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Microsoft Learning published new information today which changes the certification landscape in a big way.

Think you understand how to get certified? You’ve got a set of new terms and new rules to learn!

I’ll give you my take on the high points here. Join us next Tuesday in our webcast to get the full scoop.

Certification Names and Paths are Changing

This one’s going to cause a whole lot of chatter. The biggest problem I think there will be? So many certification names are changing that it’s a little tricky to even get your head around it. If you’ve been in the industry a while, you may be surprised at the re-use of some old and familiar acronyms.

Getting in the Game: Become an MCSA

In the current round of certifications you first work toward becoming an MCTS— the TS stands for “Technical Specialist.”

In the new certification world, you will first work toward becoming an MCSA— or a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. To achieve this first step, you’ll take three tests.

Advancing Your Career: Get the MCSE

Did you see that? I totally just said MCSE! That’s an older acronym that stands for “Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.” In our new certification world, the “Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert” is the second level of certification.

The MCSE is replacing the current MCITPs (“IT Professionals”) in Database Administration and Development.

Here’s the part I want to make sure is clear here: the MCITP level is being combined. In order to get an MCSE in SQL Server, you need to pass exams for developing and designing database solutions. This is a big shift! In the new world we’ll have fewer certifications, and the trend is to have them cover more topic areas.

Become a Master: The MCSM

Once you have your MCSE, you’re ready for the Masters level. There’s only slight changes here so far— the name is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Master.

No More Versions!

Get ready for a big one: these new certifications don’t all have “SQL Server 2012” in their names. That’s on purpose, the certifications are not versioned.

Instead, certifications may cover multiple versions of the product.

What Do these Changes Mean?

Personally, I love these changes, particularly the move away from versioning. If someone holds a certification in SQL Server 2000, does that mean they remember anything about SQL Server 2000? (Trust me, that’s no small accomplishment!)

Let’s be clear: these changes do make certification more challenging for DBAs who don’t work actively with development, and who work in businesses that are slow to upgrade to new technologies. However, the changes also challenge everyone to stay current and to broaden their skills. That’s the best bet for hiring managers.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Microsoft Learning FAQ for information on exam availability, upgrades, and more.

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  1. soon they will have to do a separate certification path for hiring managers too. I guess they will need a weeks training just to have a vague understanding of all the other certifications and their acronyms.

    It also means that for newcomers just to earn you MCP you will have to pass 3 exams rather than just one, isn’t it?

  2. The BrentOzar PLF team and Pass Videos/SQL Saturdays have helped me out tremendesouly (thanks btw) to becoming a good “Ops DBA” but where would you guys recommend I look to becoming a good developer as well?

    I have some good Dev and Ops opportunities to grow at my current company. Scott Whigams SQL Dev videos but do you guys have any other suggestions? Once I become a good SQL Dev, I’ll be a lot closer to my MCM.

    Thanks!

  3. “That’s the best bet for hiring managers.” So that’s who certifications are for? What about the people actually being certified?

    When I first heard about the changes today, I was a bit pissed off – probably because I’m taking my MCITP exam in 3 days and now everything is changing. And the total number of exams it takes to get certified has gone up, which means certification just got much more expensive (if you aren’t lucky enough to work for a company that will pay for your exams). I like the 2-3 year recertification requirement, provided it can be done with 1 exam and you don’t have to retake all 3 or 4 exams again. My first thought is that I will probably now be done with Microsoft certifications. Time will tell, but revamping the whole certification process every 5 years or so just turns me off. First it was MCDBA, then MCTS and MCITP, now MCSA and MCSE. It’ll be something else 5 years from now. I understand technology changes and certs need to change to reflect that, but I think you can develop a standard framework that remains rather than re-doing the whole thing all the time.

    • Shaun – hiring managers are the real customers for certifications just as the police are the real customers for drivers’ licenses.

      Some of us (sounds like you included, and me too) get certifications to prove to ourselves that we know our stuff. Most candidates, though, get certifications to get a job. We can debate whether or not that’s a good idea (I think it’s a stupendously bad idea) but that’s the way the market works.

      • Great analogy Brent. The same way having a license *proves* that you’re a good and safe driver. (It doesn’t of course)

      • I too like to complete the certifications as a way to prove to myself that I understand what I am doing and they force me to study.

        @Kendra – back in the late 90’s early 00’s it took a total of 6 exams for the old MCSE including Network essentials, a client OS exam, a server OS exam, an enterprise server exam plus two electives such as Exchange 5.5 and SQL 7.0.

        The new MCSE seems to take a minimum of 3 and max of 5 and they seem to be broadening the requirements which definately reminds me of the older MCSE.

