The New Master's Certification from Microsoft

In July, Microsoft announced its new advanced training and certification program known as the Master’s Certification. (Read more about it at I’m really excited about this new certification because it fully lives up to the standard of “the appropriate certification for the appropriate audience.” For one thing, if you’ve ever gone to a martial arts school, you may find many talented martial artists and even several black belts there, but you’ll rarely find more than one “master.” Expect this new SQL Server certification to be equally rare and, hence, very meaningful regarding the certificate holders’ capabilities.

What’s new and different abut the Master’s Certification compared to earlier Microsoft certification programs? First of all, this is not a generalist’s certification. Under the older certifications, such as MCDBA, you could rather commonly find certificate holders who were generalist consultants or system administrators who took the several additional tests to also pass the MCDBA examinations. That will definitely not happen with the Master’s Certification.

What makes the SQL Server Master’s Certification so unique? For the first time, Microsoft now requires certificate candidates to attend three weeks of an intense training program delivered only at the Redmond campus. The training is conducted by some of the SQL Server industry’s best-known experts, and is only cheap to people who consider Bentleys to be economy cars. You have to really want to get this certification. I once heard a SQL Server colleague say that he hoped Microsoft would lower its pricing to make it more available to the average Joe. I responded, “This is not for the average Joe!”

The three-week training course also includes three examinations during the training, culminating in a hard-core, real-world qualification lab lasting four-to-eight hours. Problems presented in the final examination can run the gamut of real-world situations, such as designing an advanced and scalable architecture for a specific application, troubleshooting and diagnosing a difficult problem scenario, or installing and configuring a special SQL Server environment. Oh, and the certification applies to the relational-only side of SQL Server and does not contain BI elements.

And just to show that Microsoft is truly serious about filtering out casual candidates, you must submit a resume showing at least five-plus years of experience working with serious SQL Server engagements. You must have also received relevant lower-level certifications, such as the MCDBA.

The Master Certification has evolved from the earlier Ranger program, which included a review board and led to the Microsoft Certified Architect. That program, however, is now being moved in a more strategic and somewhat less technical position, although future Microsoft Certified Architects must hold at least one Master’s Certification as a prerequisite.

If you are already strong in SQL Server, you might wonder, “Why would a strong SQL Server pro like me need this?” The technical information provided is unparalleled and probably beyond anything you have already experienced. Early attendees to the training, including highly skilled SQL Server MVPs, have been heard to exclaim, “Holy cow, I had no idea how much I didn’t know!” Part of the value of the certification is the extensive networking certification holders get from the program, since alumni of the program then get direct access to MS internal IT and SQL Server development team staff.

Once you get a Master’s Certification for a specific version of SQL Server, it does not expire for that version. With new releases, you will have an accelerated path to the newest certification, though a major revision may also require you to return to the training room. The certification is currently offered only in the USA, but will expand internationally in 2010 to seven cities around the world.

The idea is to build a certification that employers can truly trust. Want to get in on it?

Public registration is available on the Web site ( for a $125 application fee to individuals with all of their pre-requisites in place. The process is like college: apply and see if you’re accepted. The first offering (considered by Microsoft as a public beta) will be at 50 percent off the retail price, but the certification is considered 100 percent fully qualified.