Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Now that I have had the "pleasure" of filtering through numerous resumes looking to hire someone, my thoughts on certifications has evolved a little...  Or it's probably more accurate to say that they have been solidified.


Anyone who is active in the community is well aware that the topic of whether to pursue your MCDBA or other certification is hotly debated.  Are things a little too quiet in the office or on the discussion boards?  Just throw out the "innocent" question of whether it is worth pursuing certification and things are certain to get lively for a while.  It ranks right up there with abortion, evolution, and Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore as topics guaranteed to get the sparks flying.

As for the MCDBA, the argument often breaks down into the following points:

  • "I know plenty of people who have their certification but I wouldn't trust them to organize my pencil collection."
  • "I know plenty of people who do not have certifications but are sheer geniuses in SQL Server."
  • "All the MCDBA proves is that you know how to give the official Microsoft-approved answer."

My tendency in the past has been to come down on the side of "certification doesn't guarantee you know squat about databases in real life, but it probably doesn't hurt to have it on your resume when you're looking for a job."  And guess what?  I was right.

Hiring in the Real World

Here's how the screening process goes at my company.  I tell the HR person (recruiter) that I am looking to hire someone and I send her the advertisement that I wrote which contains all the acronyms and buzzwords we are looking for.  (Note that MCDBA is never on this list.)  The recruiter then makes sure I didn't break any laws, puts our corporate intro or conclusion on it and gets the word out.  This may mean working with a Staff Augmentation firm or posting it wherever her experience indicates we tend to get the best responses.  She collects the responses and filters out candidates based on non-technical issues.  For example, if we get a resume from someone who is international and we are not planning on sponsoring, then she weeds those out.  Or when we get resumes from people that do not include any of the acronyms I specified, out they go too.  There are a handful of reasons that a candidate is immediately eliminated, and she does a great job of that.  She also does a good job of running interference with the StaffAug companies that want to send us every person they have riding the bench, and asks me for clarification of requirements when necessary.

But what our corporate recruiter absolutely does NOT do is make judgments as to someone's technical acumen.  That is left to me.  And here is where we get back to the point of this post.  I know plenty of people who have their certification but I wouldn't trust them to organize my pencil collection.  And I know plenty of people who do not have certifications but are sheer geniuses in SQL Server.  BUT, when I do not personally know the person whose resume I am reading, and I am narrowing my list down for the first round of calls, and I have two candidates who appear to be similarly qualified on paper, if one of them has the MCDBA and the other doesn't, then the certificate gets called before the non-cert.


But Mark!  You just said that certifications don't guarantee that the person knows anything!  Yes, I did say that, and I meant it.  But once I have sifted out the unqualified and am down to the situation where, I am looking at resumes for similarly qualified people, I do give one bonus point to the person with the certificate.  Now hear me, I did not say that I would call every person who has their MCDBA, regardless of their experience.  I'm talking about candidates that are nearly equal in experience.  The certificate earns a bonus point because I know this much... you are serious enough to spend the time and money to go through the testing process, and you not only persevered, but you prevailed.  (How's that for a little alliteration?)  And for all that hard work, your reward is that you get called before someone else who otherwise would be tied.

So, should you pursue the MCDBA or not?  Well, that's up to you to decide but here are a few key considerations:

  1. If you are job-hunting, it may help you get the interview, but probably won't get you the job (except for #2 or #4 below).
  2. Some companies are required to have a certain number of certified people on staff, and this could help you.
  3. Some companies pay more to people with certifications (we don't, but some do).
  4. While studying for the exams, you just might learn something new that lets you solve somebody's problem.

Those who really know me can tell you that it is the last one that would be the biggest consideration for me.  Anything you do to learn more will help you grow and meet the needs of your current or a future employer.  And that's what it's really all about, isn't it?  Whether you can meet the need.

UPDATE:  I stumbled across my own posting from four years ago on this topic.  HA!  I forgot I even wrote about it back then.  But back then, I was an independent consultant.  Now I'm a manager.