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Microsoft just announced major changes to the Microsoft Certified Master of SQL Server program. I’m excited about the new direction of the program, although I’m a little biased – I helped with the program’s changes to reach the right audience.

The Original Microsoft Certified Master Program:

  • $18,500 entry fee for 3 weeks of training (and possibly certification)
  • MCITP: Database Developer 2008 and MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 required first
  • You had to show up onsite in Seattle for 3 weeks straight
  • Three written multiple-choice exams onsite during the training
  • One six-hour final lab

This setup had a few problems. It was tremendously expensive – both in terms of the entry fee and the 3 weeks of downtime. It was hard to schedule 3 weeks off in a row even if you had the vacation or your company was willing to eat that expense. You might not have needed all 3 weeks of training, and you might not have been able to travel around the world to get it.

Bottom line – having the training and the certification as an all-in-one package just didn’t scale, and that’s evidenced by the fact that only a handful of us outside of Microsoft were able to pull it off. I know a lot of people who are more technically qualified than I am, but they couldn’t justify the Master program. So how could we get more qualified people to be Masters?

The New Microsoft Certified Master Program:

  • MCITP: Database Developer 2008 and MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 still required
  • Certification and training is totally separate
  • Initial written multiple-choice exam – $500, and can be taken at Prometric testing centers around the world
  • 6-hour lab exam – $2,000, and can be taken at select secure Prometric testing centers around the world

The two biggest barriers to entry – a huge initial price tag and 3 weeks of lost work time in Seattle – are now gone! It’s now easier to prove that you’re a Microsoft Certified Master of SQL Server. (Note that I did not say it’s easier to be one, because it’s still very, very, very tough.)

Since the training is now separate, it’s up to you how much training you want to get, and who you want to get it from. If you’re already an expert on some subject areas, maybe you’ll only get training on the areas where you’re weak. Perhaps you’ll choose to get the training in chunks – one week’s worth this year, one week’s worth the next year, and then make a run at the exam. I would advise trying not to pass the lab exam cold, because this is most definitely not the MCITP.

To help you get up to speed, Microsoft partnered with SQLskills to provide dozens of hours of video training online completely free. Bob Beauchamin, Kimberly Tripp, Paul Randal, and I recorded some of our best presentations on internals, CLR, storage, performance tuning, and more. You can watch our free Microsoft Certified Master online courses all in the comfort of your cubicle. (That link may not be live yet – check again later in the day.)

If you want more personal, interactive training, you’ll be able to get it from more places. I’d argue that you still want to get it from the most qualified, highest rated trainers around. You want to get it from people who aren’t just experts at training – you want your instructors to be hands-on consultants who live this work every single week. When we’re not training or helping the community, we’re consulting in some of the toughest environments around. Yes, of course I mean SQLskills – we’re offering a series of events around the United States in 2011 to give you Microsoft Certified Master approved training. We’re the only trainers that have been involved with the MCM program from the very first rotation, and we’re the best people to help you achieve the highest level of technical certification on SQL Server. You can check out our upcoming SQLskills Immersion Events here.

I really passionately believe in where the MCM program is going. There’s going to be more people recognized as Masters, and that’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of really qualified people out there. I’m not worried about the MCM becoming the next MCITP – a certification seen as having too low of value due to the braindump factor – because I was a contributor to the new MCM program. It’s a seriously high bar to pass, but I believe a lot of you can do it.

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  1. Totally stoked about these changes. Thanks to you and yours for those training videos and your blog series to give us a glimpse of where the bar is set, so we can properly prepare.

  2. My understanding (and please correct me if I’m wrong) of the original MCM was that there were unlimited “free” retakes on the exams you did not pass. I’m assuming the new exams will be just as tough and, therefore, the pass rate will be just as low, if not lower considering training is now optional. What is the policy on retakes with the new program?

  3. I have mixed feelings about this… the 3 weeks of intense training at MS are really appealing and the option that insight and training by Microsoft staff is no longer there.
    However, the lowering of the non-knowledge related barriers is great. I just hope that master-class training will be available.
    SQL Skills provides excellent training, but doesn’t cover everything you need to know with the current public classes, like the Immersion class (I attended it in Dublin this summer, it was awesome), and disaster recovery and optimization master classes. That only covers stuff internal to the database engine itself.
    Where to get master class training on stuff like FTS, service broker and other things not the core engine?
    Also, a question… do you have to know SSIS, SSAS and SSRS for the master certification or is it only for the core product?

    • Emil – you’ve got a few good questions in there.

      First, the training by Microsoft staff – most of the MCM training wasn’t led by Microsoft staff at all. The vast, vast majority were done by outsiders. Internal staff didn’t have the bandwidth.

