MCM on Life Support

Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: September 11, 2013

Good news everybody.  October 1st is no longer the day that the MCM was prescribed to die.  The Microsoft Certified Master is now on life support until December 31st, 2013.  Which means that the Jan 1st (for any interested in New Years resolutions), the Advanced Certifications at Microsoft will have been terminated and any who possess the certification will instantly become myths, legends, and items of folklore.  Ok so that last bit might be a bit of an exaggeration.

Here is a screen grab from the Advanced Certification Site here.  I added the nice red boxes and underline for emphasis.

MCM_exam_extended

While this bodes well for those that had committed to training rotations, or who had committed to hours of study and only had the Lab Exam remaining, the program is still being terminated.  Many are still unhappy.  Many have moved on through the grief cycle.  Polls have been taken, articles (here, here, and here) written and meetings held.  In the end, Microsoft sort of acknowledged that they alienated a huge faction of their supporting community.  Bumping the death date back to December 31st is a sign of that.

I am happy that a meeting was held after the community outcry.  It is far better than nothing at all.  I am also happy that the date has been bumped back.  I was not happy with the initial announcement and the manner it was done.  I am not yet satisfied that Microsoft will do anything to promote a Master level with their products.  In fact, as others have said (and I am sure many more have silently supported), I am uncertain I could advocate an advanced certification for Microsoft again.  I am uncertain that I could support an advanced certification for Microsoft from a 3rd party vendor.

If there is ever to be an advanced certification for Microsoft SQL Server, I will have to think long and hard about the value and worth of pursuing it.  All of that said, I value learning and I reiterate something that Paul Randal wrote on his survey results post:

Although the MCM has been removed as the focus point for learning goals, learning still goes on, and people will still aspire to make themselves better SQL Server professionals.

Don’t give up learning – it’s always worth it.

If you have passed your Knowledge Exam, I say go for the lab exam.  Test yourself and see if you can tame the beast.  If for nothing else other than to measure yourself and provide a bit of a self-evaluation.  Don’t hesitate and leave yourself wondering if you could have accomplished that goal.

I know one person that has been pondering if he should do it.  He had been planning on attempting the MCM exams next year.  Obviously the change from Microsoft has changed his plans and made him question the value of attempting.  My advice to him was to take the exams, and especially now that the MCM is on Life Support.

MCM_SQL

It is far better to attempt the exams (for those that are still on the fence), than it is to live in regret and doubt.  Worst case, you fail the exam and have a fair amount of introspect that will happen because of it.  Best case is you will pass the exams, be an MCM for life, and still have a fair amount of introspect that will happen because of it.

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.

twitter1

 

twitter2

 

twitter3

 

twitter4 twitter5 twitter6 twitter7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

MCM Road Less Traveled

Comments: 14 Comments
Published on: April 16, 2013

I began this post back in October of 2012 after learning that I had passed the SQL Server 2008 MCM Knowledge exam.  I had set it aside in hopes of polishing it off after my first lab attempt at Summit 2012.  Notice I said first attempt?  I failed that first attempt.  This is a bit of a story about the journey through the exams and the results.

longuphillbw

The first attempt was a little crushing.  A mix of emotions concerning the lab came over me because I felt I knew the technology.  While the results were not desirable – the end effect was desirable and I am glad I did not succeed on that first attempt.

When I took the knowledge exam, I took my time going through the questions and examined the questions.  I think that was a good method for that exam – I was trying to ensure I understood the question and didn’t miss anything that was stated.  Though I took it slowly, that is not an indictment to difficulty for the exam.  I was well prepared and did not want to make any invalid assumptions.

Fast forward a little bit to the first attempt at the lab exam.  I had a plan going into the exam.  I felt confident in my skills.  I felt relaxed with the technology.  Then the exam started and my plan went out the window.  I started making assumptions about the exam that I really should not have done.  I rushed a few scenarios that I should not have rushed because I could have done them better.  In the end, I was my own worst enemy during the exam.  This is not a characteristic of an MCM.  Even when the pressure is on, doing what you know and being methodical is a wonderful asset.

