Have you ever thought that Microsoft certifications were a waste of time? Depending on where you are on the experience scale, certifications still play a large role in hiring and career development. You are probably in one of two camps–you either an employer and you want some peace of mind in the hiring process or you think the certifications are bunk.  The aren’t too many people in the middle ground it seems.  In Episode 64 of the SQL Data Partners Podcast I talk to Patrick Thomas the program manager for the Microsoft MCP and MCT programs and the role they play at Microsoft and in what way they continue to provide value, including what’s in store for data science learners and what he thinks of the Microsoft purchase of LinkedIn.

Listen to Learn…

  • What being a Microsoft “MVP” will do for your job prospects
  • The history behind the Microsoft exams and why they became so popular
  • How to use certifications to your advantage in job hunting
  • The buzz around data science certifications
  • How Microsoft exam online proctoring works
  • Patrick’s thoughts on Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn
  • The story behind the now-extinct Master program
  • Plus, what’s coming down the pipeline to replace the master’s program

Episode 64 Quote:

“Right now, we don’t really have an equivalent of a Masters program, or that boot camp style learning. We did however, announce this summer, the Microsoft Professional program. It’s in pilot right now….” – Patrick Thomas (Listen to hear more)

This week’s Tuning Review: Visualizing VLFs

This week’s tuning review is on Virtual Log Files, also known as VLFs. High VLF counts can slow down the transaction log backup, the crash recovery, and writing to the transaction log. Reducing the VLF count usually speeds up the crash recovery “In Recovery” time. This post on DatabaseHealth.com shows you how to visualize VLFs in your log file.

About Patrick Thomas

Microsoft MCPPatrick Thomas is a Microsoft Program Manager for the MCT and MCP programs who has a background in aerospace. He has been with Microsoft for almost two years.  Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Resources

Microsoft Certification Program Benefits
Microsoft Professional Program FAQ
EDx Data Science Program from Microsoft
Microsoft’s new online certification program kicks off with data science specialization
How to become a Microsoft MVP
Microsoft MVP Overview

Transcript

Carlos: Patrick, welcome to the program.

Patrick: Hey, thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Carlos: It’s great to finally get to talk with you. We’re here at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta. Exciting to see all the new, different things that are happening. Glad that we were able to bump in, and talk to each other. Ultimately I guess, your role is the leader of the MCP program. Why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your role, and maybe a little bit more about the MCP program.

Patrick: Sure. My role at Microsoft is, I’m the program manager for both the Microsoft Certified Professionals, and the Microsoft Certified Trainers. I get both of those. When it comes to the MCP program itself, essentially if you passed a technical certification, that you get that MCP, you’re part of the MCP program. You’re …

Carlos: Great.

Patrick:Yeah. You’re one of the millions. Now, obviously there’s different levels. We have our MCSAs, our MCSEs but once you pass that technical exam, you are an MCP. From a program standpoint, we manage everything. Basics, like you’re transcript that shows what exams you’ve taken. Maybe if you have an exam scheduled, where is that located. Where’s your certification information? Also, there’s a benefits side. As a certified professional, you have access to what’s called an MCP profile. It’s a customization profile, that you can share. That would have your certification data. You can link it to your social sites. Your vlog properties, things like that. Essentially it’s a Microsoft database, that is full of certified professions vetted by Microsoft. You have a chance to publicly share and customize your profile within that.

Carlos:  If you wanted the links on your resume, what have you, you could linked to that, and say here’s my things and it’s Microsoft site. They can see, yes I do this?

Patrick: Yeah. It think it’s a good way to validate that you have the skills and credentials that you claim that you have. We’re not trying to, with that profile, replace LinkedIn. I would say most everybody uses LinkedIn. I know that I do, but for MCP specific, it really doe highlight your achievements through certification. Some of the other benefits that we have, we have a discount for MS Press, both print and eBooks. Which a lot of MCPs, don’t know about.

Carlos: I think that benefit is going to be, a little less than, because Microsoft Print is basically being outsourced or they …

Patrick: The way that we’re managing the business has changed, but the benefit as far as what you’re receiving, and the benefit will be the same.