      SQLskills hasn’t provided the entire training from start to finish before because there wasn’t a demand – if you wanted that training, you went to Microsoft for the MCM. You’ll see that changing starting next year – we span a lot more than the engine. For example, I cover storage, virtualization, HA/DR, and more.

      You do have to know SSIS, but not SSAS or SSRS for the MCM.

    • I actually like the idea of getting rid of the strict three week training requirement. When you combine the course/training costs with the associated travel costs I have a hard time believing many employers were willing to pay for this course. Especially when you add the fact that you’d be out for three weeks.

      I know some people work for great employers but the vast majority of IT professionals I meet have a hard time getting their training requests approved.

      I think all IT based certifications need to allow for that self-study option. They need to focus on making the test reflect real-world conditions and design them to defeat braindumps. That means using real labs. Most testing centers would need to upgrade their testing machines for sure.

  4. I’m really excited about the video’s the link! It is live and i’ll be making time too watch them soon.

    I agree with Joe though, $2000 is still a lot of money, will re-try’s be included, or at least a limited number of re-tries?

  5. Definitely great news! It sounds like a much more fair way to evaluate the “SQL masters” (and every one can study whatever and wherever they want!!!). I’m looking forward to watch all the videos.

  6. This is very exciting news. Attaining an MCM has been something I’ve been hesitant to make a real goal of mine, since I wasn’t likely to get employer funding. Being able to distribute the load across multiple separate training sessions increases my odds of getting some of that covered.

    Of course, the risk is that the MCM loses some of its cachet, since it no longer means you necessarily had to live & breathe SQL Server for three weeks to get it, “just” pass the exams. That said, I’m hopeful that the $2000 serves as much to dissuade people merely interested in a resume bullet point as it does to put it within reach of funding out-of-pocket if you’re motivated (it’s a decent vacation, rather than a decent car).

    I do worry about braindumps; the demand for them by cheaters makes it almost inevitable that some suppliers will find a way to acquire the data and sell it. But I’ve never taken a real “lab” exam; I can imagine ways in which you could make that very difficult to cheat (by which I mean, anything you did to cheat-prepare for it would amount to legitimate training for it).

    Even with those concerns, though, I’m still thrilled to hear this news. I’ve already started thinking of the MCM as a three-year goal for me. Big thanks to you, Brent, as well as Paul and all the other people whose names I don’t know who were no doubt involved in bringing this change about.

    • Matt – you’re welcome! I’m not worried about braindumps due to the way the lab is structured – the hands-on labs have always required a significant knowledge of SQL Server. I could have told someone exactly what was in my lab, but if you didn’t know by heart exactly how to do everything, you still didn’t stand a chance. I couldn’t have memorized answers to the lab. If I went back and took my lab over again, I don’t think I could have done much better than I did – that’s not to say I scored perfectly, because I certainly didn’t, but it’s just so hard in terms of time.

  7. To answer Emil’s question further, we have the capability to cover all of the material required by the MCM – through me, Kimberly, Brent, and Bob – and that’s what you’ll see us offering. Take a look at my blog post which has a bit more info. http://www.sqlskills.com/BLOGS/PAUL/post/Big-changes-to-the-MCM-program-and-how-SQLskills-can-help-you.aspx

    Fun times ahead!

  8. the exam fee will have to be paid for each retake.
    While some hand-s-on knowledge of SSIS is desirable, master level of knowledge of SSIS is NOT a requirement

  9. So, does this mean your officially an old (style)master now, and get to call people/students grasshopper ?

  10. This is seriously exciting news – thanks bunches for your part in it and for writing about it.

  11. great news. hope i can manage to score some support from the employer to go to some training.

    will the MCM’s ever get ID #’s to show off, like the CCIEs do? ;) vanity, i admit.

    • Ha! I dunno – I never show anybody cards in order to impress them. I try to do it with knowledge instead. ;-)

      (Mostly because I can’t impress them with good looks, ha ha ho ho….)

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  17. Brent,

    It maybe a good time to update or do a new post on the new MCM program: Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) ;)

    Best,
    Mark

    • Thanks, but I’m actually not touching that one for a while. :-D I’ll wait to see if there’s a value to the program first. I’ll need to see a lot more investment in the marketing of that name. Right now there’s zero name recognition, so no real value to customers.

  18. Brent,

    Good point.

    SQLDBA cert – was easy to remember. MCM – was strong name.

    MCSM name sucks. I am in SQL Server field and any time I need to remember what the new MCM is now called I have to look it up.

    What I don’t get is ‘MCM’ name is now well recognized, at least in SQL Server community. Why throw it away and start over? I don’t get it. Microsoft is good at marketing, so maybe there is a good reason.

    Mark

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