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Preparing for and taking exam 70-461 (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012)

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL ServerOne of my goals is to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Business Intelligence. I decided to start from scratch and take the three exams required for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL Server 2012 to learn as much as possible. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would and I’m not there yet, but I’m one step closer to my goal: I passed the 70-461 exam (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012) in January :)

Preparing for the exam
My plan was to work my way through each chapter in the Training Kit book. I read each chapter and answered the quick check questions, lesson review questions, and case scenarios out loud to myself. I did all the exercises, but none of the suggested practices. Instead, I tried to use what I had learned at work. For example, I rewrote some of our queries to use the new window functions, and it was easier to understand how FOR XML worked when I queried data I was already familiar with.

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I will not try to take a Microsoft Online Proctored exam again

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL ServerAt least, I will not try to take a Microsoft Online Proctored exam again until they fix or change their exam software.

When I heard about Microsoft Online Proctored exams and found out they were available in Norway, I knew I wanted to try it. Taking an exam online would allow me to schedule it during the weekend without having to take time off work or travel an extra 2-3 hours in one day.

Reviews of the exam process were both good and bad. Some had technical difficulties and had to reschedule, some had technical difficulties and failed their exam, while others had no problems at all and were very happy. The first thing I did was to make sure that I passed the system requirements and the system tests. I found out that I couldn’t use my Surface Pro 3 because the camera did not take a clear picture of my ID. However, I could use my work laptop, and both system tests worked just fine.

I scheduled my exam, and on the day of the exam I made sure I reread all the fine prints three times. I cleared my entire office area and removed all items except my laptop. I made sure I wore clothes that would easily allow me to roll up my sleeves and turn out my pockets. I tied my hair in a ponytail so they could see that I didn’t have any devices in my ears. I was even careful not to drink too much during the day because bathroom breaks are not allowed.

As soon as it was time for my exam, I logged on and launched the application. It required an update before I could launch it, then it checked my microphone, my camera and my speakers, no problems. Then I had to take a picture of myself, and I took a headshot. After taking a picture you need to confirm that the picture is in fact a headshot. I clicked “yes” and nothing happened. The “next” button was disabled and I couldn’t click it. I clicked “yes” again and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I took another picture, clicked “yes”, and nothing happened. I clicked “no”, and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I tried clicking back and forth through the microphone, camera and speaker checks, took yet another picture, and still nothing.

Since I couldn’t get it to work, and I had turned off my phone so I wouldn’t be disturbed during the exam, I opened the Pearson Live Chat and explained my problem. It took about five minutes before a man replied. He asked if I could see the headshot on my screen. I said yes, and explained what I saw on my screen. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked if there was another button. I said that I could see the yes/no buttons and the back/next buttons. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked what happened when I clicked the “no” button. I said that it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I asked if it was safe to relaunch the application because my initial 15 minutes set aside for the check-in process had already passed. He confirmed that I still had 11 minutes to complete the check-in process, and I tried to relaunch the application.

Relaunching the application didn’t help. Updating Adobe Air didn’t help. I was still stuck on the screen trying to accept the picture I had taken. After another five minutes, he told me that he had created an incident report and that I had to call a Reservation Specialist the following day. I triple-checked that I would be able to reschedule my exam, he confirmed and left the chat.

On the following day I called the Reservation Specialist. He looked at the incident report and told me that they had not been able to investigate the issue yet. The Reservation Specialist could not reschedule my exam until they had investigated the issue, but they would call me back within two days when they had looked into it. Later that day I received an email that my exam had been cancelled, that the exam fee had been refunded and that I could reschedule my exam.

I tried the system tests again a few days later, and I got stuck on the same part where I had to take a picture. I tried it on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8, I tried it on my work laptop running Windows 7, I tried it on my old Windows 7 computer and I even asked my sister if she could try for me. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling Adobe Flash, Adobe Air and the Exam software on all systems. I tried on a wired and wireless connections. I closed and uninstalled programs that might interfere, but I kept getting stuck on taking a picture. I contacted customer support again, was told to send an e-mail with screen shots, and that I just had to wait for my scheduled exam. He told me “Please try at your scheduled time and check. It should work at that time.”