Having failed the first time, I wondered if I was ready to be an MCM.  In retrospect, I was not.  Leading up to the exam, I did feel that I was ready for the exam.  I had read several articles such as the following to try and figure out if I was ready.  In the end, it’s more of a gut check and a leap of faith for some.

Gavin Payne http://gavinpayneuk.com/2012/05/01/knowing-when-youre-ready-to-attempt-to-become-an-mcm-of-sql-server/

Joe Sack http://blogs.msdn.com/b/joesack/archive/2010/11/21/how-do-you-know-if-you-re-ready-for-sql-mcm.aspx

I even perused some of the resource type of articles such as the following.

Nick Haslam http://nhaslam.com/blog/2011/11/19/mcmprep-88-970-sql-mcm-knowledge-exam-sqlmcm/

MCM Blog http://blogs.technet.com/b/themasterblog/archive/tags/sql+server+mcm/

Robert Davis Amazon MCM Reading List http://www.amazon.com/Official-Server-Certified-Master-Readiness/lm/R3RB13PQ7D8TKB

Brent Ozar MCM Articles http://www.brentozar.com/sql-mcm/

In the end, this post by Rob Farley sums it up nicely for me (http://sqlblog.com/blogs/rob_farley/archive/2012/12/23/the-mcm-lab-exam-two-days-later.aspx).  Rob references an article by Tom LaRock and some of what Tom did and didn’t do.  As well as some theory on how to approach the exam at certain stages.  Of all those things, I think the best advice I read as well as I could recommend is to get a study buddy.

It’s not sooo much to have somebody to bounce ideas off of, as it is to have somebody to try and teach.  I worked with Wayne Sheffield as we prepped for our retakes.  The biggest benefit was, as I said, in that I could pick a topic and try to teach Wayne.  He did the same to me.  And then, we could question each other on what-if type questions about our selected topics.  Another benefit is to have a heat-check so to speak.  Having a study buddy can help you from straying too far off into tangents or maybe keeping you from wasting too much time on a topic they might feel you understand exceptionally well.

If you are reading this far, you probably have figured that I have taken the Lab a second time.  I was debating whether to do it this soon due to life and family.  My wife continued to push me to do it (much as Nic Cain experienced here – http://sirsql.net/blog/2012/3/26/achievement-unlockedmcm-sql-server-2008.html).  Without Krista pushing me, I might have delayed even longer.  It was also helpful to have a co-worker and friend pushing me along too (I’m a little competitive).  Thanks again Wayne!  You can read his experiences here.

I received my notification email while driving home from Vegas last week.  Seeing that email pop up from boB Taylor gets your heart racing a little bit – especially after you have failed the lab previously.  I glanced at the email and only need to go to the first word – “CONGRATULATIONS!”

MCM_SQL

Oh yeah!  Vindication, satisfaction, elation, joy and general happiness set in quickly.  Memories of that old “Wide World of Sports” show from a long time ago spilled in with the words “Agony of Defeat, Thrill of Victory.”

I am glad I took the time to pursue this certification.  This adventure has helped me to learn and grow as a DBA.  I am also grateful to those that helped or pushed in some way or another – whether they knew it or not at the time.  Last but not least, I am thankful for my employer Ntirety.  They understood the importance of this for me and were very supportive in this endeavor.

As one final take away, I was recently shown this link with some interesting questions to help you decide if you feel you are ready to take the exams.

Lions and Tigers and Bears…

Categories: Corner, News, Professional, SSC, SSSOLV
Comments: No Comments
Published on: October 15, 2012

Last Thursday I found myself on a journey of sorts.  There weren’t any lions or tigers or bears, but there were plenty of “Oh My”‘s.

It all began on a dark and gloomy night.  Well, I am sure it was dark and gloomy somewhere.  In reality it was before dusk and the sun was shining.  I was heading out of town for a quick trip.  My family was to drop me off at the airport so we could have dinner together before I left.

