An MCM exam, Rob? Really?

I took the SQL 2008 MCM Knowledge exam while in Seattle for the PASS Summit ten days ago.

I wasn’t planning to do it, but I got persuaded to try. I was meaning to write this post to explain myself before the result came out, but it seems I didn’t get typing quickly enough.

Those of you who know me will know I’m a big fan of certification, to a point. I’ve been involved with Microsoft Learning to help create exams. I’ve kept my certifications current since I first took an exam back in 1998, sitting many in beta, across quite a variety of topics. I’ve probably become quite good at them – I know I’ve definitely passed some that I really should’ve failed.

I’ve also written that I don’t think exams are worth studying for.

(That’s probably not entirely true, but it depends on your motivation. If you’re doing learning, I would encourage you to focus on what you need to know to do your job better. That will help you pass an exam – but the two skills are very different. I can coach someone on how to pass an exam, but that’s a different kind of teaching when compared to coaching someone about how to do a job. For example, the real world includes a lot of “it depends”, where you develop a feel for what the influencing factors might be. In an exam, its better to be able to know some of the “Don’t use this technology if XYZ is true” concepts better.)

As for the Microsoft Certified Master certification… I’m not opposed to the idea of having the MCM (or in the future, MCSM) cert. But the barrier to entry feels quite high for me. When it was first introduced, the nearest testing centres to me were in Kuala Lumpur and Manila. Now there’s one in Perth, but that’s still a big effort. I know there are options in the US – such as one about an hour’s drive away from downtown Seattle, but it all just seems too hard. Plus, these exams are more expensive, and all up – I wasn’t sure I wanted to try them, particularly with the fact that I don’t like to study.

I used to study for exams. It would drive my wife crazy. I’d have some exam scheduled for some time in the future (like the time I had two booked for two consecutive days at TechEd Australia 2005), and I’d make sure I was ready. Every waking moment would be spent pouring over exam material, and it wasn’t healthy. I got shaken out of that, though, when I ended up taking four exams in those two days in 2005 and passed them all. I also worked out that if I had a Second Shot available, then failing wasn’t a bad thing at all. Even without Second Shot, I’m much more okay about failing. But even just trying an MCM exam is a big effort. I wouldn’t want to fail one of them.

Plus there’s the illusion to maintain. People have told me for a long time that I should just take the MCM exams – that I’d pass no problem. I’ve never been so sure. It was almost becoming a pride-point. Perhaps I should fail just to demonstrate that I can fail these things.

Anyway – boB Taylor (@sqlboBT) persuaded me to try the SQL 2008 MCM Knowledge exam at the PASS Summit. They set up a testing centre in one of the room there, so it wasn’t out of my way at all. I had to squeeze it in between other commitments, and I certainly didn’t have time to even see what was on the syllabus, let alone study. In fact, I was so exhausted from the week that I fell asleep at least once (just for a moment though) during the actual exam. Perhaps the questions need more jokes, I’m not sure.

I knew if I failed, then I might disappoint some people, but that I wouldn’t’ve spent a great deal of effort in trying to pass. On the other hand, if I did pass I’d then be under pressure to investigate the MCM Lab exam, which can be taken remotely (therefore, a much smaller amount of effort to make happen). In some ways, passing could end up just putting a bunch more pressure on me.

Oh, and I did.

SQL Community – stronger than ever

I posted a few hours ago about a reflection of the Summit, but I wanted to write another one for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, hosted by Chris Yates.


In January of this year, Adam Jorgensen and I joked around in a video that was used for the SQL Server 2012 launch. We were asked about SQLFamily, and we said how we were like brothers – how we could drive each other crazy (the look he gave me as I patted his stomach was priceless), but that we’d still look out for each other, just like in a real family.

And this is really true.

Last week at the PASS Summit, there was a lot going on. I was busy as always, as were many others. People told me their good news, their awful news, and some whinged to me about other people who were driving them crazy. But throughout this, people in the SQL Server community genuinely want the best for each other. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t see much of this.

Australians aren’t big on cheering for each other. Neither are the English. I think we see it as an American thing. It could be easy for me to consider that the SQL Community that I see at the PASS Summit is mainly there because it’s a primarily American organisation. But when you speak to people like sponsors, or people involved in several types of communities, you quickly hear that it’s not just about that – that PASS has something special. It goes beyond cheering, it’s a strong desire to see each other succeed.