Carlos: I see. Any books that do come off the Microsoft press, even though the inside organization has changed a little bit, you’ll still get that benefit.

Patrick: Yeah.

Carlos: Okay.
Patrick: Also, we have a partnership with a company called Guru. Which is a technology job placement company. They’ve grown exponentially. They’re here with us, at Ignite. They’re helping to sponsor the MCP party tonight. They’re just about to release a new, higher platform. Where MCPs are preferred in job search results on their platform, when employers come to the site looking for talent. Which is a really awesome way to highlight the achievements of the certified professionals. They have a really outstanding site. I was encourage everyone to go check it out. It’s guru dot io.

Carlos: I guess let talk a little bit about that. I know that Microsoft training continues to evolve. I’m not sure if was under the MCP, but ant one time we had born to learn dot com. Which I think is still there. There’s the Microsoft Virtual Academy, and what not. It sounds like there’s this evolution Azure, as things can just change so quickly. That now there’s another insight or another point through Guru that people can get training.

Patrick: Yeah. I think that, Guru is external to Microsoft. They have their own sight, their own business. If a Microsoft Certified Professional came to the Microsoft slash learning site, logged in. They would go to their individual dashboard. From there, they could actually see the link to the Guru page, and it’s going to contain all their information. To your point about the web properties, it’s a little bit scattered. You have MVA, you have Born to Learn, you have Microsoft Learning site. There’s a digital evolution effort going on within our organization to really make that more of a connected, cohesive experience. As we get into December, January of 2017 you should see some improvements there. To where it’s just easier to ind what you need. Whether that’s training, certification, or just information about a technology.

Carlos:
I know, there was an announcement earlier this year, about online proctored exams. I think this is probably just getting out to reach other people that maybe don’t have a hosted proctor as near to them as well. Can you talk to us a little about how you continue to reach out to those in different areas? Particularly, places outside the United States.

Patrick:
Yeah. Online proctoring, it’s now available world wide. I think it really gives everyone the opportunity to be able to take an exam, no matter where they’re at. Depending on where your located, if your far away, even if you are in the United States. You might be two hours from a testing center. With online proctoring, a little bit more convenient to be able to sit and take an exam. We’ve seen good growth over the last year, since it’s become available. Just really trying to remove that roadblock of having to physically be at a testing center. I thunk it is a really great benefit. It’s a good process. Essentially, it’s the same process as sitting for an exam, in-person. With the same requirements.

Carlos: Now, are you actually seeing somebody looking at you.

Patrick: Yeah. You do. One thing about online proctoring, if you’ve never taken an exam before, if at all possible, I would recommend people take an exam in person first, because the online proctoring experience is a little bit unique. In that there is somebody looking at you. I can’t remember for sure, but I think you have to stand up, so they can make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets, and

Carlos:
You go through the same process you would, like there. The little e pat down, right?

Patrick: You’re prepared for it, if you’ve gone through it in person first.

Carlos: I see. I can appreciate that, because the little timer there is clocking down. Again, I know they talk about time. I guess I have been one, that I like to take my time. I’m not saying that I’m down to the seconds, before I’m hitting the submit button, but I review. I do normally go through the test twice. I can imagine that having somebody watching you there could change it. You just need to be prepared for that, in the mental preparation of the exam.

Patrick: Yeah, for sure.

Carlos: Let’s see. Microsoft has purchased LinkedIn. What do you think … well, so no announcements have been made. They’re still working out some details. Maybe what would you see there, or what possibilities could we be expecting through the merger with LinkedIn?

