I was recently asked if I thought getting a Microsoft certification was valuable. I see quite a few benefits. Certifications might help your company become a Microsoft Gold Partner, and certification may be a selling point when assigning consultants to engagements. For me, the big benefits have been about learning new features and getting to know features that I haven’t used much or at all. Before taking the exam, at a minimum, I’ll check the list of topics. If there is anything I’m not familiar with, or a new feature I haven’t played with, I’ll spend some time learning about those features. (Don’t tell anyone, but I have learned and forgotten XQuery so many times when prepping for SQL Server exams!)
What does passing a certification exam really mean? It actually means nothing more than you have passed a test. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, so many people had taken the MCSE exams, that the certification lost its value. The exams were quite easy, and it was possible to pass the exams without ever touching a Windows server. Theoretically, the exams should only be passable by those with experience, but even today some bootcamps guarantee that participants will pass just by taking their weeklong course. And, of course, there are those brain dump sites that supposedly have actual exam questions. Stay away from them!
Over time, the quality of the exams has improved, and new question types have been added. Instead of just multiple choice (guess) questions, some of the questions are hands on requiring that you perform actions and not just choose from a list of possible answers. Some of the sections also require quite a bit of reading. These changes have made the certifications more difficult and more valuable, in my opinion.
Microsoft have changed the premium certifications several times as well. For example, the big SQL Server cert was MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator) when it was first introduced in 1999, but then it was changed to MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional). It eventually became the current MSCE: Data Management and Analytics. This new cert has eight specialty options. Other areas, such as development and systems engineering, have also gone through similar transformations, especially to deal with cloud computing.
While the value of the current premier certifications is always up for debate, the ‘master-level’ certifications that were retired in 2014 were a different story. These certs, such as the Microsoft Certified Master, were earned by just a few hundred people before the program ended. At least in the data platform community, those who were able to achieve this status are highly respected for their knowledge. It’s a shame that these were retired.
There are some benefits to certification, and it’s nice to have an employer who gives you time to learn and study on the job – and will pay for materials, classes, and the exam. Just like having a degree, certifications are not necessary for working in tech. In my opinion, employers are always better off hiring people with experience, talent, and passion for tech over certifications or degrees.