My Journey to becoming a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master

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MCSM what is this? Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – Data Platform. This is formally known as and most commonly known as Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). This is a program that was put together by Microsoft to measure the technical expertise and experience of SQL Server practitioners. There has been many blogs written lately about this program. I am not here to write anything further about those events. I am here discussing my journey to achieving this certification.

My journey started back in late 2011 when I was asked if I would be interested in trying to achieve this level of certification. At the time I was a little overwhelmed with what was involved with trying to achieve this certification. Taking a little snippet from Brent Ozar’s MCM Blog “As of early 2011, there are less than a dozen SQL Server 2008 MCMs in the United States who don’t work for Microsoft”. That in itself was a little scary to think about.

Looking at the requirements to achieve this certification required the passing of 4 exams:

  • 70-432 (Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – Implementation and Maintenance)
  • 70-433 (Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – Database Development)
  • 70-450 (Designing, Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Administrative Solution Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008)
  • 70-451 (Designing Database Solutions and Data Access Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008)

Now I had already passed 70-432 & 70-450 which are the DBA exams. As this is my background I had already sat and passed these exams. I need to book in and look at the Developer side of the exams. This started to take me out of my comfort zone having to look more at development side of the product. In January 2012 I managed to tick off the pre-requisites to start in earnest my journey to achieving this certification.

Having passed all of these exams I started on the 7 week Accelerated Exam Preparation program. This program was twice a week for 2 hours covering the 7 areas required for the Masters Knowledge exam. Now for me being in Brisbane Australia, this meant doing 1 am starts for the online course on a Wednesday and Friday mornings. Coupling this with the 2 hour session in with my travel as a consultant took up a lot of my time.

In this program I met some of my now MCSM colleagues. The presenters during the 7 weeks were very helpful in the content presented, but also willing to take questions outside of the course to assist in the learning process to achieve the end goal. From that course I have met some pretty awesome people in the SQL community who already know how appreciative I am of their help and support.

After the 7 weeks the real hard task started. Finding time to revise everything that had been covered off and go looking deeper into a lot of aspects of SQL Server that I had not had the opportunity or requirement to dive deeper into. This process was a very good learning process for me. Now some people who have blogged about gaining the certification before me have stated how they achieved it with informing you where to look for the content. Like them I am not able to disclose any content of the exam questions or that you should look at how to trouble shoot this or implement that feature. For me i started going through all of the materials from the course, all of the wonderful videos from the great guys at SQL Skills which take you through a lot of concepts and features. Like anything I am still picking up little bits here and there when i review the material. I booked in to sit the knowledge exam, now for me being in Australia we are limited to 1 testing centre, so a trip across to Perth was install for me. Unfortunately I did not manage to pass the knowledge exam on my first attempt. The old saying Close but no Cigar. From that attempt it was back to the drawing board and revising parts of questions that I could remember that I did not either know or thought hmmm I do not think I answered that correctly. The hard part was the waiting game to get the result. Anyway like most of us work constraints led to me not being able to book in for my second attempt until earlier this year, which thankfully I was able to get past the winning post.

A short break to give myself some time to regenerate was in order. My next step was the creation of 3 Virtual Machines so that I could setup practice scenarios I what I thought was going to be included into the lab exam. So my process for these potential scenarios was to look at the sections that are covered in the exam, look at the content and think about what potentially would be good to have in a lab exam and try and be able to do that in my environment. This is not the easiest of things to setup. With the announcement that the MCM was to be retired and replaced with the MCSM, i needed to bite the bullet and go for gold with the MCM lab. I booked in with very short notice and just like my knowledge exam I did not get over the line. Having sat the exam now and with more of an idea of what is involved, I have a lot of admiration to those MCM’s before me who did manage to pass the exam on your first attempt. I am not sure if I should say luckily for me or not, the announcement came that the program was to be cancelled. I was pretty upset and annoyed like many of my now fellow MCM’s with this announcement. I had invested just under 2 years of time and effort to try and achieve this certification. I guess luckily I was able to re-sit the exam in a very short period of time. So with I think 3 weeks of intense practice and work I re-sat the lab exam. Even though i was more prepared this was still an intense experience as those who have sat would agree with me. The time gets away from you before you know it. The exam finishes and you’re like, did I do enough? Did I complete that scenario completely and correctly? The’re are probably many more questions that others who have sat the exam asked themselves after the exam.

I was going on holidays the day after the exam and i must give a big shout out to boB Taylor (@SQLboBT) for reviewing my exam and letting me know before I left on holidays. This enable me to have a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday without having to think did I? When I did receive the notification from boBT the relief that i had for completing this and achieving this made it all worthwhile for the hard work and sacrifice. Where does this lead in the future? I am not sure. Stay reading my blogs and stay in touch.

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