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Stepping Stone Cert

A few of us have been deliberating and discussing the need for a bridge certification between the MCITP and MCM certifications from Microsoft.  This discussion was brought about due to an editorial by Steve Jones at SQLServerCentral.  As the discussion has progressed I believe there are some good ideas coming about from the discussions on how to create such a bridge.  I want to share some of that info here as well as some background on the topic.

Why is there a need?

Microsoft has two levels of certification that are of interest to many Database Professionals.  The first is the MCITP and the second is the MCM.  The MCITP is a series of exams taken from computer that are designed to test general skills related to one of the database roles and the exam topic in particular.  This certification is relatively accessible and has minimal relative cost (you pay for each exam and study materials).

The MCM is a higher achievement with considerably more cost.  The MCM is conducted via a “boot-camp” training session on the Microsoft campus for three weeks straight.  The cost is $18,500 for the three weeks alone.  Beyond those costs are all associated travel fees (lodging, food, transportation).  To be accepted into the program there is an application process and a non-refundable fee of $125.  There are exams and labs that must be passed in order to receive the certification.  There is also the time requirement of five years in the profession and be an MCITP.  Now, you do get to receive training at the hands of some MVPs such as Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randall – which could be quite an experience alone.  As you can see, this certification is designed for Senior level Database Professionals and has some high barriers to entry.

These two levels of certification create a chasm between themselves.  There is a lot of middle ground that is not covered.  Many can’t afford the MCM, and many won’t do the MCITP due to perception.  If there is something between the two that can bridge the gap, there will be change in perception from the community as well as business.  The certification in the middle needs to be able to build on the MCITP and serve as a building block for the MCM if one should desire to pursue it.  However, it should also be recognized as being able to stand on its own (which the MCITP does not) as a quality certification.

Barriers to Entry

Barriers to entry are requirements that must be met by an individual prior to being accepted.  This term is used in business and economics and denotes the difficulties a company may have when starting up in an industry.  Barriers to entry are good.  They help create competition and try to help create a perception of quality.

I believe the MCM has some high barriers for a few good reasons.  These reasons are:

  1. Prevent people from cheating the system.  Certifications have received a back eye in general due to people cheating the exams and through the use of widely available brain-dumps.
  2. Be a credible certification.  Since MS is controlling the environment of this certification, it would be difficult to cheat your way to being an MCM.  By being so difficult as well, it could garner more respect for the person having achieved it and thus instill a little more confidence in the certification system.
  3. Make the MCM prestigious.  With so much cost and so few people attaining the certification, it could become a desirable certification.
  4. In addition to those reasons for the barriers, there is the revenue that this program will generate for Microsoft as well.

Bridging the Gap

How does a company that sponsors a certification bridge a gap such as exists for Microsoft with the MCM and MCITP?  That is the dilemma that has several people talking and particularly in the discussion forum from the editorial mentioned already.  There is a foundation of ideas that are forming into a consensus on how to handle this middle ground.  This does not however mean that all of the questions have been answered.  Nor does it mean that these ideas are to be adopted by Microsoft or even PASS.  Here is a review of the foundation being proposed.

  1. MCITP Certified
  2. Lab / Project
  3. Review Board
  4. Presentation
  5. Exams
  6. Time in Service

This bridge would be akin to the Journeyman in the trades.  The idea being that the MCITP is more like an apprenticeship.  You have hopefully learned a little bit from the exams and studying performed to gain that certification.  The next step is to journey out as an apprentice and establish yourself in the industry.  Somebody signs off that you are able to perform the duties that to which you ascribe.  A journeyman can do the work without supervision and has the endorsement of his peers.  This is a formalized approval.  Does one need to be certified to be able to do the job?  NO.  This is a path for those that desire to be certified.  Will this path lend more credence to the person doing the job?  Potentially.  Since this certification is not in a bubble there will be some gaming of the system.  The amount of gaming and cheating will be considerably less.

MCITP Certified

Being certified at the base level should be a pre-requisite.  This requirement holds for the MCM and shows some level of competence and intent toward certification and the DBMS.

