Rare Species, Extinction and the MCM

Comments: 8 Comments
Published on: September 2, 2013

MCM_SQLPandaAs of 11:04 PM MST ( -6 UTC ), the Microsoft Certified Master along with the other certifications in the Advanced certification series at Microsoft joined the ranks of the Panda on the Rare and Endangered Species list.

The email is readily available on the web, and can be read here. I am not going to dive too deeply into the email other than to reiterate a comment that I made here about it.

“The communication on the extinction of the program really spewed a lack of respect and communication for the ‘vanguard.'”

I am not happy about the decision.  In part that is why I have waited a few days before writing up an article on the whole shenanigan.  I was pretty ticked off about it in the first several hours after seeing the email.  The community in whole also seems to share that same sentiment.

Today, I want to share some of my thoughts on the whole certification thing.  I want to share some of the community thoughts on the soon to be extinct certification.  I also want to try and do all of this in an even keel.

First some back story. Let’s revive some of my thoughts and perspectives on certification and training from past articles.

MCJ (Microsoft Certified Journeyman)

When I first wrote about this, I called it a Stepping Stone Cert. That article can be found here. There is also a follow-up article here about it. This came about because of two fundamental reasons: 1. Cost of MCM and 2. lack of validity behind the MCITP/MCDBA/MCSE certifications.

As far as the SQL MCM track goes, the first fundamental reason for that blog series was corrected.  Microsoft opened up the SQL MCM to a broader audience by eliminating the 3 week rotation requirement and by lowering the cost (most of which was probably due to the 3 week rotation).  Suddenly the MCM became much more attainable for somebody like me.  I think that this barrier to entry is right sized now.  I would probably still be happy with the cost if it were to be double the current cost (the cost is travel and exam costs for somebody like me).  Could Microsoft take it up another notch?  Probably.  I don’t think I would be as miffed by the decision to raise the bar another level, as I was with the decision to try and force extinction on the MCM.

The second reason has not been addressed in any manner in my opinion.  Since writing that series, I put myself to the challenge and took all four of the pre-requisite exams for MCITP SQL Server 2008.  I took the exams without preparation and found them to still be excessively easy.  Even going out on the web today, I can find plenty of resources for those exams that look like the exams I took.  To me, this validates my concern as well as the concern of many who attained the MCM that the MCSE/MCITP/MCDBA is nothing more than a paper certification that can be far too easily braindumped.  I will post some quotes along those very lines as well.

Bootcamp Certifications

I have also written about my disdain for many training facilities in the past.  One such article can be read here.  Part of the reason for that article was to try and make it to training by SQLSkills.  They perform training that can be respected, unlike all of those MCSE farms out there that teach you how to pass the test and do nothing about teaching you valid SQL Skills.  Sadly, I did not make it to that training offered with that contest, and am still seeking my first opportunity to attend.  You can read my reasons for not having attended here.

To belabor this point.  That was not the only run-in I have had with a paper certified DBA.  On other occasions I have been interviewing and received stacks of resumes from these Bootcamps.  I have received numerous resumes for a Senior DBA role with “truck driving” or “rope making” as the only prior experience.  While that doesn’t mean these people are not intelligent, they are in no way qualified to be a Senior DBA just yet.  I don’t care what the bootcamp promises these people, a bootcamp is not experience and a MCSE/MCDBA/MCITP certification does not automatically equate to a Senior DBA.

However, if you had an MCM apply for the job, that should equate to a Senior DBA.  And no, just because one is an MCM does not mean we know everything about SQL Server.  It does mean, however, that we are very good, seasoned and can figure it out quickly if there is something we don’t know.  And I will take a moment for a sidebar here as well.  Just because somebody is an MCM (or presenting or training) does not mean you have an opportunity to try and play stump the chump.  If you engage in behavior such as that, you are pretty ignorant and crass.

With some of that background out of the way, we can now dive into some of the aftermath caused by this announcement.

Disdain for Paper Certs (MCITP/MCSE/MCDBA)

References for these citations will be hyperlinks on the persons name or images of the citation in whole.

we definitely need something that distinguishes us from the horde of paper MCITPs/MCSEs, etc. – Luke Edson

Even though I’m not a MCM yet I sick of seeing paper MCP’s get ahead and the MCM gave me hope and a goal to differentiate myself as I’m sure it did to many others. - Michael Usov

As of last night, there are now 0 certifications that one can take that I will immediately respect. MCITP/MCTS/MCSA/MCSE tell me that either a person is interested in learning more, that they were required by their company to take the exams and did the absolute bare minimum memorisation or that they’re a cheat, which it is I have to find in the interview. - Gail Shaw (MCM, MVP)

