I never intended to administer Microsoft SQL Server for a living. I quite literally fell into the field. One minute I was an unskilled high school dropout lifting boxes in a warehouse, and the next, I was a highly paid DBA. I have my MCSE to thank for this, and I have fate to thank for my MCSE.
Like most stories from my late teens and early 20's, this one begins a bad idea and a handfull of controlled substances. I had recently decided to flee the desolate wasteland that is the Salt Lake valley to work in a fish cannery in Bellingham, Washington. Sure I'd reek of fish all the time, but it seemed like a small price to pay for escaping Utah and it's wretched inhabitants. I had my bags packed. My buddy Galen was to provide transportation. I pulled my life savings ($1600 USD) out of the bank, quit my job and prepared to head Northwest. That's when God spoke to me.
God's real name was Martin, but he'd been insisting on being called God for years. With the exception of his girlfriend, everyone had just given in. God was the one who introduced me to marijuana and he felt that it was his duty to smoke me out one last time before I escaped from Zion. I heartily approved of this plan, and God and I proceeded to get baked off our gourds on some extremely potent (for Utah) Oregonian weed. While hopping the fence surrounding the park where we had toked up, my bootlaces got caught in the chain link causing me to plummet earthward - landing on my shoulder. I felt fine, but couldn't raise my right arm above shoulder level. Both God and I considered this extremely philosophical. Then we started giggling.
The next morning, I couldn't move my right arm at all. Further investigation showed that I had separated my right shoulder and would require 4-6 weeks to heal. So much for moving to Bellingham. I couldn't do much of anything until my shoulder healed, so I dyed my hair blonde and started hanging out at the local Barnes and Noble browsing the shelves and playing chess. While browsing, I came across a 4 volume set of Sybex MCSE study guides for $230 USD. I made an impulse buy.
After I got the books home, I made a discovery. They expected you to have access to an NT 4 box. I didn't have one.
I didn't want to return the books, so after smoking half a bowl, I did the next best thing: I bought a 12 pack of Diet Mountain Dew and spent the next 10 hours memorizing the Networking Essentials book. This became my daily routine. 144 ounces of Diet Dew, 10 hours of reading and a pair of smoke breaks.
Maybe it was all the pot, but I found myself really becomming interested in the material. The OSI 7 layer network model was of particular interest. The very idea of a model that is of zero use in the real world, but must always crop up in any discussion of networking struck me as being very zen. Then again, I categorize anything that makes absolutely no damn sense as being "zen." I think it makes me more spiritual.
3 weeks passed and so did the 4 MCSE core exams. My parents started to take notice. Allthough she couldn't afford it, my mother wrote me a check for $600 USD to cover the cost of all the exams. By now I had exhausted to Sybex books, but still needed to take 2 more elective exams in order to get my MCSE. It was time for another trip to the bookstore.
I wasn't sure what elective exams to take, so I decided to buy the cheapest books. The official Microsoft curriculum for the 2 SQL Server tests was on sale for $160 USD, so I got that. I wasn't sure what SQL Server was, but I didn't know what most of the possible elective exam topics were, so I didn't let it bother me.
The SQL Server material was much harder than NT, and I still didn't have an NT box that I could try out the excercises on, so it was back to the 10hr a day cram sessions. I passed the SQL Server 6.5 administration test with exactly 1 question to spare, turned to chapters on database development. I pounded my way through the rest of the book and proceded to score 35% on the exam. That's not a passing score. It's a "check subject for vital signs" score. It's not easy to learn how to code SQL without an actuall database to play with. Fortunately, I was (and am) too stupid to know when I'm beaten. I halved my marijuana intake and upped my study sessions to 12 hours a day. This time I got the exact minimum score required to pass the test. I celebrated by removing my sling.
After dropping out of high school and college, I had finally completed a course of study. And it'd only taken 6 weeks <$1200 USD. I was elated. I celebrated moving to Seattle and getting a perma-temp job doing DBA work at Microsoft. I was getting paid half of what most of my coworkers were getting, but I didn't care. I was still making more than either of my parents had ever made.
I just wish that I could have applied my MCSE knowledge to my new career. I couldn't. In the real world of large IT shops, scripting and command line tools are the norm, even for NT boxen. My MCSE training was only useful as a bullet point on my resume.
Still, the MCSE was the only thing that got me hired on at Microsoft, and it was also a great excuse for spending 6 weeks over-caffeinated and stoned. My only regret is when I hear about people paying $6000 or more for MCSE training courses. I wish I'd had some of what they're smoking.