Monday, May 12, 2014

Road to Certification: 70-461 Defeated and an Analogy between Microsoft Certifications and the US Educational System

If I recall my previous post correctly, I was perfectly accepting of failure of the 70-461 exam. As I reported, last Saturday I sat through the exam knowing that failure was an option because I had the ever-helpful Second Shot voucher in play. It turns out I didn't need it. I passed the exam on the first try! That's the second pass in a row and I couldn't be happier about it. Two more exams and I'll be an MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate).

On a related but slightly tangential note, I have been having some thoughts on the cursus honorum (Latin for course of offices, or in more common terms, the political ladder) through the certification process. Analogies are helpful and I think a comparison to our US education system will be appropriate to understand how the process works. Please note that this information is relevant for SQL Server 2012.

Level 1 - High School Diploma

MCT - Microsoft Certified Technician. This is the most basic level that Microsoft offers. You have to know quite a bit about databases to pass this test but if you've been working in the database world for a few years, it shouldn't be that hard. This won't really help you get a job just like a high school diploma won't, but it demonstrates effort and basic competency. Incidentally, elementary and middle school would be the equivalent of learning how to use operating systems and productivity applications. For an MCT in databases you have to pass one test. 

Level 2 - Bachelor's Degree

MCSA - Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. After the MCT is the MCSA. Not even a seasoned database administrator would be able to pass these without specific training in the Microsoft SQL Server stack. Sure, knowing advanced queries would help a lot but without actually picking up some training material, you'd be very lucky to guess what SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL SNAPSHOT actually means. This level includes a lot of theoretical material that will get you going on the basics of a lot of different aspects of querying, data warehousing, and administration. This will definitely help you get a job if you back it up with a few years of experience -- but unless you have lots and lots of experience, don't expect to be coming into the Senior level. For an MCSA in databases you need to pass three tests. 

Level 3 - Master's Degree

MCSE - Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. This is where it gets interesting because, for the database track at least, the program actually splits off into two separate tracks -- Data Platform and Business Intelligence. Each one requires two tests. In my opinion, this coupled with a good amount of experience will definitely qualify you for a job at the Senior level in terms of database administrators or business intelligence analysts. Although many less experienced IT managers might not see the value in certifications, the ones who have been around for a long time will no doubt understand that certifications provide the theoretical underpinnings of a highly experienced professional. Sure, you may have been working on SQL Server technologies for 20 years by now, but if you don't know what you don't know then you're truly missing out on the bigger picture -- and by extension, so is the company you're working for. 

Level 4 - Doctorate

MCM - Microsoft Certified Master. Finally there's the grand-daddy of all database certifications. I've only read about this one and it sounds fairly hellacious. There was, of course, an exam or two to pass for this level but the most interesting part of it was that you had the option of spending several weeks on Microsoft's campus and learning from top-tier Microsoft product specialists and perhaps even product developers. Unfortunately, this level is gone. Microsoft Learning was not getting enough interest in this -- apparently it was a $20,000 investment and so they retired it late in 2013. Sadly, they have yet to announce a replacement. However, I'm sure that a new MCM program is in the works -- and hopefully a bit cheaper. If you ever achieve this level, you definitely deserve to be at the senior or director level in your local IT department simply because you somehow managed to talk someone in your company into shelling out the big bucks for the training. 

Level X - Honorary Degree 

MVP - Most Valuable Player. Were you the popular kid in high school? The cheerleader or the quarterback or the class president? If so, you know how these kinds of popularity contests work. It's a lot of hand shaking and baby kissing. Basically, hook or crook your way to the top and become everybody's friend and they will vote for you. I'm joking, of course, but remember that every joke has a kernel of truth. If you're at this level, you are probably working the lecture and training circuit already and you are -- in some sense -- your own boss. 
So -- you're probably thinking to yourself -- "Oh, this guy is barely in Level 2. What does he know?" Well, I know I have almost exactly 15 years of experience with the SQL Server product line dating back to the days of SQL Server 6.5. It's been a long road, of course, to get where I am. Now that I have a massive amount of experience in all three areas -- production, development, and business intelligence -- I want to fill in the gaps and get those shiny pieces of paper to prove that I know what I know. Plus, I already have an actual master's degree and I was a teacher for 4 years. So, long story short, I've been through the wringer a couple of times. Despite the fact that I'm at Level 2 in terms of certifications, I'm sitting somewhere within Level 3 in terms of actual job competency. And to be honest, I wouldn't mind being Level 4 or even Level X someday.

No comments:

Post a Comment