July 20, 2010
Last week, I passed the Microsoft 70-450 exam, PRO: Designing, Optimizing and Maintaining a Database Administrative Solution Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008. I have the SQL Community to thank for it, and I’ll outline why as we go. Mainly, I was asked to write a blog post about how I prepared for the exam, so I will cover what I found helpful, and what I found not so much.
The preparation starts, as with all Microsoft exams, on Microsoft’s Learning site. For this exam, one would start at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?ID=70-450, which gives the overview, skills measured, preparation, and community links. The overview gives just that, the 50,000 foot look at the exam and the intended audience, along with what Microsoft thinks should be the set of features and concepts the candidate should have experience in. Good enough. I then skipped right to the Preparation Materials tab, thinking I would, like I did for the 70-432 MCTS exam, order up a Training Kit. How often do you see these two words together? #Microsoft – #Fail!
What I found was the following, copied verbatim from the page:
Preparation Tools and Resources
To help you prepare for this exam, Microsoft Learning recommends that you have hands-on experience with the product and that you use the following training resources. These training resources do not necessarily cover all of the topics listed in the “Skills Measured” tab.
Classroom Training There is no classroom training currently available.
Microsoft E-Learning There is no Microsoft E-Learning training currently available.
Microsoft Press Books There are no Microsoft Press books currently available.
OK, plan B. Apparently Microsoft isn’t interested in training their users for a product that has been on the market for two years, and has actually been superseded by an R2 product! Looks like I needed to find my own way to study for this thing. Luckily, I am a member of the online SQL Server community, and can learn from the best! So, following Buck Woody’s school of thought, I turned to the Skills Measured tab.
If you haven’t seen it, this exam covers a lot. I mean a whole lot! The list of skills measured is actually kind of intimidating, at first. There are seven broad categories of features covered, with innumerable bullet points within each category, which in turn all have multiple objectives. I had taken the MCTS in February, and that was a little difficult, now I had scheduled the MCITP for July 6th, figuring that six months should be ample time to prepare for it.(I know, I know, I missed the Second Shot deadline, but there were reasons.) I was starting to wonder if that were long enough.
The first thing I did was look to see what was out there besides Microsoft’s non-offerings. I had heard good things about Train Signal, and they were having a sale, buy their Advanced SQL Server 2008 Database Administration Training DVD, and get their Windows Server 2008 R2 Training DVD free. Their DVDs do not come cheap, but one thing I had going for me was that getting certified was part of my annual goal at work, so they footed the bill.
So I sat through the 20-some hours of videos, thinking through 60-70 percent of it, ‘I know this stuff! And I am being talked to as if I were in the studio audience at a taping of Barney the Dinosaur!’ Really, it wasn’t that bad, but for something that bills itself as ‘Advanced Training,’ they sure spend a lot of time on the basics! Overall, I would say it’s a decent reference to have around, but I’m not sure it’s worth what they’re charging.
Next, I figured that I should have followed my first instinct, and turned to the community. I asked around a bit, and heard that several people had gone several ways, but the common denominators were Books Online, and Practice.
Always, it’s the basics that works. If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise. If you want a good retirement, live frugally and save. How often is it that we lose sight of these things?
So for the last few weeks before the exam, that’s what I did. I went down the list of objectives in the Skills Measured list, looked up each term I didn’t already know in BoL, and tried each thing out that I could on a test server (my home computer, really – I don’t have a real ‘test server.’ At the time, (and even this moment) I did not have the proper setups to actually practice or perform any of the multiserver HA stuff, like clustering, or replication. I only have one little server box at work, with a whopping 2GB ram, and my home computer to play with. So really, I just read through everything I could about those technologies, trying to at least make sure I had a proper understanding of the concepts.
Throughout, as I said in the beginning, I had the community of which I am so proud to be a part. Every day folks were writing multiple blog posts, SQL University had a week on Certifications, just all kinds of resources to learn from. Actually, some of the best tidbits came from people’s #sqlhelp questions on Twitter, as they tried to figure out why one or the other of the things listed in the Skills Measured wasn’t working, the answers given were actually found as some of the multiple choices on the exam!
So that’s how I prepared. I found out what the requirements would be, I determined how to learn those requirements, I got a nifty couple of training videos, then I followed the community’s recommendation – I got back to basics. I followed the RTFM method, and practiced all I could. Now, because of all that, you are now reading the words of a Certified Professional.