Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Month: December 2013

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 5: The End – Exam 70-463

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 5: The End – Exam 70-463

Two exams down, one to go to complete the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series.  And that exam was 70-463: Implementing a Data Warehouse with SQL Server 2012.

At the time of starting my studying for 70-463, I was about 8 months into my SQL certification journey.  I’d been taking my time so far and I planned to do so doubly on this exam due to the huge breadth of material covered on the beast.

70-463 is easily the strangest exam of the series.  Considering my interest in Business Intelligence, the exam didn’t bother me, but I could see how others in more traditional DBA roles would find the material to be very much on the fringe of their areas of responsibilities.  While “Querying” and “Administering” both seemed like natural fits in the MCSA series (which is the lowest level SQL certification), Implementing a Data Warehouse seemed a bit more of a stretch to me.

It doesn’t help matters much that 70-463 should probably be re-titled:  70-463: SSIS, SSIS, and More SSIS (We Hope You Like SSIS).  To say the material is a little bit SSIS-centric would be an understatement!  Sure, there is a little bit of DW design, MDS, and DQS, but it all circles back to SSIS!

Given the breadth of the topics covered for the exam, as well as how little I interact with some of the topics covered (such as MDS and DQS) I planned to spend a longer time than usual studying for this exam — about 6 months or so, putting my target exam date around November or December.  My Second Shot voucher was set to expire on December 31st, so I did have a hard deadline to adhere to.

For preparation, I followed the same system I’d used previously for 70-461 and 70-462 (why fix it if it isn’t broken?) with similar materials:

  • Round 1:  Video Training — The CBT Nuggets 70-463 Series, taught by Garth Schulte, clocks in at about 12 hours which is on par with the others in the series.  These videos do an excellent job of laying the foundation and covering all of the exam topics in a very demo heavy setting.  The series is very very heavy on SSIS demos (since the exam content is very heavy on SSIS), but also includes some great info on other features such as MDS and DQS installation and usage.
  • Round 2:  Books and Labs — Much like with the 70-461 and 70-462 exams, I found the Microsoft Press book, Training Kit (Exam 70-463) to be incredibly useful.  This Microsoft Press book was well organized and well-written, comes with a PDF version, and comes with a pretty good and exam-relevant bank of electronic sample questions.  In the case of many exams, 3rd party books tend to be better preparation materials than the official Microsoft books (as they can sometimes be quite dry) but the Microsoft books were spot on for this series.  Another excellent book I used for preparation was Knight’s Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services 24-hour Trainer, which I happened to pick up a signed copy of at PASS Summit 2013.
  • Round 3:  Practice Tests — 70-463 had been out for a while by the time I got to this point, so there were a couple of good reputable practice test engines available for use.  As always, the practice questions included with the Microsoft 70-463 Training Kit were an excellent resource.  Additionally, the Transcender Practice Questions were very comprehensive and give excellent explanations as to why an answer choice is right (and why the others are wrong).  A handy bonus of having a corporate CBT Nuggets subscription is that Transcender practice questions are included for free…a handy perk!
Books, books, and more books!

With the craziness of November and December upon me, I had to push my exam date much further back than I’d originally planned.  I finally sat the exam on the 23rd, just days before the expiration of my voucher.  Fortunately, my preparation did the trick and I was able to walk away with a pass and could relax over the holidays rather than cram again.

The 70-463 exam followed a familiar format to 70-461 and 70-462.  If you’ve taken both of those, you know fully what to expect.  For a little bit of a rant, however, Microsoft exams these days seem to make heavy use of what Microsoft calls “Repeated Answer Choice” questions in which a question is presented in 2-3 sentences and then a large number of options, say 10-12, are given and you must choose the correct one.  They then have 3-5 copies of the question with slight variations in the wording of the original question as well as potentially in the answer choices.  Each question doesn’t relate to the last, so you could potentially choose the same answer over and over.  I’m not sure what the test benefit to this style of question is (I’m sure there is one…some pretty smart people design these things with a lot of science), however, to me, the consumer, they just feel like the test-maker got lazy.  Long tests are already pretty exhausting, but getting what feels like the same question over and over which is really easy to misread a key word, just seems to compound that exhaustion without a lot of apparent benefit.  Rant completed!

