How To Improve your Resume, Job Search & Interviews or Get a Tech Job

Oracle Or Microsoft Access, Which Is Better?

Are you matching your strengths to your opportunities or are you just being ideological … interested only in following your own ideas even when they won't get you any results?

Here is a situation that illustrates the challenges of being ideological versus being results oriented. It is a situation that illustrates the challenges of learning an enterprise software like Oracle compared to a poor man's database like Microsoft Access.

Are you wondering about who this situation involves? You are safe my friend because today, I will mainly be talking about me :-)

When I started out in the industry, my first priority was to get my foot into the door.

My goals were:

  1. To transition my career without incurring a lot of additional debt
  2. To learn a marketable skill so that I could get a job quickly

  3. To get myself into a position where I would be in high-demand by delivering excellent results

There were a number of career paths that looked promising and I looked into them all. Here a few of them:

Business Analysis

The business analyst career path was mostly available to systems analysts or management consultants people or poorly defined.

By poorly defined, i mean that it depended on the whims of hiring managers (it was subjective and depended on the employers needs or definitions) and so, there was no very clear or direct path to becoming a business analyst (this was in the ‘90s).

Network Administration

I had worked in network administration in an internship job right after college. My duties entailed helping support a Lotus CC:Mail/ Novell Netware Network

Based on my own first-hand experience, I ruled out computer networking primarily because I realized that I was not passionate about that industry.

Systems Programming

While in college, I had tried to learn C/C++ and I also decided that it wasn’t my thing because it took a long time to develop a fully functional software using C/C++

Based on experience, I knew that I wouldn't be able to master C/C+ in a few months or get a job easily.

My finding was that it would take a number of years to become really expert or highly skilled at C/C++.

I was also certain, that even when I became highly skilled, I still won't be able to deliver stellar results based on C/C++.

In case you're interested, read my thoughts on choosing C/C++ as a programming language here...

Enterprise Database Software

I investigated getting an entry level job in SAP / Oracle / IBM or some other enterprise software since that is where it seemed that the big bucks where being made. In the 90’s, the major database players included IBM, Oracle, Microsoft.

Oracle was very popular in the enterprise database computing circle. However, learning Oracle was no small feat.

I mean that installing Oracle on your own local computer for learning purposes was not an easy proposition even for experienced oracle professionals because companies hired senior / experienced Oracle consultants just to install and setup Oracle correctly on their servers.

In addition to that, Oracle was targeted at the enterprise buyer which meant that purchasing a full-featured Oracle license for an individual like me without corporate sponsorship ... was simply beyond my budget!

In addition, even if I raised the money to buy an Oracle License, I would have to spend additional weeks installing Oracle correctly by myself or else hire an Oracle database consultant to install it (Oracle database consultants billed anywhere from $60/hr. to $120/hr.)

And assuming that I overcame the hurdle of buying an Oracle license and then installing Oracle, I would still have to figure out one more thing about Oracle … how to learn Oracle!

You see, Oracle was one of those complex enterprise software application that had a really high learning curve.

The chances that I was going to learn or master Oracle in time enough to get a job was very low because professionals who had been working with Oracle for years where still struggling to understand it ... it was that complex!

So, tell me, what will you have done if you were in my shoes?

Did I fixate on learning Oracle … even though I knew professionals that worked with Oracle for years were still struggling to get to a comfort level with it?

Absolutely not! One of the Oracle professionals that I was personally acquainted with had started working with or learning Oracle while we were still in college.

By the time I was evaluating learning Oracle, this professional (a lady based in the United Kingdom) was just getting comfortable with Oracle ... and that is after working with it for 8 to 10 years!

So, I decided that the Oracle database and many of the other popular enterprise software applications available at that time had too high a learning curve!

Yes, I know that everyone's situation is different and yes I understand that "what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander".

But my situation was that I was married and I had to pay my bills.

Even though my wife was willing to support me, I wasn't okay with asking her to take care of all the bills while I went on a multi-year learning trip.

Not only that,I had been out of college for a few years and didn't want to risk taking another 8 to 10 years to learn a new career!

And I definitely didn't want to start a career that would require such an expensive re-training that I would have to go deeply in debt!

Put yourself in my shoes and tell me what you would have done if faced with my situation keeping in my objectives which were:

  • To learn a marketable skill in a short time: I had to learn a marketable skill so that I could easily get a job and get out of unemployment.

  • To be prudent or save money: I had to pay my bills and account for all sorts of living expenses, while paying for my own re-training.

  • To get into a line of work where I could easily become competent: I needed to learn a skill that I would become an expert at in a reasonable short time.

What will you have done in my shoes ... because I choose Microsoft Access!

In those days, a lot of professionals looked down on Microsoft Access as a sort of poor man’s relational database even though Microsoft Access had a lot going for it at that point in time.

Low Cost of Learning

Microsoft Access was available as part of the Microsoft Office family of products.

The cost of a Microsoft Office / Access license was as low as $300. And I budgeted an additional $100 for buying Microsoft Access textbooks from the local seller … Barnes & Noble. I would never forget the price that I paid for my very first Microsoft Access Book … just $49.50.

So, for less than $500, I was guaranteed that I would learn or master Microsoft Access … which was great news for me as an unemployed newbie IT professional!

Low Learning Curve

It took me between 30 and 60 days to study or master Microsoft Access from textbooks. After which I spent my remaining time, taking Microsoft Access practice tests and building relational databases.

In my first job interview test administered by a local staffing agency in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I scored above 90% and got hired into the systems / data analysis department of a local e-commerce firm with a starting salary of $15/hr.

Accelerated Time To Market

By my third month of working with Microsoft Access, I had completed a project that was estimated to last about 6 weeks in 2 weeks.

