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 ]