We ended up at a McDonalds.  We let the kids play in the play area while we chatted with some of the other parents in the area.  For all intents and purposes this is where the journey began.

Our timing was pretty good to arrive at dinner.  We had just missed the commotion.  A family had just been robbed at gunpoint.  A rare thing on this side of the river in the woods.

Finishing up with the excitement and dinner we were back on our way to the airport.  When arriving at the airport, I found that my flight was to be delayed by about an hour. Apparently, the flight from San Francisco was delayed causing us some big delays.  In turn, this resulted in me getting to my hotel after midnight.

At the hotel after a few hours of rest, I was awake and prepping for the day.  The most nerve racking thing was about to happen and I had no clue it was coming.  I had taken the elevator downstairs to get some breakfast.  After having eaten, and needing to leave within the next 20 minutes, I was back in the elevator on my way back up to the room.  Five of those minutes were consumed in that elevator as it decided to stop working between floors.  It was as if the elevator took a break or decided to reboot.  Needless to say, I took the stairs the next time which was the last time.

Now why does any of this matter?  Well, it was certainly an interesting situation as I was heading to the Prometric test center to take the MCM Knowledge exam.  The exam was intense enough without the added complexity of travel.  For now, the only option (besides paying extra for remote delivery) for people such as myself living in Utah is to travel out of Utah.  This exposes us to that extra complexity and challenges such as getting stuck in an elevator.  I was a bit anxious thanks to that experience, but I made it to the center in time for my exam.  Thankfully I was planning on being there extra early.

Moral of the story – plan ahead.  I considered flying in and out the same day to take the exam and then reconsidered.  I didn’t want to take the risk of flight delays causing me to miss it.  Having that extra time, it made these lions and tigers and bears all the more bearable and I still was able to take the exam.

Do you Dream?

Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: October 11, 2012

You ever have those nights consumed by all things SQL?

I do.  It happens more than I might like sometimes.  Usually it happens when there is a work problem that I am trying to solve.

I don’t mind it sometimes because it does provide some results at times.  Other times it is of no use.

Sometimes when multi-tasking like this, I wish I could recall some of the code.  Others, I don’t care to recall the code.  And yet other times, the code sits fresh in my head until I sit at a keyboard.  Sometimes, that last one is the only way I am going to get some sleep – find the laptop and then bang out some code.

Of late though, my SQL dreams have been very relaxing.  I have been pouring through books and thinking about topics I might want to study more in depth to become that more well rounded DBA.  Of course, these studies also have another goal in mind.  I am working toward the MCM.

So as I study and think of those extra tidbits I want to learn, I also dream of exotic solutions and implementations.  I have been sleeping better and dreaming more about SQL.  Which is kind of weird come to think about it.  But hey, I will enjoy these SQL dreams and hopefully it will be more than just dreams.  I will soon know if I get to move on to the next exam as I will be taking my Knowledge exam tomorrow.

 

My question for you is: Do you Dream of SQL?  If you do, what kinds of SQL Dreams do you have?

Oh and if you practice this at your desk, do you just tell your boss that you are multi-tasking?

MCITP: 4 Down 0 To Go

Categories: News, Professional, SSC
Comments: 9 Comments
Published on: December 7, 2011

Yay.  I finally took the plunge and decided to take Exam 70-451.  This is the MCITP exam for the SQL 2008 Dev track.

Frankly, I had taken my time with this one because I was a bit concerned after taking the 70-450 exam.  I saw that exam was more difficult than its MCTS counterpart and fully expected the 70-451 exam to be more difficult.  And based on that assumption I wanted to devote some time to study.

So here is what I did to study:

Well, I did not find the time to study and decided to just get it done.  I took the exam cold.  And not only was it cold by means of not studying, the building did not feel like it was heated and I walked out, after finishing the test, a popsicle.  Add to that the next level of cold – I was up until 2am working.  Then we throw in a snafu created by Prometric (happens every time though) and a 20 minute wait to start the test.  Things could have been better going into this exam.

