Why Certification Still Matters: The Why, The Journey, and Certification-fu à la Bruce Lee

MSIT People Aspirations

Last year MSIT’s People Aspirations team asked me to share my Microsoft certification experiences. The team adopted a Bruce Lee meme which I weaved into my deck.

This week the PowerPoint team deployed a bug fix enabling embedded YouTube clips (the Insert > Video command has been extant for years, but it didn’t work). I celebrated by retrofitting the deck which I've attached for your consumption—& hopefully, your inspiration.


I'm a big fan of certification. Without the knowledge my exam prep has provided, my career path would have been quite different.  I have a former peer who’s still working help desk (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).  My path included being an essential part of scaling up a startup (which has since IPO'd) to a solo consulting practice to consulting at Microsoft to the hallowed halls of SQL CAT & now Architect at MSIT—my path plain-&-simply would have been neither as intrinsically rewarding nor as financially lucrative.  Just as important are the relationships I’ve built—peers here at Microsoft, awesome customers, lifelong friends, & my fantastic tweeps.

My experience is evidence that certification combined with enthusiasm & application yields results.  Judging by my peers, my experience isn’t unique.

What initially moved me to get certified eludes me today, but the journey started with a Windows 95 cert, followed by my first SQL cert—SQL Server 7 Administration.  In 2000, people were so desperate for SQL “expertise” that if you could fog a mirror & spell S-Q-L—or better yet know how to pronounce it—you were hired. An actual certification—oh my!—was enough for my transition from Help Desk at a financial org to almost doubling my salary(!) as a Senior DBA at an Internet startup (my enthusiasm didn't hurt, either).

As most of you know, I'm a Microsoft Certified Master MCM:SQL.  Earning that cert was one of the most challenging things I’ve done.

SQL Ranger Training: In Building 40, no one can hear you scream.
    —Per Farny, former Microsoft MCA Program Director

Yes, last Labor Day weekend MS Learning’s decision went viral when under the cover of darkness unilaterally, inexplicably, & suddenly dropped their advanced cert programs (tweet|blog|blog|blog|story|story|story, etc…).  Yet that's not stopped me from continuing my journey.  In fact, even though owing to a circumstance of the program retirement I’m an #MCM4Life, I've earned four more SQL certs—count ‘em, four—in the last year.

¡Yo! Image courtesy of Robert Davis (b|t): http://twitter.yfrog.com/g0y76rp?sa=0

I'm unlikely ever again to score a 100% like I did on a SQL 2005 exam. Long gone are the days I could take these tests cold.  Now I actually have to study. They're a lot of work, yet doing so is an exercise in Stephen Covey's 7th Habit: Sharpen the Saw.

Don’t Marinate in Your Own Stench

Though there are lots of self-didactic opportunities, training can be expensive.  How to pay for it?  Perhaps your employer can subsidize all or part.  Those of us with employers can negotiate training time & dollars in our annual reviews.  When taking a new position, if time & expenses for the PASS Summit aren’t subsidized, it’s a non-starter for me.  Be ready, willing, & able to share your learnings with your colleagues!

The only thing worse than training employees and having them leave is not training employees and having them stay.
  —Zig Ziglar

There’s another option.  Economist Walter Williams suggests that investing in our own intellectual capital is the best investment we can make.  Early in my career I forked out $10,000 out-of-pocket for a year-long one-night-per-week MCSE training regimen.  It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.  Learn more in my deck.  Elevate your game each-&-every year.  And whatever you do, don’t marinate in your own stench.

Image & insight courtesy of Scott Adams:  http://dilbert.com/strips/2012-06-10

Why Geekly Certification Matters: The Why, The Journey, and Certification-fu à la Bruce Lee

Back to MSIT People Aspirations:  Here's the outline of my 16-slide deck. I hope you enjoy it, including the clips, the quotes, my slide notes, & the wisdom of Bruce Lee. More importantly, may you find the inspiration for your own journey.  Hai!

1.  The Why

  • Competency
  • Community
  • Career

2. The Journey

  • From my conscious decision to become a geek to MCM & beyond

3.  Certification-fu à la Bruce Lee


People Aspirations - Why Certification Matters - Jimmy May - 2013-05-02.pptx

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