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.

29 thoughts on “Earning my MCSE: Business Intelligence Certification

  1. Congratulations! I’m starting this journey now because of my curiosity to know the unknown and a 360 view of MSSQL for work.

    1. Congrats. I already earned my mcsa and now preparing for 466.
      I have great experience with SSAS (MD and Tabular)-developing,
      administering.I also very experienced with DAX and MDX.
      Even though i swimming in SharePoint and SSRS administration
      and configuration (including defining delegationg etc.), i have very little experience with reports.Actually the last time i developed a
      significant report was three years ago.
      So cause ssrs is not a core of the exam i thing i have great
      chances to pass.

      About the 467 exam. You wrote: “You basically have to take all your knowledge from the previous four exams”. Can you elaborate a little
      bit more on which topics to focus?

  2. I’d be interested to know roughly how many hours you spent studying and what your study plan was like – did you do this around a full time job? I’ve tried studying evenings and weekends, and watching videos/reading study books on my commute, but it’s difficult to stick to and my progress feels really slow around my job…

    1. Lawrence – I did do this around a full time job. I spent roughly 1-2 hours a day studying, which included reading books, watching videos, and flash cards. I do a lot of this for my job on an almost daily basis, but there were areas that I haven’t been exposed to in real job life and those were the ones that I had to really study/learn. Good luck.

  3. Well done. It’s been a while but hopefully you’re still monitoring these comments.

    I currently work in a different IT field but want to start from the beginning and get the MCSE:BI in 2016. Since I do not have access to SQL server currently, will it be sufficient to purchase/download the developer edition for home use while studying/learning?

    Does the developer edition (currently $59.95 from the Microsoft store) have everything necessary for the MCSE:BI?

    1. Brendan, so glad you’ve decided to take the plunge. Developer edition will do the trick, but you can also get the Evaluation Edition for free for 6 months. So if you think you can get it all done in 6 months or less, it is something to think about. The only thing that SQL Server won’t give you is the SharePoint experience. You need to know how SharePoint fits in with all the SQL Sever BI parts and pieces. This was a problem for me as we don’t use SharePoint at work and as far as I know there is no Eval version. Best of luck to you.

  4. Hi , Congrats for certification. I am planning on getting MCSE :BI certification. I just have 3 years of experience in industry(Graduated from Computer Science ) .Can you please guide me how should i start preparing for exam ? I hope you still checking comments here .Look forward to your reply

    1. Ankita, so glad you are thinking about pursuing your MCSE: BI certification. I started with the Microsoft training kit and would recommend the same for anybody else. It has all the material that will be covered in the first three exams and it has practice exams, so you can see where you are in your knowledge base. Everyone learns differently, but that’s what worked for me, along with all the other things I mentioned in my post. Good luck to you.

  5. “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.”

    Bingo, That’s me right now. I can relate but maybe from a different perspective

    I am a CPA and generally my 20 year career has been focused on debits, credits and taxes, but I love teaching end users how to fish using standard microsoft productivity tools. Including Excel applications using VBA (not just macro recording but advanced stuff including class modules and custom interactive forms with SQL calls to SQL server) and full solution MS Access databases for small scale requirements. With the recent addition of powerpivots and excel data modeling, the BI tools for accounting end users has become real powerful. Accountants love Excel and I find myself wanting to learn the nuts and bolts of SQL server, SSRS and cube development/deployment to enhance the Excel applications I continue to want to build.

    Aside from the learning, career development and fulfillment, did the certification credentials enhance your economic value?

    Do you think the onsite classroom training has advantages over the path you took? It is expensive (more than 10k based on quick pricing and research), and time consuming (5 weeks full time). How much time do you suspect you spent in total? And as a novice in these commercial tools, how much more time do you suspect it would take me as an accountant (considering above skills/experience)?

    Lots of questions for sure, thanks so much for any insight or help. I am on the fence about committing the time and money into this endeavor. Maybe I don’t need to know all this detail as a finance professional but it would certainly give me some credibility and intelligence on how to direct a team that are experts in these areas.

    Best Regards,

    1. Scott,

      Congratulations on your desire to learn more.

      I’ll start with the easy question, Did my certification credentials enhance my economic value? The easy answer is no, but as in life there are no easy answers. I did not get a raise, I did not get reimbursed for any of the study materials I purchased, nor was I reimbursed for the exams I took. So I guess you could say that I ended up worse off economically. Between the exam fees and the study materials, I spent close to 1K. Now ask me if it was worth it and I’ll say every penny because I learned something. I didn’t purse the certification to improve my economic situation, I pursed the certification because I wanted to learn.

      As far as classroom training vs the path I took, everyone learns differently. Only you can judge whether you will benefit from classroom training. I’ve been working with SQL Server since 1996, so I have a bit of experience and a lot of that early experience came via “trial by fire”, so I’ve never forgotten it. I am the only full time DBA with a small company, so I get to “Do it all”, which is not very common these days, so that definitely helped me out as well.

      How long did it take me? I started studying for my first exam in mid Dec 2014 and passed my last exam in May of 2015. I studied off and on for about 6 months, whenever I had time. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how long it would take you, like I said earlier, everyone learns differently.

