Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oracle Gurus

"Becoming an Oracle guru doesn't take remarkable intelligence or a pricey Harvard degree, but it does take persistence, drive, and a dedication to excellence."
- Don Burleson, How to become an Oracle Guru

Despite the appearance of merely trying to promote his team (most notably Steve Karam), Mr. Burleson actually raises some interesting points on a thought-provoking question.

What Makes an Oracle Guru?

So what does it take to become an Oracle guru, according to him? I'll group his dozen points into the underlying broad categories:

1. Credentials
A stellar education with prestigious degrees, awards, and certifications.

2. Communicating Their Knowledge
Via insightful blogs, publishing opportunities, and polished communications skills.

3. Attitude
Seeks challenging job opportunities, and is characterized by a "can do" attitude.

Who Are the Gurus?

Before I can properly evaluate Mr. Burleson's assertions, I need to know who the Oracle gurus are. So I unleashed the "Google Guru Wars" (say that five times fast). Here are the results of this dubious test:

Most popular results for "Oracle Guru" on Google
878 Jonathan Lewis
762 Tom Kyte
646 Don Burleson
486 Mike Ault
216 Steve Adams
3 Robert Vollman :)

Do they all meet Burleson's Three Criteria? Well the criteria are fairly subjective, but from what I know of these 5, they certainly do.

But let me ask two questions:
1. Is there something MORE to being an Oracle guru?
2. Is there something extraneous in Burleson's Requirements?

What is a Guru?

In my experience, guru simply means anyone with a very high level of knowledge and understanding. Generally I think it is also implied that they have a following of some kind.

Strictly translated, guru can mean "teacher" - and in many places like India and Indonesia I understand that guru is generally used in that sense. Certainly we picture gurus as having mentors.

Reviewing Burleson's Three Criteria

With that in mind, let's take one final pass through the three criteria.

1. Credentials

Our first goal must be to get past the subjectiveness of this criteria. After all, who is to decide which degree is prestigious enough, which certifications are necessary, and which awards qualify?

That being said, it's fair to say that an Oracle guru would certainly be capable of earning a post-secondary degree, Oracle certification, and an Oracle ACE. But I would also suppose that they may not have had the opportunity nor the desire to pursue this. These may be necessary to PROMOTE oneself as a guru, but not necessarily to BE one.

Nevertheless, this is still a valid criteria. But instead of tangible things like degrees, certifications and awards, which (if I may be so bold) would be possible (though extremely difficult) to accumulate without attaining a thorough understanding of Oracle, we need to measure it based upon the actual understanding.

How do you measure an actual understanding of Oracle? I don't have that answer, but I might propose to test their understanding, through questions and problems. Then again, I suppose that's what academic institutions, award review boards and certification exams do ...

2. Communicating Their Knowledge

I didn't like this criteria at first because it excluded some amazing DBAs with whom I have had the pleasure to work. However, given the definition of a guru I reviewed, it would seem like educating others is a necessary qualification.

Still, I've seen some people communicate a relatively mediocre understanding of Oracle through numerous papers and books and blogs. I've also seen brilliant writers publish only a single book (if any), and an unarguable guru like Jonathan Lewis, until very recently, had no blog at all.

I've seen some people answer countless questions on Oracle forums, and yet never really impart true insight or wisdom.

So again, this criteria suffers from subjectiveness. How do we measure how effectively a potential guru has communicated their knowledge? Number of students? Questions answered? The students' understanding of Oracle? Some combination thereof? If so, how do we test the understanding of the students if I've already conceded above that I don't know how to measure someone's understand of Oracle in the first place?

3. Attitude

Despite being the most subjective criteria of the three, I found the attitude that Oracle gurus share to be the most interesting, and the one on which I wish Don Burleson had elaborated further.

I like the way he describe Oracle gurus as those that seek challenges, and have a "can do" attitude. To me, those two qualities perfectly sum up how I've been able identify good sources of mentorship in my career. Some people might have fantastic knowledge and experience, but like to stick to what they know, and are stubbornly cynical about any problem that falls outside their comfort zone.

Wrapping Up

Sadly, I really don't think I've answered any questions or cleared anything up on this matter, and I apologise for that. However, if I have helped to promote and advance the discussion, then I'm glad I took the time to share my thoughts with everyone. I'd love to hear yours: what makes an Oracle guru?

