MCM Prep Week: Prerequisite Reading

The Microsoft Certified Master program has a prerequisite reading list – things you need to read before you start the training.  I’ve started an MCM reading list wiki on SQLServerPedia with summaries, sort of like a Cliff’s Notes guide in an effort to help guide studying efforts.  Early on in my studies, I was surprised by something.

There are no books in the reading list.

In fact, not one thing on the reading list costs anything at all.  Guess what’s on the list, other than Microsoft-sanctioned whitepapers?


You Can’t Get the MCM Without Reading Blogs

Moments later, she was shot by Paul Randal.
Moments later, she was shot by Paul Randal.

But wait – there’s more.  Some of the links aren’t specific blog posts – they’re links to blog archives, like the Paul Randal’s IO Subsystems blog category.  The MCM team is telling candidates, “Paul might write more articles on this topic long after this reading list is published, and you should read those too.”  You can’t just glance at the blog once and be done with it – you have to subscribe to that category.

I find this so interesting because it’s such a shift from past Microsoft training programs.  Back in 1999, I remember going to the bookstore to get my copy of the MCSE exam training manuals, spending months reading up and studying, and then taking the test.  In order for this scenario to work, though, the following things have to happen more or less in order:

  • The SQL Server version features are more or less stabilized (not necessarily released, but at least stable to the point where you can start writing how the tests will work)
  • The certification tests are written
  • The training books are written
  • The training books are distributed to stores

All of these have to happen pretty quickly, but all of them take a long time.  The last 3 steps might take a year or more, and the training materials come down to a matter of author time.  If a paid author has the choice between writing:

  • Entry-level training material that will sell 100,000 copies
  • Senior-level training material that will sell 10,000 copies
  • Master-level training material that will sell 100 copies

Guess which one the paid author will choose?  Master-level training will bring up the rear.  (Unless, of course, the author isn’t doing it for the money – more on that in a second.)

This wasn’t as big of a problem back when SQL Server spent years between each version, like between 2000 and 2005, but it can’t work now with the faster release cycles.  I’m shooting to join the SQL 2008 Master certification program in March/April, yet the next version of SQL Server is already slated for the first half of this year!  Will the MCM team be able to update their reading materials, testing materials, and get them to the candidates in time?  Not with traditional paid publishing methods.  They’re too slow.

Enter the blogosphere.  Paul Randal’s blog is indispensable if you want to dive deeply into the SQL Server engine, and it’s free.  Paul doesn’t write to make money directly off his blog; he makes money indirectly through consulting.

The way we dispense knowledge is changing, and I’m excited that Microsoft acknowledges that with their MCM program.

The Dark Side: Reading Blog Archives Quickly Sucks

Blogs are not the easiest thing to consume in mass quantity, and it’s even tougher when you’ve got a deadline like an upcoming MCM training session.  Some of the MCM reading links are category archive pages that only have snippets of each post.  Since I wanted to study on a cruise ship, this meant clicking each post individually and saving it as an HTML file for later consumption.  Forget trying to do this on a Kindle or an iPhone.

Blog posts rarely have logical progressions from one to the next, either.  I ended up reading lots of posts on lots of topics in no apparent order.  Books have luxurious tables of contents, segues between chapters, and a nice start-to-finish mentality, and I miss that when I have to consume a lot of blog posts.  One fix might be building an MCM reading list that puts all of the information in a logical order and segues between items, but that takes editorial work and time.  We just recognized that we don’t have time anymore between SQL Server releases, so there goes that idea.

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The Bright Side: Reading Blogs Gradually is Easy

Start your MCM training today: read harder-to-understand blogs.

No, seriously.  If you like managing database servers, subscribe to Paul Randal’s RSS feed or read it directly at his site.  If parts (or whole entries) go over your head, take a deep breath, and reread it again.  You don’t have to absorb it, but start exposing yourself to challengingly difficult material and get out of your comfort zone.  It’s easier to tackle technical blog entries because they’re just not that long, and you can leave comments to get clarification from the author directly.

Don’t like to read?  Confused by all those pesky consonants and vowels?  Sign up for a free membership at the Professional Association for SQL Server, and you’ll get a weekly email that recaps all of the upcoming free online training events.  Every month, you’ll have at least half a dozen virtual events to choose from covering all kinds of SQL Server topics.

You probably won’t have a practical use for the content right away, but here’s the ironic part – you won’t have a use for it until you know it.  Very few people really need to use this stuff on a daily basis, but once you know it, you can get a dramatically better job.  Ideally, you get the kind of job that sends you to Microsoft Certified Master training….

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Hey Brent,

    Was a pre-reading list ever compiled for the SQL 2005 MCM? Even if the SQL 2005 MCM cert has been retired (if it has been?), the reading list itself would still provide a lot of value for those of us in the field who continue to work with it.

    Thanks a lot,


    • Chuck – interesting question. I’m not sure – best to email Joe. The cert has been retired, and starting with the rotation after mine, they’ll be on SQL 2008 R2.

  • Thank you very much!

    Congratulations on getting accepted into the class, btw. I’m sure that you are going to kick butt!


  • I emailed with Chuck – but thought I would share my reply…

    SQL MCM 2005 is indeed retired. SQL MCM 2005 was known as “SQL Rangers” back in the day when it was a Microsoft employee internal event. We didn’t have a reading list at that time.

    The current SQL 2008 MCM reading list will still be useful to those running in a SQL 2005 environment (even though you will see plenty of feature references that are not available to you).

    As for the current version of MCM, it is still officially a SQL Server 2008 certification (not an R2 one). We will be injecting R2 topics into the March training rotation – but that won’t be the “main course”.

    The next large update of MCM will be for the version after SQL Server 2008 R2. Those with SQL 2008 MCM certification will be able to upgrade their existing cert via an exam/lab combo.

  • Merrill Aldrich
    February 11, 2010 3:01 pm

    I saw and loved that T-shirt at PASS. Awesome.

  • I’m tempted to suggest a _good_ (not SAM) text-to-speech engine to automatically turn some of those blog posts into podcasts, but I don’t think there’s one out there that can handle technical material in a reasonable way. But if there were, it’d probably be a good investment.

  • So you also noticed Paul’s resemblance to Antonio Banderas in Desperado? 😛

  • Hey Brent

    Very good article. The link to download “prerequiste reading list” isn’t working. Could you please update this?

    • Hiya,

      I saw your comment and doublechecked the link– indeed it’s not working. I validated that this link is accurate and points to where that list USED to be supported. Unfortunately the content isn’t maintained by us. As you may have heard, the MCM / MCSM program is being closed to new entrants (perhaps permanently, it’s unclear). I’m not sure if that’s related to the content becoming unavailable or not. If we are able to obtain an updated location for the content, we’ll let you know– and it’s possible this is a temporary outage on that site.



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