The #SQLMCM is Dead, but the Experiments Go On

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

They’re the five stages of grief. I went through all of them over this long holiday weekend. Saturday morning, I woke up to an email announcing that Microsoft Learning killed the Microsoft Certified Master program.

I happened to be taking a road trip alone, giving me a dozen hours alone in the car to think through things. I must have written a dozen blog posts in my head, including:

  • Microsoft Deprecations: A Visual Timeline
  • [Video]: Can a Drunk Hobo Pass the MCSE Test?
  • Microsoft Learning Doesn’t
  • 5 Signs Your Database Software is Heading for the Grave
  • Why Microsoft Connect Suggestions Won’t Save the MCM

I am okay now. I accept it.

These are the perils of working with closed source, for-profit systems. I’m the one who chose to make a living on SQL Server, and I can’t blame Microsoft as they evolve their business. They’re here to make a profit, and I can’t rely on their good will to keep something going.

I don’t know this, but I suspect that Microsoft Learning’s two primary metrics are the profit they make, and the number of individuals who get certified. They’re incentivized to get more people to take – and pass – more tests. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when you can search for the word “braindump” and any test number, and you can get the exact questions and answers for free on BitTorrent. Microsoft Learning gets a steady stream of unqualified candidates that boost their profit and their certification stats – so with a wink and a nod at the download sites, everybody wins. (Well, except you, the qualified candidate who wants some measure of your knowledge, but you don’t count here.)

Because the MCM required a hands-on lab, it was instantly out of reach for many people. The economics of a hands-on lab are tough: they’re expensive to build, expensive to run, and expensive to judge. Microsoft Learning can’t change that, and they need certifications that scale across the globe profitably, so they had to kill it. I accept that because their mission is to bring a profit. Heck, if it was up to them, Books Online would probably require a login and a monthly subscription.

Let’s Bring the Best Parts of the MCM Experience to More People

SQL MCM Rotation 8 after the lab exam (if I remember right, Robert Davis aka @SQLSoldier is taking the picture)

SQL MCM Rotation 8 after the lab exam (if I remember right, Robert Davis is taking the picture)

I’ll remember so many good things about the MCM program. The wonderfully difficult lab exam questions. The long nights of studying with flash cards on the Microsoft campus. The horror stories about SQL Servers gone terribly wrong. The email distribution list with awesome questions and even more awesome answers.

But the best part about the MCM program has always been the people, and they’re not going away just because the program did.

I look back and think, “How can I bring this experience to more people?” I’m ridiculously blessed to know so many brilliant, friendly, and helpful database professionals, and my mission has always been to help people learn and bond together. From starting SQLcruise to FreeCon to our classes, I keep teaming up with people I love to run experiments on learning. I can understand that Microsoft Learning was running an experiment too, and they couldn’t get that experiment to succeed the way they wanted it to. Colleges are experimenting with online classes, coworking spaces are experimenting with journeyman programs, and this stuff will all keep going on as we figure out the next education formats.

The Experiments Must Go On

What if I built a community event centered around a (nearly) impossible mission to fix a virtual lab environment? What if it pitted teams against each other to see who could figure it out and fix it faster? What if I made capture-the-flag with databases? What if one team worked to make bad T-SQL at the same time another team worked to fix it with indexes and server settings?

We can’t give up just because Microsoft Learning ended one experiment. If anything, just the opposite. I want this to be just as motivational for you as it is for me.

What can you do in your own community to bring more enjoyable education to those around you?

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts

About Brent

I'm a geek goofball who lives in Chicago, Illinois with my wife Erika, my small dog Ernie, and a lot of bad habits. I like wine, travel, photography, and sharing everything I've learned so far.

24 Responses to The #SQLMCM is Dead, but the Experiments Go On

  1. Nick Haslam

    Thanks for your post Brent.

    I agree, the best part about the MCM program has been the people. I’ve met some great people during my journey over the past couple of years, including some of your colleagues.

    I was really annoyed when I got the email, as I was intending to take the Lab in November. Oct 1st is unfeasible for me since I have customer commitments. Having had a couple of days to ponder on this, even though I didn’t get the plaque, I’ve still got the knowledge I’ve gained so it’s not like it’s completely wasted.

    As @Rob_Farley said a few days ago ‘To those who wanted to prove their ability via MCM (or even MVP): Your value is not attached to acronyms. You can be amazing without them.’

  2. Steve Jones

    I do agree. Microsoft, at least MSL, has different metrics, goals, and targets they want to meet. The prestige, high training, and value to the SQL Server platform isn’t necessarily one of them, and that’s fine. I think it’s a sign of Microsoft not coordinating or closely aligning their groups.

    I do think they could have experimented better. Closed simulations of hands on tools, as they started with the 2008 R2 or 2012 exams, can be done. It’s a few flash developers building simulated tools, or it’s scripting that reads results and compares them to expected results at the end.

    I’d like to see more experiments, with a wide variety of potential ideas. I had hoped PASS would do this years ago, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Perhaps there’s a way to community source an exam framework.

  3. Gurpreet Sohal

    Thanks Brent .. great post !!!

    and possibly the right way to it is to accept it..

