My MCM Story
If you are reading this, you probably know about Microsoft Certified Master certification from Microsoft. MCM, a very coveted certification was offered by Microsoft on few products like SQL Server, SharePoint, etc. Yes, it is discontinued since Jan 1, 2014 for reasons best known to Microsoft. Whatever be the reason, MCM of SQL Server was much cherished in the SQL community. Almost, every MCM has written about their journey towards attaining this certification, especially the lab exam experience.
In Microsoft’s own words: “The Microsoft masters-level certifications validate the deepest level of product expertise, in addition to the ability to design and build the most innovative solutions for complex, on-premises and hybrid enterprise environments using Microsoft technologies”.
And truly so, those who are MCMs know what it takes to be an MCM and how difficult it was to pass the exams, especially the lab exam. Now I don’t want to get started talking about the lab exam. You may read blogs posts from my fellow MCMs. Here I want to talk about my journey towards MCM, especially why I did it and under what circumstances.
First, I have never been a fan of Microsoft certifications. Early in my career I did get certify myself on MCDBA, MCSD.NET etc, I am talking about years 2000, 2001, etc, my first exam being in 1997 on Visual Basic and I got myself certified as MCP. But soon I realized that, due to availability of dumps, these certifications do not have any real value. I mean, anyone can get certified without even knowing the basics of a technology and the industry is much aware of this. Probably, most vendor certifications are like that, Microsoft is no exception. So I have a few Mmmsss in my signature but it is really just that. Well, let us leave this story for another post since this will call for a debate 🙂
However, MCM was different. No dumps (which is good) and literally no help available. It was credible and that’s why I could see some of the best SQL experts, who I really respect, opted for this certification and achieved it. If you know me, I have been working on SQL Server for some time now and I was no different. Somewhere back of my mind, I wanted to achieve MCM. Having done more than 500 assignments on SQL Server including projects, training, consulting, POCs, conferences, etc, I believed I was a good candidate for this 🙂
I looked up Microsoft website and found out that there were just four MCMs in India. Arvind Shyamsundar & Mandar Inamdar from Microsoft India are good friends. I got acquainted to Gaurav Aggarwal from Microsoft India in a joint training session. And Vijay Korapadi, I have never met. Hope to meet him sometime. He is from Microsoft as well. So we have MCM stalwarts from Microsoft India but there was no MCM outside Microsoft. Believe it or not, I was excited. As if I have got the MCM and I am the only one from India outside Microsoft. Never mind, I have a bad habit of day dreaming. But seriously, don’t you want to achieve something and probably be the first one to do so? Or the only one? In any walks of life, we all aim at certain milestones or professional achievements.
Philosophy aside, I thought, this will be a double treat and I should work towards it. But again, those of you who know me and my work, I am on some or the other assignment every working day of the calendar, with *very* hectic travel schedules. Sometimes, even weekends. And I needed quality time to prepare for the exams. Moreover, I had to first appear for four other SQL exams and achieve MCITP, which I hated and never wanted to do it. Now this was a long drawn thing and I knew I might not be up for this. I literally gave up!
Since 2010 until Aug 2013, I kept delaying my MCM. 6 exams in total, I was lazy on some occasions and very busy at other times. And just like many do, I decided I will get myself MCSM certified, the new avatar of MCM for SQL Server 2012. How convenient 🙂
Almost 3 years of postponing, what changed in August 2013? The bomb was dropped by Microsoft. They announced MCM certification will be discontinued from October 2013. Seriously? Yes. The entire SQL community was in a state of shock! I remember all the bashing around that went in our MVP DL and every opinion counted and every sentiment was seen by me. And here was me, the day dreamer, sitting and reading MVP responses. How lucky were those guys who went for it and got it. And people like me were only staring in despair.
What went through? Well, I talked to myself in every emotion and in every tone. Am I meant to be an MCM? Probably not. Do I really need MCM? May be not. Why am I upset? After all it is just a certification. Do I need to have MCM to prove my master skills on SQL Server? Probably not. Have I not already done enough work around SQL to be recognized as a specialist? Probably yes. Then why bother so much? Well, I don’t know what went through and I cannot put it on words. I wanted to be an MCM, that’s it!
But how? “Amit, you have not even given a single SQL exam which is a pre-requisite and you are thinking about the MCM knowledge exam and the lab exam”. And how do I plan to give so many exams in next two months amidst all confirmed assignments and packed travel schedule. There was no ray of hope. I was on the verge of giving it up, believing and convincing myself that I am not fortunate enough.
Then came the other news. Microsoft decides to keep the exam alive until the end of the year 2013 since many folks were preparing for it and they needed time to appear. They heard the community.
My day-dreaming started again 🙂
At least day dreams are in our control and if we can dream during the day knowing that we are dreaming about, we can make them come true 🙂
I started working towards postponing my assignments. It wasn’t easy. My esteemed clientele and I can publicly state that in my decade long career, I have never messed up with my dates or my commitment. My clients knew that. I gave the genuine reason and thankfully, all of them cooperated, except one, which had to be cancelled, since there were stringent deadlines. As I said, this was very tough, but once done, I started working towards MCM.
First, the pre-requisites, four exams for MCITP DB developer and DB administrator. I just appeared for them at prometric testing center one after the other. I believed that I have enough skills to pass those exams. Additionally I had the second shot offer with me as a MCT. So if I failed I could give it again at no extra cost. Luckily, I passed all exams in the first attempt.
First hurdle crossed. (In fact four hurdles).
Now comes the knowledge exam. The reading list was huge but most references were white papers on SQL that I had anyway read as part of my job. But not all of them. So I did skim through the remaining ones. Yes, I skimmed and read important parts. All put together, they would run into thousands of pages, probably over a lac, including references to books and it is not practically possible to even think about reading that stuff in two or three months. I needed to be smart. I tried and read whatever I could in the given time frame I had. I focused more on strengthening my existing skills rather than trying to acquire new skills, remember this is a MASTER test, you cannot be a MASTER in a topic in just a few days, you need experience!
Bad luck and very annoying, Prometric does not have a testing center in Bangalore for MCM knowledge exam. Calcutta has 🙂
I travelled to Calcutta. Appeared for the knowledge exam. Some really good questions and I could see a huge difference in quality compared to typical MS exams. I could already feel what I was up to. Thankfully, I passed!
Now comes the lab exam, the last hurdle. I did prepare and practice a few scenarios. I knew that we will have access to Books Online so I did not try to mug up syntaxes, but I did try to remember the process, steps, etc for implementing something. Scheduled my exam with Microsoft in December 2013, the last month. No one knew, literally, that I was appearing for this. Sat through 10 pm IST until 5 am IST. I told my wife, I have some support work 🙂 – the exam was grueling as many MCMs have already described.
Very thankful again, I passed!
That’s it and I give India, the only Microsoft Certified Master of SQL Server, outside Microsoft. Being a day dreamer is not that bad 😉
My MCM post, the first time I announced it: here
Microsoft blogs about my MCM: here
I receive my SQL MCM plaque: here
Thanks to everyone who responded on FaceBook
And the SQLServerGeeks FB group: here
I look forward to your comments and do share the page if you liked the story 🙂