SQL Server MCM – It was a long journey

It was the day when I did 2 presentations at Teched Russia in Moscow. I came from that event completely exhausted and found the email that I passed Microsoft Certified Master Lab exam. I’ve obviously expected the email – it was about a month after I took the lab in Seattle during PASS Summit. What I did not expect is that I passed. I already started to think how to adjust my home lab and practice for retake. But, perhaps, I’m going a bit ahead of myself with the story.

I passed my first MCP exam in 2007. Originally I started to obtain the certificates with simple purpose – improve my resume. But it changed quickly. It’s strange – you don’t appreciate learning much when you are young – there are always way too many other things to be excited about. And, as many other things, you miss those challenges when you are getting older. I really enjoyed the process of learning and was happy and proud of myself after each test I passed. Last but not least, it also helped with my day-to-day job. Obviously it’s impossible to retain all information from study materials but you at least know what is available and where to look when needed. No needs to re-invent the wheels. Anyway, to make the long story short – in 6 months I got MCPD and MCITP certificates.

And then I was stuck. Of course, not in terms of learning but speaking of certifications – there were no ways to go. As much as I wanted to attend MCM training in Redmond, I knew that my company would never approve it. Neither from cost nor from time prospective. So when Joe Sack announced that training is no longer required during PASS Summit 2010, I was quite excited. And quite lazy, of course. There were other priorities I had to take care of so I lost almost an year before even started to prepare to the exams. 

I took the Knowledge exam in July 2012. This was very interesting experience. Never need to say that exam content was much more challenging than MCITP ones. The main difference from my point of view is that questions require you to think, not to know the answer. And of course, there were a lot of questions and not much time. I particularly enjoyed that there were very few questions from “It depends” category without enough information to make the decision. There were still some, but far less comparing to MCITP/MCTS ones.

I left Prometrics center with very mixed impressions – gave myself 50/50 chances. But in a month I found that I passed with relatively high score – higher than I expected. And I started to prepare to the lab. I took it in Seattle during PASS Summit last month. boB Taylor put some clarifications around the format. I, of course, cannot comment the content but to give you a tip – your main enemy is not the complexity of scenarios but time. You are out of time, you are under stress. And you are making mistakes. I’d probably disagree with boB’s advice about reading all scenarios first though – I spent 20 minutes on that – time I desperately needed later. What I would do is to scan through the scenarios and immediately take care of those you feel yourself comfortable with.
Reduce the scope as fast you can. And don’t kill yourself on testing. Do the basic tests, of course, but don’t spend any more time than absolutely needed. 

How to prepare yourself to the exams? First, and most importantly, you need to understand how SQL Server works internally. It’s not enough to know, for example, how to restore the database from the backup. You’d also need to understand what happen under-the-hood when you run RESTORE command. Next practice, practice and practice. One of my challenges, for example, is that I rarely do low level day-to-day DBA stuff. For example, I usually design backup strategy but I rarely implement it by myself. Of course, I know how to do that, but sometimes it took me a couple extra minutes to find exact syntax in BOL. And those minutes are precious.

Speaking of specific resources – my first advice would be to start with Kalen Delaney books about SQL Server internals. After that, I’d focus on MCM training videos – (Huge thanks to all SQLSkills crew). And, of course, focus on MCM reading list. This is huge but stuff clicks together over time – further you are on the way, easier it is for you.

In any case, good luck! As for me – there is still a long way to go. Once you start, you would not be able to stop. 🙂