It didn’t work the last time at my scheduled exam time, why would it suddenly work this time? Finally I decided not to trust customer support, cancelled my scheduled Online Proctored exam, and rescheduled at a test center. Trying to get it to work for two weeks was just not worth it.

Speaking at SQLSaturday #372 Exeter

SQLSaturday #372 ExeterAhoy SQL mateys! SQLSaturday be comin’ back t’ Exeter on April 25th. Get ready fer an amazin’ day ‘o learnin’!

I’ll present Biml for Beginners: Generating SSIS packages with BimlScript, an introduction session for SSIS developers who are new to Biml. It’s even more fun to see that Rasmus Reinholdt (@RasmusReinholdt) will present his Building a meta-driven near realtime ETL solution with BIML and SSIS right after my session. How cool is that? If you’re new to Biml you can start with my introduction session and move on to a more advanced session :D

If the regular sessions aren’t enough learning for you, register for one of the pre-cons on the April 24th training day:
SQL Server: An Introduction – William Durkin (@sql_williamd)
Understanding SSIS internals and performance tuning – David Peter Hansen (@DPHansen)
R: from analysis to integration – Steph Locke (@SteffLocke)
Optimising Reporting Services for MDX Data Sources – Bob Duffy (@bob_duffy)
Performance Troubleshooting for the (Accidental) DBA – Mark Pryce-Maher (@MarkPM_MSFT) / Richard Douglas (@SQLRich)

Hope to see you there! :)

Tribal Awards 2014 – Best New Community Voice!

I won! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

And huge congratulations to Andy, Ginger, Oz and Luan for being nominated, you all deserved it! :)

Tribal Award 2014Winning the 2014 Tribal Award for Best New Community Voice means more to me than I can explain. 2014 was a difficult year for me personally, but it was also an amazing year where I discovered how much I love being involved in the SQL community. We organized the first SQLSaturday in Oslo, restarted SQL Server User Group Norway, I started volunteering and speaking at events, and I received the PASS Outstanding Volunteer Award.

2014 ended on a high when I found out I was nominated for a Tribal Award, and actually winning… Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start 2015! :) I’m so happy, so honored, so proud, and so thankful. I went “SQUEEEEE!” and then I cried a bit. Now I have a huge smile on my face and I’m even more motivated than ever to do what I can for the SQL community in 2015. Let’s do this! 2015 is going to be a fantastic year :)

Speaking at SQLBits XIV Superhero Edition

SQLBits XIV SuperheroesOne of my goals this year is to do things that scare me. It looks like I will achieve that goal, because I can’t really imagine anything scarier than speaking at one of the largest SQL Server conferences in the world! I’m very nervous, but also very proud and happy to announce that I will be speaking at SQLBits XIV Superhero Edition (#SQLBits) in March.

The session is called “Tools and Tips: From accidental to efficient Data Warehouse developer” and it will be a journey through some of my “Oh wow! Why did I not know this yesterday!?” moments. (Some of them are also known as my “Ooops!” moments.) I will talk about a variety of topics, from basic keyboard shortcuts, to free tools and scripts, to how you can use Biml for SSIS development. There was a time when these things were completely unknown to me, and I hope that I can help other accidental Data Warehouse developers so they don’t have to spend years discovering these things one by one.

The agenda is live, and my session is scheduled for Friday, March 6th from 5pm-6pm. It’s the last session of the day and some amazing speakers that I look up to will be speaking at the same time as me, so it will be interesting to see if anyone wants to attend my session! :) But no matter what happens, I will do my very best and enjoy the amazing event. I will also be volunteering and I’m looking forward to learning more about what it takes to run a large event like SQLBits.

Is your costume ready? I only need a few bits and pieces for my costume. I can’t wait to see all the SQL superheroes and villains, hang out with old friends and make lots of new friends. Come and say hi when you see me there! :)