What Is a Microsoft SQL Certification?

Microsoft SQL certification documents your knowledge and proves your proficiency with Microsoft SQL Server. Learn more about certification options and requirements, as well as salaries for computer professionals. Schools offering Computer Support Technician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Would I Do With a Microsoft SQL Certification?

Microsoft SQL certifications are professional credentials that can be used to demonstrate your skills using SQL Server, Microsoft's relational database management system. To earn certification, you must pass an exam that tests your skills. However, there are three levels of Microsoft SQL Certification, and several specialties within each level. Therefore, different Microsoft SQL certifications can prepare you for different jobs.

The first level of SQL certification is the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) credential, which can be used to demonstrate entry-level skills in one of three specialization areas: Database, Developer and IT infrastructure. The developer credential could help you get an entry-level web developer job, where you would use Microsoft SQL for the development of websites and mobile applications. As a web developer, you might also be involved in website design, such as graphics and image layout.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is the second level of SQL certification. It can be used to verify your skills in Database Development, Database Administration or Business Intelligence Development. The Database Administration option demonstrates your skills in the installation, maintenance, configuration and troubleshooting of databases, so you could get a job as a database administrator. That way, companies would be able to trust you to optimize the performance of their databases and protect them against any security threats.

The highest level of SQL certification is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) credential. Within this level, you can demonstrate your expertise in Database Management and Analytics, Data Platform and Business Intelligence, but it is important to note that the latter two designations will be retired on March 31, 2017. With the data management and analytics specialization, you could become a computer or information systems manager, where you would be responsible for coordinating all computer-related operations within an organization. In this top job, you would analyze an organization's computer needs, plan an improvement strategy and direct lower-level IT professionals to implement it.

Take a look at the table below for some more information about possible jobs for individuals with Microsoft SQL certifications:

Career Web Developer Database Administrator Information Systems Manager
Degree Required Associate's Degree Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Relevant SQL Certification MTA: Developer MCSA: Database Administration MCSE: Database Management and Analytics
Key Responsibilities Write code for websites; assist with website layout; monitor website traffic Maintain and secure data for an organization; alter database structure when necessary Oversee network installation and maintenance; analyze company needs and develop strategies to improve performance; plan and implement technological upgrades
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 27% 11% 15%
Median Salary (2015)* $64,970 $81,710 $131,600

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Which Microsoft SQL Certification Is Right For Me?

You can choose a Microsoft SQL Certification based on your previous experience and career objectives. There are several options within each level.

At the lowest level, the MTA: Database credential is for individuals who eventually want to pursue careers in data platform administration of business intelligence. The MTA: Developer designation is for aspiring software or web developers. The MTA: Infrastructure credential provides preparation for individuals who eventually want to advance to jobs in server infrastructure, desktop infrastructure of cloud computing.

The MCSA is for individuals who have developed strong professional skills in information technology, either through direct work experience or postsecondary education. The designation can help you get a mid-level job. If you choose the MCSA: Database Development credential, you could get a job as a database developer, where you would build and implement systems for a variety of organizations. If you would rather work for a single organization as a database administrator or infrastructure specialist, you could get the MCSA: Database Administrator Credential. For those who want to focus their careers on business intelligence development, which would include data modeling and online data processing, the MCSA: Business Intelligence Development designation is available.

At the MCSE level, the Data Management and Analytics designation is the only one that is not on the verge of retirement. This designation is for individuals who have already earned an MCSA designation and want to advance to management positions in the information technology field.

In addition to demonstrating your skills, certification also gives you a number of supplemental benefits. Among these are the use of the Microsoft Server logo, a certification plaque, access to the SQL Server community e-mail list, invitations to continuing education programs and a listing in the Microsoft Certified Master directory.

How Do I Earn the Certification?

To earn a Microsoft SQL certification, you need to pass an exam and/or meet previous experience requirements. You will also need to pay a fee to Microsoft or a third-party test provider.

On the MTA: Database exam, you will be tested on core database concepts, object creation, data manipulation, data administration and data storage. The MTA: Developer exam covers core programming concepts, object-oriented programming, software development, web applications, desktop applications and databases. On the MTA: IT Infrastructure exam, you will be tested on server installation, server roles, Active Directory, data storage, performance management and server maintenance.

The MCSA: Database Development exam tests your ability to query data with Transact-SQL and develop SQL databases. On the MCSA: Database Administration exam, you will be tested on administering an SQL database infrastructure and provisioning SQL databases. The MCSA: Business Intelligence Exam covers the implementation of an SQL data warehouse and the development of SQL data models.

To qualify for the MCSE exam, you need to have previously earned an MCSA: Database Development, Database Administration or Business Intelligence Designation. You will be tested on a wide range of skills, including building organization-level data solutions and using business intelligence data in hardwired and cloud-based environments.

If you don't pass an exam, you can retake it, but you must wait at least 24 hours after failing a test to retake it. There are no limitations on how many times you may retake a certification test, but you must pay a fee each time.

How Much Can I Earn in a Computer and Information Career?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for web developers was $64,970 in 2015. The BLS also reported that the median annual wage for database administrators was $81,710. For computer and information systems managers, it was $131,600.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you'd like to pursue an entry-level job in information technology that does not require SQL certification, you could consider becoming a computer support specialist, where you would offer assistance and advice to people within a work space who are having complications with software or hardware. Computer support specialists may need a bachelor's degree depending on the extent of their specific field or work environment, but generally, the position only requires an associate's degree or postsecondary classes and certification. If you are willing to pursue a bachelor's degree, you can consider becoming a computer network architect or computer systems analysts. Computer network architects are in charge of creating the hardware used to connect computers within a business amongst each other as well as to the internet. Computer systems analysts do research and run diagnostics on the computers within a business to best assess the needs of those systems.

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