Microsoft SQL certification exams seem to be going around in circles.

microsoft certification professional


In the beginning

Alright not quite the beginning but in 2008 you had the choice of Developer, Administrator or BI. 3 certifications paths which most people liked. Then they changed it so that for
the first certification level, the new MCSA, you needed to do an exam in each of the disciplines. One in T-SQL development, one in DB administration and a BI style exam focused on SSIS. I personally did not like the new certifications and nor did many others. Why would a brain surgeon need to do an exam in podiatry when it is not his/her focus?

Note: You may not have noticed the MCSE: Data Platform and MCSE: Business Intelligence certifications were withdrawn on March 31st 2017. If you already have them marked as active before Sept 2016 on your transcript you get to keep them. If you did/do the exams after, then I believe they will not count.

New SQL 2016 Exams

Back to the new SQL 2016 exams. You can once again go down one of three paths Developer, Administrator or BI which I think shows what each SQL role does. However, this time once you have completed the MCSA you can do one more exam to attain the MCSE. Instead of it being called MCSE: Data Platform or MCSE: Business Intelligence all three tracks end up in the same place MCSE: Data Management and Analytics.

With the 2008 exams after completing each track you would have an MCITP: with either Developer, DB Administration or Business Intelligence showing your chosen path and skill set. So why do I think there is a problem?

It is possible to attain the MCSE: Data Management and Analytics with no business intelligence/analytics skills whatsoever. No SSRS, No SSIS and certainly not a single mention of SSAS.

So how is this new MCSE going to affect potential clients or potential employers?

To MCSE or not to MCSE

Well if I was employing someone with an MCSE (which is now the highest level of SQL certification available) with the word analytics in it I would expect them to have actual hands on experience of the BI stack. I am not sure if the Data Platform MCSE will make a comeback in some new form. I hope it does but for me, right now, the MCSE is dead.

There is just no additional value in doing a single extra exam for the MCSE without showing what you have focused your skills on. There is no added value in going that extra mile at all to have a watered-down certification which does not accurately reflect your skills. Even worse it might appear to employers that you have skills that you do not. In fact, Microsoft could have saved some space on the logo by just calling it MCSE: SQL

Where does that leave employers?

The MCSA is now focused on the three career paths for certification. This is great news for everyone. If I wanted a BI developer I would search for someone with a MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development certification. For a DBA I would look to hire someone with a MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration certification. If I wanted to hire a SQL developer I would look for someone with a MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development.

This bit is not so great. By grouping all three of these paths into a single MCSE there is now no distinction between these careers. Any distinction is now determined from the MCSA level which makes taking your certification to the advanced level will not show your career focus.

Every employer now needs to look at the lower level MCSA certification to see if they are suitable for the role. By looking at the MCSE they will no longer be able to tell what advanced skills that person has. They may have some advanced SQL skills but that is as far as you can tell.

Projects as diverse as setting up a new clustered or Always On environment, building a Kimball Data Warehouse, implementing ETL processes in SSIS and writing reports could theoretically all come under the same MCSE certification but you have no way of knowing if they have the skills for one or more of those projects.

Microsoft have made the MCSE certification in my opinion completely redundant which I imagine will hurt them with the loss of certification fees. Why do three exams when the skills people are looking for stop at the second exam?

Problem with finding the right skills

There is in the job market a problem with finding people with the right skills to fill a vacancy. I am not sure if the problem is with the clients being unsure of what each role entails, what skills each job title is for, if they are requesting the wrong person or if the agency has not interpreted the requirements correctly but it leads to the same issue. Speaking from direct experience I have recently turned down another project. The problem is that there is some confusion between what a client is looking for and what they need.

I do not always talk myself out of roles with potential clients however if I do not have the skill set needed for what they are looking for then I will not put my reputation on the line by accepting a role and trying to blag it. A good reputation takes years to create and seconds to destroy.

The client may think they need a SQL Developer, BI developer or DBA for their role but what they in fact need is someone else entirely. By grouping every person that works with SQL under the same MCSE certification title Microsoft have now made this hiring process even harder. So how would I fix it?

The solution

To sort this out I believe that the MCSE certifications need to correspond with the three MCSA certifications by name. There should be one MCSE for each certification path. The skills tested in the advanced MCSE certification need to be focused on that skill set.

If anything should be changed to say Data Management and Analytics it should have been the Silver/Gold Partnership competencies (Data Platform and Data Analytics). By reducing the competencies from two to one it streamlines the partnership program. It allows individuals to continue to specialise in their chosen field. It also makes sure that MS partners cover the full SQL stack of skills available in a single partnership/agency. SQL Server is shipped with multiple different products so it makes sense to make sure anyone selling or providing SQL services has the full set of skills to support it.

Simply put – One SQL Silver/Gold Partnership, 3 SQL MCSE paths, 3 MCSA paths. The partnership requirements should require at least one of each MCSE for Silver and two of each for Gold.

One final thought and reason to do this is the tab to find the MS competencies for SQL is called Data Mgmt and Analytics. Perhaps it was all just a copy and paste error anyway!