Needless to say, experience pays off with this exam.  The biggest piece of the exam is based on practice and not so much the semantics of the code.  That said, I did have three questions that were impossible to answer.  The question description and requirements immediately eliminated all of the answers.  Needless to say, I did not like those questions and left ample comment about them.

Otherwise, the exam was successful.  I passed missing only 5 questions (by my calc).  Now I am off to start down the 2008 BI track followed by the MCM Knowledge Exam.

If you are interested here is an excellent resource to study.  Yes, I actually looked at the topics to be tested prior to taking the exam.  I felt comfortable in most areas and felt I could handle the exam too.

And here is my study dump:

 

Did you really think I was gonna give you a dump of the exam?

70-450 Study Guide

Categories: News, Professional, SSC
Comments: No Comments
Published on: June 30, 2011

In my last post concerning my certification journey I said I may post a study guide.  I have thought it over and a sweetened condensed version of some of the topics covered would prove helpful.  Based on the Skills Measured page for the exam, one can determine topics to study and pretty much google for related materials.

So let’s start with the high level of skills measured.

Designing a SQL Server Instance and a Database Solution

Partition Switching

Collecting Data in regards to upgrade prep or installation and base-lining.

Best Practices

Capacity Planning

Compression

Designing a Database Server Security Solution

Encryption

Context Switching

Filestream Storage

SSRS Authentication

CLR

Designing a Database Solution for High Availability

Publishing Data

Database Mirroring

Clustering

Physical Architecture (Replication)

Designing a Backup and Recovery Solution

I won’t cover this topic at all.  This should be a high priority topic for all Database Professionals.  This is one of those areas that is best covered through practice and experience.

Designing a Monitoring Strategy

Correlate Monitoring Data – One should be acquainted with this topic.  I have heard it in interviews.  Furthermore, it really makes you a better DB professional.

Data Collectors

DMVs

Designing a Strategy to Maintain and Manage Databases

Filestream

Central Management Server

Resource Governor

Policy Based Management

Designing a Strategy for Data Distribution

SSIS Deployment

Distributed Transactions

SSIS Security

Linking Servers

 

As I said, this is a condensed version of some of the topics that I studied.  Since these topics map directly back to the measured skills published by Microsoft, they are topics well worth studying.  Whether or not they will be on your exam or not, who knows.  You should also note, that these links pretty much point back to broad-sweeping topics and are not specific in nature.  The one exception being the extra monitoring link I threw in because I feel it is important to know regardless of ability or exam preparation.

MCITP: 3 Down 1 To Go

Categories: News, Professional, SSC
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: June 27, 2011

Despite my desire to do one exam a week in pursuit of the MCITP Certifications for DBA and Developer in SQL 2008, other things came up that have slowed me down considerably.  It was only today that I realized that it has been one month since the last exam that I took.  No single event is at the root of this delay – there are multiple.

As you can presume based on the title, I passed another exam.  The latest exam was 70-450.  I have mixed feelings about this exam.  I also wish I could elaborate extensively concerning these feelings, but will not be able to without violating the NDA.  I will however, be able to discuss some of the concerns since I do not feel they pertain to the NDA.

First impression from the exam came within the first couple of questions.  That impression was that this exam really has less to do with technical skill than I think it should.  I felt that I was doing a lot of interpreting and extrapolating in order to derive a plausible answer.  Much of this was due to the poor grammar and incomplete sentences demonstrated throughout the exam.  Some of it was just due to assumptions one had to make concerning the scenario.

Second impression is that the exam cares less about the correct answer than trying to trip you up.  In doing this, there is a correct answer for the exam and then there is the real world correct answer.  I had heard this sentiment from others who had taken the exam and hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought until I was in the middle of my exam and I started to see a pattern.  There were a couple of questions that had no correct answer based on the question.

There is also an opinion out there that this exam tests you on what was in BOL at the writing of the exam – despite much of that information being recognized as incorrect now.  This leads me to my third impression.  This exam is more about memorization and finding obscure entries in BOL that may or may not be correct.

