SQL MCM Day 11: When and How to Get In Free

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Go BrentO Go seems you (then others in your group) will be 4th MCM outside the Microsoft in US.

  • The echoes of “dibbs!” resound throughout the corporate world this morning. 🙂

    • @Dugi – haha, thanks! I’m hoping one of us will be #4, that’s for sure.

      @Peter – HA! Yeah, that’s exactly what I’d do. I’d print out the MCM stuff, march straight into my boss’s office, and close the door. 😀

  • With a pen. Go in to the office with a pen.

  • Brent, I forwarded your definition of DBA levels of progress to our DBA team here.They might even look into redefining DBA goals based on that, classic, very well said!! It is somewhat gratifying to hear of how you would use the knowledge gained in a ‘regular’ DBA job, as opposed to very high end consulting assignments. When you get a chance could you clarify, does MCM help a DBA at a medium-to-large company as much as it would a DBA working for NASA-like places? 🙂

    I hope they keep the premier consulting hours as an ongoing deal. Thank you.

    • MDBA – yep, I think it definitely helps a DBA at a medium-to-large company. I would keep in mind that the techniques here seem to focus more on DBAs that spend a high amount of time on a low amount of servers, not DBAs that need to manage hundreds of instances with as little effort as possible. If you’re managing >100 instances by yourself, you probably won’t have the time to implement the techniques taught here.

  • Good luck Brent!

    I already earned MCITP DBA 2008 ,and will go for the MCITP DEV 2008 soon … then will prepare for MCM.

    Does the MCM training cover SQL Server 2008 R2?

    I hope you write a post like a road map for MCM or how to prepare yourself before MCM training?

    Good luck again and thanks for the nice post.

    ~Hossam Alfraih

    • Hossam – thanks! SQL 2008 R2 doesn’t change much from the engine point of view. R2’s changes are BI-focused, and they’re outside of the engine. Therefore, the MCM training doesn’t change.

      About the road map – do you have specific questions I might be able to address? I’m not sure where I would begin to build a road map like that, and I’m curious about what information you’re looking for. Obviously I’d suggest reading the prerequisite materials, though, as I talked about earlier. I’m guessing you’re looking for something else?

      • Thank Brent!

        Oh.. Sorry, I just realized the nice MCM postS.

        I will read them one by one then get back to you if I have any question.

        Thanks a lot and good luck.

        ~ Hossam Alfraih

  • Mid-level DBA: The books online say this, online they say that, give me time to play with it, ask online myself, and figure it out as best i can.

    Or something like that.

  • Interesting. I had no idea you could use unusued Premier hours to pay for the MCM. I’m doing a presentation on the MCM at SQLSaturday in Redmond, WA, in June. I’ll include this information in the presentation.

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