Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts on SQL Server Certification

This is probably part 1 of a series, but no guarantees.

Why Certify?

I've been working with SQL Server for 10 years and for most of that time I've thought certification was unnecessary.  When I first started out my boss was not a fan of MS certifications, so I wasn't interested either.  Once I had some experience, I thought that my experience was enough.  So what changed my mind?  I moved and got to know people who, in my opinion, know a lot more about SQL Server than I do, so I was challenged to "up my game" and one way to do that is through certification.  The certification requires that I study about areas of SQL Server that I have not had the opportunity to work with or needed to know about, areas like clustering, log-shipping, online restores, to name just a few. 

Another reason is that I enjoy presenting (teaching) and I think I'd like to continue to do that and maybe make some money doing it.  So, I decided that one way to do that is to become and MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) and in order to do that you need to be an MCITP.

Finally, after having already decided to go down the certification path, I read this article in ComputerWorld, Opinion: Certifications are no longer Optional.  I don't know how accurate that might be, but I also think that certifications can't hurt me.

So What Have I Done?

I recently took (and passed) 70-432: TS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance


I prepared for the test by going through Buck Woody's (@BuckWoody) blog series on his preparation for this test.  I also purchased the MCTS Self-Pace Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft SQL Server 2008-Implementation and Maintenance.  I purchased the book because it comes with practice test software which I thought would be valuable. The training kit was helpful, but a little shallow, I really expected it to be delve deeper into the subjects.  The case study presented at the end of each chapter was the most helpful part of the book as it really caused me to think about what I thought was the best way to solve the problem(s) presented.  I actually had a harder time doing the practice test(s) than I did with the real test.  I don't think I passed the real test because of this book, but it did help augment my experience and the other resources.

The Test

Having never taken a certification test before and this being about 15 years after the last test I took that actually meant anything, I was a bit concerned about being able to pass.  This concern was based on the fact that I had NOT passed a practice test.  I'll share that I have always been a good test taker, especially when the test is multiple choice, which the certification test is.  I got to the test center about 30 minutes before the test was scheduled (as recommended) and was registered and at the test station about 20 minutes later.  Now, the recommendation is to allow 2 hours and 45 minutes for the test so I expected a long test.  Well, I was leaving the test center 40 minutes after I sat down at the test station.  During that time I did the practice test, as it was my first time, did the pre-test MS survey, took the test, reviewed every question on the test, took the post-test MS survey, and the post-test Prometric survey.   You can decide how hard the test was.

Test Value

The test definitely covered all the areas it said it would cover, but I thought it should have been twice as long as there was not enough depth to the questions.  I am pretty sure I could have passed without studying.  I definitely could have passed without studying as much as I did.  Would I expect someone who passed this test to be able to sit down and set up a cluster or replication?  No.  I would expect to be able to give them a scenario and have them give me an basic solution that would be meet business requirements around availability and recovery.  So it has some value, but could be better.

What's Next?

I've scheduled 70-450: PRO: Designing, Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Server Infrastructure using Microsoft SQL Server 2008.  I'll have another post about this test when I get there.


  1. Congratulations on passing the test.

    Now I can't help but wonder if I should be doing the same.

  2. Thanks Steve.

    Alvin, I don't see any harm in taking the tests. MS has the Second Shot promotion going on now through June so you get 2 chances pass for 1 registration so it's even better.

    I'd bet you could pass 70-432 without much if any study. I'm not doing as much for 70-450 because if it is similar I think I can pass anyway.

  3. If you don't think that was long enough, do some beta exams next time they're available.

    Over 3 hours and more than twice as many questions as normal. Lotsa fun.

  4. My story is very similar. I actually needed to take the certification to get our Microsoft Dynamics Partnership. I am scheduled to take the 70-450 on Thrusday.

    There is really no reading list or training out there for the 70-450. I am reading @BrentO book SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting and @GFritchey book SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled.

    I am looking forward to hearing what you think of the 70-450.

  5. Gail, At this point I think I'd like taking the beta exams. I just thought the test would go deeper and be harder.


    Yeah, I'm a bit surprised that there is not a better/dedicated resource for 70-450. I'm using the MS Learning Plan and the objectives as a guide for studying. I've already read Grant's book and I have Kalen Delaney's Internals book which I haven't started yet. I'm also reading the MVP Deep Dives book. It looks to me like 70-450 is an extension of 70-432 and I'll get the advanced questions I was looking for.

