Professional Certification for DBAs

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Is Professional Certification Necessary?

Bring up the merits of professional certification with a group of DBAs, and you are guaranteed to start an argument. Some DBAs are proud of their certifications and maintain them assiduously, taking new exams as each new version of the software is released, and displaying all their certificates above their desk. Others are certified, but don’t publicize the fact. Some DBAs get certified at the start of their career, but then don’t bother renewing their certification when new products are released. And there are yet other DBAs who brag about the fact that they have never taken a certification exam, nor will they ever take one.

According to Microsoft, as of early 2008:

·         149,590 people have received the SQL Server 2000 MCDBA certification (to be phased out in early 2009)

·         24,939 people have received the MCTS: SQL Server 2005 certification

·         4,006 people have received the MCITP: Database Administrator certification;

·         1,596 people have received the MCITP: Database Developer certification

·         801 people have received the MCTS: Business Intelligence certification.

As you can see, while the SQL Server 2000 MCDBA certification was very popular, the newer SQL Server 2005 certifications have been much less so. While it is hard to know the reason for this, it might be an indication that certification is not as important to DBAs as it has been in the past.

When it really comes down to it, becoming certified in SQL Server does not make you an Exceptional DBA. In fact, many Exceptional DBAs have never taken a certification test. However, in my opinion, there are definite advantages to certification, depending on your situation. In this chapter, we will examine the different types of certification available, and some of the benefits of certification. We will finish the chapter by trying to answer that age-old question: “Should I get certified as a DBA?”

SQL Server Certification

Over the years, Microsoft has offered a wide range of different certifications for SQL Server. Certifications first became available with SQL Server 6.5, with separate tests for administration and development. SQL Server 7.0 followed the same format. When SQL Server 2000 was introduced, certification was changed to the MCDBA, which required 4 exams to achieve certification. With the introduction of SQL Server 2005, Microsoft introduced two different types of SQL Server certifications: the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). For SQL Server 2008, Microsoft intends to continue offering the MCTS and MCITP certifications, with some minor changes to the MCTS certification, which I will discuss shortly.

For the latest certification news, check out Microsoft’s learning portal at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/default.aspx.

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist

The Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification is designed to recognize an individual’s skills in a specific Microsoft technology. Microsoft offers a wide variety of Technology Specialist certifications, including two that are of specific interest to DBAs of SQL Server 2005, and three that are of specific interest to DBAs of SQL Server 2008.

The SQL Server 2005 MCTS certification includes these two options:

·         SQL Server 2005 Technology Specialist

·         SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Technology Specialist

To receive the SQL Server 2005 Technology Specialist credential, you must pass the exam: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance (70-431). This exam tests your knowledge of SQL Server 2005 tools usage, tool navigation, wizard use, Transact-SQL, code debugging, and troubleshooting. It is designed for all DBAs, and is the most basic of all the SQL Server 2005 tests available. It encompasses the foundation of knowledge that all SQL Server DBAs should possess.

To receive the SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Technology Specialist credential, you must pass the exam: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence-Implementation and Maintenance (70-445). This exam tests your knowledge of SQL Server 2005 SSAS management, SSAS development, data mining, managing SSRS, report development, BI solutions development, and SSIS administration. It is designed for DBAs who specialize in SQL Server 2005 business intelligence, and encompasses the foundation of knowledge that all SQL Server Business Intelligence DBAs should possess.

The SQL Server 2008 MCTS certification includes these three options:

·         SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance

·         SQL Server 2008 Database Development

·         SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance

To receive the SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance Specialist credential, you must pass the exam 70-432, which covers the following topics: installing and configuring, maintaining SQL instances, managing security, managing a database, data management tasks, monitoring and troubleshooting, optimizing, and implementing high availability.

To receive the SQL Server 2008 Database Development credential, you must pass the exam 70-433, which covers Transact-SQL coding and development.

To receive the SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance credential, you must pass the exam 70-448, which covers the following topics: configuring, deploying, maintaining and implementing SSIS, SSRS, and SSAS.

To receive any of the above certifications, only a single test is required. A side benefit of taking any of the above exams is that they get you one-step closer to receiving the Microsoft Certified IT Professional certification, as each of these exams counts towards this certification.

Microsoft Certified IT Professional

The Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification is Microsoft’s premier certification. It encompasses multiple tests, each of which covers a specific subject matter area. Microsoft offers three different IT Professional certifications of interest to DBAs, for both SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008:

·         Database Administrator

·         Database Developer

·         Business Intelligence Developer

The MCITP certification includes multiple tests (different tests for SQL Server 2005 and 2008) and a covers a wider range of subject matter knowledge, so this certification is considered superior than the Technology Specialists certifications. While most DBAs will pick a single certification, some really motivated DBAs might want to get them all.

Note that the SQL Server 2008 tests names and numbers have not been designated at the time of this writing, but will be similar to the SQL Server 2005 tests.

