Check Me Out
Last week, I earned two additional certifications: MCTS SQL Server 2008, Database Development and MCITP Database Developer 2008. I also hold the DBA versions of these certifications for SQL Server 2005 and 2008.
I was happy to earn the developer certifications. I don’t currently work primarily as a developer but I enjoy writing TSQL and developing applications, so it was interesting and (in its own way) fun to get these certifications. I guess I agree with Glenn Berry (blog|twitter): this “proves that I like to take tests.”
Are Certifications Useful?
Depending on who you are, you may choose a different answer to the following practice question:
You are a database administrator for the company Syntapti-Comitron, managing a server farm of 140,000 instances of SQL Server. After sixteen years of being the only person supporting 24×7 on-call, you convince your management chain to hire an additional database administrator.
You receive three applications for the job. All applicants have significant experience with SQL Server. One applicant has several MCITP DBA and Developer certifications. Do you:
a) Ignore the certifications. Red herring.
b) Interview the two applicants with experience and not the applicant with the certifications: it proves they know how to waste time and money.
c) Do a phone screen with the applicant who holds certifications, request verification, and then decide how to proceed. Experience being equal, the certification shows additional effort and investment in developing a profession.
d) Interview the applicant who answers the phone on the earliest ring. After all, they’re going to be on-call for sixteen years, they need to be good at answering the phone.
Personally, I’m hoping that most hiring managers go with option C.
Some people, however, may go with option B. Not everyone likes certifications, and some people may interpret a list of certifications as being self-aggrandizing. This is a risk in listing certifications on a resume, but I think it’s a small one. If you don’t have much experience yet, it shows effort on your part to study and get certified, so as long as you target your resume properly you can appear to be a hard worker. If you do have good experience, that should back up your certifications.
If you want to take the Microsoft Certified Master for SQL Server, you must earn the MCTS and MCITP certifications first.
Now for a Little Philosophy- What Certifications Don’t Cover
If you’ve ever managed people in IT operations, or even if you’ve just worked in Ops, you probably believe that the discipline requires a certain practical wisdom. People describe this in many ways, but after having lots of conversations over the years I believe most of us agree on the gist of this. You have to “get operations” in a way that isn’t cultural, and isn’t based on knowledge. And although experience helps, it isn’t enough by itself. People can have great book learning and some good experience, and still panic and delete your transaction log if a database is in recovery and people are getting upset. Or update objects in your production database without checking it into source. Or… well, let’s not get started.
“Practical wisdom” is a concept that goes back to Aristotle: phronesis.
Phronesis is the capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life. Aristotle says that phronesis is not simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end. (Thanks, Wikipedia)
Phronesis is tied to experience, and it requires practice.
It doesn’t take just knowledge to succeed as a DBA, you have to be methodical at times and creative at times. You have to work well under pressure and also be laid back at times to preserve your sanity. You need to communicate with machines and *all manner* of people (from Devs to Sales), and influence them. You also need to practice your troubleshooting technique again and again, and adapt to changing conditions.
You’ve got to be able to constantly build wisdom from your practical experience in addition to the knowledge you gain.
Ensuring Your Bacon*s Integrity
Conclusion: Certifications can’t prove that someone will be good at saving your bacon*, or determining the right practices for supporting and ensuring your bacon*s integrity.
The Bad News: You won’t know if someone can save/support/ensure your bacon* until you work with them for a while. A certification shows the person is at least interested in knowing how to save your bacon*.
*or vegetarian equivalent
How Do I Pass these Exams?
If you’d like to get the MCTS and MCITP certifications for database administration and database development, I recommend using these two study books from Microsoft Press (click images for links). They include practice tests on a DVD that get you in the mood and get you thinking on the right topics.