Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Road To Hong Kong - or rather MCSE: SQL Server 2012 Data Platform

While I was at the PASS Summit 2012 (THE best SQL Server conference on the planet) in November, I decided I needed to start working on updating my Microsoft SQL Server certifications.  The task seemed simple enough, but the challenge was more than I had initially anticipated.

I've been a DBA for over 7 years, so while at the PASS Summit, I took the 70-462 exam: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases.  I passed without studying as I've been keeping up on the new features of SQL 2012 and I manage multiple SQL 2008 R2 instances (which is administratively very similar to SQL Server 2012).  Filled with so much elation at passing the first exam, I decided to take the 70-461 exam: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 the very next day.  Alas, I failed that exam (I got a 650), but seeing as I had a 50% off discount, I wasn't too concerned.  I chalked it up to a learning experience.

Fast Forward a couple months (mid-January 2013), and my company was working on renewing our Microsoft Gold Partnership.  This partnership relies on employing people with current Microsoft certifications.  I have my MCITP: Database Administrator on SQL Server 2008 (which also covers SQL Server 2008 R2), so we should be fine, right?  Nope.  Microsoft decided that all of our SQL Server 2008 (and Windows Server 2008) certifications no longer count toward Gold Partnership as they're being deprecated this year.  That seemed somewhat odd since mainstream support for SQL 2008 and SQL 2008 R2 is good until July 2014.  Not to mention the fact that you can also get the new MCSA and MCSE certifications on SQL Server 2008.

What does this mean to me?  I was given a business directive to get my MCSE certification on SQL 2012 by August of this year.  GULP!  Really?  Wow!  {deep breath}  OK.  Let's do this thing!

I decided to take a three prong approach to preparing for the MCSE exams:
  • Microsoft Training classes (there is one class that "corresponds" with each individual exam)
  • Examine the Skills Measures for each exam and review the appropriate Books Online/MSDN Library pages (I spent a lot of time doing this)
  • Play (I have SQL 2012 installed on a couple systems at home and I practiced with any topics I was not intimately familiar with)
I was most worried about the Data Warehouse exam as I have the least amount of experience with that technology.  I took the class and then reviewed all of the Skills Measured for that exam.  Most of them were pretty straightforward, but I needed to look up a lot of the terms to make sure I understood them and in what situations I would use them.

With the return of the MCSA and MCSE, Microsoft has tried to increase the value of the certifications and make sure you know what you are talking about.  In the past, just taking the Microsoft Training classes that relate to the exams have thoroughly covered the exam objectives.  If you took the class, paid attention and took good notes, and then went and took the exam, you would pass.  This is not the case with the current generation of exams and classes.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, I think it's a good thing.  In order to pass the exam, you will need to review the Skills Measured for each exam and make sure that you are familiar with the concepts, syntax, and sometimes even command line switches.  

What's the best way I found to learn and really drive these points home?  Play!  Set up an instance of SQL Server  on a system somewhere and just start playing with the features and concepts that you need to learn for the exam.  If you can find someone else who is interested in also taking the exams (or at least interested in learning the topics covered on the exams), that can help you tremendously as you need to understand a topic before explaining it to someone else.

Overall, I'm glad that this business requirement came up as it motivated me to buckle down and get 'er done!  I highly recommend to anyone that is passionate about SQL Server to go for this certification.  You'll learn a few things in the process and hold a more valuable certification.

Requirements for the SQL Server 2012 MCSE certification:

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