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.

posted @ Thursday, January 31, 2008 11:38 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Derek Comingore at 2/1/2008 5:46 AM
Hi Mark,

It was interesting to read an instance of the 'other sides' viewpoint on certifications. I would like to expand on your #4 bullet...I agree in general most MSFT exams are like a tour of the new features however that is not always the case! Point is, I don't care how many years you've worked with SQL Server, the exams will probably teach you something in the process! And there is also something to be said about someone who sets goals for themselves and accomplishes them, like college only much shorter it takes patience, determination, and focus.

Finally, I'm not sure where you work and by no means am I saying anything bad about your organization, however consulting organizations (or as an independent consultant) are much more keen on having your certifications than a regular employer and for good reason! Because every time you go on the road someone will be interviewing/reviewing your credentials and not just the first time you apply as in a more traditional company.


# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Stephen Moore at 2/1/2008 8:06 AM
Totally agre with you. And by the way, there should be no debate -- Sean Connery wins hands down. :-)

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Kirk at 2/2/2008 5:25 AM
I agree... I'm not certified and I manage dozens of databases in several sites. There is a certified DBA in another department that manges just two databases, who can barely use a join statement without asking me for help.

Both IT departments will be outsourced soon and we're are now looking for same jobs. I hate to think that they may get a job offer before me because the certification.

So..... I'm getting my certification ASAP.

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Ankith at 2/2/2008 7:44 AM
The only thing i took certification was to try out the scenarios while reading and see if i could learn anything from them. I did learn and I am not denying that fact but nost of the time I also noticed some things I already knew and did not need to re learn them again. Just my 2 cents.

Thanks for the post

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Derek Comingore at 2/2/2008 3:00 PM
Mark, I think you picked a good topic to post on :)...

Having BOTH certs & solid real-world exp. is the best of both worlds (a degree could be an agruable 3rd...let's no go there LOL). More you have, the less you have to wish you 'would've' or 'what if I would've had'....never hurts is all I'm saying. I've yet to meet (though I'm sure they exist, in few numbers hopefully) a hiring manager would frowns upon hiring certified professionals.


# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by AjarnMark at 2/2/2008 4:11 PM
Derek, excellent point about consulting companies! In effect, every time you go to a new client, you are going through much of the same evaluation that I do when I hire someone.

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by AjarnMark at 2/2/2008 4:14 PM
Kirk, I wouldn't worry too much about "I hate to think that they may get a job offer before me because the certification." I still bring people in for a technical interview to make sure that they are not in that camp before any actual offers get made.

Best of luck on the exams!

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Jason Chester at 2/5/2008 1:16 AM
I can proudly say that I have completed the MCDBA, MCTS and the MCITP in SQL Server, and have found them more that worth the work, previously I found that even with experience there were still some aspects of SQL Server that I didn’t have indepth knowledge of some subjects and think that there are something’s that experience can’t give you ie. Good query writing practices. I have found that some people seem to have a hatred for cert’s and try to knock them down saying things like “I met a MCDBA and he couldn’t even create a table” or “An MCDBA that I knew couldn’t even joins for queries” to these comments I must say “what a load of rubbish”. Anyone that can complete the MCDBA will be more than capable for performing either of these tasks with their eyes closed, and then with added experience on top will be highly competent in all aspect of SQL Server. However in my hiring experience I have found that people with experience are not always the best option purely on the experience but people with cert and experience have the knowledge and the hands on and really win hands down, and sometime feel that when people don’t like the fact that someone with experience and the cert’s gets a job before them I personally think that why shouldn’t they after all they have everything that you have but also been certified by the makers of the product to say they have a excellent ground knowledge of the product etc.

# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by Derek Comingore at 2/5/2008 4:52 AM
Jason, could not agree more with you on the 'lazy' aspect of some folks personalities, however my advice is 'walk softly and carry a big stick'...meaning continuously increase you SQL Skills (certs and other routes) but be humble. Its not the default meaning, you know, having powers but being easy to talk to and carrying yourself etc...but its close! Knowledge is power in today's age, it is the new gold rush! Ever notice how the best pros in the communities are so humble :)

Back in college I remember having classmates who were all about the MCSE. They studied, studied more (and probably did reap some good knowledge from the effort), and finally passed the exams. These are the folks that give us 'others', those that take exams in addition to our daily jobs of working with the technology a bad rep! PAPER MCSEs as we use to call them.

As with most debates in life, neither side is 100% right, the truth is somewhere in the middle :)


# re: Thoughts From a Hiring Manager on the MCDBA

Left by AjarnMark at 2/5/2008 10:25 PM
Jason, congrats on your certifications. It sounds like you put serious work into them. I agree that you can spend a lot of time with practical experience and still not delve into a lot of areas of SQL Server. Just looking at the different tracks that the careers of a Production DBA and a Development DBA highlights that. And even within one of those tracks, there are a lot of repeat scenarios you see and it's unlikely anyone has seen it all. So that is another area where I think certification can be helpful, to give you at least a base of knowledge in areas you haven't seen in practice.

And I would definitely prefer a candidate with BOTH practical and book learning. As Derek points out, there are those people in the world who are good at taking exams but not so good at applying their knowledge. And a few who take the exam and then forget what they learned, but less so, I think.

Derek, I like your "walk softly and carry a big stick" analogy. That's definitely a great way to get ahead.
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