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KC IT Member highlight: Randall Neth – Microsoft Certified Master, SQL Server 2008

Randall Neth

As a strong and vibrant community full of local IT professionals, it’s important to recognize major accomplishments by our membership. In this post, I’m featuring Randall Neth (blog | linkedin), who endured the gauntlet of Microsoft’s most difficult certification: Microsoft Certified Master, SQL Server 2008.

What is an MCM and why is it important?

The Microsoft Certified Master for SQL 2008 is a 3 week deep dive into the platform,  taught by world renowned SQL Server experts up in Redmond. You must pass multiple tests and a final lab to obtain this highly sought after certification.

However, in order to even be considered to attempt the MCM, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Five or more years of experience with SQL Server 7.0 or later: installing, configuring, and troubleshooting
  • One or more years of experience with SQL Server 2005 or later: installing, configuring, and troubleshooting
  • Thorough understanding of SQL Server design and architecture
  • Thorough understanding of SQL Server core components and dependencies, such as online transaction processing (OLTP), high availability, disaster recovery, performance-tuning optimization, storage, security, manageability, and data distribution technologies
  • MCITP certifications for: Database Developer, SQL Server 2008 (Exams 70-433 & 70-451) & Database Administrator, SQL Server 2008 (Exams 70-432 & 70-450)

Although a candidate may meet the above requirements, they’re not guaranteed entry into the MCM program. Applications are carefully reviewed by Microsoft prior to acceptance. Of those applicants who are accepted into the program, there are many who attempt & do not pass. Current count shows approximately 78 individuals have obtained the MCM in SQL Server 2008.  Another important item to note is that Randall is 1 of only 17 non-Microsoft employees. He’s the only one in Kansas City (recently relocated to Wichita for a new opportunity).

On to the interview

KCIT: Give me a quick rundown of your bio

Randall: I have worked in IT for nearly 15 years with over 10 years being in a consultancy role.  During this time I have worked with a variety of technologies such as SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Exchange Server, Citrix, VMWare, and Cisco networking. I am the father of a 3 year old future engineer and just celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary to my wife Jill.  In my spare time I enjoy playing with my son, reading up on SQL Server, answering items in forums, and posting to my blog at randallneth.com.  I currently hold a variety of certifications including the MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer), Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP), and Microsoft Office Communications Server R2 (OCS) with Voice Specializations


KCIT: Why did you decide you wanted to pursue the MCM? What value did you think it might bring to your career?

Randall: I have been a big proponent of technical certifications since I started my career and have always strived to obtain the upper echelon of certifications.  Throughout my career this has changed as certifications have progressed but when I used to do a lot of Cisco and networking support I always strived to obtain my CCIE.  I remember the day that the MCM was announced. Myself and a friend/coworker of mine (Mitch Roberson) were in Orlando at a conference and were excited because Microsoft finally had a truly elite level certification that was open to the public.

KCIT: Tell me about your application for the MCM, what standards did you have to meet to get accepted?

Randall: The process for any of the MCM certifications consists of filling out an application, submitting examples of items you have worked on, examples of deliverables from a project, and finally an interview is conducted via telephone.  All of the steps are very nerve racking as you know the bar is set very high and want to get accepted.

KCIT: How did you prepare for the course itself?

Randall: To prepare for the MCM I started reading/reviewing the pre-reading list approximately 3 months prior to the class.  I was actually able to complete the list but probably should have read it and comprehended more as opposed to just trying to get through it.  I also installed several instances of SQL Server just for testing a variety of things with replication, SSIS, etc…

KCIT:  Give me some insight into the MCM program itself. Just how rigorous was it?

Randall: I flew into Seattle on the Saturday before class started to be sure and get rested.  You’re in class for  8-10 hours a day over a period of 3 weeks. After class you either study in the classroom or head back to your own room to study.  I stayed just across the street from campus and would come back to the classroom as it was more comfortable than my room (If I have a TV nearby I’ll watch it).  On the weekends we had study groups to prepare for our weekly exams on Monday.

The experience was greatly beneficial as you’re getting world class training from the best of the SQL Community.  The brutal part is the weekly exams which cover items from the previous week’s content, these tests can be very difficult as the items being discussed are well beyond the average person’s knowledge of SQL Server.  The final lab is difficult as well but with proper time management you have a decent chance of passing if you properly utilize your classroom learning and your expertise prior to the MCM class.

KCIT: Share your experiences with MCM classmates and teachers with us. What sort of value did that bring to you in terms of both knowledge and networking? Do you still keep in contact with these individuals?

Randall: Getting to meet everyone involved with the program was great!  You get great interaction with all of the instructors.  I keep in touch with everyone from my rotation and Joseph Sack (SQL MCM Program Manager & an MCM) and utilize the instructors’ vast knowledge as well as the MCM/MCA mailing list if I run into something giving me trouble.

KCIT: Have you seen a payoff in obtaining this certification?

Randall: There are a variety of benefits so I’ll just list them below:

  • The knowledge you gain during the training is tremendous and aids in further solidifying your technical skillset.
  • The monthly training sessions for the MCM’s/MCA’s are an invaluable resource on the inner workings of SQL Server and things to come.
  • You get access to all the MCM’s/MCA’s and the instructor’s via a mailing list is a great resource as you have access to some of the greatest minds in the SQL community if you have a question or need a better understanding of something.
  • I have been asked to present at conferences and have been in discussions about possibly putting out a book for SQL Server.  This has truly been a joy to help others gain a better understanding of SQL Server.
  • I have received a multitude of job offers.

KCIT: What are some next steps in terms of career?

Randall: I plan on trying for my Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) shortly, as well as getting more involved with PASS (Professional Association For SQL Server).  Hopefully may have a book in the works shortly.

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