I’m an MCSA: SQL Server 2012, it’s official! :)

As of April 29, 2013 I became Microsoft Certified SQL Server (MCSA): SQL Server 2012. I passed last of three exams (70-463) required for this title.
It was a difficult one – especially when I had not much SSIS experience in last 18 months other than creation of maintenance plans. I had to spent a few weekends with Evaluation Edition exercising in order to feel quite comfortable with my knowledge.

For all of you preparing to this exam, I recommend going through all SSIS components mentioned and exercising various concepts mentioned in course curriculum. The theoretical basis is also important but the main focus is on practical aspects of development in SSIS, so do your due dilligence.

I still plan to complete remaining two exams required to become MCSE: Data Platform this year, so hold on, I will keep posting about that.

SQL Server 2012 – 70-461 and 70-462 exams passed

Yesterday I found some interesting information on Prometric site – I passed 71-461 and 71-462 exams (will count as regular 70-461/462). I don’t know the exact scores, but I did it and I am really happy about it. I only wish now that I didn’t take more of the beta exams – I might as well be an MCSA/MCSE at the moment.
Results will appear on my transcript later, probably by the time I get the official confirmation e-mail from Microsoft, which takes up to few weeks.
Time to prepare for 70-463 and then upgrade to MCSE: DP – I wonder if it’s possible to do it this way – upgrade my MCITP DBA from SQL Server 2005 to 2008 (70-453), then earn MCSA: SQL Server 2008 (70-448), pass 70-463 to get MCSA: SQL Server 2012 and finally upgrade MCITP to MCSE: DP with 70-459.

SQL Server 2012 beta exams – my feelings

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in beta tests of SQL Server 2012 certification exams. I have already described what exams are prepared and what the new certification path is in one of previous posts, so let me briefly describe how the exams loked like.

First of all, it’s a standard Prometric test. You come to testing center with two IDs (both with a signature, one of them needs to have a photo of you) half an hour before the exam, sign all the paperwork, leave all unnecessary stuff in a locker and wait till the test administrator calls you. I understand that the exam rules are pretty standard, but I love the part which says “no weapons are allowed at the Prometric test center”. Well, perhaps there are places in the world, where you have to fight your way to the test, fortunately Poland is not one of those.

I signed up for two beta exams (71-461 and 71-462) on one day, mostly due to time pressure. I am currently heavily loaded at work due to new system implementations and I didn’t have much time to do some real preparations. I had a bunch of VMs set up at my home PC lab, spent some time installing and configuring SQL Server 2012 but didn’t actually go deeper into it, for instance I had planned to establish AlwaysOn HA solution as a practice, but it ended up with reading Books Online a day before the exams. I had no idea what the certifications would be then apart from recertification requirement, so it was a blind shot made mostly for fun, but I guess I did OK – it was either 5 or none, if you were thinking certificate-wise.

There were two other guys waiting with me to take their tests and as usual I had bad luck – the computer assigned to me was out-of-date and received Prometric updates which had been applying for half an hour. It did not impact my test a lot, but I got a bit anxious at one moment and had to rebuild my focus. Then I left the room to catch my breath and prepare for second exam, but it turned out that the other computer I was supposed to use for testing hung and required assistance. All in all, I spent almost 6 hours at the testing center and finally took the wrong door while leaving.

The query exam (71-461) was an interesting one. I was expecting a lot of CRUD-like stuff. Instead, there were questions about database design and fundamental concepts such as keys and referential integrity, there was also a bit of DDL, all of course focused on features new to SQL Server 2012. If I were preparing for 70-461 exam, I would revisit:

  • new built-in functions, such as LEAD, LAG, TRY_PARSE
  • data types, paying special interest to date/time
  • DDL stuff including triggers vs stored procedures
  • locking and isolation levels and their impact on query results

Those were things which probably have impacted my result. What I didn’t like and strongly argued about it in the comments were questions related to cursors – the feature I don’t like and try to avoid as much as possible. With CTE being available since SQL Server 2005 I would expect cursors to lose their usefulness, but the test could make me think otherwise.

When it came to 70-462 – an administration exam – I felt absolutely confident about it. This is by all means the part of SQL Server that I am most exposed to (my development skills have gone down lately) and I find it most interesting. If you prepare for it, pay special attention to:

  • backup and restore strategies, with reference to recovery models
  • extended events – this is new diagnostic feature introduced in SQL Server 2008, so this is the first opportunity to test it
  • AlwaysOn – there is a big hype about it with SQL Server 2012 and you want to know everything about it
  • contained databases – what are they and how to convert standard database to a contained one

I had a few questions about database mirroring, which I found strange given that it is considered deprecated in next versions of SQL Server. I even argued about one of those, which was single-choice question and from what I understood two options were 100% correct.

