We can handle the truth

Today I attended the MCM call with Microsoft Learning (MSL).

I won’t get personal here, because in spite of everything, I do imagine that the folks in MSL are under quite a bit of stress right now (yes – so is the community, but more on that later).  I myself remember getting chewed out back in November of 2010 when we announced that SQL MCM was removing the training requirement.  While I received some support, I received a good share of hate-email and comments – and I cannot recall a more stressful period of time in my career.  Communicating change is tough – and there is definitely a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.  I think the first mistake is to think your audience can’t handle the truth.

With that said, here, in my dream world, is what I wished MSL would have said on today’s call.  They might have expressed some variations on a few of these items – and I’ll save it for MSL to communicate – but otherwise this is just an imaginary list of talking points:

<imaginary MSL talking points>

  • I’m sorry about how and when we communicated the program cancellation.  It was incredibly ungracious and we really regret it.
  • For anyone who has invested in the program in the last X number of months, we’ll be providing full refunds and will work through each scenario on a case-by-case basis.
  • We will extend the ability to take exams for X number of months.  We agree it was unreasonable and unfair to give a 1 month notice.
  • We ended the MCM program because we never really knew how to make it work.  Our organization isn’t structured to support programs like this – programs that are strategic but don’t generate direct-revenue.
  • We wanted to model the programs after what Cisco does, but we didn’t actually do much of what we should have to make it more like Cisco.
  • We wanted MCM to have industry-wide recognition, but we didn’t invest in long-term marketing.
  • We don’t really plan on making an MCM\MCA replacement, hence the cancellation.
  • When we say “pause” – we mean cancel and retire.  There will be a new “top” tier certification, but a much broader audience and it will not resemble MCM.
  • Even if we ask the product team to protect these programs, they have other priorities right now and aren’t in the certification business.
  • We will move all distribution lists and NDA-access related benefits to someone on the MVP community team to manage.  They have budget and know how to handle very large technical communities. They will manage this moving forward and you will be a member of the community and will be grandfathered in as appreciation of your time investment.
  • Business is business, but we’ll throw in what perks we can to soften the blow (MSDN subscriptions, PASS tickets, we’ll use our imagination).

</imaginary MSL talking points>

Now back to my own, non-imaginary voice for a bit.  A few thoughts and opinions:

  • I do really hope that anyone in the pipeline gets a chance to complete what they started if they choose to do so.
  • I do also hope that people are reimbursed according to each situation.
  • I hold out a very, very small hope that the various product teams will re-adopt each MCM/MCA program.
  • I hope that everyone will be civil and not resort to bullying the people in MSL.  Be tough.  Be honest.  Be vocal.  But don’t be vicious or get personal please.  Keep perspective.
  • I know we don’t need an acronym to be masters with the product.  The biggest benefit of being an MCM was the community and also the process of achieving it.
  • We’ll all be okay.

Lastly, I of course remain fiercely loyal to SQL Server.  It is the horse I bet on 16 years ago and I have no regrets.   But as for the SQL Server certification program, quite a bit will need to happen before I would feel comfortable advocating for them again.

38 thoughts on “We can handle the truth

  1. Well said, Joe. I posted my thoughts last week on my blog, but I think you sum up things nicely here. Making tough business decisions is never easy, but how you communicate it out can make or break perception. I hope MSL does the right thing for everyone involved. And I will publicly thank you for all you did for the MCM, and for the times you invited me to help out.

  2. I see this as a great comment and a bit of insight from one of the founders and figureheads of the MCM program into the demise of the MCM program. Joe put a lot of his life into the program: blood, sweat, tears, and untold hours.

    I soured on the Microsoft certifications years ago. The MCM renewed my interest in certification, and added a lot of fuel to my interest in returning to the SQL community. The announcement of the demise of the MCM and more importantly the way that announcement was handled really quashed my interest.

    I’d love to see something positive come of this, so I’m willing to wait and see what happens.

  3. Thank you, Joe. This was an amazing public program that helped us know who we could trust with their knowledge. It’s very unfortunate to lose the ability for someone to get a certification that can’t be taught in college. We still have MVP, but that’s more to show who we can trust to share what they know publicly instead of the breadth of their knowledge.

    Taking the approach of standing back and thinking it out as MSL should have done along with not making this a personal attack on those at MSL is the best approach we can take on this, and we appreciate you putting this out there.

  4. Great Post Joe, It is really sad to see the program getting cancelled, after all the effort I had put on this, In my case, I got the Lab exam pending and I will not be able to finish it on time, since I’m recovering from a knee surgery. Seems like a waste of money since the certification goal was not achieve.
    But in the other hand it was worth since other wise I may not be able to meet guys like you and the rest of the folks of SQL Skills.
    In any case, It was definitely bad communicated and very short period knowledge.
    just my opinion,

    1. Thank you Kenneth. You definitely put in quite a bit of time, money and effort. I too am glad I got a chance to meet you (as is the rest of the SQLskills team).

  5. Thanks for posting this, Joe. I do hope sanity makes a comeback at MSL. If they intended to see the Advanced Certs as a high-volume, high-profit opportunity, they were doing it all wrong.