I see MVPs feel disappointed for those people who don’t get awarded. I see Summit speakers concerned for those who missed out on the chance to speak. I see chapter leaders excited about the opportunity to help other chapters. And throughout, I see a gentleness and love for people that you rarely see outside the church (and sadly, many churches don’t have it either).

Chris points out that the M-W dictionary defined community as “a unified body of individuals”, and I feel like this is true of the SQL Server community. It goes deeper though. It’s not just unity – and we’re most definitely different to each other – it’s more than that. We all want to see each other grow. We all want to pull ourselves up, to serve each other, and to grow PASS into something more than it is today.

In that other post of mine I wrote a bit about Paul White’s experience at his first Summit. His missus wrote to me on Facebook saying that she welled up over it. But that emotion was nothing about what I wrote – it was about the reaction that the SQL Community had had to Paul. Be proud of it, my SQL brothers and sisters, and never lose it.

Summit reflections

So far, my three PASS Summit experiences have been notably different to each other.

My first, I wasn’t on the board and I gave two regular sessions and a Lightning Talk in which I told jokes.

My second, I was a board advisor, and I delivered a precon, a spotlight and a Lightning Talk in which I sang.

My third (last week), I was a full board director, and I didn’t present at all.

Let’s not talk about next year. I’m not sure there are many options left.

This year, I noticed that a lot more people recognised me and said hello. I guess that’s potentially because of the singing last year, but could also be because board elections can bring a fair bit of attention, and because of the effort I’ve put in through things like 24HOP… Yeah, ok. It’d be the singing.

My approach was very different though. I was watching things through different eyes. I looked for the things that seemed to be working and the things that didn’t. I had staff there again, and was curious to know how their things were working out. I knew a lot more about what was going on behind the scenes to make various things happen, and although very little about the Summit was actually my responsibility (based on not having that portfolio), my perspective had moved considerably.

photoBefore the Summit started, Board Members had been given notebooks – an idea Tom (who heads up PASS’ marketing) had come up with after being inspired by seeing Bill walk around with a notebook. The plan was to take notes about feedback we got from people. It was a good thing, and the notebook forms a nice pair with the SQLBits one I got a couple of years ago when I last spoke there. I think one of the biggest impacts of this was that during the first keynote, Bill told everyone present about the notebooks. This set a tone of “we’re listening”, and a number of people were definitely keen to tell us things that would cause us to pull out our notebooks.

PASSTV was a new thing this year. Justin, the host, featured on the couch and talked a lot of people about a lot of things, including me (he talked to me about a lot of things, I don’t think he talked to a lot people about me). Reaching people through online methods is something which interests me a lot – it has huge potential, and I love the idea of being able to broadcast to people who are unable to attend in person. I’m keen to see how this medium can be developed over time.

People who know me will know that I’m a keen advocate of certification – I've been SQL certified since version 6.5, and have even been involved in creating exams. However, I don’t believe in studying for exams. I think training is worthwhile for learning new skills, but the goal should be on learning those skills, not on passing an exam. Exams should be for proving that the skills are there, not a goal in themselves. The PASS Summit is an excellent place to take exams though, and with an attitude of professional development throughout the event, why not?

So I did. I wasn’t expecting to take one, but I was persuaded and took the MCM Knowledge Exam. I hadn’t even looked at the syllabus, but tried it anyway. I was very tired, and even fell asleep at one point during it. I’ll find out my result at some point in the future – the Prometric site just says “Tested” at the moment. As I said, it wasn’t something I was expecting to do, but it was good to have something unexpected during the week.

Of course it was good to catch up with old friends and make new ones. I feel like every time I’m in the US I see things develop a bit more, with more and more people knowing who I am, who my staff are, and recognising the LobsterPot brand. I missed being a presenter, but I definitely enjoyed seeing many friends on the list of presenters. I won’t try to list them, because there are so many these days that people might feel sad if I don’t mention them. For those that I managed to see, I was pleased to see that the majority of them have lifted their presentation skills since I last saw them, and I happily told them as much. One person who I will mention was Paul White, who travelled from New Zealand to his first PASS Summit. He gave two sessions (a regular session and a half-day), packed large rooms of people, and had everyone buzzing with enthusiasm. I spoke to him after the event, and he told me that his expectations were blown away. Paul isn’t normally a fan of crowds, and the thought of 4000 people would have been scary. But he told me he had no idea that people would welcome him so well, be so friendly and so down to earth. He’s seen the significance of the SQL Server community, and says he’ll be back.

It’ll be good to see him there. Will you be there too?