What to do next certification wise

I feel rather flat today. I passed the 3rd entry level 2012 exam a few hours ago, data warehousing to make me an MCSA, but I feel like I'm looking at a dead end. Don't get me wrong, I'm fairly happy that I passed the exam which incidentally seem to have a much higher than normal number of questions on that level of exam, but I was only really chipping through these exams on my way to try to achieve the MCSM. But now that has been pulled, this pass seems largely immaterial.

I'm no stranger to exams. I took my first ever exam back in 2001. Although the exam I sat was actually for the Cisco CCNA certification, I felt that I really achieved something that day and joined a special club of some sort. These were in the days that being a CCNA/CCNP or for Microsoft the original MCSA/MCSE actually meant something and stood you apart from others. At the time I worked alongside MCSE's and remember just how great I thought they were because they had these certs and the knowledge they had. These people were respected and sought after. I got the thirst for learning and spent the following years honing my server & networking skills and at appropriate times moving down the MCSA/MCSE 2000 & 2003 tracks. I wanted to be part of that exclusive club of being the best in the industry and demonstrate those skills daily.

I then found SQL server and because of my immediate passion for it, my career moved from servers & networking with a bit of .net development to full on SQL server development/administration. As time went on and as I improved with SQL server, I started to reinforce my knowledge by taking the various SQL server exams. Starting with achieving the MCDBA, I moved onto the MCITP for 2005 & 2008 for both the DBA and developer tracks and a couple of the BI ones for good measure. When the 2012 exams where released, I was slightly hesitant to take them at first, but I eventually decided to take them solely because of my desire at the time to work towards the MCSM and be amongst the best SQL guys in the world.

I have long since felt that the new entry level exams (MCSA) and to a lesser extent the next level (MCSE) don't stand you apart anymore. Not like a decade ago. As someone that sometimes conducts job interviews, having a relevant entry/mid level certification will normally mean that you will definately make the first cut and I'll get you in for an interview, nothing more. That MS certification alone won't get you a job from me, not by a long way. Why? Well because the exams are just too easy to pass with boot camps, guaranteed passes, brain dumps etc etc. I've employed my share of paper MCP's that could barely use a mouse. I'm more impressed now by an interviewee with a blog and/or can demonstrate activity on relevant forums or even work in the SQL community at whatever level. But, show me someone with an MCM/MCSM and I'd hire them on the spot because such is the strength and respectability of the award. Unfortunately I have never been lucky enough to be in the position of recruiting an MCM/MCSM!

A lot has been said on why this super exclusive masters level club has been discontinued, both officially and unofficially. Program viability, passing numbers, changing landscape have been muted along with some rather more debatable reasons! But as it stands, until and if ever Microsoft announce a new format masters level certification, the best that anyone can achieve are these paper level certs, and you still need to recertify the MCSE level every 3 years.

So what am I to do next. Well, I'm going to take the 2008 MCITP to MCSE Data Platform upgrade exam 70-459 just to finish off the set. It would bug me in years to come if I didn't do it and you never know, MS might announce a new masters level certification in the months ahead. Not sure how many times I will sit the recertification though if no replacement master level exam is announced in the next few years. Normally I prepare quite well for each exam by setting out a two-three month study plan of reading/learning/practising, but for 70-459 I'm not going to bother. I've already booked the exam and I have a 2nd shot voucher. I'll take the exam and if I don't pass, I'll know the areas to improve on and focus on them whilst waiting for the free retake.

The more astute of you may be wondering why I didn't do the 2 x 2008 MCTS Upgrade to MCSA 2012 exams instead of the 3 x MCSA 2012 exams that I have done. Well, mainly because I wanted to push myself and have to learn more because I would have to sit 3 exams and answer a lot more questions covering the objectives rather than 2 exams covering the same objectives. In hindsight, I'm still undecided if I should have bothered with that approach now.

I think maybe after some 12 years of taking on average 2 exams per year, I've got a little bored/disillusioned with them. The one certification that I really aspired to in recent years has gone. I'm not bored of learning, no way, but I think I need to find other ways to learn, reinforce and demonstrate my knowledge rather than a whole bunch of paper certs. Maybe I need to start to volunteer to do some dev lunches.