Patrick:It is kind of tough, in that the deal is still pending. I know that, even though some of us within Microsoft, especially within Learning, we have questions about what’s going on. The fact of the matter is we just don’t know yet. However looking at LinkedIn, and Linda dot com, which is a LinkedIn property, there’s a lot of great products that they have. LinkedIn itself is such a powerful tool that I know that, I’ve used it in my career. The existing benefit that we have right now for MCPs is they can share their certifications on LinkedIn, and add it to their profile. What I’m hoping is, there will be discussions as Microsoft learns more about LinkedIn. They learned more about us. When the deal gets final, hopefully down the road, that brings new opportunities for MCPs. Right now, we just don’t know, but I definitely hope so, because they have a great platform.
Carlos: I did have a thought. Ultimately, we’ve been talking about MCPs, which is the one exam.

Patrick: Yeah.

Carlos: Ultimately, we have the MCSAs. We have the MCSEs. Other than having the combination of exams, are there any additional benefits to those programs specifically?

Patrick: For MCSE? That’s a good question. At this point, the benefit is really in the higher level cert, itself. In that, hey, I have MCSE, versus I’ve passed on exam. We are coming out with badges. Cert specific badges that are a digitally shareable badge that you put essentially anywhere. On your own website, on your blog, on your LinkedIn profile. That would be MCSE, MCSA, or an exam specific badge. I think the MCSE, kind of brand itself. We believe it still holds the value. Other than that, the benefits for MCPs is pretty much similar at this point.

Carlos: Okay. Very good, because our audience is a SQL server related. At one time, there was a training course called the Microsoft Certified Master program. This is a week long experience. You go out to Microsoft, it was on site. It was very intense. It was kind of like Ignite, but only SQL server. At the end of it, you were supposed to pass an exam. Previous to that, there was something called the Ranger program. That was it’s predecessor. When it went away, some of the prestige, if you will, in the community went with it. Not that we’re looking for a replacement, but what is the thinking there, and new thoughts around it? How do Microsoft employees get that very specific and in depth training to then do supportive things like that?

Patrick: I think, since I’ve been in the role for about two years. I’ve been at Microsoft for about two years. I run across people all the time that talk about the Masters program. Like, “Man. Why did you get rid of it?” I wasn’t here, so I don’t necessarily know, but I do know that something like that, that’s testing your skills. Especially in an intense hands-on way. If you work hard at something, you’re going to take pride in it. When it goes away, that’s kind of tough. I think that as an organization and as a company, we need to be a little bit more thoughtful about keeping things in market that have some staying power.

Right now, we don’t really have an equivalent of a Masters program, or that boot camp style learning. We did however, announce this summer, the Microsoft Professional program. It’s in pilot right now. There’s a data science pilot, and if you go out there, and you do a bing search on Microsoft Professional program. Formally known as the Professional Degree. You can find a lot on information, and there’s actually somewhere you can sign up to be on the waiting list to be part of the first official class. The Professional program is really focused on job skills validation, so data science. The data science field, and it’s a combination of learning through online video. Using Open edX, then the mentoring, the community space, with doing hands on labs. It’s a pretty intense program. I mean, it’s not in person for a week. However, it may be like six months. To where you’re investing ten hours a week.

Carlos: Sure.
Patrick: I think it’s not a one for one, but we’re really excited about it. Last I heard, we have tens of thousands of people on that waiting list, ready to get in.

Carlos: No doubt. I think it helps, at least in that case, it’s kind of a, I want to say a niche topic. What’s the word? It’s a buzz word, right?

Patrick: Yeah.

Carlos: I don’t think it hurts the cause there either.

Patrick: For sure. People are excited. Right now, it’s data science. There will be other tracks as we go.

Carlos: Since I have you here, I can’t help but asking this, as we kind of get to the end here. There are those in the community, that we talk about certifications. The SQL community is very focused on training. We have Pass, who’s actually here. Microsoft gives them a booth. Connect, Learn, Share. That idea of, in the SQL community, it does give their fair share of time to helping others learn and what not. There are some voices in there that talk about certifications. Basically, they’re bunk. In that, A it’s not worth it. There are basically ways to cheat. I guess, what’s your response there? What’s your thoughts there?

