MCM Prep Week: How Would You Change the MCM?

By now I’ve told you pretty much everything I know about the Microsoft Certified Master program, and I’m curious to hear your feedback.  How would you change the SQL MCM program?

What would make you get your bacon wallet out?
What would make you get your bacon wallet out?

Most of the complaints I’ve heard have boiled down to:

  • Cost – $20k for 3 weeks of training is a lot
  • Time – three weeks in a row
  • Location – it’s only available in Redmond right now, which makes it too expensive for people outside the US

So I ask you – how would you change it in a way that would make you get out your credit card right now and sign up?  Don’t just say, “I’d make it cheaper” or “I’d make it shorter” or “I’d like to see Paul Randal in my cubicle.”  Tell me exactly what the MCM program would look like for you, like this:

If the MCM program was 1 week per month for 3 months straight, and it cost $8,000, I’d sign up right now.

Careful – this is a trick question.  I’ve asked it to a few people, and they’ve backtracked to the point where they’ve realized the MCM just isn’t designed for them.  For example, if your boss isn’t willing to spend $3,000-$4,000 to send you to the PASS Summit for a week, then there’s pretty much no pricetag and time combination that will make the MCM work for you.

If you set the barriers too low, like if it costs $150 and people can study at home, then you just described the MCITP program.  If the MCM program in any way resembled the MCITP program, it would lose all credibility.  (Did I just say that out loud?  Yep, I did.)

If you decide the MCM program isn’t for you, tell me what certification Microsoft could offer that you would sign up for.

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • Location.
    If say the class location rotated say Redmond, somewhere in Europe, somewhere in the Middle East, somewhere in Asia/pacific it would be a lot more accessible to the non-US people.

    I won’t say I’d sign up on the spot, it’s still a lot of money and I’d still need to save up for a year or more for it, but it would be more feasible.

    Shortening the program would reduce it’s value, so that makes no sense. Reducing the cost means they’re running at a loss, so probably also not something they can do.

  • If lowering the cost was going to effect the level of training I would get…don’t lower the cost…I’ll just find the money when it comes time if the company I am working for will not pay it.

    I would not mine seeing the location rotate in the US, but if nothing else maybe Microsoft can work a deal with the air lines for the canidate to get a special round trip rate or something for travel. I’m would guess that there may already be some special rate for the hotels in the area given to the canidates.

    • There is somewhat of a special rate. Microsoft has arranged for furnished apartments that attendees can rent, and you can cut that cost by sharing rooms. I chose to stay at the Homestead Suites, which is only about $75/night – it’s less than the furnished apartments, but I wouldn’t want to share that small of a space. I just like having my own quiet area.

  • I know the question is “how would you change it” but I wouldn’t.

    Admittedly the cost puts it out of reach of most individuals, but that is sort of the point: you can’t just buy this certification. Microsoft’s motivation seems to be building that elite group that’s going to go out and make their products look good. If you haven’t already sold yourself well enough within your company to get it to spring for all or part of the training, then you’re unlikely to sell yourself -or Microsoft’s products- well enough to make the certification look like it’s something special.

    Three weeks to cover training and certification on the entire SQL Server platform? They could easily justify twelve weeks for a master level certification on a product that covers as much ground as SQL Server! I may be the only one that can find a three day conference a bit overwhelming, but this seems to be set up to be a bit of a whirlwind experience that relies heavily on your own “real-world” experience.

    Limiting it to Redmond may be overkill, but it seems natural to develop the program “close to home” They have easy access to a boatload of SQL Server developers and support folks for those trainees who exceed the level of the training. Once they get to the point where they aren’t adjusting the training every session, I could see them expanding to other locations, but I think it would make sense for the training and certification to to always be conducted by Microsoft. You hear a lot about sticking to core competencies, but your reputation is something you should never outsource.

    Even though I don’t care for the general Microsoft certifications, I think the certified master program sounds unique and I’m getting to work on the prerequisites.

  • Location, break up dates more. Maybe an “audit only option” for those who just want to absorb pieces of the knowledge online 😉 (not really workable, but I can dream.. i just want to absorb the info from the course.. employer will never pay or send me away)

  • Brent, I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I really enjoy it! I’m sure you’ll do good…
    I got my SQL MCM last october and I dont think the cost was too high (I didnt pay the 20k though, but it was still high), even though this was pretty hard to swallow…being self-employed and all…
    To me the location is perfect, spending 3 weeks on the MS campus definitely brings a different vibe to the whole learning experience, definitely put me in the right mindset…(the rain does help you concentrate on your study too 😉
    Time-wise, I would add a 4th and even a 5th week. There were still a bunch of topics that could be covered in more depth…12-week training seems overkill, after all you dont start from scratch, supposedly you’re already pretty knowledgeable about sql server, so 4 weeks would be my preference, but no interruption…having the 3-week course in a row made a lot of sense, by the second week everything starts fitting together and you start dreaming in SQL…the 3-week course also tests your stamina and how passionate about SQL Server you are,…if by the end of the second week, you dont want to hear anything about SQL any more, then maybe this is not for you.

    All in all I loved it and strongly recommend it!

  • Malathi Mahadevan
    February 12, 2010 4:01 pm

    Thank you Brent for providing so much valuable info on this program.

