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Some thoughts of your typical data shepard / data groomer / data dance teacher sort of person.


Microsoft Certification Pros and Cons
This post is a follow-up to the Glasgow SQL server user group meeting on 17th January 2017.

Microsoft offer a very wide variety of certification you can get an overview here on this page,  There really is something for everyone. Like many things in life, there are good points and bad points to everything.  What l intend to do is share some experiences and maybe some tips picked up along the way.

Why should you study for a certificate?

There are as many different reasons as people taking the exams.  Many people have found it helps them to carry out their day job better.  When l started to study for Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014.  I was fairly certain that l had fairly good T-SQL skills, studying the course caused me to explore and learn in much greater depth topics l had just looked at yet not studied in depth. The next exam Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 Databases has been of great benefit to helping me understand the internals of SQL server.  Allowing me to talk with more confidence to technical staff.  Having had to study and master various skills, this has given me more confidence to expand and increase my knowledge.

Whilst nothing can beat experience having a certificate can also improve the chances when looking for a new job.  If an interviewer is looking at two evenly matched candidates, one without a certificate one with a certificate.  Personally speaking, if l was the person making the decision then the person with the certificate would the one whom l would recommend getting the job.  By studying and passing the exam the candidate has demonstrated, initiative, self-motivation, and a genuine desire for technology.  At least that's my opinion.  In one case l know of a colleague whom l work with, who said one the reasons they were offered a job was due to the fact that had studied and passed two exams, which were relevant to the role they applied for.

Craig Porteous spoke to some recruiters he knows and asked them some questions about their view of certification.  So these thoughts are directly from those who make hiring decisions.

What weight do you put on certifications when hiring? 
1) A lot. With two otherwise comparable candidates, the one with certifications wins in my mind.
2) A lot, think it shows that candidates are focused in developing their career.
3) For a technical role I see it as essential 

Do you encourage the pursuit of certifications by your team?
1) Yes
2) Yes
3) Yes

Do you see any downsides/negative aspects to certifications?
1) No, none at all. 
2) Some of the accreditation's could be more hands on focused. 
3) Cost (retaining skilled up workers)

With staff who have completed certifications, do you see any differences in working practice etc to those who haven’t? 
1) Yes. People working towards certifications are more engaged with technology and tend to apply their learning in the work environment, sharing their knowledge and improving the overall team dynamic leading to improved productivity.
2) It really depends on the individual so don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Better way to look at it is how doing accreditations adds value to that person in regards technical ability and confidence.
3) Last example was a infrastructure type. Stuck him on a sccm course. A,month later our sccm world upgraded. A year later he left and now heads up sccm at dell secure works in the US . For me a benefit – I get a sccm upgrade from a capable engineer. They get a badge they can use to get their career upgraded. Win win.

One reason l have heard for not doing any certification is the cost.  My personal point of view on this is that l am investing in myself.  If l learn a new skill gain or learn some new techniques.  Yes, the company l am working for will benefit which is excellent news for them.  If l choose to move to another role with a different company, then those skills transfer with me.  Those skills l have invested both my time and (more importantly very often) my money in they are mine.  So my choice is to invest in myself as l believe that the return on investment (ROI) is excellent.

Resources
 
So you have decided to study for certification, what resources are there available?  The following list is just suggestions, based on largely on my experience and some others.

Books

 If you are planning to take the data platform exams then l would strongly suggest investing in the books for the relevant exam. For example, this one is for the 70-461 exam. The book covers all the topics that could be questioned in the exam. There is an accompanying CD has an electronic copy of the book and practice exam questions.   One series of books which I used whilst studying for 70-461 exam Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/14 was series titled 2 Joes.  The purpose of the books is to take a complete beginner through all the skills required to pass the exam.  Personally l found this is the best explanation of how to query xml data using TSQL.  They where for me worth the investment. 

Training Sites

CBT Nuggets - an excellent resource, the videos l viewed for my 70-462 exam were really helpful.  As part of the training package l signed up for included exam questions which l also found where excellent.  More expensive that other sites, you have access to all the courses.  Really worth considering if want to maximize your study time.

Udemy - with this provider you purchase one course at a time which allows you "lifetime access" to the course.  When the courses are on sale, the prices are low.  The quality of the courses can vary, so have a look a the reviews on the course before purchasing.  Personally, l found the 70-463 covered the basics well, on the other hand, it did not go into sufficient detail for the exam questions.

Pluralsight - this is a well know training site (ok l have heard the name in quite a few place) there are lists of videos for specific certifications.  The quaility of the courses l have watched were of a very high quality.

Microsoft Virtual Academy - its Free, which is not always a recommendation.  That said the quality of the courses that l have viewed have been excellent.   For the exams search for jump start videos, which are a really good jumping off point to start your studying.  So excellent hints and tips in the videos from people who passed and training people for the exams.

SQL Bits - apart from being one of the best SQL conferences in Europe.  The organizers have given back to the SQL community by recording some of the sessions and making the available for FREE on their website.  To find what you are looking for might take a bit of searching, most topics will have at least one video on them.

YouTube - there are a lot of videos uploaded on a wide variety of topics.  There will be some searching to find the topic you are looking.  On the downside the quality of content is variable.   Ranging from the excellent to the not so good.

Blog posts - again this will require some searching.  It has in my experience, been worth the time and energy required.  One author whilst studying for the 70-463 exam blogged about what she was learning as they went along.

Passing the exams

What is required to pass the exams?  Practice and lots of it!  One of the keys that are borne out by other people who passed the exams is the practice exams.  These exam questions will not be exactly like the exam questions.  What they will do is get in the way of thinking when doing the exams.  Reading exam questions to see the question, examining multiple choice questions for the correct answer.  Best way to get practice is to get hold of practice exam questions and take the exam.  There are a number of providers which will allow you to purchase them, MeasureUp, CBTNuggets and others. They will not be exactly the same as the exam questions you take when you go into the exam room. On the other hand they will give you practice at answering the questions.  If you pay attention to the score at the end of the practice exam you will also be able to see where you need to improve.

The questions are designed quite deliberately to test your knowledge, well you would not want them to be too easy ?  This article from Pluralsight has some excellent examples of the format of the type of question you will be answering in the exam.  If you are really interested in how the question are constructed and methodology behind them, this video from Pluralsight has an interview with someone who designs the exams.

All that remains to say if you have decided to study for a certification, good luck and happy studying.