Monthly Archives: May 2015

Earning my MCSE: Business Intelligence Certification

I earned my MCSE: Business Intelligence Certification on May 27, 2015. It was a long road, but I did it. Back in May of 2013, I wrote about being Certifiable and wasn’t really interested in pursuing any certifications. What made me change my mind you ask? The short answer is, being a speaker.

Last summer I was invited to speak for the Triad SQL BI User Group in Winston-Salem. I did a very introductory class on Integration Services. I was asked a question that seemed simple, but I didn’t know the answer. That got me thinking, if I don’t know the answer to that, what else don’t I know?

I started doing some research on the question and decided, if I am going to do this research, why not get something other than just an answer, there had to be other things that I didn’t know. I looked at the MCSA certification path again. I looked through the topics that the three exams covered and got really excited. There were so many pieces of the technology that I had never used or hadn’t used in years. This was a real learning opportunity. I decided I needed to get my SQL learnin’ on.

I did a little bit more research on the exams and what study guides were available and discovered the Microsoft Training Kit. It consists of three books, each dedicated to an exam and each book has its own practice exams. It seemed like the best candidate so I ordered it from Amazon and had it delivered in two short days (Thank you Amazon Prime!).

The MCSA certification consists of three exams, 40-461, 70-462 & 40-463. The first exam, 70-461, is all about querying SQL Server. I’ve been querying SQL Server for almost 20 years, so it didn’t take much effort for me to pass this exam. I read through the questions at the end of every lesson in each chapter and the case studies. For the questions I got wrong, I went back and read the lesson, re-answered the questions correctly and that’s it. I passed exam 70-461 on December 24, 2014.

Exam 70-462 was a bit more involved for me. It is focused on Administering SQL Server. I had never used Always On and it has been years since I worked with replication so I figured the best place to start was by taking a practice exam to see where I needed to focus. I failed that first practice exam, but it provided me with a road map of what I actually needed to focus on. On January 30, 2015, I passed exam 70-462.

Exam 70-463 is about implementing a data warehouse. I followed the same approach for 70-463 as I did for exam 70-462. That approach paid off and on February 20, 2015, I passed the exam and earned my MCSA for SQL Server 2012.

I was going to stop at the MCSA, but after I completed that with relative ease, I decided I needed a bit more of a challenge. The question came down to MCSE: Database Professional or MSCE: Business Intelligence, since most of the work that I do now is BI related, I decided on the later. I looked at the topics that were covered in the exams and realized there were going to be some huge gaps. I don’t use Reporting Services in SharePoint integrated mode nor do I do any work with the Tabular model for Analysis Services. I’ve only been using Analysis Services on a regular basis for about 2 1/2 years now, so I am certainly no expert, so definitely needed some work there as well.

There are two exams needed to earn your MCSE: Business Intelligence after your MCSA, they are 70-466 and 70-467. Since there are no Training Kits for the last two exams, I decided to take Microsoft up on its Second Shot offer. For a limited time, it allowed a person a second chance to take a qualifying exam for free if you fail it the first time. I figured, what do I have to lose? At best I’ll pass first time around. At worst, I’ll fail the exam, but will gain valuable experience in how the exam is structured, what it covers and learn where I need to focus my studies. Then I could retake the exam for free. I failed exam 70-466 the first time I took it, as I expected I would. But I did much better than I thought I would, so I knew there was hope of earning my MCSE.

I went out to Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) and found the training video for 70-466. I also found the video for Tabular Model training. In addition to MVA, I also used PluralSight and various other books. I studied up on the stuff that I had never seen or worked with before. Then I went through a few refresher videos on the stuff I already knew (but had forgotten) and retook the exam, passing the second time around with flying colors on May 6, 2015.

The last exam was the most nerve racking, 70-467. You basically have to take all your knowledge from the previous four exams and apply that knowledge to what seems like an endless barrage of case studies. If you were no good at story problems in school, then this exam is definitely going to challenge you. I passed the exam on my first try, but I really wish I hadn’t waited three weeks between taking it and 70-466. Since I do not use the Tabular data model or Reporting Services in SharePoint integrated mode, I forgot a lot of the material in the three weeks between the two exams. You are given 150 minutes to take the exam and I finished with only three minutes to spare because I had to rack my brain for those nuggets of information that I hadn’t had the opportunity to use out in the wild. I think that if I had taken the exam within a week of 70-466, I would have done much better and had more time remaining.

Overall it was a good experience. I plan on taking some of the things I learned (and “relearned”) and implementing them at work to provide a better experience for our users. I know they will be grateful and I will know that I’ve done the best possible job that I could for them.

The certification isn’t why I started this journey. I started this journey because there was something that I didn’t know. Don’t let certification be the only reason you take this journey, make it one of the many rewards when you reach the end.

TSQL2sday #66 – Monitoring

A big thank you to Cathrine Wilhelmsen (blog | twitter) for hosting this month’s TSQL2sday party. Monitoring is this month’s topic and it’s a very important one. It could mean the difference between having a job and looking for a job.

TSQL2sDay150x150When I started working with SQL Server (a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away) there were no commercial monitoring tools available and quite often I would get called or paged (yes, it was a long time ago) in the middle of the night by a very angry boss because there was something “wrong” with the database. Or worse yet, I would get no call at all and show up at work the next morning with a line of angry people waiting for me when I got off the elevator. It only took a couple of these encounters for me to realize that I needed to be much more proactive or change my line of work (I had heard that underwater basket weaving was an easy gig).

I started looking at the reasons I was being called and discovered most of them were things that could easily have been avoided if I had known about them earlier. Things like database and transaction log files filling up, running out of disk space, processes/queries that were taking increasingly longer and longer. Since there were no commercial monitoring tools out there I decided I needed to essentially roll my own.

I had to start looking under the covers to find what I was looking for. This gave me an even greater exposure into how SQL Server worked. Did I mention that this was before Google? I couldn’t just search for easy answers, I had to really dig in the system databases to find what I wanted. This was in fact, one of the best things that could have happened to me so early in my career as a DBA. I was forced to learn how SQL Server worked on my own.

To this day, I still “carry” around my home grown monitoring solution in my toolbox. I have updated it and expanded it through the years to accommodate newer versions and functionality and made it more efficient based on both of those things. Not all shops have the budget for monitoring tools and even if they do, a lot of the time they are only willing to spend that money on production servers, not development or test (don’t get me started, that’s an entirely different blog post).

My little monitoring solution has come in handy over the years because it has afforded me the opportunity to discover what’s under the covers of the newest version/features of SQL Server and provide a no cost basic monitoring solution to my employers when the budget is tight or non-existent. If you don’t have your own monitoring solution I would highly recommend you create one, if for nothing more than the reasons I stated above.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the commercial monitoring tools that I have access to now, but knowing the how and why of SQL Server will only make you a better DBA and could possibly mean the difference between having a job and looking for a job.