    1 I would like to have more options on cost – perhaps scholarships, an interest free payment program of some kind for individuals who do not have employer sponsorships. I am surprised to hear somebody say the cost is high exactly because you cannot buy the certification. To me it is exactly the opposite. A lot of people with money can and will dump the money to get it, and those of us who can’t are at a definite disadvantage for no fault of ours.

    2 Give a good write up that makes business sense on why an employee should take this program …(20K for learning ins and outs of one version of SQL Server is how it comes across right now) say how long and how useful this is compared to getting an MCITP for one version of SQL Server. To me it makes total sense given the credibility of the trainers and MS employees attending it but it does not to my boss or other business people who know nothing of Paul Randal or Greg Low. And again those write ups on consultant rates going up are more threatening than they are appealing to an employer :))

    3 I am perfectly ok with Redmond as location, and with 3 weeks duration also.

    Thanks Brent again and am sure you will join the club of elite moonwalkers soon 🙂

    • I dont agree with you,…just having the money wont buy the certification: believe me, just because you paid the 20 large doesnt mean they’ll cut you some slack and give you the certification…the exams are no joke and being accepted in the program is just the beginning.
      Frankly, I dont think you should try to quantify monetarily what an MCM can bring to you or your company or not at least not just “consultant rates” going up…
      Personally the program brought me two things:
      1) more confidence and a deep knowledge of the product that shows, which in turn makes the customer more relaxed and confident his SQL Server environment is in good hands, hence recurring business or more advanced engagements (stuff they would have called MCS for is now handled/reviewed by me first)
      2) when you really know what you’re doing, and you understand the ins and outs or the why’s instead of the just how-to’s, that makes you a better mentor/teacher, and by educating my customer’s junior (or even senior) dba’s, I make them more effective, and overall the operational costs go down, which is invaluable for most of clients


      • Malathi Mahadevan
        February 26, 2010 6:33 am

        Hi Nicholas, I really did’nt mean you can buy it out at all and I know how hard it is to certify even if you get in. I only meant the $ is a consideration for some since they have to work to get it and not so much for others with employer scholarships. Now perhaps if you work for a software company you can justify the cost to your employer by quoting celebrity teachers and such but in a business world those names do not sell. The answer me and some people i know got was why would we sponsore if this is so much work for learning one version and secondly why would we sponsor if you are going to end up a high end consultant and leave us eventually. We need a good write up, like the 10 good reasons you need to attend the pass confererence type of thing that would make sense to a guy who is a boss and is not into sql technically. Am not again saying that is your passport to the MCM just makes one of the factors easier. Thanks.

        • right, I totally understand the challenge. I’ve been working for consulting companies before going self-employed and there is no way in hell they would have paid for this (even going to a one-day event was difficult). The only person I had to convince was myself (well to some extent and my wife, we’re talking of a serious amount of money here) and the tax write-off did help (a bit). And I’m also well aware that I’ve been somewhat fortunate to work in one of the wealthiest states in the country…not sure I’d have been able to pull this off otherwise.
          The one thing that I’m hoping is that MS does a good job in “selling” the MCM certifications to his customers, i.e. telling their customers that if they need someone they can rely on for their mission-critical systems, they need an MCM…if MCM
          ‘s become in higher demand, then it might get easier to seek approvals to attend the training.

  • Hi Brent,

    Thanks for raising the discussion. I have a colleague who did the program late last year. The main concept I got back from him was how stunned he was at what he didn’t know. He thought (and we all thought) that he really knew SQL Server. He found it a very humbling experience as he was in a room full of SQL Server junkies.

    If I could afford it, I’d pay that amount in a heartbeat to spend 3 weeks with Kim Tripp, Paul Randal, Greg Low and Adam Machanic, regardless of whether I passed or not. I gather that not many do pass on the first attempt. Those guys live and breathe the product. I wonder if they sleep. He said he got as much out of discussions with the trainers as out of the course topics.

  • All I need is that the MCM will include a “wife permit”. After I get ger approval, money/time/location will not be a problem!

  • Tim Benninghoff
    February 15, 2010 11:08 am

    I’ve no interest in MCM at this point in my life. But, I would like to see some intermediate certifications between MCITP and MCM that are more specialized on certain aspects of SQL Server and databases than the base ITP. Like, for a DBA track you might have a Data Warehouse specialist, VLDB specialist, Data Architect specialist, Performance Tuning specialist, Security Specialist. For a Dev track you might have ETL, Analysis Services, XML, Web Apps data stores, etc.

    Just a brainstorm. May not be any merit in it, and I don’t have a good idea on how it would even be implemented. Tests don’t seem sufficient. Personal project submission? Classroom time? I dunno.

    • I like Tim’s idea with the project. I know that Cisco does something similar for their upper level tests. Basically, you have several days/weeks of classes with the experts and your final project/test is that you are given specs and you have to build it out. You are evaluated on how well you set it up and after passing part 1, the experts monkey with your system and the next day (part 2) you have to diagnose and fix it. You have to pass both parts to be certified.

      Also, I do have a few Russian and Brazilian friends that would do well but their English isn’t the greatest so they would have a hard time. So the language requirement is technically there because of the instructor’s native languages. No offense to them but it does eliminate some quality people.

      As for price, I look at training as an investment in myself or my business and I think a positive ROI would be possible relatively quickly.



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