I haven’t taken a single Microsoft certification. Now, since the only one I respect is gone, I don’t have to. - Grant Fritchey (MVP)

Without something like the MCSM/MCM to truly validate the knowledge & experience of those who take and pass the exam how can we differentiate ourselves from those that have just brain dumped or boot-camped their way to an MCSE? Without the MCSM/MCM program we will just return to the bad old days of the certifications not being worth having. - SQLServerMonkey (John Martin)

What this does is make the MCSE (eminently brain dumpable) the highest level of certification. There is nothing that anyone with real knowledge can do to differentiate themselves from someone that bought the cert out the back of a lorry. - Nic Cain (MCM)

That is just a few of the sentiments.  Now let’s look at some of the comments from twitter on this affair.

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This is just a small sample of some of the activity and comments concerning this announcement.  Granted, it does not paint the entire picture yet since it seems pretty much opposed to this decision by Microsoft.  To put it as Mary Jo Foly said on ZD-Net (emphasis added) “Microsoft’s surprise phase-out of its highest-level certification programs has angered a number of those who have trained or are in the midst of training to be “masters” across a variety of the company’s products.

It should be understood that there would be an angry backlash when the “pinnacle” of Microsoft certification has been abolished.

pinnacleThis is a sentiment that was echoed by Tim Sneath in his comments on the connect item when he called the MCM the vanguard.

“You are the vanguard of the community. You have the most advanced skills and have demonstrated it through a grueling and intensive program. The certification is a clear marker of experience, knowledge and practical skills.” - Tim Sneath

To put it another way, we have this from Simon Sharwood at The Register

Microsoft has again enraged some of its most committed users, by “retiring” the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM), and Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) certifications. 

It should be abundantly clear that this decision is driving a wedge between the “most committed users” and Microsoft.  Not in the decision itself but also in the way that it was executed.  Sending the news out at 10PM PST (-7 UTC) is being viewed as nothing more than a means to try and mute the criticism.  Instead, the criticism has boiled over and many in the community are unhappy with Microsoft, Microsoft Learning, and this decision.

Furthering the backlash is not just the articles by the news outlets and the social media networks, but also through several blogs that have been written concerning the topic. This news has not only angered some, but also disheartened them.  One such comment I received was the following:

I am changing tracks, after 14 yrs of prod dba work and with this, it is the end of the road for me

A DBA of 14 years is disheartened to the point to change career paths and goals? Does Microsoft really want to push away the committed users in this fashion?

Cause of the Pause

Tim posted several possible reasons for the need to pause the MCM program in a post on the connect item.  There has been some feedback and some of it nastier than other feedback.  Two of the big driving factors that seem relevant from his comments are: 1. Traction and 2. Cost.

It was also stated that there was months of deliberation on the topic.  I don’t think Tim is fooling anybody with that statement.  There is evidence that Microsoft continued to take money for rotations starting in October as late as last week.  This seems to be a bit of back-pedaling in a cover up at the very least to try and take some heat off the decision.

As per the two semi-coherent reasons for canceling the advanced certifications, the only one that seems to hold water is cost.  I don’t buy into the barriers to entry (as is the case for others per their responses on the connect item).  I don’t buy into the traction issue.

Tim stated that .08% of MCSEs go on to become MCM.  For Microsoft that seems to be a bad thing.  For the rest of the world, this seems to be a good thing.  This is the peak, pinnacle, vanguard we are talking about here.  Can you have a peak that contains 10% of your certified user base?  That seems more like a saddle than a peak to me.

With .08% traction, that is a good thing in my mind.  I have seen plenty of potential clients demanding an MCM.  Sure, they may not have known what an MCM is/was last year, but we are in a changing landscape and people know what the certification represents.

If Microsoft wanted better traction, I think they should have done some of the things that Greg Low has pointed out in the connect item.

A first step in making the program more relevant would have been to make use of it within other Microsoft programs. For example, Microsoft Certified Trainers could have been required to have at least taken the knowledge exam. When I suggested that, it was met with howls of “but we’d lose most of the trainers”. While that’s partly true, what does that tell you about the existing trainers?

Instead of abandoning it, why not take quality seriously and see it applied throughout related programs. The MCT program is one but another would be the Gold Partner program. Is it really acceptable to have Gold Partners working (and promoted by Microsoft) on the largest projects, without a single MCM/MCSM on staff? Why not require real demonstrated ability in the Gold Partner program?

Speaking on the Gold Partner program, there was apparently some inconsistency there with that as well.  For instance, I know some cases where the Gold Partner did not account for the MCMs on staff and in some cases where the “partner” was informed that the MCM would count.  If it doesn’t count (for Gold Partners), how can one expect there to be a more broadened traction with the advanced certification?

