How do you know if you’re ready for SQL MCM?

Know what you know. Know what you don’t know. Don’t ever confuse the two. ” Per Farny, founder of the original Microsoft Certified Master and Architect program

How do you know if you are ready to take the Microsoft Certified Master SQL Server 2008 exams? This is a common question and a perfectly valid one, especially given the recently announced SQL MCM program changes.

Giving recommendations on this topic is a bit of a balancing act… We want to provide enough information to guide an individual’s preparation – but not so much detail that it makes it too easy to pass the exams. The legacy SQL MCM candidates faced a similar challenge in that the final Lab Exam scope and coverage was not disclosed in advance. Candidates only knew that the Lab Exam was going to test “hands-on, real world” advanced SQL Server competencies. This description is pretty open ended and sometimes not even the top experts were able to pass the Lab Exam on the first attempt.



So how do you know if you are ready? I’ll provide some guidance and recommendations based on what I’ve witnessed over the last year and a half – and also based on my own experience going through the program back in 2006 and taking the upgrade in 2008. My seven tips are as follows:

1. Read the Exam Topics and ask yourself if you have experience in this area. Be real with yourself. Have you done what is listed? The seven competencies aren’t incredibly detailed – but they do contain quite a bit of implied knowledge and experience. Make sure you feel comfortable in each area.

2. Watch the SQL MCM Readiness Videos. Do you feel comfortable with the subjects as you watch them? Did you already know most everything you’ve been watching? These videos give you an indication of the program’s depth and breadth – so these will act as a good hint of your overall readiness.

3. Look over the reading list – including the books and white papers. Also check out the reading list that put together (Microsoft doesn’t manage this list – but it’s put together by the original instructors for the SQL MCM program). Have you read most of this list already? Have you been reading this over time? If affirmative, that’s a good sign.

4. Look at the various people who have made it through the program to date. Look at their background on The Master Blog and ask yourself if it is similar to yours. We do have a wide variety of job roles in the SQL MCM community today, but there are certain themes that can be extracted from the data (years of experience, immersion in SQL Server, experience in mission critical environments). Have a look at the various announcements over the last year and see if your background is similar.

5. Do you know a SQL MCM? If so, talk to them about your background and experience and get their feedback. They aren’t going to coach you on the exams or give you answers, but they can compare your background with other people in the community and see if you’re close to the mark or need a few more years of experience.

6. Another option is to just jump right in and give the exams a try. This is potentially a more costly method because you may not pass the Knowledge Exam on the first attempt. Also, you cannot take the Lab Exam until you pass the Knowledge Exam. You should also know that the two exams are distinct entities – and while the Knowledge Exam acts as a first filter, the hands-on Lab Exam is the core of the SQL MCM program (just as it has been in the past). Taking the Knowledge Exam without certainty of your background is a perfectly valid approach if you have the means to do so – but just remember that there is a 90 day waiting period between exam attempts and that the content may change over time.

7. Instructor-led training more your style? Then my recommendation is you attend advanced training where available and depending on your budget and time. At Microsoft we’re working on releasing four new advanced instructor-led training courses that will be available through select Microsoft Learning Partners in the first half of 2011 (** Update - we put that aforementioned courseware on hold and are looking at other ways to get out advanced instruction to the broader SQL Server community - stay tuned **). Also, there are several top SQL experts that participated in the original SQL MCM training experience. If you have an opportunity to get advanced instruction from the likes of Paul Randal, Kimberly Tripp, Adam Machanic and Greg Low – this can only help you (their training was often viewed as the best part of the legacy SQL MCM experience). Other trainers like Kalen Delaney and Bob Beauchemin (who helped in the re-launch of the SQL MCM program) also provide advanced training options and an incredible experience. Regardless of where you get your advanced training, this may be another way to validate your readiness.

Last point I want to get across… Experience is paramount. Look over the scope of the exams and find ways to get hands-on experience.

Hope this helps.