I’m relieved to have completed my three-exam MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series and have certainly learned a lot in the process.  Now I look forward to a period of rest and relaxation and using some of my new-found skills.

[ Go back to Part 4 ]

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 4: Exam 70-462

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 4: Exam 70-462

With my first SQL Server 2012 exam, 70-461 under my belt, I revisited 70-462 for attempt number two, this time with much more preparation and ultimately much better results.

Exam 70-462: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases is the most DBA-focused exam of the bunch.  It covers everything from setting up and maintaining SQL server to more advanced topics like various methods of failover clustering.

Despite the fact that most people install SQL server before they begin querying it (and hence have experience with 70-462 material before 70-461: Querying SQL Server material), I felt that 70-462 was a more difficult exam than 70-461.  This was likely largely in part due to two things:

  1. A seemingly wider breadth of topic area…more topics is more material to cover
  2. A heavy reliance on enterprise level features which are used in the real world far less frequently than features from lesser editions.  Specifically, brand new features such as AlwaysOn Failover Clustering.

That being said, after a little bit of a break from 70-461, I attacked the preparation for this exam with a methodology and timeline similar to what I’ve used for 70-461 and other exams:

  • Round 1:  Video Training — The CBT Nuggets 70-462 Series, taught by Garth Schulte, were the longest videos of the MCSA series, but still pretty manageable at around 13 hours.  These videos do an excellent job of laying the foundation and covering all of the exam topics in a very demo heavy setting.  Lots of demos on various backup and restore scenarios as well as all of the different fail-over methods were welcome, as these were favorite topics on the exam.
  • Round 2:  Books and Labs — Much like with the 70-461 exam, I found the Microsoft Press book, Training Kit (Exam 70-462) to be incredibly useful.  This Microsoft Press book was well organized and well-written, comes with a PDF version, and comes with a pretty good and exam-relevant bank of electronic sample questions.  In the case of many exams, 3rd party books tend to be better preparation materials than the official Microsoft books (as they can sometimes be quite dry) but the Microsoft books were spot on for this series.Additionally, this exam in particular really lent itself to setting up a virtual environment and performing many of the exercises.  The Microsoft Press book gives a guide to configuring a lab environment on virtual machines which includes an Active Directory domain controller, a couple of SQL Servers running on full GUI windows and a couple of SQL Servers running on Windows Serve Core.  Due to the number of machines involved, visualization is highly recommended.  I had an old server on which I ran VMware ESXi (Free Edition) for my virtual machines, but VMware Player (which can also create VMs) is another great free resource if you don’t have server hardware handy.
  • Round 3:  Practice Tests — Being the oldest of the three exams in the series, 70-462 had a couple of good reputable practice test engines available for use.  As always, the practice questions included with the Microsoft 70-462 Training Kit were an excellent resource.  Additionally, the Transcender Practice Questions were very comprehensive and give excellent explanations as to why an answer choice is right (and why the others are wrong).  A handy bonus of having a corporate CBT Nuggets subscription is that Transcender practice questions are included for free…a handy perk!

Having completed the preparation as well as a little exam familiarity from the beta exam, I was able to complete the exam successfully to wrap up exam number two of three on the path to MCSA: SQL Server 2012.  Now, on to 70-463!

[ Go back to Part 3 | Go forward to Part 5 ]

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 3: Exam 70-461

The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 3: Exam 70-461

The 70-461 exam was, surprisingly, my favorite of the two exams I’ve taken so far.  The subject matter for the exam is querying SQL Server, which means lots and lots of T-SQL.

Initially, 70-461: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 was the exam I feared the most, as my previous experience with Microsoft exams involving lots of syntax (Powershell) were pretty evil.  It’s really easy to make syntax-based exams very difficult.  But it turns out, this exam wasn’t so bad…not so bad at all.