All of that said, despite those obvious problems surrounding this second tier of exams for the SQL 2008 track – the exam is passable and really not too terribly difficult.  I had expected it to be more in-depth.  I would also say that it is due to these problems that there should be some sort of Certification between the MCITP and MCM.  That notion was started some time ago – and I feel there is more validity to it now than there was one year ago.

All of that said, I hope to be finishing up with these exams next week when I take 70-451.  Then I will someday move on to complete the BI exams.  I may also post a short little study guide to cover some of the topics covered in 70-450.

MCITP: 2 Down 2 to go

Categories: News, Professional, SSC
Comments: 3 Comments
Published on: May 26, 2011

It’s time for the weekly update.  Much like last week, we had more issues with taking this exam today.  I scheduled exam 70-433 for first thing in the morning at a “private” test center.  The registration was easy enough.  The process is a bit different since this test center is not listed on the Prometric site.  The staff seemed friendly and helpful.

The problem this time around came down to lack of connectivity to the Prometric server in order to download my exam.  This morning I was there for 35 minutes and then we decided to reschedule.  I was going to reschedule for next week but didn’t reschedule when I left.  I wanted to wait and see.  The center contacted me over an hour later and informed me that they had regained connectivity.  I scheduled to go back in during lunch to take the exam.

This exam was pretty straight forward.  I passed with ample time remaining and only had concerns about a couple of questions.  The concerns were in my knowledge base so I figured I could go home and create some scenarios to try.

Next week, I will be working towards 70-450.

Also, I have been thinking of also pursuing the BI MCITP.  That track will take more study and practice on my part.  But I believe it will be well worth the effort.  Thus, these updates may be changing to represent the additional two exams.

MCITP 1 Down 3 To Go

Categories: News, Professional, SSC
Comments: No Comments
Published on: May 20, 2011

Yesterday I posted a quick blurb about my certification plans this year.  Well, ok not full blown plans , but you get the gist.  I announced that I would be taking an exam this morning.  Well, this is to report on that experience.

I scheduled the exam for near first thing in the morning.  I didn’t do first thing but what’s 15 minutes?  I got there 20 minutes early (Prometric recommends arriving up to 30 minutes early).  The location was not difficult to find but it was more than an hour drive (not too enamored by that, but hey it is what it is ;) ).  At test start time, I was already signed in at the center and ready to go.  They started prepping the computer and everything looked good to go.  I clicked on “start exam” and that is when things turned south.

Needless to say, thirty minutes later and I had yet to proceed past the first question.  Was I in over my head?  Had I studied enough at this point?  I was ready to just ask the administrator to forget it and reschedule me.  I might have done so as well, but she was far too busy with other exam takers and on the phone with this person and that.  She really needed a few more bodies in the testing center today.  SO, I waited patiently until she could breath.

She was about to start helping another candidate get into his computer, when he politely suggested she help me first.  She came back to me to assist.  One more time we were going to try to get this exam working on the computer after prior failures.  You see, the exam just blew up on the computer and it took 30+ minutes to get it running properly.  This time, after clicking “start exam” we thought it was going to fail again.  Then five minutes later it finally popped up.  We had already given up hope on this computer.

As for the actual exam and material, I didn’t like the 5 second delay between clicking next and finally getting to see that question.  But there was more than adequate time to complete the exam and then to review the questions.  There was also plenty of time to take both surveys.  I am pleased to announce that I scored somewhere between 700 and 1000.  Most of the questions that I missed came in the security topic, so I will be working on that topic a bit more.

Last quip for this exam, I thought it was too basic.  Take that how you will with my prior comments.  It really seemed more entry level and that is probably an accurate level for this particular exam.  If you have been working with SQL Server 2008 for a couple of years, you should be able to pass this exam – my opinion.  Some of my sentiments on this match what Jack Corbett said when he passed the same exam.  You can read his comments here.

Now on to 70-433 and then the MCITP equivalents (pre-reqs first then the MCITP stuff).

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