Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Month: November 2013

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 2: Progress So Far

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 2: Progress So Far

In Part 1 of my Road to SQL Server Certification series, I covered a little bit of background on my experience with certifications in general as well as Microsoft’s path for MCSA: SQL Server 2012.

I am currently in the final preparation and studying stages for, in my opinion, the most difficult exam in the series, the third in the series, 70-463: The Widowmaker…er, Implementing a Data Warehouse with SQL Server 2012.  That’s what I meant, but more on that in a little bit.

My SQL Server 2012 certification journey started with 70-462: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases.  In my opinion, this is the most natural starting point for someone with a strong IT background, whereas 70-461: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is the most natural starting point for someone with a strong development background.  But then again, the indexing T-SQL topics covered on 461 are helpful to know going into 462, but I digress…

70-462: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases was my first experience with a SQL certification exam.  I was about a 1/3 complete studying for the equivalent SQL 2008 version of this exam when the 70-462 beta was released.  In recent years, Microsoft has performed fewer and fewer public beta exams, but if you ever get the opportunity to take one, and know something of the subject material, I highly recommend it!  Essentially, Microsoft offers the exam(s) for free for a limited number of time and seats.  The exam you take is similar to what the final version will be, but longer and with rougher edges.  If you pass it, you get credit for having passed the final version without spending a dime, and if you don’t, at least you have an idea of what the final version will likely be like.

I took the beta version of 70-462 as my first exam.  They don’t tell your your score on these, in fact, they mail you the results a number of agonizing weeks later, but I know I didn’t pass.  I feel like I failed it pretty badly.  It was a much more difficult exam than I’d anticipated.

Months later, with all of the final versions released to the public, I decided to try again, this time starting with 70-461: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 instead.  I had two reasons for changing tactics:  1) Microsoft numbered it lower, probably for a reason, so I should take their advice and start here.  And most importantly, 2.) one of the resources I really like to use to learn for an exam, CBT Nuggets, had just released their 70-461 videos and the 70-462 and 70-463 videos were in production, but not yet released.  So, my plan was now to take 70-461 then 70-462, and finally 70-463.

In my journey so far, I’ve successfully completed 70-461 and 70-462 and am getting ready to take 70-463 before the year is out.  In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about the 70-461 exam itself and my experiences preparing for and sitting it.

[ Go back to Part 1 | Go forward to Part 3 ]

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 1: Introduction

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 1: Introduction

Having been a part of the IT industry for a good 12 years now, I’m no stranger to certifications.  There are countless debates on the Internet over the value of certifications.  My stance tends to be that as long as you actually earn them, getting them is better than not getting them.  As such, over the years, I’ve taken, passed, and failed a number of certification exams from various vendors.

To me, certification is an excuse to learn a topic.  You may say to yourself “you know, I really enjoyed restoring that corrupt database last week, I want to learn more about SQL Server” or “I really enjoyed troubleshooting that mail delivery issue yesterday.  I’d love to learn more about Exchange server!”  Even if you don’t place a lot of value in the piece of paper you receive from completing a certification track, the exam prep materials provide a great structure for learning a topic from end-to-end and the exam itself provides the motivation to do so in a structured and timely manner.

Over the course of my career so far I’d estimate I’ve sat close to 30 unique proctored certification exams (many certifications require multiple exams to attain).  I make a distinction between proctored and non-proctored exams as you typically have to pay an exam fee to take a proctored exam at a testing center whereas a non-proctored exam may or may not be free and is typically taken in the comfort of your own home where you are free to Google answers or phone a friend.

In the beginning of my career, these exams tended to be for entry level certifications (such as CompTIA’s A+ or Cisco’s CCNA (which was their entry level certification at the time)) and over time I progressed on to higher tier certifications.  These days, most of the exams I sit tend to be of an upgrade nature to upgrade technologies, example upgrading my Microsoft MCSE 2003 to the 2008 equivalent or upgrading VMware VCP4 to VMware VCP5.

Around July of 2012, I decided to start a new certification journey:  MCSA: SQL Server 2012.  While this journey shouldn’t be an insanely long one (like the old MCSE 2003: Security which was a total of 7 exams!), it was a fairly new concept for me as previously all of my certification had been around operating systems and networking devices — this three-exam series would be my first single application/development themed series.  A new challenge indeed!

One great motivator on embarking upon this journey was a promotion Microsoft was running at the time:  Second Shot.  As it turns out, they’ve just started re-running the promotion again with new expiration dates.  The promotion is pretty simple.  You sign up for a free voucher code and register for your exam with that code.  Should you fail the exam, you get to retake it (within the promotion period, which is usually about a year) once at no additional cost.  Additionally, they offer a second deal (which is the one that I took advantage of) if you’re willing to pay for an entire exam series up front, such as the 3-exam MCSA SQL 2012 series.  By making this commitment, you receive:  a second-shot for each of the three exams in the series, 15% off each exam fee, and an extra 6 months in the promotion period to get it done (bringing it up to about a year and a half).  A great deal!

In my next post, I’ll give an update as to where I am so far along this latest certification journey (I’m not done yet, but time is running out and I’m close!) as well as some thoughts on the individual exams and experiences themselves, and finally I’ll cover some of the preparation tools and strategies which have worked well for me along the journey.  Stay tuned!

[ Go forward to Part 2 ]


The Office Hijinks Series – Part 5: The Christmas House

The Office Hijinks Series – Part 5: The Christmas House

In December of 2011, I went out of town for a week of skiing out in the Rockies of Colorado.  Upon my return, I was greet with something strange…something beautiful…

While I was out of town, my coworkers turned my office into a giant Christmas house.  Complete with a snowy roof, wood walls, window, doors, and glittery snow everywhere.  Quite a piece of craftsmanship!  I need to go on vacation more often.

I left the house up for as long as I could, though unfortunately, it started to fall apart after about a month or so.  It’s a bit tricky to work when your roof is starting to collapse.  They don’t make ’em like they used to!

[ Go back to Part 4 | Go forward to Part 6 ]

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