SQL Server is a fairly big and complicated product. There are quite a few areas that you can study, the database engine, Analysis Service, T-SQL development, and many others. As you delve into each of these areas, how do you know when you’ve studied any area of SQL Server enough?
You likely know what you need to know about SQL Server for your current job or project. But do you know what you need to know about SQL Server for your next project or a new role at your job? How would you determine if you’ve learned enough about something outside your current work to be able to bring it into the next project?
There are many ways to approach learning SQL Server. There are webcasts, conferences, books, classes, and probably a dozen other ways I haven’t mentioned. But to know that you are learning, you need a guidepost. One option for a guidepost is to use Microsoft certifications to benchmark what you know.
Through the Microsoft certification program, you can follow two tracks of certification through three levels of certification. The certification levels are:
- Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) – An introductory certification that is aimed to validate that candidates understand core concepts of using and leveraging databases.
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) – A mid-level certification aimed to those with a couple years experience with SQL Server. The exams associated with the certification cover administrating a SQL Server instance, building data warehouses, and querying SQL Server.
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) – The final certification level is aimed at people with senior level knowledge of SQL Server. While the certification does have expert in the name, it is really for those with three to five years experience and able to pick up and build solutions along on of the two available tracks.
As mentioned, there are two tracks for certifications. These tracks are:
- MSCE: Data Platform – An MCSE certification for building and administrating SQL Server as your data platform. The exam covers both on-premise and cloud based offerings.
- MCSE: Business Intelligence – The MSCE certification track for those interested in designing, building, and deploying solutions centered around business intelligence and analytics.
Why Get Certified
If you’ve been around the watercooler long enough, you’ll know that there’s a lot of animosity towards the Microsoft Certification program. People often complain that the exams are too easy, too hard, too marketing, and too too many other things. The thing to always remember with certifications is that they are there not to prove that you are “minimally qualified” for the tasks that the certification covers. It isn’t an indication of the best and brightest of the that are certified, but identifying the lowest common denominator for skills associated with the certification.
Is there any value in being identified as “minimally qualified”? That depends on what skills you want to bring to the table. It is possible that your position is one focused on transactional replication. Do you know if Change Data Capture or AlwaysOn Availability Groups could replace the functionality that replication is satisfying.
By taking exams and passing certifications, you validate that you know enough to answer questions on scenarios that require you to demonstrate your knowledge of replication, change data capture, and availability groups. By doing so, you are more familiar with more features of SQL Server and able to identify solution based on requirements. If you aren’t aware of anything but replication for distributing data, then every problem will look like a good fit for replication. A toolbox with only one tool. But by learning about all of the other features, you gain additional tools for your toolbox and the ability to solve problems with the right tools.
Can’t you do all of this without getting certified? Of course, but as this post started off, what is the point where you know enough? If you want to expand your toolbox, when do you know enough about availability groups to be able to move on to change data capture. Or maybe even move from administration topics to business intelligence topics. That’s the point of certifications, pass the certification and you reach that point to put a stick in the ground and say you’ve learned it and verified that knowledge.
Is There Anything More?
After you get MCSE, is there anything more advanced? What about that MCM thing I heard about at band camp? Well, right now there is nothing more than MCSE. It isn’t an expert level certification, but it does help demonstrate that you have other tools in your toolbox. There used to be an MCM certification, which was the Microsoft Certified Master. Unfortunately, that program has been cancelled, for various reasons. While there isn’t an expert pinnacle to SQL Server certification available any longer, it’s still worth following the path as far as it currently goes. Like I said, it shows that
Why am I bringing this up today? It just so happens that Microsoft is offering a pretty decent discount and insurance policy on some of their certifications for SQL Server. If you are looking at SQL Server 2012 exams 461, 462, or 463 then you register for the exams with a 20% and also receive a free Second Shot to take the exam a second time if you don’t pass at first. You can learn more about the Second Shot and Discount from the Microsoft Virtual Academy.
What do you think, is there any reason or value in Microsoft certifications?