Patrick: Yeah. No. It’s definitely not the first time that I’ve heard certifications come into question, as far as the value. I think a few things. One, from an exam security stand point, and there’s the data dump sites where are people are, exam cram type stuff. We do work very hard at policing those, to try to make sure the integrity of our exams are there. The exam process, to create certification exams, is very comprehensive, with SMEs coming. There’s internal reviews with Microsoft. I do think the process is sound. I think the biggest issue, is not necessarily with the exam itself, or even people taking the exams. It has to do with the value in the market with the hiring mangers. For instance, I went and got a bachelor’s degree, and I went and got a master’s degree. Yeah I wanted to learn, but then also I believe that those things were going to help me get to where I wanted to go.

Carlos: Almost like the key that opens the door.

Patrick: Exactly. I think at one time, certifications were very much that. People with a high school diploma, that were getting their certifications. Working toward that MCSE, that was solid gold, in the market. I think the reality is, right now, we’re not in that same environment. How do we make sure that Microsoft is doing it’s part with the companies, and the hiring managers to really push the value of certification, and highlight the right talent? To where the people that they’re hiring with those certs, are doing, and filling the jobs that they need. The last thing I’ll say about it, is when I work with the Azure team, this year, they had roles to fill in the Azure space. They came to me, and said, we want to hire Microsoft certified professionals with Azure certifications. From a Microsoft standpoint, we still use that to validate the skills of our people.

Carlos: That’s an interesting point. I think, particularly the Azure certifications have changed that a little bit. Being that they’ve made, it’s harder because things change so quickly.

Patrick: Yeah.

Carlos: It can be hard to keep the testing aversion control.

Patrick: Absolutely. We are making a lot of changes on how we manage, both our training content, and our exams, to keep up. The pace of technology, it’s a lot faster than it used. We need to …

Carlos: Thanks Satya.

Patrick: Yeah, right? We need to adjust. I think that we are very much in the middle of that transformation. I think with the simplified certification tracks, that have just been announced, the shorter path to MCSA. The shorter path to MCSE, the recert going away. To where we have a time stamped MCSE, I think we’re really head in the right direction, but we got to just keep pushing.

Carlos: Very good. Ultimately, we’re encouraging people to get certified. I agree with, that it will open those doors. It is a differentiator. I don’t think that, we’re going to say, if you become certified, you know everything.

Patrick: No, definitely not. There’s not just one way to do something, or one way to validate something. I think that the certifications definitely have their value. Hands on experience, and experience on the job, there’s probably nothing like that. Then if actually done the job, in role. However, certifications are one way that you can show really quickly, that hey, I have these skills.

Carlos: Very good. Well, awesome. Great conversation. Interesting to get some of those insights, and some thoughts around where certification programs are going. Let’s do SQL family.

Patrick: Okay, let’s do it.
Carlos: While, technically not SQL person yourself, you’ve never been database guy, right?

Patrick: No. You wouldn’t want me managing your database.

Carlos: We will still ask you some SQL family questions. You get the inherited, not inherited. What’s the word? You get adopted.

Patrick: You get adopted, I love it.

Carlos: You’ll be adopted into the family. A couple of questions, we’ve tossed out, because they’re SQL server specific, but one of the things that we like to ask is, what’s the best piece of career advice, you’ve ever received?
Patrick:The best piece of career advice that I’ve ever received, is that you interview for your next job everyday.

Carlos: Interesting.

Patrick: It’s so true, because you never know, who’s going to be the person that’s going to give you the recommendation beyond the interview panel, or perhaps even be your boss.

Carlos: That’s true. Very good. Our last question fro you today, Patrick. If you could have one super hero power, what would it be? Why do you want it?

Patrick: I just want to fly.

Carlos: Especially home. Right now, right? We’re in Atlanta, and your home is Seattle.
Patrick:  It’s not really fair. It’s just so cliché to say Superman. I want to be able to fly, but it’s the truth. It would be awesome to just fly around. Especially last night, with trying to get out of here with the Beyoncé concert going on. Trying to get across town, I would’ve liked to have been able to fly.

Carlos: Yes. Luckily, I made it out before that became a huge crowd. Patrick, thanks so much for being with us today.

Patrick: Yeah. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.