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SQL Server: SQL Server certification

You have a lot of options for getting certified on your version of SQL Server, and you should do so if you’re the one responsible for keeping it up and running.

Excerpted from “How to Become an Exceptional DBA,” published by Red Gate Books (2008).

Brad McGehee

Over the years, Microsoft has offered a range of different SQL Server certifications. The first SQL Server certifications were available for 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 four exams to achieve certification.

When Microsoft introduced SQL Server 2005, there were two types of SQL Server certifications: the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). For SQL Server 2008, Microsoft continues to offer the MCTS and MCITP certifications, with some minor changes. There are two Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification specialties—Data Platform and Business Intelligence (BI)—available for SQL Server 2012. For the latest certification landscape, check out the Microsoft Learning portal.

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist

The MCTS certification is designed to recognize an individual’s skills in a specific Microsoft technology. Microsoft offers a variety of MCTS certifications, including two that are of specific interest to SQL Server 2005 DBAs. There are three that should interest SQL Server 2008 DBAs. The SQL Server 2005 MCTS certification includes these two options:

  1. SQL Server 2005 Technology Specialist
  2. SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Technology Specialist

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

To earn the SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Technology Specialist credential, you must pass the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence – Implementation and Maintenance (70-445) exam. This tests your knowledge of SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services (SSAS) management, SSAS development, data mining, managing SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), report development, BI solution development and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) administration. It’s designed for DBAs who specialize in SQL Server 2005 BI. It encompasses the foundation of knowledge that all SQL Server BI DBAs should possess.

The SQL Server 2008 MCTS certification includes these three options (one more than with SQL Server 2005):

  1. SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance
  2. SQL Server 2008 Database Development
  3. SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance

To receive any of these certifications, there’s only a single test required. To earn the SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance Specialist credential, you must pass exam 70-432, which covers installing, configuring and maintaining SQL instances; managing security; managing a database; data management tasks; monitoring and troubleshooting; optimizing; and implementing high availability (HA). To earn the SQL Server 2008 Database Development credential, you must pass exam 70-433, which covers Transact-SQL coding and development. To earn the SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance credential, you must pass exam 70-448, which covers configuring, deploying, maintaining and implementing SSIS, SSRS and SSAS.

A side benefit of taking any of these exams is that they get you one step closer to earning the MCITP certification and each of these exams counts toward this certification.

Microsoft Certified IT Professional

The MCITP certification is the premier Microsoft certification. It encompasses multiple tests, each of which covers a specific subject matter area. Microsoft offers three different MCITP certifications of interest to SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008 DBAs:

  1. Database Administrator
  2. Database Developer
  3. Business Intelligence Developer

The MCITP certification includes multiple tests (with different tests for SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008) and covers a wider range of subject matter knowledge. This certification is considered superior to the MCTS certifications.

Database Administrator MCITP As its name indicates, this certification is designed for DBAs. It includes three required exams for SQL Server 2005:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance (70-431)
  2. Designing a Database Server Infrastructure by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-443)
  3. Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Administration Solution by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-444)

For SQL Server 2008, there are only two exams required to receive your Database Administrator MCITP:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Installation and Maintenance (70-432)
  2. Designing, Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Server Infrastructure Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (70-450)

Database Developer MCITP This certification is designed for DBAs who focus on database development. It includes three required exams for SQL Server 2005:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance (70- 431)
  2. Designing Database Solutions by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-441)
  3. Designing and Optimizing Data Access by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-442)

For SQL Server 2008, only two exams are required to earn your Database Developer MCITP:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Database Development (70-433)
  2. Designing Database Solutions and Data Access Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (70-451)

Business Intelligence Developer MCITP This certification is designed for DBAs who specialize in BI. It includes two required exams for SQL Server 2005:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence – Implementation and Maintenance (70-445)
  2. Designing a Business Intelligence Infrastructure by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (70-446)

For SQL Server 2008, there are only two exams required to earn your Business Intelligence Developer MCITP:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance (70-448)
  2. Designing a Business Intelligence Infrastructure Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (70-452)

MCSA: SQL Server 2012

The MCSA: SQL Server 2012 certification is the basic SQL Server 2012 certification. It’s also a prerequisite toward earning the MCSE: Data Platform or MCSE: Business Intelligence certification. Exams 461, 462 and 463 add up to MCSA: SQL Server 2012. Add exams 464 and 465 to an existing MCSA: SQL Server 2012 to earn your MCSE: Data Platform. You could also add 466 and 467 to earn MCSE: Business Intelligence. There’s also the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) level for SQL Server 2012. This encompasses designing and building on-premises, off-site and hybrid infrastructures.

