I’m more than halfway through my big adventure. Candidates are starting to complain about the lack of sleep and the abundance of material. So far this week, we’ve covered the following material:
- 537 PowerPoint slides (and these aren’t Brent-style slides, either – one of the slides yesterday scored 15 bullet points)
- 43 T-SQL scripts
- 11 Visual Studio apps
- 164 more slides of “testable material” that weren’t shown
That’s just in the last four days, plus we have another day of material today. I’m starting to feel like Karl in Lost, strapped to a chair in Room 23, watching the Dharma brainwashing video on an endless loop. I’ve started dreaming of DMVs – yesterday morning I woke up and said “sys.dm_active_trans” out loud, and that’s not even a real DMV name. Any of this material can be in our exam on Monday, and then eight days from now, our 6-hour implementation lab will cover material from all 3 weeks.
I would have made a profit attending the MCM training if I had a dollar for every time an instructor said, “I never cover this in my public lectures, and you don’t really need to know this, but this is what the Master level is all about.” It’s not just about internals – they cover hidden fields that aren’t used yet, techniques that don’t work, and back door ways to double-check that SQL Server is really doing what it’s supposed to be doing. This week Adam Machanic covered at least a few things that nobody knows outside of Microsoft, Adam, and Adam’s technical reviewers. It’s mind-boggling.
It’s not always useful – I won’t run out of the building ready to throw a particular feature into production – but I’m much better prepared. I can make a much, much better decision about whether a feature is right for a given project, or why it’s not. The endless joke about being a database administrator is that the answer is always, “It depends.” Being a Microsoft Certified Master means knowing exactly, precisely what it depends on.
Going in, I was pretty sure I knew the answer to most of the “it depends” scenarios. See, I think the career of a DBA progresses a little something like this:
- Brand new DBA – “Books Online says I should do it this way.”
- Junior DBA – “Somebody on a forum somewhere said this trace flag will fix everything, and I think they know what they’re talking about.”
- Senior DBA – “It depends. A lot of stuff in those forums is wacko, and I’ve been burned by that trace flag. Here’s what’s worked for me in the past, here’s a few good alternatives we should talk through, and here’s advice from people that I know and trust.”
- Expert – “Here’s a list of what it depends on. Here’s four people who got burned with that feature, here’s four people who’ve implemented that feature successfully, and here’s how to get in touch with the product manager for that feature. Between me and my peer group, we can find the toughest answers with absolute certainty in a matter of hours – or perhaps minutes.”
Being an expert isn’t just about knowing the answers; it’s about knowing the people who wrote the answers.
Getting to this level, getting to where the MCM training is useful to you, requires a heck of a lot of experience. The training is most effective for me when I can hear the instructor explaining the tweaks and back doors to a particular feature, and I can respond by thinking, “Ah-HA! That would be the perfect answer to ___! I know why that’s helpful, and I know where I’d apply that knowledge.” Today in particular, Adam Machanic covered three separate features that I’d always wanted to implement at Southern Wine (my last company). Armed with just this one day of training, I can go back to them, steer them away from two of the features, and steer them toward one. I bet I’ll save them multiple man-years of labor just with this one day of training alone.
When I was a production DBA at Southern, I never would have thought to attend something like the MCM. It would have seemed completely out of my reach, way too expensive, and not relevant to my day-to-day work. Turns out I was wrong, because there’s….
Nearly-Free MCMs for Microsoft Premier Agreement Customers
Large companies get Microsoft Premier Agreements for better support. Premier contracts include a number of hours for Microsoft consulting services like health checks and continuing education. Every year, companies let their Premier hours expire without using ’em up.
You can use your company’s Premier hours to pay for your MCM tuition!
If your company has more than a few hundred employees, ask your manager if you’ve got a Premier agreement. This is different than an Enterprise Agreement, which covers software licensing, but Premier services are often bundled in with Enterprise Agreements.
If the company has a Premier agreement, find out when the expiration date is, and how many hours are left on the contract. Tell your manager that you’re calling shotgun – you want those hours if they’re going to go unused. Then contact Joe Sack to get more information about how to sign up for the MCM program using your Premier hours.
There’s two reasons you should rush:
- There’s very few MCMs right now. There are only 3 SQL MCMs in the US outside of Microsoft right now. Having it before everybody else is worth something.
- You want to get in before your coworkers. Put your name in before the word gets out about how the Premier-hours-for-MCM thing works. Whether you’re a SQL, Exchange, Sharepoint, or Windows person, you should go for this.
Your company probably won’t foot the entire bill for MCM training, but if you can manage to use leftover Premier hours to pay for it, suddenly the bill becomes one heck of a lot cheaper.