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Friday Philosophy – At What Point Can You Claim a Skill? June 26, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Knowledge.
Tags: , ,

I’ve just installed Oracle 12C on my laptop {I know, why only now?}. I went for the option to have a Container database with a pluggable database within it. {It is easy and free to install Oracle on your own home machine – so long as it is for personal use only and you are singed up to OTN (which is also free) }.

12C with pluggable databases (PDBs) is a little different to the last few versions of Oracle as it introduces this whole concept of the Container database that holds portions of the data dictionary and, within that, what we used to think of as Oracle instances plugged in underneath it. It is not *quite* like that – but this post is not about the technical aspects of Oracle 12C multitentant databases. And you will see why.

Whenever something I know well has changed more than a bit, I tend to hit this wall of “Whoa! it’s all changed!”. It isn’t all changed, but sometimes some of the fundamentals, the basics are different. For the last 15 years, once I have my database up and running I will have created my test users and some objects within 10 minutes and be playing away. Not this time. How do you create a user in a multi-tenant DB? How do I tell Oracle to create my users in that PDB? Hang on, how do I even check what I called my PDB? My ignorance is huge.

I popped over to Tim Hall’s site, OracleBase and the section on creating users under multi-tenant Oracle, scanned Bryn Llewellyn’s White Paper on it. A few google searches as well and soon I was there. My standard test to make sure the DB is alive, “select sysdate from dual” – only I altered it to show the PDB:

select SYSDATE from Dual

select SYSDATE from Dual

So I am logged into my working PDB on 12C, I have selected sysdate from DUAL, created my new user. I have used Oracle 12C and multitentant.

Next step?

Update CV to claim 12C expert and experience of Multi-tenant Oracle Database

This is of course a joke on my part.

Sadly, some people would actually do this.

It is something that has always annoyed me and often seems rife in the I.T. industry – people claiming skills or even expertise in something they have barely touched, let alone understood. And often about a thousand miles away from any legitimate claim to Expert. I chortle whenever I see a CV from someone with only 2 or 3 years’ experience of Oracle but list 20 areas they are expert in. Before I throw the CV in the bin.

Maybe part of the issue is that I.T. moves so fast and people feel they need to be seen to be on top of the changes to be worth employing or being listened to. Well, it’s nice to be leading edge – for much of my career I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to the latest version of Oracle either as soon as it is out or even before (beta programs). But much more important is to have some integrity. Claiming to be an expert when you are not is incredibly dangerous as anyone who really does know the subject is going to suss you out in no time at all. And you will be exposed as a fraud and a liar. Gaining any respect after that is going to be really hard work, and so it should be.

Sadly, you do get the situation where people get away with this sort of deceit, usually by managing to deceive non-technical management but annoying the real technicians around them. Many of us have suffered from this.

This issue of claiming a skill before you had was very common with Exadata when it came out. Lots of people, it seemed, read the white papers, looked at some blogs and maybe saw a couple of talks – and then started talking to people about Exadata as though they knew it inside out. I actually saw a “professional” presentation like this at a conference, on Exadata, where it was soon clear that the presenter had probably never got as far as “select sysdate from dual;” on an exadata box (not that there is any difference for that statement 🙂 ). I could not help but interrupt and query a statement that was utterly untrue and at that point the presenter checked his “facts” with a more senior member of his company in the crowd. To his shame, the senior member of staff repeated the error of claiming knowledge he also did not have to back the presenter up. Every time I come across that company now, I think of that.

So when can you claim a skill? If you look at my screen shot you will see that I failed to actually log into my PDB database with my new user – #fail. Of course I can’t claim these skills based on reading some information, seeing some talks and all of an hour’s practical experience.

I think you can only claim a skill once you can tell for sure if someone else also has that skill. Or more significantly, tell when they are claiming a skill they lack. Personally, I tend towards not claiming a skill if I doubt my abilities. Don’t worry, my huge ego balances that British self-doubt quite well 🙂

I used to give introductory talks on Exadata as I got so tired of the poor information I saw being given on the subject. Also, all the best talks were soon about the details of smart scans, the storage cells and patching. Not much for newbies. Interestingly, even as an intro talk, most times I did the talk I learnt something new in discussions at or after the talk. But I’ve retired that talk now. Why? Well Exadata has moved forward 2 versions since I last used it and 3 since I used it in anger. I could no longer tell you if something someone claimed for V5 of Exadata was true or not. So I am no longer skilled in Exadata.

