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    SQLServerPedia Contributor

4 certifications in 30 days

On June 23rd, 2010 I achieved a professional milestone by becoming a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 passing Exam 70-450.  Along with this certification I ended up earning a total of 4 certifications:

Exam 70-448 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance
Exam 70-431 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-432 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-450 MCITP: Database Administrator SQL Server 2008

See my official transcript at https://mcp.microsoft.com/authenticate/validatemcp.aspx and enter Transcript ID: 913755 and Access Code: transcript2010

* Note: Exact time-frame was 43 days. I had last exam scheduled within 30 days from initial test but had to re-schedule due to last-minute high priority project meeting at work.

At first glance you may think:
1) I have photographic memory and memorized each and every page of the training material.
2) I am a SQL/BI god or rock star (Thanks @mikeSQL) </blush>
3) I am the more handsome and smarter love child between @Buckwoody and @BrentO.

The reality is that:
1) My memory span is as bad as the page memory lifespan of a poorly configured SQL Server.
2) I’m humble enough to say that I know enough to get the job done.
3) No, I’m not as half as smart as our SQL masters and rock stars, but more handsome…definetely!

So here is the 5 step process I followed preparing for my certifications:
1) Play
2) Read
3) Break
4) Fix
5) Practice Test

My 5 step process in detail:
1) Play. First, setup several SQL Server instances in a virtualized environment. Install all features and try to figure things out on your own first.
2) Read. Research and read how to do the things you could not figure out by your own.
3) Break. Once you figure things out, run several scenarios to break whatever you had running in order to learn from error messages and logs. This helps to learn what not to do in a production environment.
4) Fix. After breaking something try to fix it. If you cannot fix it on your own, read and reasearch it. Tweet #sqlhelp if necessary.
5) Practice Test. Go through the Practice Tests that come in the CD included with the Self-paced books to measure your understanding of a specific topic or objective. You can customize these tests to include only questions about specific objectives.

Takeaway #1: Do all the Practice Exams that come with the Companion CD and view the answer to the questions you got wrong to get the right answer and explanation. Re-take the Practice Exams covering only questions you answered incorrectly.

Takeaway #2: Practice, Read, Break, Fix, Self-asses…loop

As usual, you need to understand the concepts, terminology, vocabulary, and acronyms of any technology you want to master. In order to achieve this, you need a combination of experience and reading.  Reading and memorizing just don’t work. Exam crams and brain dumps don’t work and you are just cheating yourself.

You don’t have to be a book-worm. I have purchased more than 20 books on SQL Server and Business Intelligence but have not read even one of them from front to back. What I do with each exam is I lookup the exam objectives and cross out the ones I feel 100% confident (concepts and hands-on experience). The ones I did not cross out are the ones I seek good reference material on.  And where do you get the best learning and reference material from? The official self -paced training books,  Microsoft Books Online (BOL) and last but not least…your SQL MVPs’, masters’ and rockstars’ books, white papers, blogs, etc.

These are part of the books I used to prepare for all these certifications:

When I say experience, I don’t mean xxx number years of experience being a Database Administrator or Developer. By experience I mean, hands-on working knowledge,  the “Oh, yeah, I know how to do that” type of confidence.

There is a saying by Confucius that summarizes it all (modified a little by me):

” What I hear I forget. What I see I remember. What I do I understand.”

Acquiring the hands on knowledge is key to a real understanding of SQL Server and its features.

Failing to pass a certification test
If you fail it is ok. I learn a lot more by failing. I call it “Success by failure” or “Learning from failure”. Many people fail because of the fear of failure itself. Take advantage of exam discounts and vouchers like Second Shot offers from Microsoft.

Takeaway #3: Failure is an option. Success is a choice.

Again, what if I fail?  It’s ok to fail !

Failing a certification exam does not mean that you are no good. Failing an exam means that there are areas or features that you need to get more familiarized with either conceptually or hands-on or both.

