Last week, during the first day of the PASS 2010 Summit, Microsoft’s Joe Sack announced the revamped testing program for the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) for SQL Server 2008. Previously, you had to pay roughly $20K to attend three consecutive weeks of intense training (from people like Kimberly Tripp, Paul Randal, Greg Low, and Adam Machanic) in Redmond, taking three written exams and a six hour lab exam. You had to pay for your travel and hotel expenses, along with missing three weeks of work to even attempt the old program. Consequently, very few non-Microsoft employees made it through the old program.
The new program requires you to take a knowledge exam (which costs $500), and if you pass that, you have to take a lab exam (which costs $2000). If you fail either exam, you have to wait 90 days before you can try again (plus you have to pay the exam fee again). Those measures, along with other details that Joe discusses in his blog post should protect the value and integrity of the MCM, while making it available to more people. I think the two exams will be so difficult that you will not be able to pass them unless you really know the Database Engine and have several years of real, hands-on experience with SQL Server. This should prevent any problems with “paper” MCMs or with “brain dumpers” hurting the perception and value of the program.
When I first heard about this new method, I was worried about how the veteran MCMs might react to these changes. I was concerned that they might resent the new MCMs, and not consider them to be “real” MCMs, since they did not go through the old three week intense program. On the other hand, a new MCM could make the argument that the old program was somewhat like the old MCSE boot camps, where people paid a lot of money to cram everything they needed to pass all of the MCSE exams during a one or two week boot camp, and then promptly forgot much of what they learned. You could also make the argument that someone who makes it through the new program based on their own experience and knowledge, supplemented by self-study for the exams, would have nothing to apologize for. Regardless of all this, I have nothing but respect for anyone who makes it though either version of the MCM program for SQL Server 2008. I hope to be joining their ranks during 2011.