Because I could achieve those sorts of results, the IT Manager called a recruiting firm without my knowledge or permission and advised them to find more challenging work for me ... which they did!

By my third month, I was billing $76,000/yr. and my billing rate continued to increase with time!

Dear Friend,

What I have learnt is that the only thing that stops us from achieving the results we want is our limiting belief systems or self-imposed mental boundaries.

So, what works and what doesn't?

  1. Don’t hang your career on getting a recognized certificate or diploma

    That is so old school! The only thing that matters is your ability to perform on the job … and no accredited degree or diploma or program can confer that to you.

    In other words, you either learn or know how to get the job done or you don't.

  2. Don't get stuck learning any vendor's software

    Because I got my foot in through the door, I have since had the chance to learn or work with Oracle and IBM enterprise databases at the employer’s expense!

    Learning Microsoft Access first actually made it easier for me to learn or work with SQL Server, Oracle and IBM databases later on.

    Remember that you are the one that makes the job work and not the software, vendor or qualification.

    I have seen professionals who want to become business analysts get stuck on learning an enterprise requirement management software like IBM Rational RequisitePro.

    These good folks forget that many employers can't afford the licensing costs of the same software that they are hung up on and they also forget that requirements management is first and foremost a set of principles or techniques and not a software!.

    If you learn requirements management techniques you can for example document requirements using Microsoft Office or your employer can purchase any of the myriads of requirements management software in the market.

    So why are you so hung up on learning IBM Rational RequisitePro as if that makes you a business analyst?

  3. Learn a marketable skill

    One of the biggest challenges facing professionals is the right choice of a career. I know that because I get asked that question every day

    I’ve seen professionals get stuck with programming skills that are not marketable like mainframe programming or C/C++.

    In one instance, a C/C++ programmer with a computer science college degree after being unemployable for 3 years got the very first job he interviewed for ... after I coached him on C#, ASP.NET and .NET Framework.

    His mistake that of failing to learn a marketable skill. The good news is that it only cost him a few months to rectify that mistake. And, once he fixed that, his career was back online again!

Here is my last advise to you on this point, make sure that you are pragmatic and not ideological about your career choices.

If it is looking like you are getting stuck on the path you are on, carefully evaluate all the other alternatives available to you.


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Hi there,
Just a comment. I think you should not forget that your website is
viewed by millions across the world.
Though C/C++ may not be a marketable skill in the USA, this may
not be the same in the rest of the world.
I'm C/C++ developer in South Africa, is still a niche market here, but there is noway a good C/C++ developer can go jobless for 3 years.
So is still a marketable skill to have here, and higher paying one.
Kind Regards,
Kwesi Ackon
Hi, I kept reading your articles about the IT career to choose.
I was doing Field Service Engineering (Desktop support) and since when I was in school I have always in love with programming.
While I worked, I studied intro to Java and Advanced J2ee and my wishful java career open right in front of my eyes.

I wanted to evolve from support to development so, I kept reading on how developers are getting paid and what to do to get your first java job without an industrial experience.
A company was looking for java devs and I applied and bam! in my face, my second interview for the java developer and I did my best during my interview and their assessment and got the JOB.
Thankx alot guys, I appreciate your work and your coaching is too valuable.
The analysis of a specific job makes a difference to someone who has or not an experience.
Just a quick question, right now I want to at least get 4 International certs for Java, I also want to take C++ as a course.
After all it's robust and difficult. Give me your thoughts on this..
Dear Kingsley,

This is a master piece. And you know why? There is a bit of life in the write up.
I once took a course in journalism and our lecturer was always emphasizing that if you want to make your article to stand out from the rest, you need to deliver some elements of life life in it.
I think you have just skillfully done that in this your write up. Your situation that you just described is a carbon copy of what a lot of us are going through.
You understand what it is but if you add legallity issues to your situation when you were juggling those employment variables, then you may see that it could get a lot more complex.
Access is still useful but it is supposed to be one of the array of tools one comes to the labour market with. Ideology versus marketability is an everyday reality. That's by the way.
The important thing though is counting the pennies. You still remember the $49.50 you paid as an educational investment into your new career. Every cent of that sum meant a great deal to you then.
You may not know it but it is still the same thing for all of us. You convinced me a long time ago about the merit of your boot camp but where do I get $1000.00 to pay for your course?
If you could look at our current situation from the perspective of your situation before you went into IT and started making money, may be that will help matters a lot.
Be that as it may, I think you are a master at what you do and I wish you a great success in your endeavour.
I think your real market lies in the developing world but there is an infrastructural problem to overcome for it to go haywire.
You undoubtedly have the teaching and recruiting skills but harnessing this market demands in addition to those, the ability to be in touch with those potential students from such environments.
It will be hardwork but even if you get 0.01% of that market, you must have been made, bye
Best regards
I love reading your post cause it makes me feel positive about my professional career.
It has been rather difficult to get into the IT industry, but few weeks ago I was offered a temporary job as Healthcare Data Analyst.
Had to learn MS Access, and am feeling comfortable with the tool so far.
Hope I’ll be able to manage Oracle and SQL later on. It's simply an excellent start! Thanks :D
Congratulations, that is great news my friend, just keeping it coming :-)
Getting that first big job is the toughest battle you have to find but after that, everything else can be relatively easily ... so you may say that the worst is behind you and the best is yet to come :-)
Ms Access is an excellent starting choice because it has a low learning curve.
What is your story, how did you get this job ... what can you tell us :-)
If you like this post, signup for more posts like this ...
There is a rumor that Microsoft will drop Access after version 14.
Please confirm if this is true if you have any idea about it cause my business is dependent on it.
Thanks in advance.