Takeaway #4: If you fail an exam, keep a record (mentally or write it down on pad provided) of the features or exam objectives that came up on the exam and for which you did not feel confident on the answer. Do not write down the question(s). It is against the rules and most likely they will not come up again next time you retake the exam. After failing your test, go back home and read and play with those features that you identified you needed more understanding. Re-take the test immediately. Don’t let time pass by.

So where do you start?
In my case, I’ve been working mostly on Business Intelligence and Database Maintenance on SQL Server 2008 for the last two years at my current position. As the appointed Technical Project Manager, Architect and Developer of our Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Solution for my current employer, I have spent endless nights doing all the planning, envisioning, configuration, development and deployment of our SSIS Packages, OLAP Cubes and SSRS Reports. It was only natural for me to go first for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance Exam 70-448.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-448?
1)  Self-Paced Training Kit for MCTS 70-448
2) Business Intelligence Boot Camp by TechSherpas Tampa, FL
3) The Data Warehouse Toolkit (Second Edition)
4) The MicrosoftData Warehouse Toolkit: With SQL Server2005 and the MicrosoftBusiness Intelligence Toolset
5) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 MDX Step by Step
6) Pro SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services
7) Smart Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Next on my certification path was SQL Server Administration, Maintenance, Configuration and Deployment. Since I have been working with SQL Server 2005 since its release to market I felt that I should prove myself worthy on SQL Server 2005 by passing Exam 70-431. Although, since mid 2009 I had migrated all our production databases to SQL Server 2008 and had not used SQL Server 2005 since then, I still felt, for sentimental purposes perhaps, that I wanted to have SQL Server 2005 under my certification belt.

I believe this strategy worked really well for me because it allowed me to focus on the new features of SQL Server 2008 for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Exam 70-432.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-431?
1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-431): Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance
2) Microsoft SQL Server 2005: Database Essentials Step by Step

Having passed the MCTS: SQL Server 2005 exam with no problems I immediately scheduled the MCTS: SQL Server 2008. Since I have been using SQL Server 2008 for more than a year in our production and testing environment, I felt confident to simply go over some of the concepts to reinforce my knowledge.

Once I passed Exam 70-432 MCTS: SQL Server 2008, I felt I wanted to go all the way and obtain my MCITP: SQL Server 2008. One area I did not felt 100% confident was the dreaded performance monitoring and tuning part of every DBA’s job. So I buckled up and did deep dives on performance monitoring and tuning based on Andy Warren’s (@sqlandy) methodology and his blogs along with the many blogs from our other SQL masters and rock stars.

After going over more than 20 books, reading hundreds of blogs, spending late night hours practicing hands-on and assessing my knowledge through practice exams, I was able to pass Exam 70-450.

 What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-432 and  Exam 70-450?

1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft SQL Server 2008-Implementation and Maintenance
2) Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting
3) SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled
4) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Internals
6) SQL Performance Tuning Class by SQLShare (Instructor: Andy Warren @sqlandy)

The bottom line:  Do not attempt to obtain all of these certifications just by reading books or doing practice exams. The hands on experience really counts. Nowadays it is so easy to build your personal training labs on your home computer or laptop with free virtualization tools like VMWare.

So what is next?
Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). The MCM will take me a year or two of preparation and most probably I will attend one of Paul Randal’s and Kimberly Tripp’s (www.sqlskills.com) Public Immersion event in 2011 to help me prepare on some advanced topics. During this period I will have completed several infrastructure upgrades to our current OLTP Production system as well as really interesting Business Intelligence at my current employer.

In the meantime I will be working towards achieving certifications and advancing my skills on Virtualization technologies (Hyper-V and VMWare), SAN Administration (EMC, HP), Windows Server, Active Directory, SharePoint  2010, PowerPivot, PowerShell, Exchange 2010, Citrix, MicroStrategy, .Net Programming, Project Management PMP, and the list goes on…


19 Responses

  1. joe,

    excellent!! thank you for taking your time to write this! it really helps and inspires those of us who are pursuing certification.

    you did a great job of describing step by step the methods that worked for you. one takeaway from this for me is your advice of break/fix.

    best of luck in your MCM endeavor!