        Changing the MCM level is the thing that bugs me the most. Outside of MS this is already not well known or understood changing the name at this point seems to be throwing good work of the previous few years out the window.

    • Hey Shaun,

      From the perspective of the testing provider, I think it really does make sense to focus on the hiring manager as the people who can make your certifications meaningful and useful. If having a certification doesn’t help someone land a job, they’re going to be a lot less likely to take the trouble to get the certification. (With less people taking the tests, there’s less money coming in to spend on test generation, etc, and creating tests is expensive.)

      As for the number of tests, I’m trying to remember how many there used to be before the current MCITP setup. I feel like there used to be more required, and we’re going back to a similar total number, but I may be wrong there.

      kl

  4. The most interesting thing to me is that the “entry level” certification combines administration + data warehouses, whereas development isn’t involved until the higher certification. It seems odd to me that they would make the MCA be administration + data warehouses rather than administration + development. I think that more real life jobs involve both administration and development than administration and data warehouses. But I could be wrong.

    As for the removal of versioning, that makes it easier to appear current than to be current. If I get certified (non-versioned) on 2012, does that mean that my knowledge will still be up to date when v.next is released? I think not. Does it mean I know anything about 2000 (to use your example)? Again, I think not.

    On the other hand, if all I work with in my current job is 2000, I think that my 2000 certification should stay valid. Making me take a 2012 exam to stay certified seems silly, because it may be years before I can use the knowledge I gain to pass the exam, by which time I will have forgotten much of it. While having versioned certifications is a nuisance in some respects, I think it does make it less ambiguous what I really know.

    • Sorry, I meant to say MCSA, not MCA. This is going to be confusing for everyone for quite some time.

      I agree with Michal and Shaun. Hiring managers and recruiters barely understand the current system. This new framework, and set of acronyms that make the new certifications ambiguous with regard to older unrelated ones, is going to be a problem. I got my MSCE (+I!) in 2000 on Windows NT 4.0. Now people will think I’ve passed a bunch of the latest SQL Server exams? Good for me! Not so good for people trying to figure out what my credentials actually mean.

      • There are validation tools online for the current version of certifications. I’ve always wondered how many employers used them— they’re really easy to use, but I rarely hear people talk about them.

        The re-use of MCSE in particular is an interesting one. I actually think it’s pretty brilliant. When I think of an MCSE, for some reason it seems more serious than an MCITP. It’s hard for me to quantify *why* that is, it’s something about the way the terms have been used. I think bringing it back is an interesting branding thing because I suspect people just think of an MCSE as someone they’ll take seriously.

        There’s another controversy in what MCSE stands for, too. If I’m comparing a “Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert” and a “Microsoft Certified Solutions Master,” how do I understand the difference between those?

        In practice, I think it’ll be weird at first to get used to the new acronyms, and then it’ll be pretty easy. But time will tell!

        • I’m with Kendra on this. I think the re-use of the term MCSE is really smart from a marketing perspective. Hiring managers really understand that MCSE means a real Microsoft certification that employers want.

          It has a bad reputation amongst candidates due to the braindumping, and I’m sure that isn’t going away.

          • Late to the comment party, though I saw this the first day you posted it.

            Kendra, I wonder if it feels more serious because MSCE used to meant “Microsoft Certified Service Engineer”.

            I know you mentioned that in your post, but I also think the word “Engineer” is taken very seriously by a lot of people. Or that’s been my experience, at least, considering my dad is an MCSE, among other things.

            I distinctly remember his clients being more impressed about that particular cert than, say, his MSA.

            I understand what you mean by the “seriousness” of MSCE instead of MCITP, and I wonder if, at least partially, that’s due to it’s old name. Sort of a sub-conscious thing?

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. The different mix of topics at different levels is interesting. It’s a surface area challenge!

      The MCSA does have the querying exam, which brings in some development topics in the first level. The business intelligence administration topics do seem to end at level one– and I think that having it there is a definite change in direction in terms of focus of the tests.

      In a world without versioning, we have to re-certify to stay current. I’m not sure that the cycle for this has been announced, but there will be testing requirements for keeping certifications active. People will still get to “keep” older certifications — if you haven an MCITP in SQL Server 2008, that doesn’t expire or go away. (IE, lack of versioning isn’t retro-active to certs you’ve already earned.)

      kl

  5. I wonder what is going to happen to those of us who took the beta exams. Is there going to be beta for the transition exams as well? Sheesh.

  6. Ah, the olde MCSE. Glad that Microsoft changed the ‘E’ to something other than Engineer. In Texas, you cannot call yourself Engineer unless you’re licensed by the state: http://www.tbpe.state.tx.us/eng_req.htm

  7. I have found many of the folks I interview with the certifications can’t understand simple hardware questions. The real problem is that unless Microsoft has changed, a certification without a thorough understanding of the hardware is almost useless in real time DBA operations.