Database Administrator IT Professional

As its name indicates, this certification is designed for DBA Administrators, and includes three required exams:

·         Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance (70-431)

·         Designing a Database Server Infrastructure by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-444)

·         Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Administration Solution by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-444)

Database Developer IT Professional

This certification is designed for DBAs who focus on database development, and includes three required exams:

·         Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance (70-431)

·         Designing Database Solutions by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-441)

·         Designing and Optimizing Data Access by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-442)

Business Intelligence Developer IT Professional

No surprises here. This certification is designed for DBAs who specialize in Business Intelligence, and includes two required exams:

·         Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence – Implementation and Maintenance (70-445)

·         Designing a Business Intelligence Infrastructure by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-446)

Other Certifications of Interest to DBAs

In the previous chapter, we talked about how important it is for the DBA to be familiar with the hardware and operating system that SQL Server runs on. While you don’t have to be certified in hardware or the operating system to be an Exceptional DBA, doing so can certainly help you to round out your knowledge. Below are some certifications that you might consider:

·         CompTIA A+: Vendor-neutral certification on computer hardware. Recommended for all DBAs so they become familiar with hardware basics.

·         CompTIA Network+: Vendor-neutral certification on networking. Recommended for all DBAs so they become familiar with networking concepts and troubleshooting.

·         CompTIA Security+: Vendor-neutral certification on security. You might be interested in this certification if you are a DBA Administrator and have an interest in understanding all aspects of security.

·         Microsoft Technology Specialist – Windows Server 2003 Hosted Environments, Configuration, and Management: This single exam certification is recommended for all DBAs so they become familiar with Windows Server.

·         Microsoft Technology Specialist-Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuration: If you are planning to move to Windows Server 2008, then you may want to consider this exam.

·         Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Server Administrator: This three exam certification is recommended for all DBA Administrators as it helps provide a deep understanding of the Windows operating system. This is available for both Windows Server 2003 and 2008.

·         Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Microsoft offers a variety of certifications for developers. If you are a DBA Developer, attaining one or more of these certifications will help round out your knowledge of how applications interact with SQL Server.

Benefits of Certification

While becoming certified in various SQL Server specialties won’t necessarily make you an Exceptional DBA, I believe it has some key benefits that can contribute to this goal.

Helps to Focus Your Training Efforts

In my opinion, the biggest benefit of becoming certified is that the process of passing exams helps you to focus your learning. In other words, I don’t necessarily take exams because I want to have a particular certification; I do it because it forces me to study in a systematic way. Taking and passing exams can act as a motivator to get you to spend the time necessary to master your DBA specialty, and other technology areas important to the DBA.

Broadens your Knowledge

Most of the exams you will take for certification require you to learn a broad range of information and, in that sense, certification exams force you to study technology areas that you might otherwise ignore. For example, let’s say that you are a DBA Administrator and focus your learning on administrative tasks. This is great, but if you neglect to learn about how application development affects SQL Server’s performance, you are missing out on a lot of useful knowledge.

Distinguishes You from Other DBAs

When it comes time for an internal promotion, or when you are competing for a new job, being certified will help to distinguish you from other candidates. It demonstrates that you keep up with new technology and have mastered the basic skills needed to be a successful DBA.

However, while certification can distinguish you from others, it is not a substitute for experience. In many cases, the more experienced DBA (even without certification) will get the promotion or job over a less experienced DBA with certification.

Some Companies Require Certification

While most companies don’t require their DBA to be certified, some do. So, if you are interested in working for a company that only hires certified DBAs, then you have no choice but to become certified.

Company Recognition and Rewards

Some companies treat certified employees differently than non-certified employees. For example, certified employees may be given more responsibility, have better chances of promotion, and may even be paid bonuses based on the certifications they receive.

Peer Recognition

While many DBAs may not care about this, your effort to become certified often brings peer recognition and respect.

Can become a Microsoft Certified Trainer

If you interested in the career opportunities available to a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), you must first get certified in your specialty area. Generally, you will need to get your MCITP before you pursue your MCT credentials.

Potential College Credit

Some colleges and universities will award college credit for taking certification classes and passing certification tests. This can be beneficial if you are finishing your schooling, or are going back to school for additional training, or a new degree.

Microsoft Specific Benefits

Once you pass any Microsoft certification exam, you become a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), and Microsoft will offer you some benefits as a reward. Some of these specific benefits include, but are not limited to:

·         A listing in the MCP Directory

·         Access to a private Microsoft Certification web site, which includes a lot of free information

·         Access to the Microsoft Product Support Knowledge Base, which is not available to the public

·         Invitations to conferences, training, and special events

·         Monthly newsletter subscription

·         A transcript that can be printed

·         A printed certificate you can display

·         Use of the Microsoft certification logo

Should I Get Certified as a DBA?

As I said earlier, becoming a certified DBA will not make you an Exceptional DBA, and nor does being an Exceptional DBA require that you become a certified DBA. With this in mind, I want to offer the following advice about becoming certified. I offer it with the proviso that everyone is different, so the advice offered here may or may not apply to you. Read my recommendations, and take away from them the advice that best applies to you.

Who Should Seriously Consider Becoming a Certified DBA?

I highly recommend you get certified as a DBA if you fall into any of the following categories:

·         You are currently not a DBA, but want to become a DBA.

