have earned the Oracle Administrator Master designation is murkier — for one thing, Oracle does not publicly disclose any relevant data. Based on the number of individuals who have chosen to post their achievement on the OTN Oracle Master profiles page, however, the total number is probably well under 1,000. The Oracle Ace and Oracle Master designations therefore have a comparable degree of rarity.
Requirements and results
Other than the statistical likelihood of Oracle professionals being able to lay claim to one of these titles, there is almost nothing else the two have in common. Notably, the "Oracle Ace" designation is not a certification. In fact, it is a stretch to call it a credential at all. Rather it is a means for Oracle (specifically the Oracle Ace Program) to recognize people who act as Oracle evangelists and share their knowledge of Oracle products with the community.
There is no specific set of requirements that must be met in order to be recognized as an Ace. The Oracle Ace main page indicates that Aces are people who " ... contribute knowledge with articles, technical advice, blog posts, and tweets." The Oracle Ace Program FAQ has a more extensive list of contribution types that includes:
Oracle Discussion Forums
Content submissions such as technical papers, articles, code samples, utilities
Oracle book authorship
Oracle event speaker
Participation in Oracle programs such as the Customer Reference Program or User Groups
Active participation in the Java Community Process (JCP) Program
A critical stipulation of the Ace program is that contributing knowledge via the above methods is no guarantee that an individual will become an Oracle Ace. In order to even be considered, individuals must be nominated by someone in the Oracle community.
There is no defined contribution level that automatically guarantees that someone will be nominated as an Oracle Ace — or that ensures they would be accepted if someone does nominate them. Oracle Ace program managers review the submissions each month and make their decisions based on the volume and type of knowledge contributions made by the nominee.
By contrast, the requirements for earning the Oracle Master certification are both simple (which is not the same thing as easy) and specifically defined. Individuals who take the required training and pass the lab-based exam will earn the certification. There are no exceptions. Earning the credential is a level playing field for everyone who attempts it.
Reason for existence
Another significant difference between the two is the goals of the programs they exist under. The Ace program was not created in order to produce credentials for Oracle professionals to demonstrate their knowledge. It was created as a way for Oracle to officially recognize people who invest significant amounts of their free time working to help others learn more about Oracle products.
Beyond recognition, the program encourages these people to speak at conferences, write articles and white papers, and spread their knowledge of Oracle products. It was only after a number of prominent people in the Oracle community were recognized with the Oracle Ace designation that people started asking, "How can I become one myself?"
The Oracle certification program exists primarily for the purpose of improving the career prospects of Oracle professionals. The certifications exist as a means for professionals to indicate that they have some knowledge of a particular Oracle product. The Oracle Master is simply the highest and hardest of the available credentials offered by this program.
The lab-based nature of the exam makes the credential extremely reputable and effectively immune to the sort of cheating that is all too common among the multiple choice exams that are the norm for most professional certifications.
If you are looking to advance your career — especially if you want to do so in a timeframe that is measureable in months rather than years, chasing the Oracle Ace designation is not a defensible option. It is aimed primarily at people who really enjoy digging into new or complex features of Oracle products and then documenting their results for others.
If you create new and useful content and make it available on the Web, people will gravitate to it. If enough people find your work to be helpful, you may be nominated and potentially could be accepted into the Ace program.
There is no cost to earning the Oracle Ace designation (other than a considerable investment of time). This is certainly not the case for the Oracle Master credential. When the required training is included, earning a Master-level credential can cost close to $10,000 for candidates who take the training and exams in the United States.
I discussed this in an earlier article: Counting the cost: Why are certifications so expensive? The credential is valuable because it maps to a documented set of skills and provides employers with insight into the knowledge of people who earn it. Being granted the "Oracle Ace" does not mean that Oracle certifies that an individual has any given level (or type) of knowledge.
I believe that for the vast majority of individuals who consider pursuing the Ace designation, their goals would be better served by pursuing an Oracle certification. Depending on their goals and experience, the certification might be the Oracle Master, or one of the lower-level credentials. As always, people need to select the option which makes the most sense for their own situation.