Can you prove that you’re a SQL Server master? I think that before anyone can prove it, there would need to be a standard definition of what it means to be a master. And there would probably be as many definitions as there are people claiming to be masters.

I’ve seen numerous proposals over the years for some sort of advanced SQL Server certification. Microsoft employees have discussed it, several companies that I’ve worked with that provide SQL Server training and consulting have explored the possibility of offering a “SQL Server Expert” certification, and the Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) has also considered offering a SQL Server certification.  From talking to various groups about their ideas for a SQL Server certification, I'm well aware of the different definitions of true mastery.

In many venues, certification is considered to be of questionable value. This is partly because of the proliferation of certification exam cram websites and partly because of the fact that even without these websites, you can pass many of the tests just by thoroughly studying, without ever having had hands on experience with SQL Server.

Microsoft is currently developing a new SQL Server Masters Certification Program. You can read about it on the blog of the manager of the project, Per Farny, at
http://blogs.msdn.com/trika/archive/2008/06/26/more-on-the-certified-master-programs-from-me-per-the-program-owner.aspx. This program requires you to take a three-week training that's not cheap, and Per agrees that the price could be prohibitive. In addition to the instructor-led training, the aspirant will have three chances to pass a computer-based exam, and he or she will also take a situational lab-based exam.

My guess is that Microsoft is assuming that because the program is so difficult, not to mention expensive, the people who do the training and take the exams aren't going to be enticed into sharing any of the exam questions with the exam cram websites. So part of the value of the Masters certification will be in knowing that the person who acquired it most likely passed the tests on their own, without relying on memorizing answers from an exam cram website. A certification will also establish that the holder took his or her SQL Server expertise seriously enough to invest the time and money to acquire it. 

However, one of my first thoughts when I found out about the requirements for this certification was that there are probably many people out there who possess the required expertise (if not a lot more expertise and experience) to pass these tests, but have neither the money nor the time to invest in the three-week training.  After reading through the comments on Per's blog post, I realized I wasn't the only person to have thought of that.  Part of someone’s comment was "Expect only high profile Consultants and CIO's to be the MCM member makeup with little or no working class administrators in the group, even if their skills are MCM level." Per's response to that comment was "That's exactly it, you got it right (I'd leave off CIO's, though). This is the idea, the design of the programs. Not to exclude anyone on purpose, but to cater to a very specific audience that we haven't catered to in the past. It is the appropriate certification for those individuals. It is not appropriate for 'working class administrators' because it doesn't focus on that job role, and therefore doesn't make sense for that audience to invest in this. MCITP still is, and will continue to be, the most appropriate certification for that audience."

With this limitation on the audience for Microsoft’s SQL Server Masters Certification Program, I think there still might be a need for another organization to develop an advanced SQL Server certification program. I would hope that the group that takes this task on would make sure the exam is very thorough and almost impossible to cram for. I would also be in favor of the certification process including an in-person interview and hands-on component.  Although this would make the certification more expensive than any of Microsoft's certifications, I think that people willing to take this extra step should also be willing to invest a bit of time and money, if only to make it clear that they value their expertise.