When the Microsoft Certified DBA (MCDBA) program began a few years ago, I cut the program some slack. It provided a reasonable method of evaluating basic SQL Server competence and gave IT professionals a way to show that they knew at least a little bit about SQL Server. I thought back then that some level of certification was better than nothing. Now, I'm not so sure.

Microsoft recently updated the MCDBA certification to let participants use the Windows 2003 Server exams to satisfy certain core OS-level requirements. (You can visit http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcdba/default.asp for a current list of MCDBA requirements.) But from what I've seen, an MCDBA certification still doesn't prove much—and that's a shame.

Microsoft's MCDBA program would best serve customers by providing a certification that helps SQL Server professionals expand and hone their database skills, that gives certification holders a strong boost in the job market, and that employers can use to help find competent SQL Server talent. I'd like to see a certification that experienced SQL Server professionals would boast about passing—a certification that they would be proud of having.

Since launching the MCDBA program, Microsoft has had plenty of time to improve the program by, for example, offering a second-tier certification that goes beyond the simple requirements necessary for an MCDBA. The failure of Microsoft to find a way to certify business intelligence (BI) and OLAP-trained SQL Server professionals is especially disappointing. Microsoft knows that SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services is a driving force in SQL Server's growth, yet the company has no advanced certification for this space. When you look at how few significant changes Microsoft has made to the MCDBA program, you have to assume that, for marketing purposes, Microsoft prefers a certification program that boasts a large number of minimally trained, certified individuals rather than a lower number of highly skilled professionals. Although my criticisms focus on the MCDBA program, which I'm most familiar with, the same general criticisms apply to most premier Microsoft certification programs.

Granted, creating a certification process that truly demonstrates SQL Server mastery is difficult. Microsoft would have to overcome, for example, the inherent difficulties in standardized-testing techniques and other problems. But if the company decided that a meaningful certification was a worthwhile goal, it could find the resources and solutions to build a quality program.

I'm interested in what you think about the MCDBA certification in particular and Microsoft certifications in general. Which, if any, certifications do you hold? Do you think a masters-level certification program for SQL Server would be valuable? Do you have any ideas about how to solve the certification problems? Let me know, and I'll share the best of your ideas here and pass them along to Microsoft.