SQL Centre of Excellence

If you want to see this event registrations are almost full !

Carmel is presenting a session on analysing the Irish Economic Crisis using the Microsoft Power BI stack. Come and see if if you are interested in how to interpret and analyse data using Microsoft Technology, or just if you want to know where all of your money went.

The event is Tuesday the 5th November at the Microsoft Atrium in Sandyford


As some bonus free content Carmel has also published some free videos on using Excel to create enterprise dashboards


Hope to see you there!


I was lucky enough to take and pass the MCM lab exam this week, which as anyone who is in the depths of it knows, qualifies you as a Microsoft Certified Master in SQL Server. They’ve really lowered the bar letting me join the club Smile


There are 101 great blogs about taking the MCM, the experience itself, ranging from the SQL Ranger days, to the public on sites in Redmond, up to now, when you can take it via Prometric, and remote proctor. So why am I writing about this?

Panic stations

Well, I found myself in a position, like a lot of others now, where there was a countdown timer on my opportunities to take and pass the MCM. Microsoft announced last month that they will be retiring the program, with the last bookings for the lab exam being taken on the 17th of December. And like a lot of people, I was unsure if I was really ready to complete the program, and if my ability level justified the cost of taking the lab exam. At $2,000 per attempt, you want to be certain you’re up for the challenge.


Unlike a lot of people, I work for a very supportive company, who really understand and appreciate the value of this certification, so thanks to their support financially and in allowing me time off, my personal risk was slightly lowered. But if you’re funding it yourself, here are some notes from my experience that may help you make up your mind.


The first thing I would say is, the knowledge exam in no way mirrors the difficulty of the lab exam. Even on my passing attempt, I finished the last scenario literally as the exam expired. It’s bloody tough. You may notice I said my passing attempt, I passed this second try, my first attempt was an epic failure. I took a month between retries, and luckily that month of hard study bridged the gap for me.


So back to the original premise of this post, with less than two months to go, should you go for it yourself? If you meet any of the following criteria, then I would say yes.


  • You have passed the knowledge exam and have time to study for the lab
    • Do it. You’ve one shot left to take it, prove it to yourself
    • By time to prep I mean really get your hands dirty in features you’re not comfortable with
  • You have taken the lab unsuccessfully once and have study time
    • Bridge the gap, you know your weak areas from the first attempt, work hard to reduce them.
    • You’ve invested in it once, don’t back down now

Quantifying “enough” time to study

This is an “It Depends”. If you work with every aspect of the SQL Engine, then you may need less time than I did. But if you’ve only ever used the wizards on some features, or only used some features in a “First Look” example, then you may need to put in a bit more work.

I put in between 1 and 2 hours per evening, and another 2 – 3 hours per weekend day, over a period of 3 1/2 weeks. This time was spent setting up all of the features, and really trying to learn them inside out and backwards.

It’s worth noting that this was after the first attempt. I completely misjudged the first attempt, and it was only after getting spanked the first time, I knew what I was in for. I wouldn’t put it down to laziness, or apathy, but without knowing what was required, it was very hard to put together a proper study plan. Which leads me to…

In my opinion, while it seems wasteful, if you really want to accelerate the process, take the lab. Even if you don’t feel ready, if you have the available funds to invest, just take it. Best case, you pass. Worst case, you will see where you fall down, get a feel for the level of the questions, and can act accordingly. While trying to plan for it without having seen it, study plans can be very aimless, and you may lose a lot of time.

It seems wasteful, but with the time constraints in place, I would highly recommend this strategy if possible. I made more progress in 3 weeks between tries, than I did in the months leading up to the first attempt. Knowing the gap between where you are and where you need to be really lets you accelerate your progress.

So should you go for it?


I know the challenge seems great, for those of you who have taken the lab before, you may not want to do that again, and feel like that again, which is the position I was in. I almost quit. But I decided to give it one more try. And I can honestly say that the studying, the disappointments, the hard work, was completely worth it to see that email from Bob Taylor hitting my inbox telling me I had achieved my goal.


Also the excuse to drink champagne is always a welcome one!


If you decide to go for it, I wish you the very best of luck, and I look forward to picking your brains on the MCM distribution list in the future. If you’ve got this far, you’re clever enough to see it all the way through. Have faith and go for it!


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