    – @mikeSQL

  2. Dude, AMAZING job with this post and again congrats on your acheivement. I truly believe this post will become the de-facto community reference post for how to approach certification exams. Well done!

  3. Joe,

    I can’t say thank you enough for this post. Your list of resources for going after the 70-450 exam are worth their weight in gold! Man, great job, just a great job!

    I feel so honored to say I have met and shook hands with a future MCM – I am just so inspired to jump into my cert studies right now! Of course, I’m at work, so it will have to wait until tonight, but wow! Inspiring!

    Thank you 🙂

    • I’m glad my journey has inspired you to take on those certifications. I wish you good luck in your journey. I hope to see you at the upcoming SQL Saturdays in Orlando and South Florida where hopefully I will be presenting again.

  4. Agreed, Congrats on the certs and well done on the post. Great read. Love the detailed outline of how you prepared.

    Great quote: “What I hear I forget. What I see I remember. What I do I understand.”

    Bottom line, Practice, practice, practice.

    • Thank you. I have that Confucius quote printed and posted next to my office book shelf. It helps me make my point about the importance of training and skill building.

  5. Joe, Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information with the community. I especially appreciate your humility and humor in the matter. Nobody is born knowing SQL and we all learn at different speeds, your post will help a lot of people.


    Scott Gleason

    • Thanks! I absolutely agree. Learn and get certified at your own pace. I hope my approach and book collection helps other SQL professionals obtaining their certifications.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AndyLeonard, Jorge Segarra, Ronald Dameron, Patrick Kansa, Andrew Neuman and others. Andrew Neuman said: RT @SQLChicken: MUST read for anyone thinking of taking certification tests: http://lnkd.in/2DyR5N by @sqljoe […]

  7. I cannot believe this is true!

  8. Hey Now SQLJoe,

    Very impressive, Congrats!

    Thx 4 the info,

  9. >> “I have spent endless nights doing …”

    Heh… does that equal 43 days? 😉

  10. Endless nights were spent architecting and developing our Data Warehouse and BI solution which spanned through almost 1 year before I took my MCTS: Business Intelligence SQL Server 2008.

    43 days were the exact number of calendar days from first to last certification due to last minute re-schdeuling.

  11. That’s kind of what I was getting at. Don’t get me wrong… you’ve achieved a huge amount in a very short time and my hat is certainly off to you… but you had prior knowledge. I just want to stress that the knowledge wasn’t achieved in only 43 days and that someone just starting out for the first time will likely not be as successful as you.

    Again, hat’s off to your wonderful accomplishment.,

    • To your point, you are absolutely right, the knowledge was not achieved in only 43 days or a week before each certification. I’ve had working knowledge dating back to Sybase and SQL Server 7/2000/2005 but never made the committment to achieve any certifications until recently.

      The biggest take away should be: don’t let the fear of failure stop you in achieving a goal, in this case a certification. If you feel uncertain, a good starting point is to read the exam objectives and focus on the topics you have no working knowledge, and I emphasize *working* as in hands-on knowledge. Read textbooks, blogs and reach out to other professionals and take advantage of free learning resources and events like SQL Saturday and other PASS and vendor sponsored events. Build a home lab with VMWare and practice. That is how I did it and it worked.

      Thanks so much for your compliments and hope my journey inspires you and many others to accomplish their professional accreditations.

  12. Congratulations on the great achievement. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on the same.
    I believe that we need determination apart from experience to for this kind of achievement. However, 4 certifications is in such a short span of time is unbelievable.

  13. stumble upon this post. This Inspires me a lot. I’ll practice more and more…

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