I take it for granted that everyone knows all about Microsoft certifications and Microsoft MVP’s. But a few years ago, I had no idea what they were. I had seen a few people list Microsoft certifications on their résumé, but I really did not know much about them, and I heard the term “Microsoft MVP” but had no clue what it was. So, this blog is for those who were like me back then: I’ll describe what they are and how they might benefit you.
The Microsoft’s MVP program is designed by Microsoft to recognize individuals active in the SQL Server community. These people have made contributions that help build and support the SQL Server community. MVP’s usually are frequent bloggers, active on twitter, presenters at conferences, answer questions on forums, etc. More on that here and here. Besides SQL Server, there are dozens of other areas that Microsoft awards MVP’s to. There are about 300 SQL Server MVP’s world-wide, and 5,000 MVP’s for all areas.
Once you become an MVP, it is only good for one year: you must be renewed each year. So you have to keep up your contributions to keep your status.
How does being a Microsoft MVP help your career? The biggest benefit is if you want to work for a consulting company, as they can promote the fact they have a MVP on board and that could help with obtaining clients. So you would look very appealing to them. If you are an independent consultant, it would help you land clients. Outside of that, it would depend on the person interviewing you for a job. Many have no idea what a Microsoft MVP is, but for those that do, you should get a lot of brownie points.
MVP’s also receive benefits such as: complimentary subscriptions to MSDN or TechNet ($5000 value), access to MVP private newsgroups, free technical support incidents, assigned a dedicated MVP Lead who serves as the MVP’s main point of contact inside Microsoft, and admission to the MVP Global Summit.
You can check out what other SQL Server MVPs are up to on Twitter or get a daily newsletter with items linked by SQL Server MVPs on Twitter.
Microsoft certifications are available for dozens of technologies, and within each technology there is usually a number of certification levels. For example, there are eight possible certifications in SQL Server 2008, with four levels. The first level is called Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and there are three certifications: Implementation and Maintenance, Database Development, and Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance. For each one of those that you pass, you can take the next level exam, called Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). These certifications are called Database Administrator, Database Developer, and Business Intelligence Developer. If you pass the four non-BI exams, you are eligble to take the next level, called Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) SQL Server 2008. Passing that allows you to take the fourth level, Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) SQL Server 2008.
I have passed the three MCTS and three MCITP exams, and can say the exams are pretty tough. You sign up to take a test at a local Prometric center. The tests are 2-3 hours in length, and consist of between 40 and 90 multiple choice questions, and require a 70 or above to pass. They cost $150 (except for the MCM and MCA, which each cost around $2500). The tests are done on a computer and results are given right after the test is done. Most exams have books, or training kits, especially for the test, such as MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 Implementation and Maintenance. There are also plenty of sites that have practice exams, such as the one I used called Transcender. I spent about an hour a day for about a month studying for each exam. That, combined with my many years of work experience, allowed me to pass each test on the first try, although twice I made it by one or two questions.
How does having a certification help your career? Again, like being a Microsoft MVP, the biggest benefit is if you want to work for a consulting company. Many companies are in the Microsoft Partner program, which requires the company to have a certain number of staff with certifications. Studying for the tests also helps to expose you to a lot of areas you may know little about, if at all. For example, studying for SQL Server will have you learn about all the different types of High Availability Solutions, of which you may only be aware of one or two types. Having certifications will be appealing to some companies, as occasionally you will see job postings that list certifications as a nice-to-have requirement, but other companies won’t care. Again, it depends on the person interviewing you. At the very least, it shows you take the extra effort to improve your skills, and will give you that extra edge over other job applicants if everything else is equal.