  6. Congrats Jack.
    I took the MCITP DEV path last year and I must say that I learned something after all. I realized that in many cases I was reinventing the wheel so to say and some applications could've been written simpler/better. And I agree that having certs helps your CV to stay on the desk rather than in the bin when you look for new 'challenges'.

  7. Piotr,

    Congrats on the dev success last year. I'm actually planning on taking those as well. Not planning the BI certs as least not this year.

    For me just a way to get the stuff I'm missing at work.

  8. I've been in IT for 25 years and have never obtained a certification. Why? For starters, I'm a terrible test taker. I didn't do so well in college because of that fact. I did do well in my masters because there were no tests involved -- it was all practical.

    My college freshman physics professor said, "If you use something often enough, you'll memorize it. If not then you can always look it up. It's knowing how to apply the knowledge that's important." I wholeheartedly agree. I worked with a guy once who graduated with a bachelor's in accounting with a 4.0 GPA, but truly did not understand the difference between debits and credits. He had a photographic memory and as a result was a great test taker. However, being able to repeat some bit of knowledge doesn't guarantee any understanding of it.

    I think that certifications are necessary in the absence of experience, but at an early point experience speaks much louder than book learning. I would far rather hire someone who is capable of learning and adapting than someone who can spit out information but not be able to apply it.

  9. I definitely agree that certifications are not a substitute for experience. I am a good test-taker, always have been. I had the opposite experience in college. I had a roommate with a lower GPA who learned more than I did in college and I used to tell him that all the time.

    The certification tests, at least the DBA ones, have gotten better and are not as much about memorizing syntax and settings, but more about situations and design, which actually makes them easier to pass if you have experience.

  10. I passed by using @mrdenny's book. Now prepping for 70-450

  11. Nitya,

    I considered Denny's book, but I really wanted the practice tests that came with the Exam Prep. I'm sure Denny's book was a good resource though.

  12. Hello Jack,

    I just started a new Job a few months ago, my boss want's me to pass the 70-432 since business tasks require MS SQL server 2008 experience. I came here with no SQL server experience what so ever and couldn't pass the test for a second time now. I have read the Mike Hotek's training Kit twice but I am still afraid this book isn't enough or maybe I just haven't done enough studying. Can you advise on what to do in order to pass the exam?

  13. Have you looked at your results and where you did poorly and spent extra time on those areas?

    Without experience I think you are going to struggle to pass and, honestly, you should struggle to pass a certification test if you don't have real world experience.

    I'd definitely suggest going over the practice exams and working on your week areas.

    You might also get some help from this book:

  14. Jack,
    I have done all practice exams included on this book and honestly I can pass them all but is just because I have memorized the questions, I was looking for other sources for new tests but I don't know how reliable or accurate they could be.

    Thanks for the tips, I agree on the fact that a certified professional should be able to perform well and have the necessary experience for the Job. I will go through the practice exams and practical scenarios in order to improve my skills.

    Thanks for having this blog, it's a great help.

  15. Wish I could have been more help, but without experience it is hard to pass. Without experience you really need some more reading like blogs and books like the Inside SQL Server series and other books mentioned in the comments on this post.

  16. Like you said, Jack, if you have worked with SQL Server long enough (I have 8 years of experience as a DBA/Developer), you can definitely sit the exam without studying and pass. I took it in May of last year and passed, without the study guides...I'm the type that says, "...let's just see what happens...if I fail, then I'll study and take it again...". Funny thing is that I thought that I was taking the DB Developer track exam! :-)

  17. How many questions were on your 70-432 exam? Who did you take the test through? What about anyone else?


  18. I really don't remember how many questions that there were.

    All the tests are available through Prometric in the US anyway. If you go to the MS Learning site there's a link to Prometric on the exam page.

  19. The reason I ask is, everything I read/reviewed in preparation for the test, and even during the prep class I took, I was told the test would be between 45-50 questions. So that is what I prepared for. When I sat down to the test, it was 80 questions, but still in the same 2.5 hour time frame as the 45-50 question expectation. I took it through Prometric and they still havent provided me with results. I think I have reason to be suspicious ...?


  20. I have no idea. I believe the # of questions can vary on the test. I had my score when I walked out of the room, so I don't know why you wouldn't have had your score immediately. Have you checked you transcript on Prometric's web site?


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