I prepared for the exam using the tried and true method which I’ve developed for myself over the years.  Typically, the process takes me about 3 months to complete at a leisurely pace (allowing real life to interject where necessary):

  • Round 1:  Video Training — I like to start off a subject with video based training.  Usually, CBT Nuggets whenever they have a relevant series available.  We’re fortunate enough to have a corporate subscription to this resource, but the one-month subscription is pretty affordable in a pinch.  Generally speaking, a series will be around 20 hours in length, broken up over 20-ish parts and they really focus on teaching the material in a demo-heavy environment rather than just drilling practice questions.

The CBT Nuggets 70-461 Series, taught by Garth Schulte, clocks in at a very manageable 12 hours, but it does an excellent job of covering all of the exam topics — especially some of the more foreign ones which the exam was heavy on:  XML queries, merges, and window functions.

  • Round 2:  Books and Labs — I’ll typically follow a video series by either reading a book or at least picking through and reviewing the more complex or foreign chapters.  This lets me focus and get more detail on individual topics which I don’t have a deep knowledge in already or that I think the exam will focus on.In the case of the 70-461 exam, I found the Microsoft Press book, Training Kit (Exam 70-461) to be incredibly useful.  After all Itzik Ben-Gan is one of the authors!  This Microsoft Press book was well organized and well-written, comes with a PDF version, and comes with a pretty good and exam-relevant bank of electronic sample questions.  Additionally, I already had Itzik’s T-SQL Fundamentals book on hand, which was another excellent resource.
  • Round 3:  Practice Tests — For the final round of my preparation routine, I move on to drilling practice tests.  I’ll typically use 1-2 resources, depending on what is available, and run through their question banks until I’ve got them as well as the “why” of the questions pretty well mastered.At the time, the 70-461 exam was fairly new, so my primary go-to resource, Transcender, wasn’t out yet.  Fortunately, the test question simulator included with the Microsoft Press book was good enough that I didn’t need the Transcender practice questions.  As a matter of fact, I bought the Microsoft Press book primarily for the practice questions, since I knew Transcender nor any other reputable provider had released their practice exams yet.

 

With my three-pronged preparation completed, it was time to actually sit the exam.  It’s difficult to discuss too much about the exam itself, since its covered by NDA, but with any Microsoft exam, it’s always a safe bet to really learn the stuff that’s new or greatly improved with that edition.  I was glad I’d spent a lot of time on XML queries, merge statements, and window functions!

A useful bit of information for anybody who has yet to take a Microsft exam or SQL Server 2012 exam, this transcender blog post lists examples of the current styles of questions Microsoft uses on its exams with a “safe” example of each type.  A new type of question for the SQL Server 2012 exams is the “Repeated answer choices” question…which I absolutely loathe.  But more on that later!

I was fortunate to pass the exam on my first try (though I had a 2nd Shot available if I needed it) and looking back on the series, I can say that I’m pretty confident that this was the easiest exam of the series, likely due to the fairly narrow breadth of the subject matter (unlike 70-463).  Now, on to 70-462!

[ Go back to Part 2 | Go forward to Part 4 ]

The Office Hijinks Series – Part 6: Oh Yeah! Kool-Aid Man

The Office Hijinks Series – Part 6: Oh Yeah!  Kool-Aid Man

In July of 2012, the lease for our office space had come up for renewal.  As part of the renewal deal, a renovation of the office space was planned to make better use of the space we had.

As part of the renovation, some offices were to be removed…and what do offices have?  Walls!  And who do we know that likes to break down walls?  The Kool-Aid Man!

Mark’s office was one of the two that were to be removed, so he had the idea that it’d be fun to create a giant Kool-Aid Man mural on the wall — after all, all the drywall and carpet was going away anyway.

Over the course of a few days, an epic Kool-Aid Man was created and not too long after, he smashed through the wall as workers removed it in favor of the new open floorplan.  Apparently, the workers got a good laugh out of him as well.

[ Go back to Part 5 | Go forward to Part 7 ]

© 2017 Jeff Pries

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