Finally getting started – studying for Microsoft 70-461

The last couple of months, I’ve kind of drifted, lost sight of my goals.

I wanted to start playing with SQL Server 2008 at work, but I end up always working in Access instead. I’m also pulled in a lot of different directions as I do desktop and network support as well as reporting and still a little bit of clerical work.

The blessing and the curse of working for a small company is that you get to do a lot of different things. On the one hand, it means you’re always busy and always learning. On the other, it’s hard to concentrate on just one task.

Anyway, I studied for and took the MTA: Operating System Fundamentals test instead of studying for a SQL test. I thought, “I’ll get better at this part of my current job before I move on to the next phase of the SQL learning.”

I finally took (and passed) that test last week. I realized while studying for it that I did NOT want to go into the desktop support and/or network engineer stuff. I really do want to play with data.

Refocusing on that, I also realized that it would probably be better to go with the 2012 SQL Server stuff than the 2008, even though a lot of companies are still running on 2008, and even though the company I currently contract with uses 2008.

On Microsoft’s Virtual Academy, there’s a lot of training material for 2012, and none for 2008. That was a very influential factor in my decision. I don’t think you can use the MVA alone to pass the exams, but it is a very helpful supplement.

I’ve purchased the Training Kit and the Joes 2 Pros Volume 1 to get me started.

It took me a bit to get SQL Server 2012 installed [insert long boring story about needing to install Service Pack 1 on my Win 7 laptop before I could get started. . .] but tonight I got it all up and running.

Because of some things that have happened at work lately, I’ve been questioning whether I really want to go in this direction or not. Yeah, I’ve got the math degree and it seems like a good fit with database stuff, but can I actually do the work? [The old impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head].

There are days when I figure out something complicated and I think, “YEAH, this is it!” and there are times when I mess up on something simple and think, “Who the hell am I fooling? Myself mostly.”

Tonight, I started reading the Training Kit and Chapter 1, Lesson 1 is about mathematical relations, set theory and predicate logic. I was having flashbacks to Modern/Abstract Algebra classes and felt like it’s validation of what I’m doing. Yes, this is the right direction now.

I finally feel like I’m on my way.

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MTA Exam 98-364 Prep

I took the exam on June 27 and passed with an 85%.

Probably could have done better if I’d waited another week, but, it’s a pass.

I used the MOAC (Microsoft Official Academic Course) for the exam. There were some bad reviews of it, but since I am pretty new to SQL, I found it helpful.

I watched the MVA videos and downloaded the powerpoints. I didn’t really find that as helpful. There was some information that I could use. I think the best part was when they used SQL Server Management Studio, so I could see how it’s used.

I bought a practice test from MeasureUp, and took the GMetrix one that came with the MOAC.

Some of the questions in the practice tests were very similar to about half a dozen of the test questions.

Taking the tests in study mode gave me an opportunity to do research. Lots of questions were not explicitly covered in the MOAC, so I had to search for some answers online, In study mode, though, you can check your answers (very helpful) and allowed me to add to my notes.

I took a lot of handwritten notes from the MOAC and the practice tests.

The test is only about 35 questions. The testing environment is pretty intense. You can’t take anything into the room with you, and they have a camera on you at all times to prevent cheating. You find out immediately what your score is, and get a printout to bring home. It only took a couple of days to get an official email with my credential number and then I could order a certificate.

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Too excited to be able to use this official logo in my emails!

I was so excited to get the certification and the logo.

I had intended to write stuff as I was learning it, but handwriting the notes hurt my wrist and I didn’t have the energy to also type them all up.

But I still have the handwritten notes and it won’t hurt to write them in a neater way and be able to look them up later.

Learning

I feel a little like I’m drowning because I don’t have exactly the right background for what I’m trying to become. I looked into going for a Master’s degree in computer science. I don’t have the right classes to get accepted into the program at the school I graduated from.

I looked at getting a second Bachelor’s, but the local university is not accepting applications for second bachelor’s or non-degree-seeking students.

So, I decided that I should work on some certifications – I know how to think logically, but I don’t know all the fiddly little bits about SQL or even database structures. Since I don’t know where to start, I’m going to start with Microsoft certifications.

I know that there is debate about whether or not certifications are worth anything, but the best argument I’ve seen is that it can give you a focus for your individual study.

The first one I’m taking is MTA: Database Fundamentals. I know the MTA isn’t that valuable (or valuable at all in the job market), but I thought I should start with basics.

I bought the Official Study Guide. I’ve been watching the videos on Microsoft Virtual Academy.

I found some other videos on YouTube.

I bought a practice test at MeasureUp.

The test is concentrated on SQL Server and I’m working more with Access, so I’ve set up a lab environment on my home computer to work with it.