07 Jul 2010 SQL University – Certification Week
Welcome back to the semester that never ends. Think of this as summer school. No, not because you need remedial training (well, some of you don’t, anyway), but because it is frakkin’ July and we are still in session. Just consider that you are getting ahead for next year, like the students I had during my last few months at Washington State. I had been a TA for two years but agreed to teach a summer course because (1) I was still in Pullman for the summer and (2) I needed the money. So, I was actually categorized as a faculty member for that class and I liked to tell people that I was once on the faculty at WSU.
Anyway, I was teaching mathematics, and it was summertime in Pullman. Think hot. Like 100 degrees every day. Nothing but sunshine and very low humidity. But still hot. I was also working basketball camp, so I would run across campus at lunch time and start teaching class while dripping sweat. My students knew I was slightly touched, and not because I wasn’t wearing any pants.
What’s my point for all of this? Well, it has to do with education. No really. I want to let you in on a secret. It has to do with those pieces of paper we call diplomas. Do you know what they represent?
They represent your ability to do work.
That’s all, nothing more. They help you show a possible employer the amount of work that you are able to perform (barring any relevant work experience, of course). If you finish school and head off to find a job and all you have is your diploma, then that diploma had better give a good indication of the level of work you are able to perform. Think about trying to find a job, with no work experience, and you have a GED, or a HS diploma, or a BA/BS, or a Master’s degree, or a PhD. That diploma had best be able to describe what you can do.
(And in a stunning upset, your college choice doesn’t really matter either, so choosing Hallowed Ivy over Bungalow State isn’t going to get you a better job by itself. All that choice will do is give you an opportunity to network with different people, which could be a benefit later, but usually isn’t. And don’t get me started on grade inflation, either. The diploma is what counts, not your grades, sorry but better you hear this from me now, right?)
Back to the post, which is about certifications. Like a diploma, they will help you demonstrate your ability to do work. The “work” in most cases is simply prepping for the exam and often has little to do with your actual administration skills. But that is fine, because most people know what they represent, and as an added bonus they also represent that you are the type of person the looks to take a deeper dive than most.
OK, enough babbling, let’s get started!
Did you even know that certifications for SQL Server exist? Well, now you do. The next thing you need to decide for yourself is if they are worth the effort. I have known DBAs with over 20 years experience and have zero certifications, and I have known DBAs with 1-2 years experience and a fistful of letters after their name. Some people think certifications give you instant credibility. Others think that your work experience counts for more. Guess what? They’re both right.
Work experience is a wonderful asset that no one can take from you. Certifications are also an asset that you get to keep forever. The real power comes when you are able to combine the two; years of experience + certifications = major win. Keep that in mind when you start to wonder if certifications are worth the effort, the answer is always going to be “yes”.
Lastly, we aren’t talking about a degree here, and we aren’t talking about taking a class. We are talking about an exam that is designed to measure your breadth (and often your depth) of a subject. Even a DBA with 20 years experience can take a few minutes to prep for an exam and learn a few new things. Will it make a difference to their billing rate, or bottom line? Maybe, but maybe not. But unless you are named Paul, Kimberly, Bob, Stacia, Jon, or Joe, it will almost certainly increase your breadth and depth of the SQL products.
At this level you will have taken one or two exams in order to either progress towards a specific certification or perhaps you just want to learn more about a particular subject matter. You could even take an exam in order to better demonstrate your ability to do work (sound familiar?) Bottom line, you will have moved past the whole “should I bother with a certification exam” stage and moved into the “I should take at least one exam and earn MCP status”.
To be at this level you will have completed a series of exams in order to earn a specific designation such as MCBDA or MCITP. If done correctly, you will key on exams that overlap into other certifications, which will minimize the number of exams you need to take overall. Go to the MCP site and map out a few of the certifications, look for exams that satisfy the core requirements for a handful of designations. Focus on those exams and you are well on your way to having multiple certifications while minimizing your study time.
Oh, and one other thing, once you get a certification, such as MCITP, there is usually an upgrade exam that is offered to you so that you can keep your certification current. So, instead of taking 3-4 exams you only need to take one. It’s a nice benefit to have and you only get it if you stay current. I recently had a choice between taking two exams for my SQL 2008 MCITP, or upgrading my MCDBA to SQL 2005, then to 2008. The upgrade path is always easier (well, for me it is easier at least).
OK, you’ve taken a dive into the world of certification exams, you have earned your MCITP. What’s next for the master level? Here is where you will go out of your way to earn extra certifications, perhaps even become a MCT. Another thing to do at this level is to help others to pass an exam, perhaps by helping to either participate in, or form, a study group. I was heading down this path a while back and was one or two exams away from an MCSE, MCSD, and MCAD. I stopped because I wanted to focus on things more SQL related, such as BI or database development and never went back to finish. I still might one day, but I am actually thinking I need to work on my Oracle certifications first.
Start with the link to the MCP program. But don’t stop there, do some additional digging and find out what others are saying about IT certifications in general. As recently as a few months ago I was still thinking about a Six Sigma certification. It would seem that many people see the value in certifications these days. But remember, don’t think that passing an exam is going to get you a job, or give you a raise. And don’t think that adding 27 letters in your email signature is going to impress anyone either. Treat your certifications like you were playing poker, only show them when necessary.