Greetings,
I've been pretty cynical when it comes to Microsoft certifications such as the MCSE, MCSD, and the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA). Sure, I have several Microsoft certifications, and somewhere I have a few nice plaques from Microsoft congratulating me on becoming a "Charter Member" of the MCSE and MCSD programs. But deep down inside, I know the plaques and certificates don't necessarily mean I'm an expert. To be honest, I only bothered with the tests because my employer paid generous certification bonuses. I've known many brilliant but uncertified engineers, as well as many certified but barely competent engineers. I know the certifications aren't a genuine measure of technical excellence.

But recently I've had a change of heart regarding the worth of these certifications—the MCDBA in particular. I'm still not silly enough to believe that getting an MCDBA certificate proves you're an expert or even that you know much of anything about SQL Server. But I do think that knowing the MCDBA exam material genuinely demonstrates a reasonable level of SQL Server knowledge. Did you catch the key difference between those two statements? Passing the tests proves nothing. Knowing the material on the tests is quite valuable. Unfortunately, it's much too easy to pass the tests without knowing the material. Today, you can find many free and fee-based, legal and illegal means of cramming for Microsoft certifications tests. Many of these study aids will help you pass, but most of them won't teach you anything.

This year, "taking your SQL Server career to the next level" has been my column's primary theme, and for the most part, I've focused on the SQL Server newbies. I've received a tremendous amount of reader feedback about this topic, and the single most common request is this: "I'm new to SQL Server but would like to learn more. Where do I start? Is there a road map that tells me how to become a more skilled SQL Server professional?" For many of you, the road to a successful SQL Server career might start with an MCDBA certification. First, and perhaps most important, tackling the MCDBA certificate gives you a solid starting point and a reasonable road map for what you need to learn. Second, if you're new to SQL Server, learning the material covered in the MCDAB exams will improve your skills. But remember, there's a big difference between passing the tests and learning the material. The first step toward becoming a genuine SQL Server expert is realizing that there aren't many shortcuts.

You'll find information to help you get started down the MCDBA certification path on Microsoft's Training and Services Web site.