Earning my MCSA for SQL Server 2016
When I accepted my current position as a Database Administrator, several milestone achievements were set and scheduled for me to achieve. The first one, set for completion within six months of employment, was to receive the current Microsoft certification around SQL Server.
Certification and Course
The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification is the mid-level certification offered by Microsoft for their technology platforms. The entry level, Microsoft Technology Associate, is meant for individuals just looking for a high level knowledge of Microsoft architecture, and is not required prior to obtaining the MCSA. People looking to obtain their MCSA have many options available, but the one applicable for me was the MCSA in Database Administration.
Having taken the MC Technology Specialist (MCTS) and MC IT Professional (MCITP) exams in the past, for SQL Server 2008 Development, I knew my best method of doing this was attending a tech boot camp. Boot camps are extremely fast paced, instructor led, courses that drill the knowledge into the student. The main goal tend to focus around the exams, rather than true practical knowledge, but you end up gleaning a ton of knowledge anyhow. These are effective, for me, because they take me out of my day to day (in this case, I flew from California to Florida for seven days) and put me in a place where all I have to worry about was learning the material.
The boot camp consisted of a condensed version of two Microsoft courses. The courses were ‘Administering a SQL Database Infrastructure’ (Course: 20764B | Test: 70-764) and ‘Provisioning a SQL Database’ (Course: 20765B | Test: 70-765). Though I can’t divulge a whole lot about the courses or the test due to trademarked material and an NDA for the tests, I can give some high level information.
This course had a lot to do with Backup/Restore configurations (Recovery models, scheduling, order of operations for restores, type and levels of restore, etc.), Data access and auditing, monitoring (specific DMO usage), and HA/DR methodologies. From a high level, this doesn’t sound super difficult or crazy, right? WRONG… This was the most difficult Microsoft exam I have taken (of the four I have taken.)
The questions required very pointed knowledge of the concepts. There was really no area that just required a high level understanding. You have to know how to do everything covered.
The one saving grace, Azure did not play a huge role in this side of the MCSA.
Even though, sequentially, this course is supposed to be second, our boot camp covered the material first. It really is the basis of what we do as DBA’s and a lot from this material/exam bled over to 70764B. On this side of the certification, Azure plays a heavy role and you really need to know a lot of details about service tiers, plans, and some pricing. The nice part, though, is you can learn most of this on the Microsoft docs site.
Having had ZERO experience with Microsoft Azure, this was really a fun part of the course. We did many labs using both the Azure management console and Powershell. All of the students in the course, simply, registered for free trial accounts to do the labs. The trial grants $200 in credit. I ended the course having about $188 left on the account, though I believe the account only retains the credit for a couple of months. There were a few items that the free account was unable to do, such as using SQL Server 2016’s Stretch Database.
By the end of the course, I was mentally exhausted. I passed both exams and have achieved the goal! I was really glad that I chose the route of attending a live boot camp. The pace was perfect, the depth was decent, and it gave me the tools needed to pass.
My main criticism lies with Microsoft itself. According to Microsoft, the MCSA certification is defined as:
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate is intended for people who seek entry-level jobs in an information technology environment. MCSA is a prerequisite for more advanced Microsoft certifications.
I find this verbiage to be an understatement of the knowledge needed to pass the exams. Given the level of knowledge needed to pass, the thought that this is intended for entry-level job seekers is dumbfounding to me. Microsoft needs to revisit this certification and really tune it to the target audience. I could only image how insane the Solutions Expert level tests are!
Have you taken any of the current generation Microsoft tests? Which ones?