    I agree that the overall knowledge about the software is an essential starting point, but without the marrige to hardware, it is a seriously incomplete education.

    • Hi Dave,

      It depends what you’re hiring for of course. MCSA needs three exams, only one of them is DBA specific.

      As a DB Developer, out of the last 10 questions/problems in my inbox, none of them were hardware related.

      The certifications seem to be testing broader skills than they used to, it also seems like you’re saying it’s not broad enough.

  8. It looks like while the MSCE cert doesn’t have versions the MCSA still does. Is this what you meant by the new certs not being versioned?

  9. Hear what you are saying David regarding the hardware, but things are shifting towards the likes of SQL Azure whereby the DBA will have very control of the hardware. I would wager that in 5 years a good percentage of people will be running databases in the cloud. Whether this is a good or bad things is another matter.

    Lets all not fool ourselves here. The primary reason Microsoft have done the certification change is for financial reasons. I will not be taking any more of their exams.

    Brent et all … love your website btw.

    • Pedro,

      There are too many uncertanties about the cloud, and many industries that can not move to the cloud due to security requirements. So I believe the a good percentage of DBA’s will not be cloud based admins in the next several years.

      The problem with no hardware knowledge is easy to demonstrate. How many understand the memory field inside the server? How is it that a server with 54GB of RAM is faster and more efficient than the same server with 64GB of RAM? This can even vary by manufacturer.

      In this case I am talking about the HP DL380 G7 server. It uses three memory controllers so that in order to have a constant memory field, memory needs to be a balanced across all memory controllers for the most efficient operation.

      In the case of the HP DL580, it uses 4 memory contollers, so the multiples of 4, spread evenly across the controllers provides this uniform memory field.

      Knowing how the system memory works on the server, makes it easier to configure it and optimize it. And it keeps you from spending money on extra memory that may not improve performance.

      This is just one example of why hardware knowledge is crucial for a properly performing server. There are other similar concepts in the Networking, and as so well demonstrated by our host, the SAN’s.

      David

      • David – that’s an interesting point, but it’s got a side effect. Would I rather have 54GB of memory performing at 100% speed, or 64GB of memory performing at, say, 90% speed – or even 80%? In most cases, our database servers don’t have enough memory to cache the entire database in memory, so adding an additional 10GB of memory for caching data can make a tremendous impact in performance – much more so than cutting overall memory speed by, say, 10%. It depends on the size of your dataset and the size of data that you query most frequently.

        I’d much rather have a DBA who sizes the memory based on the quantity of data being queried rather than having a DBA who sizes it based on the best hardware speed. I do agree with you that hardware knowledge is important, but we just gotta be careful here when we use words like “crucial” – the hardware knowledge isn’t quite as important as the database knowledge in cases like this.

        • Hi Brent,

          I guess I should have mentioned something about the database size for a more rounded discussion.

          In the case of the DL380 discussed, the database size was around 40GB in size.

          But to your point, the difference in speed from the server peromance on this database was 20% slower with 64GB of RAM. So the extra 10GB doesn’t buy anything.

          While I focused on this point and this example, the salient point was that in order to really understand how to make SQL Server perform, more than a MS certification is needed.

          And I would differ with you Brent, the hardware platform is the most crucial element of the SQL Server puzzle. And as such, proper knowledge on all fronts is needed to get the most out of the servers. I have always took the view that SQL Server can not help but be fast. It speed is controlled by the hardware and the operating system, and then the SQL Server implementation.

          Any engineer will tell you that you need a minimum of 3 points for stability. That translates here where the Hardware, Operating System and then SQL need to get the proper balancing for stability. And with that proper blance, you will get the maximum performance out of the systems.

  10. Oops! I accidentally dropped a couple of lines…..

    The HP DL380 needs to be setup in increments of 6 (2 Dimms per Memory Controller). So in this case 54 GB is a multiple of 6 whereas 64 GB is not. The memory controllers always have to do boundry checks on the excess memory locations and that keeps it from being optimal.

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  12. You mention the possible confusion between MCSE and MCSM. As master and expert are synonyms It is almost certain that this change will confuse and diminish the value of the renamed MCM.

    The inclusion of a specialist BI exam in the requirements for MCSA also significantly increases the breadth of knowledge required to become certified (assuming that you actually try to obtain the required knowledge.) The definition of the intended audience for 70-463 is very different from 70-462 and makes their combination very questionable. Comments I have seen about the Beta version of this exam indicate that questions about SSAS and MDX are also part of this exam.

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