Speaking of exam quality – after reading a few sources I expected a lot of bugs and holes. I was surprised (in a positive way) to see only one error and a number of inconsistencies. The results are going to be available at the moment when real exams go-live, which is about June 12. I am looking forward to results – it was a very interesting experience.

SQL Server 2012 certifications – overview and comments

With SQL Server 2012 out, there is going to be another shift in SQL Server certifications. Microsoft is pushing hard on cloud solutions and it is reflected in all materials related to new certifications. There’s new naming, changed certification path and a recertification requirement. Let’s go through it one by one. 

First of all, all MCTS (Technology Specialist) certs are replaced by MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate). It is going to demonstrate that a person posseses a core set of skills in SQL Server 2012 and requires to pass three exams:

It is a first step in SQL Server 2012 certification and as you can see, the hype about big data is reflected here in data warehouse exam which previously belonged to BI track. My feeling about it is that it is definitely going to create confusion even for seasoned DBAs who will now have to learn a lot of SSIS just to keep their credentials for a product. On the other hand, introduction of exam of querying is definitely a step towards scripting and possibly automation as Microsoft also makes a lot of noise around PowerShell. Combining those two skills – querying and PowerShell – gives a lot of options for administrators regarding remote task execution or monitoring.

The name MCSA itself reappears as there used to be a certificate for systems adminstrators by that name (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) in the times of Windows Server 2000 and 2003 and there are lots of people having it. This may probably lead to a kind of confusion due to the naming (“which MCSA are you? old or new?”).

Now let’s see what changes in MCITP. The IT professionals will now be MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Expert) – again a name is reused, since it used to be an Engineer, not an Expert. To become a new MCSE you would either have to be an MCSA in SQL Server 2012 and pass two more exams, or MCITP in SQL Server 2008 and pass three exams. There are only two MCSE tracks for SQL Server 2012 (compared to three MCITP flavours in SQL Server 2005/2008):

My first thought about Data Platform was that two separate worlds are being brought together (DBA and developers – don’t forget data warehouse skills :D), which is actually good. I know a few people doing DBA stuff who are absolutely uninterested in honing their scripting skills or getting to know even the most basic and commonly used DMVs. On the contrary, I worked with developers who were completely oblivious of security or performance matters. I understand the purpose of one Data Platform cert – it proves that you are a well-rounded professional with experience and knowledge of both aspects of database-related work. I’m just wondering whether a generalization like that – one cert to rule them both – is not too big.

If you are a MCSE: DP, there’s no quick telling if you’re a great DBA, fantastic developer, both or – worse – none. Previous MCITPs could give you a hint, but not a proof – have a certification actually proves only that you passed the exam, yet in reality you may suck – and MCSE: DP raises the level of uncertainty even higher.

Speaking of MCITP – if you have one in SQL Server 2008, you may apply for upgrade to MCSE by passing three exams:

  • 70-457 and 70-458 – transition from MCTS to MCSA (transition to MCSA is the same regardless of whether you’re on DP on BI track)
  • 70-459 – for DBA/developers or 70-460 for BI people

Finally, if you become an MCSE, you are bound to recertify after three years, which is actually good – you may not work with SQL Server anymore, forget most of stuff or learn thousands of new things and this is the way to prove it to entire world.

Time-wise – as stated on exam pages all 70-461 to 70-467 are going to be available on June 11th, and the upgrades (457 – 460) are scheduled to be available in August (no exact date available yet). However, I expect that due to all those changes SQL Server 2012 certifications will not be as popular as they were in 2005/2008, mostly due to preparation you have to go through (3 big exams for start, 2 more for higher perk). Personally I agree with Paul Randal’s opinion that it’s MCM (now it’s going to be MCSM) that only truly matters, since no other SQL Server exams tests your actual knowledge.

My plan is to upgrade to MCITP DBA on SQL Server 2008 (still :D) and seek the way up to MCSE: DP (undecided yet). I can’t procrastinate with it for too long – SQL Server 2008 certifications are gone in July 2013 (I might do it as with 2005 – earned my MCITP on a penultimate day).