Lab / Project

The conducting of a hands on exercise is essential to testing the ability of the candidate.  Being able to perform a given task under pressure is what we do as professionals.  This will help to divulge the mettle of the candidate as well as demonstrate the skill set.  The administration of this exercise is one yet to be flushed out.  There needs to be a large pool of exercises for this to help prevent any brain-dumping of content or cheating of the system.

Presentation

Senior level professionals in the community need to be able to communicate effectively.  This presentation can be a topic of choosing by the candidate.  The presentation could be scored by the attendees to provide additional feedback for the Review Board.  A benefit of requiring this is to help build a Presenter pool for the various events in the community.  This also helps to provide additional material for review on how the candidate handled the task being presented and knowledge base.

Review Board

A panel of peers needs to review each and every applicant.  This will serve multiple purposes.  The primary purpose is to reduce the likelihood that somebody has gamed the system.  The board themselves should be Certified and well respected individuals in the SQL Community.  A nice example would be to have MVPs sign up for this.  A secondary benefit of this is that this review could serve as the application for the MCM.  The review will entail a review of a presentation (at minimum) the candidate has done, the lab / project, Exam Scores and potentially be an interview directly with the candidate.

Time in Service

This is the most controversial requirement for the certification.  If one is pursuing the MCM, then one must wait five years anyway.  If not then the candidate may or may not be intrigued by the need to wait for 2 years.  I feel that time in service gives more credence to the certification.  From Boy Scouts up through employment there are several time in service stipulations that one must meet in order to attain the goal.  I don’t think two years as a Database professional is a hard requirement (especially for those that have been working in the arena for several years already).  This time in service can serve as a fleshing out period.  I think there can be exceptions built in for this requirement.

Exams

This is pretty straight forward.  There are exams required for the MCITP, there need to be exams for this middle cert.  The exams need to entail greater difficulty and possibly be more specific skill-set.  This is an area for greater discussion.

Conclusion

These requirements are designed in an effort to build the community and bring a higher level of credence to the profession.  In no way should these be considered as an effort to esteem ourselves as the elite.  There are plenty of details to be discussed.  This is a worthwhile cause to champion and try to get PASS and MS on board with it.  Currently we call this certification the MCJ (JourneyMan).  I think that a renaming of the MCITP is also in order to help delineate the path from beginner to master.  MCITA would suffice for me.  Maybe the MCJ should also be more along the lines of MCITJ.  However, the MCJ works in coordination with the MCM as far as naming convention goes.

Comments

Posted by Glenn Berry on 30 March 2010

I like the idea of an MCJ certification. It will take a lot of work to convince Microsoft to get on board with this idea. Developing and administering exams is a difficult and expensive undertaking, that may be too much for PASS to take on. Still it is worth a try.

I also hate to see so many people almost dismissing having both MCITP-Database Administrator and MCITP-Database Developer as being nearly worthless.

According to several managers that I talked to from Microsoft Learning at PDC 2009, there will not be new versions of the SQL Server exams for SQL Server 2008 R2, so that means we have at least until the next version of SQL Server until they will be willing to make any major changes to certification.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 30 March 2010

Glenn,

I agree that this will be a massive undertaking.  I think it would be worthwhile endeavor.  If it accomplishes the goals, then let it take whatever effort is necessary.  I personally like certifications.  I believe they should be coupled with experience.  I think if enough people will champion the cause, then we can make it happen.

Posted by Dukagjin Maloku on 31 March 2010

Interesting to hear about MCJ & MCITJ! It seems between MCTS-MCITP & MCM, and it is combination between knowledge-certifications & knowledge-community. Finally I can see it like prerequisite for an MVP award. So the MCJ or MCITJ can be award programs:

1. MCJ – beginner level

2. MCITJ – intermediate level

3. MVP – Most Valuable Professional

At least this is my opinion! But I don't think so that MVP program will do this kind of changes.

Posted by Steve Jones on 31 March 2010

I think it's a great idea, and I'd like to see more mid level certs, though I still think we need to have MCITJ - SSIS, or MCITJ - Core admin, as specialties since the product is too wide.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 31 March 2010

I think there could very easily be a wide array of specialized certs within this Middle ground cert.

SSIS, SSRS, SSAS, PowerShell, Admin, CLR are all areas that could be tested more extensively.

Posted by Anonymous on 1 April 2010

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