Only claim skills you have.
Distrust those who claim skills they lack.
Try to teach those who seek your skills – you will only get better for it.



1. Dird - June 26, 2015

but who was that company 😮

mwidlake - June 26, 2015

Now you know I would not answer that one!

2. Narendra - June 27, 2015

“Only claim skills you have.
Distrust those who claim skills they lack.”
One statement…..you are not British….

mwidlake - June 27, 2015

I’m not quite sure why you say that Narendra. Self-deprecation (ie putting down one’s own achievements and skills) has historically been seen as a traditionally British trait – but I suspect it’s both partially an urban myth and a trait less present in the current generation.

I must be British as I drink lots of tea, queue religiously and mutter when people are not polite 🙂

Unless I am utterly misunderstanding your statement….?

Narendra - June 28, 2015

Well, no disagreeing with those qualities (and many more) but 9 years of working with different companies, has convinced me that you are part of the minority that is getting tinier by the day. I won’t exactly blame “current generation” because I have managed to work / am working with people who either have just begun their career or are towards the end of it, and the picture is same. Claiming the skills they don’t have, claiming the credit for someone’s efforts and finding a scapegoat (or a group of scapegoats) when things go wrong is all that I see. In fact, every time I think I have seen the worst, people surprise me. I would like to believe it is limited to IT sector but it is definitely a british trait.

mwidlake - June 28, 2015

Oh dear – well, if that is what you have experienced then I can’t really argue against that!

I have to say that, over all, I’ve experienced a diminishing of claiming skills you don’t have over the last 10 years – except for two areas:
1) People relatively new out of college claiming to be experts when they just don’t seem to get that they still have so much to learn (I think the educational system and culture of some areas of the globe encourage this damaging trait)
2) A sadly large segment of management, who have always had a large percentage of people who seem to spend their lives claiming undeserving credit and ducking responsibilities.

Maybe my view point is coloured by the fact that I only try and stay at places that show a lower level of cads and liars 🙂

Narendra - June 29, 2015

“Maybe my view point is coloured by the fact that I only try and stay at places that show a lower level of cads and liars”
That is one advnatgae of being a Guru… 🙂

3. Noons - June 28, 2015

I don’t know what you are complaining about. Things have improved ENORMOUSLY since the mid-90s.
Back then I regularly received messages from head-hunters telling me they had a great contract if only I had 3 years of Forms 10g experience.
Of course, Forms 10g hadn’t then even reached beta release stage.
And you reckon it’s bad now?

mwidlake - June 28, 2015

Head hunters/recruitment consultants. There is a special place in Hades’ Underworld for most of them…

I suppose how much it has improved or not is down to personal experiences. When I was a junior Oracle Builder I came across a few chancers who had no Forms or Reportwriter skills but just blagged as best they could for a few weeks, either gaining enough skills to get by in the time or being “let go”. And yet only recently I was involved in hiring someone who could talk the talk but utterly failed to walk the walk. It was only the second time ever that I hired someone and seriously regretted it.

Fora “guru” position I was once asked for, I think, 10 years of Oracle 10g experience – when it had only been released for 7 or so. I said I could manage 8 due to beta testing it, but for 10 they might have to squirrel out an Oracle internal developer. Perhaps maybe they should check their facts before asking for these things? Never heard back from that agent… Oh yes -> This post here.

4. Andy - September 5, 2015

Can’t help but to nod and agree. I think one of the things that help make things worse is the fact that most skills are evaluated by either non-skilled or equally skilled people. When the skill baseline is low, it doesn’t take much to stand out, and suddenly, tons of ‘experts’ pop up from nowhere. Of course, the certification process doesn’t make things any better. I used to work with a few people who aced OCP test, but they couldn’t even write query any more complex than a simple select… 😉

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