Q: what makes an Oracle guru?
A: Knowledge, and lots of it, plus the willingness to share it.
I would say that Don contradict himself with regard to the degree, "doesn't take a pricey Harvard degree" and later saying that "a stellar education with prestigious degrees" is a must.

I agree with Eddie, no use being a guru if you are not willing to share the knowledge and I will add "be willing to teach the why and how"...a lot of consultants could not be bother with teaching the why and is only willing to show the how (which is similar to "giving a man a fish so that he can only eat for a day instead of teaching him how to fish so that he can feed himself for a lifetime."

ShyPy is the word verification.
What's wrong with Steve Karam? ;)

I agree that guru has experience and is willing to share it. Not just for money, but for the honest to goodness desire to get Oracle to the public, to teach people, to help others succeed where the guru has. A guru is one who has not only attained the knowledge of their specific craft, but the wisdom of how to truly use it. They do not need to proclaim themselves a guru. Their wisdom, desire, and intuition show it. When a guru enters a conversation or speaks publicly, people walk away thinking, "Wow. Now that's a guru." Lastly, a guru is a leader. They don't follow the trends, or post fifth on a message board to be safe, they come right out, right or wrong, and assert themselves.

When it comes to Oracle specifically, I usually identify the guru as the one who can get in front of people and answer any question. Not because they know it all by memory...but because they have the intuition. If they don't know the answer, they are resourceful enough to find it, and quick. Certifications don't make the guru, but the guru will usually seek certifications because it's prudent to do so if they are capable. The Oracle guru isn't afraid to test their backup plan. They are not afraid to go to the boss and ask for a bigger licensing budget. And most importantly, for all their knowledge, they still understand that Oracle is a widespread and complicated software, and so they know and acknowledge that they could possibly be wrong.

Now that's a guru!
I'd definitely say that Tom Kyte has a "following". Surprise to not see HJR on that list. Perhaps we need to do some google bombing for our favorite "gurus". ;)

/me goes back to reading the Oracle 10g DBA handbook to learn something about his profession.
I'll leave this comment on the way to go read that Burleson article...


my feeling is that a guru has the ability to take complex concepts and explain them to not so smart people like me.
Nope, neither Howard Rogers nor Dizwell seemed to get a lot of hits. Although I agree he is very knowledgeable, is an instructor, and publishes a wealth of great information on-line.

The only others I could find with 3-digit hits:
Steven Feuerstein 146
Cary Millsap 131
a good write-up on what it takes to be an "Oracle Guru".Having a little bit if Sanskrit background - to me
"A Guru was a guide who attained complete insight on the subject. Gurus also train their followers to become a teacher"
while I have worked with many Gurus in the past( knowledge in other areas) I think what instantly made me realize that they were truly Guru's was attitude. Attitude just not to reject all limitations and move forward, but to share their wisdom and insight with others in a seamless and joyful way.
There is no doubt that every one listed in your blog are Oracle experts and continue to help the Oracle community
Hear hear Vidya, well said! Or should I say, "namaste!"

I also like a definition I heard once of "guruji," which is applicable: He Who gives full peace of mind by solving problems.
"There is no doubt that every one listed in your blog are Oracle experts"

Well, except Shrek.

Just kidding! :)
By the way (as if I hadn't said enough), here's a good article on how to be a good guru from Andrew Clarke at Radio Free Tooting:

Thanks for the plug, Steve. This thread has inspired me to some more musing on Oracle Gurus ...


Cheers, APC
Guru. One translation says

Gu = darkness
Ru = light

Guru = the One that takes you from darkness to Light.

So he could be a myth buster ;) Reminds me of Tom Kyte and JL.

- Naresh
Mr. Burleson actually has more to say on this topic (including "Robert Vollman (one of my favorite bloggers)"):


Not all his quotes are mine, read carefully to know which ones.

I've said this before, but I just want to reiterate that I mean no disrespect when I refer to people in the familiar (ie. first names). It would appear that Mr. Burleson prefers the formal, and although he has not asked me to, I have edited my post to reflect that preference.
In Yoga, the most common definition for a Guru is "a bringer of light", so I agree with Naresh.

I can flick a light switch. Can't I be a guru? :)


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