Apparently, there is some controversy on the internet about the value of obtaining a Microsoft certification (and certifications in general, I suppose). I’ve never really followed it or even read anything about it online. I had come to my own conclusions about it and that was that. For the longest time, I felt certifications were an unnecessary expense perpetrated by software companies to increase their revenue. I figured if you were doing your job well, your boss would know and he or she wouldn’t need a piece of paper to tell them you knew what you were doing. My thinking has since changed.
My path to becoming certified on SQL Server began more or less as a fluke back in 2003. I was working for a company that was a Microsoft Certified Partner. As part of that program, the company was required to have two Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff. Well, the company’s financials went a bit south, they made some layoffs, and then someone looked around and realized they no longer had any MCPs on staff. Oops! I was asked to get certified on SQL Server 7.0 to help regain our compliance with the Certified Partner program. I passed the exam and saved the day (or so I tell myself).
I moved on to another job after that and never bothered updating my certification or getting another one. After all, as I previously said, my boss knew I knew what I was doing. I didn’t see the benefit of paying for study materials and to take the exam, especially since newer versions of SQL Server are always coming out. It seemed to me like I would be stuck in an unending cycle of becoming certified on newer versions of software. I also didn’t like the fact that the certification exam would most likely test things that were not relevant to my job. For example, if we never used replication, why should I need to know all about it?
Then I was downsized. I found myself suddenly out in the job market with a certification that was for an older version of SQL Server. I no longer had a boss who knew my knowledge level. I had to sell myself to hiring managers and convince them I had the SQL skills needed for the job. At this point, it became clear to me what a certification really is – shorthand for saying you have a certain level of knowledge. It’s not going to tell a prospective employer you will be a great DBA, but it does give them a means to verify you have a certain baseline level of knowledge. If two candidates looked equally strong, I would bet the job would go to the one who had a certification, not the one who didn’t. So I decided I needed to get certified on SQL 2005. I bought a couple practice exams, the Microsoft training book, and took the MCTS: SQL 2005 exam. I passed. The bad part about all this was that it was expensive. I think I spent close to $300 on study materials and the exam itself was around $150. And I was unemployed at the time. That’s a lot of money when you are unemployed. Heck, it’s a good chunk of change when you are employed. (I believe the training material costs are tax deductible (I’m no tax expert – consult your tax professional for advice), so that helps somewhat.) I was also able to hedge my bets a bit. The Transcender practice exam I bought came with a money back guarantee – if I didn’t pass the exam, I could get my practice exam cost refunded. And at the time I took my exam, Prometric was running a “second chance” promo where if you failed, you could retake the exam within a certain number of days for no charge. Luckily, I didn’t have to take advantage of either of those offers, but still, it was good to know I had a bit of a limit to my costs. Once I obtained my MCTS, I opted to stop there and not go on to get my MCITP. Shortly thereafter, I did get a job, so it seemed to pay off for me.
I’ve been at two different companies since then. I’ve also started reading SQL blogs and writing this SQL blog. My knowledge of SQL Server has expanded incredibly. Over the past two years, I’ve come to this realization – I love this shit! I really enjoy working with SQL Server and getting it to run well and hum right along. Two weeks ago, I took a step back and realized just how much I know about SQL Server and I decided I might as well get certified to prove it. My company will pay the exam cost as long as I pass, so I figured it’s better to get certified now then wait until I’m unemployed again. Last Saturday, I took the 70-432 exam and passed, so I got my MCTS for SQL 2008. I’ll be taking the 70-450 exam soon to get my MCITP. SQL 2012 is coming. I know I’m entering into that cycle I was worried about in the past of constantly obtaining certifications, but at least once you have a MCITP cert, there is an upgrade path to the certification for the newer version and you only have to take one exam instead of two.
So my outlook on certifications has undergone a complete reversal. Even if I never look for another job again, I would still continue to get certified. I think it’s a good way to show your company that you are serious about keeping your skills current and relevant. As I get older, that is something I find myself worrying about more. I’m also no longer concerned about being tested on stuff I don’t currently use. I may not be using certain features now, but I realize I need to know how all those features work and the advantages and disadvantages of them so that if a situation arises where I do need to use them, I have the knowledge to make an informed choice about which would work best in the particular situation.