SQL MCM Day 14: Test #2

The MCM schedule goes like this:

  • Week 1 – M-F – training
  • Week 1 – Weekend – study time
  • Week 2 – Monday 8am – written exam covering Week 1’s material
  • Week 2 – M-F – training
  • Week 2 – Weekend – study time
  • Week 3 – Monday 8am – written exam covering Week 2’s material (today)
  • Week 3 – M-F – training
  • Week 3 – Saturday 8am – written exam covering Week 3’s material
  • Week 3 – Saturday 10am-4pm – 6-hour lab exam covering all the material
MCM Flash Cards
MCM Flash Cards

Week 3’s exams present a little bit of a problem – there’s no weekend study time.  Class ends at 5:30pm on Friday afternoon, and then we report back to the classroom 14 hours later to start the tests.


So far, our two weekends have been great for studying, quizzing each other with homemade flash cards, and running through lab demos.  During the week, the presenters rip through demos at a breakneck pace, but it can be difficult to understand every step of what’s going on behind the scenes.  Most of us have been rerunning the demos again in the evenings and on the weekends to make sure we’re comfortable with the code and the features.  For week 3, though, we’re going to have to do our studying and demos every night and stay absolutely current.

This sucks, but there’s no easy answer.  Microsoft could move the tests to Monday, but then that drags out the class longer, making it tougher for people to schedule it.  The test could be moved to Sunday (as it is for the Windows MCM), but attendees still have to travel back home.  Roughly half of this rotation’s candidates are from outside the US.

To add even more suspense, we won’t find out if we passed for a day or more.  After the lab finishes Saturday afternoon, we’re going to head to a bar, drown our sorrows, talk about what we screwed up, and toast to our success before leaving for our homes.

A walk in the park with Buck Woody
A walk in the park with Buck Woody

I’m really, really going to miss hanging out with this group of people.  The best thing about coming to Microsoft’s campus is the collection of absolutely brilliant people who show up for the party.  I got the chance to spend time with Microsofties Buck Woody, David Ikeda, Jimmy May, and Joe Sack, plus met several more who are in my rotation as candidates like Robert Davis.  I don’t want to name anybody else’s name in case they don’t pass and they want to keep it quiet, but I’ll be singing their praises once they pass, because I’m sure they’re gonna pass.  These guys are too smart for words.  This experience really challenged me, because some of the other attendees know more about SQL Server than anyone I’ve ever had the chance to work with.  It was truly an honor working with them.

I’ve been studying my rear off, and I’m fairly comfortable with the materials for today’s test.  I’d put a small amount of money on me passing today.  I wouldn’t be upset or surprised if I didn’t pass, though, because some of this week’s material has taken me way, way outside of my comfort zone.  I’m at peace knowing I did just about everything I could do to pass.  I really want to pass this one, because before I got here, I saw this week’s test as my biggest hurdle.

Now that I’m here, I see the final labs as the toughest part.  On Friday, we were given a few test lab scenarios, and that suddenly made the whole lab thing very, very real. My scenario had a to-do list with three major tasks with different SQL Server features, and one of them was a big problem for me. I tried it a few times (more than five years ago), didn’t like it, and I never put it into production.  This weekend, I had to hold my nose, stick my hand in the box, and get that feature back out.  I figured I was relatively safe – after all, I was implementing it on a brand-new standalone virtual server with no dependencies or history of nastiness.  As they say on Top Gear, how hard can it be?

Went to start it, and whammo – errors all over the place.

Brand new server.  Brand new implementation.  Bork bork bork.

So it’s because I’m incompetent, right?  Nope – every candidate took a road trip through Error City and spent time troubleshooting problems.  Four candidates tried to implement it three different ways, and they all failed to work the first time.  When a feature can’t be implemented by MCM candidates on brand-new servers, here’s your sign, Microsoft – it sucks.  Fix it, or it will continue to be the laughing stock of DBAs everywhere.  (And no, I won’t say what feature it is, because I bet you can guess.  It’s infamously failure-prone, always failing in the middle of the night when you’re on call.)

We’re coming down the home stretch.  I’ve noticed that my quality of writing has gotten worse – not just in the blog, but my handwriting.  My hands hurt from taking so many notes.  My eyes hurt within an hour of watching PowerPoint slides, and I find myself rubbing them more often.  I need a haircut.  I miss Erika and Ernie.  I’ve gained weight due to carb-laden fast food stuffed in between study sessions.

But it’s all worth it, because I’ve gained a crazy amount of knowledge too.  Now, if I can just absorb enough to pull off the big one on Saturday…

Update: Robert Davis, another MCM attendee in my rotation, blogged his thoughts on how to study for the MCM.

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