The Community

If you are on twitter, I recommend you follow the hashtag #BringBackMCM or #SQLMCM.  I also recommend you read more of the opinions people have written on the topic.  Here is a good starter list:

Radi Atanassov –

http://www.sharepoint.bg/radi/post/The-fall-of-the-Master.aspx

Wayne Sheffield –

http://blog.waynesheffield.com/wayne/archive/2013/08/retiring-of-the-mcm-certifications/

Nic Cain –

http://sirsql.net/blog/2013/8/30/so-long-mcm

Jon Gurgul –

http://jongurgul.com/blog/master-certification-cancelled/

Robert Davis –

http://www.sqlsoldier.com/wp/sqlserver/isthemastercertificationdeadorwillitbebornagain

Ed Leighton –

http://www.edleightondick.com/2013/09/thoughts-about-microsofts-retirement-of-the-mcm/

Marc Anderson –

http://sympmarc.com/2013/09/01/thoughts-on-the-discontinuation-of-the-microsoft-masters-program-by-microsoft-learning/

Tony Redmond –

http://windowsitpro.com/blog/microsoft-learning-kills-mcm-and-mca-accreditations

Mala Mahadevan –

http://diligentdba.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/finding-new-goals/

Is it just endangered or is it dead?

So far, it has been pretty much doom and gloom.  There are some out-crying for a refund (some should and some are just being pithy).  Microsoft gave us a pretty absurd announcement and it was poorly executed.  In no way would many of us be able to retain a client with an announcement executed in the same manner that was done by Microsoft Learning.

We have solely focused on the “supporter” side of the fence and how this announcement affects us.  Very little has been said concerning how this affects those at Microsoft Learning that received the news in similar fashion and who may be without a job in 30 days.

There is a possible light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s why we’re taking a pause from offering this program, and looking to see if there’s a better way to create a pinnacle, WITHOUT losing the technical rigor. We have some plans already, but it’s a little too early to share them at this stage. Over the next couple of months, we’d like to talk to many of you to help us evaluate our certifications and build something that will endure and be sustainable for many years to come.” – Tim Sneath

I will remain cautiously optimistic about the program being revived.  I do not expect it to happen and will be happy if it comes back to life.  That comes with a warning though.  If the program is anything less than the current program, it will be met with disdain by the community and I dare so by Corporations globally.

Another huge fact is being lost in all of this fuss.  Every single person that has pursued the MCM/MCSM/MCA has engaged in education.  Anything that you have learned cannot be revoked by Microsoft.  The certification may be dead (Image snagged from twitter),

mcm_rip

 

but the knowledge and skills each MCM has gained is invaluable.  We can continue to serve our clients better.  And maybe that will be in spite of Microsoft Learning.  Microsoft has said we will continue to be charter members.  That’s cool and all, but it probably won’t hold water with any client that checks the Microsoft Learning website and is unable to find MCM or MCSM anywhere.

I know the characteristics of many of the MCM and I am fairly certain that there is one thing this announcement will not change.  Those who have the drive and passion for SQL Server and attained the MCM, also have a drive and passion for continued education.  We will continue to dive deep into SQL Server.  We will continue to push ourselves.  We will strive to continue to provide top notch service to our clients or employer.  That is just who we are, and the removal of this certification will not change that.

I do fear that the loss of this certification will continue the big brother psychosis in the DBMS world though.  There will be a perpetual “Oracle has a certified Master” or “Oracle has this” and Microsoft will be in the Oracle shadows for a while to come because of it.  We don’t see Oracle abandoning their pinnacle certification.  We don’t see Cisco abandoning their pinnacle certification.  And I am certain it is no less costly to them than Microsoft, nor is it anymore profitable to them than it is Microsoft.

With that in mind, I wonder what is on the mind this Certification and Microsoft learning as it approaches its deathbed. (Image snagged from twitter.)

finaldays

Is Microsoft Learning ready to latch tight to the MCSE that is poorly regarded through the Community and Corporations worldwide?

If relationships matter most, I would hope that Microsoft Learning does not abandon this relationship with the MCM and their most staunch supporters/evangelists.

In concluding this long diatribe, I welcome all MCMs to show their support at Summit 2013.  We are planning on wearing the robes of the Jedi in tribute to the MCM.  The initial idea was by Robert Davis, and we are trying to run with it now.

 One thing remains certain for me, Microsoft cannot change my license plate or that I have earned my MCM!!

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The following two images are courtesy of Robert Davis.

mcm4life001 mcm4life002

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