Why run the SQL MCM marathon?

I’ve been a casual jogger for about 14 years, and lately I’ve been debating whether or not I should get serious and sign up for a marathon. In order to make my decision (still pending) I generated a list of some pros and cons. During that process I realized some of my concerns sounded very familiar to what I’ve heard from potential SQL MCM candidates I’ve spoken to in the past.

For example, marathons can be grueling, painful, humiliating, aggravating and risky. Marathons demand planning, preparation, and practice. After all of your training and preparation – you’re still subject to variables outside of your control (weather conditions, your health, and terrain).

In spite of these risks and challenges – people still run marathons. Motivating factors vary. You could be running for your favorite charity, trying to lose some weight, get fit, or celebrate your recovery from an illness. A few of my friends run marathons just because they can. Basically they are motivated by the achievement itself – the “I did this” factor.

I realize too that like marathons, the SQL MCM program involves several risks and challenges. There are plenty of “uncertified Masters” out in the field that may never pursue this certification due to any one of the following reasons:

· It is expensive.

o Why so expensive? Some of the cost is due to operational and infrastructure overhead (lab equipment, rooms, content, planning, exam retakes, admin time, community management) and also because we get some of the top SQL trainers in the world to spend three weeks with our candidates – trainers such as Paul Randal, Kimberly Tripp, Adam Machanic, and Greg Low. There are also “opportunity costs” – the money you will not make when you’re attending the training (but ideally your certification will help bolster your earning potential on the back end). There are also travel costs – as the training is conducted on the Microsoft, Redmond campus.


· It is time consuming.

o Why is the training three weeks long? The timeframe is mostly defined by the vast amount of information that must be covered. We experimented with four weeks – but that was just too long (early rotations ran for four weeks). Two weeks is too short to contain the required material. Having one contiguous block of time also builds the “esprit de corps” – ideally leaving you with colleagues you can keep in touch with for years to come.


· It is hard.

o Why so hard? Successful candidates must pass three exams and one six hour qualification lab. This is the most advanced technical certification available at Microsoft – and we’re looking to validate and certify SQL Server professionals who can successfully design, deploy and implement solutions that meet the most complex business requirements. We go deep on the product – and then expect you to come up for air and really understand how all the parts fit together.

So with all of these challenges – why would one “run” in the SQL MCM marathon?

There are several benefits I can think of – but for now I’ll boil it down to three benefits that I personally think are most important:

· The Experience

o Three weeks of incredible training. When else would you get an excuse to completely submerge yourself in deep technical content for an extended period of time, in the heart of the Microsoft campus, surrounded with likeminded individuals?

· The People

o The networking opportunities and community building is absolutely incredible. You’ll meet new friends, amazing trainers, and exposure to Microsoft product and dev team members.

· The Validation

o Achieving SQL MCM means that you’ve successfully made it through an extraordinary challenge. You’ve entered a small community (66 people as of January 21, 2010) that you can go to for support and advice. Most importantly, this certification will allow you to distinguish yourself in today’s job market.

So if you’re considering the SQL MCM challenge – be sure to explicitly define which factors will motivate you to cross the finish line. The ongoing value of this certification will continue to evolve – but earning this certification is an achievement that you can always be proud of and is one that can never be taken away from you.