11 May

Certification: The Best And The Worst

I’ve done a lot of certification / tests over the years.  I think I’ve taken 20 technical certification tests and if you count non-technical stuff there would be even more.  I thought, just for the heck of it, I’d see if I could produce an article on the highs and lows of tests that I’ve done.  So, here goes.

It Came From Hell, But It Was Fair

Easily the hardest I’ve ever attempted was the Oracle SQL Expert.  The reason for that is three-fold.  First, you are working on the Oracle platform.  So, if you haven’t done it, which I had not, you wind up missing questions about how to look up the structure of a table, permissions, etc.  It’s like starting at a 85 instead of 100.

Second, they ask hard questions with a wonderful set of words, “Choose all that apply”.  Those 4 words turn a single question into four, five and sometimes more.  And, it’s very syntactically nasty.  You have to be ready for them to do anything that is possible.  Some things, in fact, can only be done in Oracle.  I beat the test by memorizing the Study Guide, literally, all 700 pages, and it took me more than one try.

Finally, there is a tendency to think you know SQL because you’ve been working on it for a long time.  This test will murder you that way because they are also testing Oracle SQL.

It Came From Hell, To Trick You

The SAS Base exam is simply one long exercise in “seriously, no, really?”  Petty, picky and designed to trick you.  I didn’t see one but it wouldn’t surprise me if they asked a question where you compared MONTHLY and M0NTHLY, then focused the question elsewhere so you didn’t see it.  It’s a really petty design.

Easiest Questions Evah

I can’t show the question, due to the NDA, but there are literally questions on the MySQL exams that require no technical knowledge to answer correctly, and really not much knowledge of anything.  I actually wound up staring at a question for a minute or two trying to figure out if they were really asking what they were asking.  While there were also spelling errors, and the test was far from hard, I’m still amazed at one of the questions that came up on it.


Those of you who have done old school Microsoft exams have had the experience of looking at a question, then the answers, and seeing more than one correct answer.  Of course you are supposed to pick the best answer, yet, both could work and probably would work pretty well.  What don’t you know?  You missed the official, approved, okey dokey answer from Microsoft that specified Whizzer Z as the fastest approach, according to them.  I used to hate these questions.

Most Disappointing Prep Material

First, there is a ton of bad training material out there.  Usually it’s some off-brand crap put out by some place you’ve never heard of. But, sometimes, the name brand stuff is bad too.  The recent spate of Microsoft Training Kits have been very disappointing.  The 70-461 book had chapters out-of-order which is pretty amazing actually.  I’ve never had that happen.  But, the author of that book is so good he carries us through it.

The 70-463 book, however, is an exercise in frustration.  On the one hand, it’s pretty good and covers a ton of ground.  On the other hand, it almost caused me to give up the testing process because the sample exercises just failed over, and over, and over.

You can read my review here.

Best Prep Material

The MySQL 5.0 Certification Study Guide.  It’s just solid, direct, and it gets to the point.  It probably helps that the tests aren’t that hard and really broken up.  When I took it there were four exams and really there should only have been two.  I assume this is how they, needlessly, raised the price.

You can read my review here.

I Learned The Most From

The MCSA 2012.  I didn’t necessarily learn a ton from it, in the sense of new things, but it really helped to clarify the Microsoft side of the house for me.  I had several interviews which were directly from that side of the house but didn’t recognize it until too late.  Studying for this really brought home some of those differences.

I also found the data warehouse part valuable.  I don’t necessarily agree with the absolutist approach to data warehousing that you often see on the Microsoft side of the house but digging through the process helped cement a lot of things I’d been doing.

Trying Too Hard To Make Yourself Look Smart

Additive and non-additive measures.  This is a data warehousing concept that is often mentioned as if it’s a meaningful concept.  Really?  Because anyone who has ever had to calculate gross profit would understand it.  They just won’t know that you guys decided to call it a non-additive measure.

It Meant Absolutely Nothing

Many years ago I contracted with a company that was using NetWare 5.  I decided it would be nice to know a bit more about it so I picked up the certification.  I left the company a couple of months later and never touched Netware again.

But, ironically, it wasn’t the worst performer.  I was, at one point, a MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer).  I got it right when the market dropped out in 2000ish, and to be honest, I couldn’t rationalize training people.  I did it because a friend was making a fortune training but I sat there, looked at what I knew, and more importantly everything I didn’t know, and just couldn’t get behind it.  Say goodbye to $750.

Doubly so because Microsoft decided to expire the certification every so often.  So, despite spending the money, I can’t even claim to be a MCT today.  I’m probably not even supposed to say I’m a former MCT.

I’m So Smart

To everyone who posts their score online.

One of my favorite things is when guys list their scores on certification tests.  “See, how smart I am!!!!”  Look, here’s a blunt truth about certification.  If someone fails, you almost never hear about it.  No one wants to admit it, even I dodge the failures, and I’ve failed tests.

The other thing that happens is some guy who has been say an Oracle Developer for 10 years rolls in, takes the SQL Expert Exam, the brags about how he scored a 980.  OK, but, you should score high.  It’s all you’ve done for a decade.  If you didn’t pass it, and you studied, besides not admitting it, you probably should find a new line of work.

Look, people fail these things all the time.  I have no idea what the numbers are, maybe it’s half, maybe it’s two-thirds, maybe it’s less, but people fail.  If you take enough tests, and you are stretching outside of your comfort zone, you’ll roll in, and do what I’ve done, more than once in fact, see a passing score of X and realize you just failed by one question.  It’s going to happen and believe me, it sucks.  On the other hand, do enough, and you’ll see a passing score of X, score X, and walk away certified.

The One I Most Needed But Didn’t Have

Many years ago I used to bike a local trail.  It was a good post work ride in the Summer and depending on what route I took, it would last an hour or two.  One day I’m out biking and I see a pile of something on the trail.  I figured something had broken loose and blown onto the trail.  When I get to the material I discover something I never expected: an old man passed out.

I stop, look at the man, and desperately try to remember my first aid / CPR.  He was clearly in bad shape and wasn’t breathing.  Just as I’m getting ready to give it a try (he had no chance if I did nothing) I see two women come over the hill.  I yell, “do you know CPR?”  And what do they turn out to be?  Two nurses.

They stay and do CPR, I bike until I find a house, bang on the door, and have the guy call 911.  This was before cell phones.  Yeah, that’s right, none of us had a cell phone.

I ride back and the two nurses, who had been walking their dogs, had me take care of them while they performed CPR.  The dogs are another bizarre part of the story.  They were both Marmaduke type dogs.  Really big and really scared by everything going on, me included.  But, thankfully, they didn’t have a mean bone in them so I was able to keep them under control.

It took the paramedics a bit to get to us, it was probably a quarter-mile from the house, but get there they did.

I found out later that we, a term loosely applied here, saved the guy’s life and that he had a heart attack.  I don’t know, to be honest, who was luckier, him, or me.  I took a CPR/First aid course a few weeks after that and discovered that I was woefully unprepared and what little I knew, and it was very little, was outdated.  They had changed almost the entire CPR process.  I’m sure that me trying something, would have been better than nothing, but not much better.

Even worse is that back then the world was more isolated than it is today.  It’s very possible that even had I known what I was doing, it could have been a half hour between me starting CPR and the paramedics arriving.  I doubt very much that he would have made it that long.  In fact, another lucky thing for this guy is that he probably went down seconds before I came around the corner.  It was just incredibly lucky all the way around.  Heck, what if no one was home at the house I went too?

And, you know what I just remembered?  My CPR / First Aid is out of date.  I’m going to need to find a class and redo it.  I guess something good can come out of this blog after all.

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