  6. Thanks Joe! That has to be one of the most civil and well-thought-out responses I’ve seen so far. I know everyone is upset, but some of the comments out there are just downright rude and counter-productive. I feel like that call could have gone better if there wasn’t so much vitriol being thrown at the MSL folks. I imagined it something like the scene in Blues Brothers where the band is playing in the country bar and there’s a constant barrage of beer bottles smashing against the chicken wire in front of them 😛

    I personally am still very proud of my achievement and while the end of the program is a real loss for the community, I don’t feel like it diminishes the value for me in any way. The experience was amazing and life-changing in many ways, which is something that can’t be taken away. I think the folks who have the biggest cause for complaint are those who are halfway through the process, and I hope that they will either be able to complete their journey or gain restitution from MSL. I’m confident that MSL will do right by those folks, even if they are horrible at communicating it. I really hope I’m not overestimating their commitment to the community…

  7. Joe, very balanced and well stated. I hope somebody on MSL is reading it and I hope they do make atleast some of the changes you suggest. As a sincere MCM aspirant I am really very sad at this and hoping sincerely that there is learning that comes out it and a better, more mature process..although at this stage it is really hard to visualize what that could be. That said, why do we expect less vitriol/beer bottles on the call? So many people have done this as a lifetime achievement and want to keep doing it. So many have lost lots of $ on it. The last heart rending story I heard was from a friend in India who paid for so much learning material out of his life savings. Personally that hardly surprises me. I hope there is some compensation and assuaging of disappointments that goes into it as well. And thanks again for being the sane voice in the community.


  8. My 2 cents.

    This may not be a very popular opinion but, my belief is that money can be earned, maybe it will be very difficult or we may have to go through a lot of hardships but, it will come. Knowledge to me should have been the ultimate goal. Like Steve Jones says in his blog, “Ultimately the achievement isn’t the certification, but the journey.”

    I have been reading through blogs over the past few weeks, although I have not planned for MCM in the next one year but, it was a goal that inspired us to be better. I for one have always admired some of the MCMs and MVPs, who contribute to the SQL community and wondered why do they do it? When the questions are ill defined, the comments rude and the trolls bring out maltov cocktails. The answer is simple; they love SQL*Server and care about it enough to share their knowledge, to people who do not yet possess it. That my friends, in my opinion, is the real appeal in being a master.

  9. Hi Joe,
    Sadly, a lot of folks (myself included) have managed to take the MCSM: Knowledge Exam, but have no MCSM: Lab Exam to book, as it has not been released by Microsoft; the MCSM qualification is effectively D.O.A. As sad / annoying as this decision is, the certification is not the important bit, but the journey to achieving it – that’s not something that Microsoft can ever take away.

  10. Thanks for posting this Joe. I sincerely hope Microsoft decides to revive the MCM program in some form. It’s kind of disheartening to have finally made it all the way through the program, only to have it ended abruptly.

  11. Balanced as always Joe, let’s just bring you back to run a replacement program. I have been at Microsoft over ten years now and the SQL MCM still rates as my toughest engagement and most personally satisfying achievement. However, right at this point in time, I do feel like I am on the wrong side of that chicken-wire fence. But things will improve, SQL will go on, this community rocks.

  12. I think you nailed it with this line “We ended the MCM program because we never really knew how to make it work. Our organization isn’t structured to support programs like this – programs that are strategic but don’t generate direct-revenue.”

    It’s sad because I thought Ballmer leaving would eliminate this type of thinking. Microsoft needs to learn from other top companies like Google. They developed Android which was a revenue eater and has become a revenue generator after many years of devotion and great marketing. The MCM/MCA program could have been the same and I believe that the program gives Microsoft Products and Professionals some prestige. The MCMs and MCAs (and MVPs as well) help give the community a direction to head towards in being loyal to the product they work with and aspire to reach the highest level of expertise in it. I’m upset with the decision but I’ll still be finishing the MCM Prep Videos.

  13. Well said Joe! The same classiness that you bring to your teaching you have put into a well thought out blog post.

    I was working towards an MCM, not for the certification, but for the directed road of study, experience and achievement. My one view of MSL in this, and it’s more to do with Microsoft in general, is that it is a very short sighted decision. The program itself might not make a lot of money, but in the indirect exposure and money through licensing it is priceless. There is not a more involved community in Microsoft than the SQL group. It is truly amazing. The billions of dollars and the exposure that a group like this brings into general revenue is huge. For a small fee, Microsoft has a few well seasoned veterans out there selling the product everyday. How they could lose this vision is beyond me. It is kind of synonymous with a lot of decisions that we have all seen with Microsoft over the years. I hope someone in Redmond eventually sees the big picture again. It’s time.

  14. It’s such as poor corporate world. Certainly next year the program or similar will came back because the Microsoft’ leaders are the same leaders from our “poor corporate world” …. They are always changing by unknown reasons. They even know why !!!!!

  15. Is there some reason someone like SQLSKills cannot offer their own “Certified Master” certification? So MSL doesn’t find a fit for it in their portfolio. Perhaps it’s a legal thing, I don’t know… Are they the only ones who can provide this level of certification? Sure they have credibility…wait, no they don’t, not anymore at least. So, it would be nice to see someone like SQLSkills pick up the torch.

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