For MCT’s one of the requirements is to maintain at least one major certification.   When SQL Server 2012 was launched, so was a new set of exams, and it coincided with a new approach to certification.  Microsoft Learning decided that a major certification (MCSE, MCSD) would expire after 3 years.  Which, in my case, meant February 2016.   A few months ago, I got a reminder email informing me of the exact date.   Since I was already aware of this, I had already started studying for the MCSE BI upgrade exam.   This involved going to the web page for the exam, identifying areas I needed to brush up on as part of my study plan.

Microsoft exams were not easy for the SQL 2012 product, and my expectation was that the new exams would be even harder.   I had already heard of individuals who had failed an exam and had to retake it at least once, and in some cases twice, before passing.  I did not look forward to having the same experience. I’m no longer young, and am able to think about retiring.  The thought of spending hours and hours studying, taking exams, failing, and retaking them was enough to convince me that, despite my love of teaching, perhaps now was the time to retire.

But then, last month, Microsoft announced a new path for recertification - Microsoft Virtual Academy: I had already become familiar with Microsoft Virtual Academy during my preparation for teaching Power BI – I had watched the Power BI Jump Start course which included really excellent content and presentations by SQL BI luminaries like Matthew Roche, Matt Masson, Dandy Weyn and others. So I was immediately interested.  And my interest rocketed when I discovered that the Power BI Jump start that I had already completed, was one of eight courses needed to qualify for the MCSE – BI recertification.

The process involves taking each course, passing all the “exams”, and then applying for recertification.  So what does ‘taking each course’ mean?  The courses consist of a varying number of modules: the Power BI had eight or nine, each about an hour long.   There are also PowerPoint decks you can download for studying.   Each module then has 5 questions, which you get 10 minutes to answer. If you get 3 or more right, you pass; if you don’t pass, you can retake the ‘exam’, getting a fresh batch of questions.   The second batch are not all new questions, but some are new.  

These ‘exams’ are not proctored, or monitored, so there has been some feedback on newsgroups that this is too easy a path.  However, a Microsoft respondent pointed out that this path is not available for first time certifiers, it is only available to those who have passed the tough set of exams. This makes the MVA approach more like Continuing Medical Education, where you get a certain number of credits to ensure you are current on topics. In that light, this approach is perfect.  

Seven of the eight courses were on topics that any MCSE BI holder should be completely familiar with such as: Tsql, SQL Server Administration, Implementing a Data Warehouse (SSIS, DQS, and MDS), Implementing Data Models and Reports, Designing a Data Warehouse, and Updating Your Database Management Skills to SQL 2014.  The eighth course is on Azure storage and was 27 modules long; these modules ranged from 6 minutes of presentation to 40 minutes.  

When I started, I thought that perhaps I could take the module exam without watching the video, just downloading the PowerPoint deck, so I tried that. In some cases that worked, in others, I found I benefited from watching the video. For the Azure Storage course, I had to watch all the videos, but that was hardly onerous compared to spending hours and hours studying and then taking an exam at a testing center.  I found that only the Azure course wasn’t directed at DBA/BI developers specifically: it was presented to .NET developers, with lots of code examples.  The presenter did point out that no developer has all this memorized and pointed to the the resources on MSDN he had used to develop his presentations. 

Once I had passed all the courses, I submitted my request for recertification to the email listed: I got a reply the next business day indicating there would be a slight delay (which was probably due to the fact that it was the week of the Ignite conference). The following week I got an email indicating, YES!, you are recertified. I can now check my MCP transcript and see the new expiration date for my MCSE BI.

My recommendation is that if this path is open to you, (and at present I only see the MCSE: BI and the MCSE: Data Platform) that you investigate it. The stress is much less, and the learning can be easily broken into smaller chunks, plus you get immediate feedback on “Did I pass this?”. MCSD and other Microsoft certifications “will be made available in the following months”.

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