·         You are a DBA by training or accident, but have little or no practical experience.

·         You are a DBA, with or without experience, and you want to work for a company that requires that their DBAs be certified.

·         You are a DBA working for a consulting company, and getting certified helps to distinguish yourself and your company from other consulting companies.

·         You want to become a Microsoft Certified Trainer and teach SQL Server classes.

Who Should Consider Becoming a Certified DBA?

If you fall into one of the following categories, then I suggest you check out DBA certification, as it may be beneficial to you, although not required.

·         You are a DBA and have experience, but your body of knowledge is narrow and you want to broaden that knowledge base.

·         For whatever reason, you have not kept up with the latest versions of SQL Server and you want to force yourself to catch up.

·         You work in a competitive company and are seeking to become promoted.

·         You work in a competitive job market, and you are applying for a new job and you want to distinguish yourself from other job applicants.

Who Might Not Want to Consider Certification?

There are some DBAs who may not be interested in certification, or they may not benefit from being certified.

·         You have five or more years of solid DBA experience, and you have no trouble keeping up with the latest in SQL Server technology on your own.

·         You are a DBA who was certified in an earlier version of SQL Server, have lots of experience as a DBA, and you have no trouble keeping up with the latest in SQL Server technology, so you don’t want to bother being re-certified each time a new version of SQL Server is released.

·         You are one of those rare DBAs who don’t need any motivation to learn and can do it on your own, and you are so confident in your skills that you don’t need to show them off to anyone by becoming certified.

In my experience, DBAs who fall into the latter category tend to be a little arrogant, which is not a good trait for an Exceptional DBA. Having faith in your own ability is fine, but don’t let this slip into arrogance or complacency, or you may find it a little harder to find or keep a job as a DBA.

Are There Any Downsides to Certification?

The answer to this depends on what you consider a downside. For example, people might consider the following as downsides to certification, but others will not.

·         Taking certification exams costs money.
Many companies will pay for certification tests for their employees, and if this is the case for you, then this downside is null and void.

·         Preparing for certification exams costs money.
If you take a formal class, attend seminars, or even buy books, it will cost you money out of pocket. In fact, if you take formal classes for certification, you can end up spending many thousands of dollars, depending on where you get your training. Again, many companies will pay for certification training as well as for taking the exams. In addition, some U.S. government agencies offer training reimbursement, or you can take advantage of the U.S. federal tax credit for learning, to help offset part of the cost.

·         Preparing for certification exams takes time.
Many people spend hours of their own time preparing to take certification exams. In other cases, you may work for a company that allows you time off for training, although you will still need to spend some of your personal time on studying. However, even if you don’t want to become certified, you will still be spending a lot of your own time studying, in order to keep up with the technology. If you look at it this way, then spending time studying is just part of being a DBA, and is not a downside, unless you don’t like to study. And if you don’t like to study, then you don’t want to become a DBA.

How to Get Your Employer to Help Pay for Your Certification

If you decide you want to go the certification route, and you don’t have the financial resources to pay for it yourself, try to enlist the help of your employer. Many employers realize the importance of on-going education and certification ,and provide a training budget for their employees. If your company offers such a program, then don’t waste this opportunity.

If your employee doesn’t have a formal training program, then write up a proposal to your manager, explaining the benefits of you getting trained and certified, along with the associated costs, so the manager knows exactly what is involved. If you write up a thoughtful proposal, demonstrating the benefits for the organization’s investment, then you will be on the right track for getting that approval. If your organization isn’t interested in helping you out, then you might want to consider finding one that will.

Summary: There is little Downside to Certification

While you can be an Exceptional DBA without becoming certified, I think that, for most people, there is little to no downside to becoming a certified DBA. Because of this, I generally recommend certification to those people who ask me about it.

If you are new to SQL Server certification, I suggest you start with the MCTS certification that best matches your SQL Server interests. For example, if you are interested in SQL Server 2008 DBA administration, get the SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance certification. If you are interested in SQL Server 2008 DBA development, get the SQL Server 2008 Database Development certification, and if you are interested in SQL Server 2008 BI, then get the SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance certification. Note that the 2008 exams won’t be available until late 2008. If you are impatient, you can take the 2005 exams now.

Once you have taken one or more of these tests, and you feel ambitious, consider getting the MCITP in your area of specialization. Training and certification is an on-going process, but it can be rewarding if you want to make the most of your career as a DBA.

About the author

Brad McGehee

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Brad M. McGehee is a MCITP, MCSE+I, MCSD, and MCT (former), and, until recently, the Director of DBA Education for Red Gate Software. He is now the editor of the SQL Server Central Stairway series. Brad is also an accomplished Microsoft SQL Server MVP, with over 16 years SQL Server experience and over 7 years training experience. Brad is a frequent speaker at User Groups and industry events (including SQL PASS, SQL Server Connections, devLINK, SQLBits, SQL Saturdays, TechFests and Code Camps), where he shares his 16 years of cumulative knowledge and experience. A well-respected name in SQL Server literature, Brad is the author or co-author of more than 15 technical books (freely available on SQLServerCentral) and over 275 published articles.

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