      The only piece of advice I will offer is this: Learn the stuff because YOU want to learn it, not because it might improve your economic situation. I have found that I retain what I learn much quicker/easier if it’s something that I really want to know.

      Best of luck to you.

    2. Hi Scott,

      I developped a BI solution for the Insurance company I had been working for. The BI Solution included financial and accountability self-service accounting cube analysis and naviguation capabilities that were very usefull for auditors. The whole application was developped with SQL SERVER 2012. If you want more details just let me know on twitter @Guesmi_abdz

  6. Good read. I’m on a similar track and just finished 461, 462 with 463 scheduled later this month.

    I’m debating to continue onwards towards Business Intelligence or Data Platform. Only 5 years experience with SQL Server, so possibly too early for me to dare get an MCSE.

    1. I wouldn’t say it’s too early – some of the companies who offer MCSE training can force-feed you enough knowledge to get the BI certification in as little as 12 days (although how much is retained with a study plan like that I don’t know!). With 5 years I would say you hopefully have a solid understanding of SQL Server which should help you on your way – the fact you are also nearly an MCSA shows you can definitely do it!

      The one thing I would say is to decide which MCSE branch you want to take and why – I have a mix of OLTP and BI experience and I know 100% that I will go down the BI route, as that is the way my career has progressed. If you NEED one of the two (i.e for a current role or a role you want to move into) then go for that one, otherwise pick one but make sure that you WANT to do it.

  7. Thanks for this very motivating post, I have got the MCITP five years ago, it’s time to get my MCSE certification!!!

  8. Hi!
    I really like your article and the links you provided are helping me. I just want to know if there is an update for new books for the Training Kit for the first 3 exams. I really want to buy the right ones.

    Thank you very much!!

    1. Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad my blog has helped. To my knowledge the training kit has not been updated for 2014, so the one I reference is still valid. That being said, with the release of 2016 today (June 1, 2016), I’m not sure how much longer it will remain valid. Best of luck in your pursuit of certification and don’t forget to enjoy your learning.

  9. Hi! I would like to take the exams and achieve the MCSE through the path you took.

    I wonder if the Microsoft Training Kit is enough for the first 3 exams. Do I have to download and install Microsoft Server 2012?

    Is the programme free for education and evaluation purpose or do I have to purchase the whole licence?

    I hope you read the comments and looking forwards to hearing from you soon.

    Many thanks

    1. Mark – Congratulations on wanting to earn your MCSE. All I purchased for the first 3 exams was the training kit, however I’ve also been a SQL Server DBA for 20 years. Will it work for you? I don’t know as everyone learns differently. I used the kit more as a refresher for areas that I don’t use on a daily basis. You don’t have to download and install SQL Server, however sometimes it’s helpful if the examples aren’t clear. There is an evaluation edition that you can download that is free and will have a valid license for 6 months. Good luck on your journey.

    2. Mark, I am currently doing the exams and I personally think that the books themselves are a bit of a let down. I passed 70-461 easily, but I feel that things get quite a bit more dry and intensive in 462. I supplemented that training kit with YouTube and PluralSight videos to help me through. 463 I found the worst by far – there’s something like 25 pages of errors online, ambiguous questions, spelling mistakes in the practice questions, and it weighs in at over 700 pages. I just couldn’t retain what I needed to from the book alone. Check out some of the MCSA Certification Prep series and the MCSA Jump Start videos for a good basis for each exam and build out a study plan from there.

      Also, these two parts are quite crucial:

      1. Don’t get SQL Server 2012, pick up SQL Server 2014 – you can still get evaluation or developer editions, but as specified on the exam pages:

      “As of 18 February 2016, this exam includes content covering both SQL Server 2012 and 2014. Please note that this exam does not include questions on features or capabilities that are present only in the SQL Server 2012 product”

      2. If you plan to work with Hyper-V for the 462 labs and with Master Data Manager for the 463 exam, you need to have AT LEAST THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION OF WINDOWS. Neither Hyper-V or the required authentication method for IIS are included in the home edition of Windows operating systems. Instead of spending a small fortune I opted to install VMWare Workstation and download a 90 day evaluation of Windows 10 Enterprise Edition from Microsoft. If you already have Windows Pro that’s great, but if not then that method will save you paying out £100+.

      Hope that helps!

  10. I understand there’s no Training Kits for exams 70-466 and 70-467, but is there any literature you would recommend?

    1. Beatrice, There are no actual books or literature I can recommend for the last two exams. I used the Microsoft Virtual Academy and some Plural Site courses for the gaps in my knowledge areas. Good luck in your learning journey.

  11. Thank sqlswimmer,
    You’re one of my inspirations as I begin my journy towards a Microsoft Certification. I will be studying for MCSA 2016: BI Developer. I’ll let you know when I’m finished so you can know you helped me finish it!

  12. Thank you much sqlswimmer,

    I got much of the references here for my preparation.
    Just a simple question, can we directly try the 70-467 certification to become MCSE professional on BI without taking the prior series of certifications (70-461,70-462, 70-463 & 70-466) ?

    1. Bhas you are so welcome, I’m glad my references helped. You can take the exams in any order, but you must take all 5 exams in order to earn your MCSE certification. Good luck and please let me know how you do!

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