  4. Brendan Morgan

    I am an accidental dba that has been reading blog post and webinairs and working to figure out the career path I want to take. I was looking into Certification programs and other ways to help learn and prove my learning. With the ending of the MCM program and seeing the general community perception of MCSA I am just not sure where to go next. I can definitely understand the frustration with Microsoft.

  5. Tim Benninghoff

    I did not expect to have my opinion validated so soon and so dramatically.

  6. Charles Duance

    Hi good post. I quite like the idea of capture the database flag one team starts with a 1222 or a 1204 :-) or a t sql hackathon like the facebook style 24 hours to fix an issue perhaps with less shots though. MCSM was a long term goal of mine so I hope that something replaces it in the future.

  7. K. Brian Kelley

    I’m not buying this:

    “Because the MCM required a hands-on lab, it was instantly out of reach for many people. The economics of a hands-on lab are tough: they’re expensive to build, expensive to run, and expensive to judge. Microsoft Learning can’t change that, and they need certifications that scale across the globe profitably, so they had to kill it. I accept that because their mission is to bring a profit.”

    Cisco’s pinnacle model is why I’m not. CCIE lab locations have grown from 2 to 10, with the newest 8 being international. Subject areas have grown from 1 to 7 (I said 8 somewhere else, but I miscounted). And Cisco’s bread and butter, routing and switching, is an 8 hour exam with proctors. This is a 2 part exam which requires equipment resets, etc.

    So why can Cisco make it work when Microsoft can’t? Pinnacle certs aren’t an overnight success. Cisco has built its up over years and years. How long did we have MCM before MS pulled the plug? Exactly.

    • Brent

      KBK – Cisco’s costs are something like $2500 per lab exam, not including travel or hotel. That lines up quite well with Microsoft’s, and Microsoft Learning said that was too far out of reach for their clients.

      • K. Brian Kelley

        I believe Cisco has come down. It’s now $1500 per shot.

        And once up a time, Routing and Switching had like a 30% *pass* rate for first-timers. Meaning 70% would have to retake if they wanted to be a CCIE. I don’t know what the numbers are now, but companies and individuals plan for that retake accordingly. From what I heard from a gentleman who went and took the CCIE voice, it’s still just as hard. And this is from a guy who know the CCIE VOIP solution from prior to when Cisco acquired it. Everything he attempted he got right. He just didn’t get enough done on his first attempt.

        Why does Cisco get such loyalty? Well, because CCIE actually means something in the industry. That’s the rub.

        And as far as costs go, go take a look at the costs for the SANS (GIAC) coursework and the certification attempt. The non-pinnacle ones are around $5K. And it’s nearly impossible to pass the exams ($999) without going through the coursework first. That’s for a non-pinnacle cert. Yet SANS is still around… and SANS pinnacle cert, the GSE, requires 3 previous SANS certs before you’re even eligible for that.

  8. Justin Dearing

    I think third party certification is the only way for this to really work. There are some subjects, and some levels of subjects that are probably better handled by third parties.

    About a year ago, I formed a study group to go through the Windows Internalsbook. Along the way I discovered that there was a discontinued elective exam for Windows 2008 on Windows Internals. I’d really like to take such an exam if it existed, but I totally get why Microsoft wouldn’t want to invest in such an exam.

    That being said, there is a sizable cottage industry that deal with the internals of windows. Some of these companies offer training, and they could probably make an internals exam thats would be profitable for them.

    In the same light, there are plenty of non-Microsoft people that wrote the book on SQL server. So yes I think someone could make an MCM like thing work.

  9. Hakim Ali

    In response to your question “What can you do in your own community to bring more enjoyable education to those around you?”, I am trying to get this up and running:

  10. Chris Nelson

    As a developer/admin/analyst/jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none I’m disappointed but not surprised. I feel for my DBA buds that are committed to SQL Server, I love you and appreciate all your effort and assistance. And I try to play back to the community. Right now I’m helping review a book for 70-461.

    In the last couple of years Microsoft has shat on users, developers, admins, DBAs and IT budgets. There’s a serious disconnect in Redmond that boils down to lack of effective leadership and understanding of their best advocates. Instead of encouraging professionals and considering constructive feedback, Redmond continues on shooting themselves in the foot, repeatedly.

    As for myself, I’ll still use SQL Server, VS, and Windows in my job, but the majority of my free time will not be invested in technology that can be snatched away at the whim of some corporation that doesn’t value my time and money. I’m investing more of my personal efforts into OSS, education and community. 30 years of employment on the Microsoft roller coaster has had it’s ups and downs…

  11. @chuckboycejr

    Hey man.

    After reading a post by an Exchange MVP it’s really got me thinking.

    Here is a post I just put up asking his question out loud.

    I still don’t know what I think about it.

    I had H-U-G-E respect for the MCM program and I could only dream of having the time and money to put in the effort to pursue it.

    There is no higher elite status in my mind than MCM in our profession.

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  13. Robert L Davis

    That photo from our rotation brought a huge smile to my face. Good memories.

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  19. Steven Ormrod

    I have to agree with K. Brian Kelly’s comments. It seems that if Cisco could make this work, so could Microsoft.

    I think it is short-sighted for Microsoft to view the MCM certification as needing to turn a profit.

    While it could probably be streamlined, it could be done in a way that preserved the Lab Exam component.

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