Watching the Australian Grand Prix from Melbourne, you quickly realize that there is more to the race than the race itself. There are the practice and qualifying sessions which are used to prepare and assess who gets the pole position for the start of the race. In the same way, we need to practice for our certification exams to have the best chance of passing.
In an ideal world, our skills and experience would be tested directly with real-life scenarios to gain certification. Years ago, I worked on developing a “performance-based” certification exam to test real skills rather than ask questions about the skills. The idea was that the candidate would enter a room with access to four servers. Each of the servers had issues and your job, as candidate for certification, was to fix the problems and get the servers up and running within the allotted timeframe. If you succeeded, you passed; if not, you could try again next time.
At the time, Microsoft rejected the concept based on scalability and pursued the “simulation” strategy where parts of the toolset are roughly simulated in the exam. The effect is pale in comparison but at least the concept of testing based on end results was a good one. It doesn’t matter which path you take to get to the final goal, as long as you get there. But the implementation is sorely lacking.
Now Microsoft has introduced its own performance-based exams using virtualization technology for the Windows Server platform. We have to wait for the SQL Server exams to be upgraded but I can’t wait for this exponential improvement. At last, real skills will be tested and verified.
We will still have to prepare for the exam but instead of cramming from books and practice tests, we will be practicing real-life scenarios that will benefit our skill-set long-term. And that’s good news for everyone.