The New MS Certifications for Dummies

October 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Microsoft | Leave a comment
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Having outlined the basic types of IT certification exams, I’m now going tackle the current status of Microsoft certifications. This is directed at those of you who have been certified in the past and are thinking of brushing up, as well as first-time cert-seekers.

Roughly two years ago, Microsoft drastically altered their piece of the certification landscape. The monolithic and sought-after flagship brand certification, the MCSE, was replaced by a bewildering (to some) array of “job specific” certifications. Some IT professionals, career counselors, and employers are still trying to get a handle on this new series of certifications, which was revised again last month with the introduction of the Certified Master concept.

According to Microsoft, industry data showed that hiring managers disliked the MCSE concept, complaining that a MCSE title did not specify where, in the array of Microsoft products, a job seeker was actually proficient. To address this problem, MS created a new certification path designed to allow “specializations.” Without digging too deeply into all the certifications available (including upgrades and phase-outs), let’s look at the basic structure as it now stands.

The new series is organized in four levels meant to represent increasing capabilities in the technology. (There are four, even though they are represented in a three-tier graphic on the Microsoft Learning Web site.)  The four levels and their descriptions are:

  • Technology Series – These exams demonstrate basic understanding of a particular product. This is the entry-level certification to the specified technology (e.g. SQL Server 2008). Successful completion yields a MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) certification in several “flavors.” For example, for SQL Server 2008, you can obtain a MCTS in Active Directory Configuration, Network Infrastructure Configuration, or Applications Infrastructure. Each indicates a different specialization, and an employer might choose between two candidates in a more targeted manner than if both held an MCSA or MCP.
  • Professional Series – These exams demonstrate a deeper understanding and also come in specializations. Successful completion yields a MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) certification or a MCPD (Microsoft Certified Professional Developer) certification. These also have several flavors. As examples of specializations under Server 2008, there are Support Technician, Enterprise Administrator and Server Administrator. Again, this may affect hiring decisions made by a company looking for one focus over the other.
  • Master Series– These certifications were announced in September 2008. They identify individuals who not only have passed exams, but have also received Microsoft-sponsored advanced training with a particular product. It entails attending a class and passing additional written and lab exams, and is a prerequisite for an Architect certification. The Microsoft Certified Master designation is only offered in three areas: Server 2008, Exchange, and SQL Server.
  • Architect Series – The highest level of achievement. Candidates must have 10 years of documented experience in the technology, and outline their history of providing solutions to clients. These individuals must pass a test, work for a time with a mentor, survive an oral review by a board of current certified Architects, and refresh all certifications. The result is the MCA (Microsoft Certified Architect).

Some industry observers maintain that Microsoft is playing with fire by moving away from their flagship certification. These critics say that the value of Microsoft certification as a whole will diminish, since there is no one magic certification that candidates will chase in the hope of finding job success. Others feel that once people adjust to the new, more diversified landscape of technology-specific certifications, the change may work as Microsoft intended: providing more tailored options and (in some cases) cheaper, equally effective certifications for a wider field of job-seekers.

What do you think?

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