You can also upgrade your existing SQL Server 2008 certification to SQL Server 2012. There’s a shorter upgrade path to earning an MCSE, MCSA or even an MCSM for SQL Server 2012. You can read more about the exams you’ll need for your desired level of SQL Server 2012 certification on the “Get Started with a SQL Server Certification” page at the Microsoft Learning portal.

Other certifications

It’s important for any DBA to be familiar with the hardware and OS on which your instances of SQL Server are running. While you don’t have to be certified in the hardware or the OS to be an exceptional DBA, doing so can certainly help round out your knowledge. Following are some certifications you might consider:

  • Managing & Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Environment. This single exam is recommended for all DBAs working with Windows Server 2003.
  • Microsoft Technology Specialist – Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuration. If you’re running Windows Server 2008, consider this exam.
  • MCITP – Server Administrator. This three-exam certification is recommended for all DBAs as it helps provide a deep understanding of the Windows OS. This is available for Windows Server 2008.
  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer. Microsoft offers a variety of certifications for developers. If you’re 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 won’t automatically make you an exceptional DBA, it has some key benefits that can contribute to this goal.

Focus Your Training Efforts The biggest benefit of becoming certified is the process of passing exams helps you focus your learning. In other words, don’t take exams because you want a particular certification. Do it because it forces you 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.

Broaden Your Knowledge Most of the certification exams require expertise in a broad range of topics. In that sense, certification exams force you to study technology areas you might otherwise ignore. For example, let’s say you’re a DBA and focus your learning on administrative tasks. That’s great, but if you neglect to learn about how application development affects the performance of SQL Server, you’re missing out on a lot of useful knowledge.

Distinguish Yourself from Other DBAs When it comes time for a promotion, or when you’re competing for a new job, being certified can help 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. While certification can distinguish you from others, it’s no 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 DBAs to be certified, some do. If you’re interested in working for a company that only hires certified DBAs, then you have no choice.

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 might even be paid bonuses based on their certification level.

Peer Recognition Your effort to become certified often brings peer recognition and respect.

Become a Microsoft Certified Trainer If you’re interested in the career opportunities available to a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), you must first get certified in your specialty area. Generally, you’ll 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’re finishing school or going back for additional training or a new degree.

Microsoft-Specific Benefits Once you pass any Microsoft certification exam, you become a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). Microsoft offers certain benefits as a reward. 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 private MCP newsgroups
  • Invitations to conferences, training and special events
  • Monthly newsletter subscription
  • Printed transcript
  • A transcript-sharing tool to let others (prospective employers) view your transcript
  • A printed certificate
  • Use of the Microsoft certification logo
  • Access to official Microsoft-branded merchandise exclusively for MCPs
  • Discount offers for training, exams and publications

Becoming a certified DBA won’t make you an exceptional DBA; being an exceptional DBA doesn’t require a DBA certification. Everyone’s needs are different, so what applies to one DBA or company might not apply to you. It’s strongly recommended to get certified as a DBA if you fall into any of the following categories:

  • You’re currently not a DBA, but want to become one
  • You’re a DBA by training or accident, with little or no practical experience
  • You’re a DBA, with or without experience, and you want to work for a company that requires its DBAs be certified
  • You’re a DBA working for a consulting company (getting certified helps distinguish you and your company from other consulting companies)
  • You want to become an MCT and teach SQL Server classes

Examine your current position and where you want to be. Examine your company’s needs and your planned career path. Only you can decide on the proper course.

Brad McGehee

Brad McGehee, MCTS, MCSE+I, MCSD, is the director of DBA education for Red Gate Software Ltd. He’s a frequent speaker at industry seminars, and the author and coauthor of more than 15 technical books and 300 published articles. His most recent books include “How to Become an Exceptional DBA (2nd Edition),” “Brad’s Sure Guide to SQL Server 2008: The Top 10 New Features for DBAs,” “Mastering SQL Server Profiler,” and “Brad’s Sure Guide to SQL Server Maintenance Plans.” These books are available free in PDF format at sqlservercentral.com/Books.

Learn more about “How to Become an Exceptional DBA” at red-gate.com/our-company/about/book-store.

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