The End of Microsoft’s Advanced Certification – What Should Happen Now?

So Microsoft have decided to retire the MCSM, MCA and MCM certifications with no immediate replacements on the horizon.

Why do I care?

I started this year with ZERO Microsoft certifications. By the end of August 2013 I had passed 6! I’ve now got:

  • MCSA: Window Server 2012
  • MCSE: Server Infrastructure
  • MCTS: Administering and Deploying System Center 2012 Configuration Manager

How did I get all of these so quickly? I’ve been working in IT for almost 15 years so I’d like to think I’ve learnt quite a lot over that time! Combined with an employer who was a not-for-profit organisation (subsequently cheap MS licensing) I was able to implement much more complex and varied technology than I was able to previously outside of a time limited lab! Real world experience vs Lab – no contest.

After passing my first set of exams I was hooked and I am now determined to get my MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure by the end of the 2013. I was aiming for MCSE: Private Cloud however those 2 exams are so outdated it is shocking.

I am so hooked that I wanted to stretch myself further and see how far up the Microsoft certification ladder I could go! Alas no further it seems…

What was wrong with the Certifications?

As Tim Sneath (Microsoft’s Senior Director of Microsoft Learning) said in his comment on the Please Don’t Get Rid of the MCM and MCA programs on the Microsoft Connect site: “… many of the certifications currently offered are outdated – for example, SQL Server 2008…” and in my opinion here lies the main problem with many Microsoft exams, not just the Master levels.

With the top level certifications being massively behind the technology curve where is the incentive for employers to pay the $20K it costs to achieve these qualifications? I understand that Microsoft had recently relaxed the requirements for the training aspect on the Master level.

For example: Microsoft Certified Master: Microsoft SQL Server 2008. Since the release of SQL Server 2008 we’ve had service packs that have changed functionality, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2012 and SQL Server 2014 is not far away from RTM! In a world where Microsoft wants customers to use the latest and greatest how is this MCM still desirable?

Other problems with Microsoft Learning and Microsoft Press

There are major problems with the speed that official Microsoft Press material is released. For example the official Exam Ref book for 70-414 is  published by O’Reilly and is not due for release until March 2014 (as of 2nd Sept 2013)! Just in time for the exams to be upgraded to include Windows Server 2012 R2 changes! I don’t know if it is down to Microsoft, the publisher or both!

Microsoft released System Center 2012 SP1 in December 2012 which made some huge changes to the functionality of some of the components in System Center – for example goodbye SCVMM 2012 self-service user portal, hello Hyper-V logical switch, hello client support for virtually every client device through ConfigMgr with Windows InTune support, Windows Server 2012/Windows 8 support and much more! Arguably they could have called that release System Center 2012 R2!

The exams for the MCSE: Private Cloud ARE still based on Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012 RTM despite one of the [possible] prerequisites for achieving the MCSE being MCSA: Windows Server 2012!

So what should Microsoft do?

  1. Get the current crop of exams up-to-date. Sort out the MCSE: Private Cloud so it reflects what is in use
  2. When huge functionality changes are introduced to applications (such as SP1 for System Center 2012) – update the exams within a reasonable amount of time. 6 months maximum
  3. In the case of exams like MCSE: Private Cloud where they are not going to be updated – keep evaluation versions of RTM software available to download, not just the latest versions
  4. Offer upgrade exams just like 70-417 for MCSA and MCSE certifications. For example if you done MCSA: Windows Server 2012 you should be able to do an exam that covers just new R2 functionality so you’re as up-to-date as people taking newer exams that cover both RTM and R2 functionality
  5. Release training material promptly. Not everyone can afford to attend official Microsoft courses, or want to. If exams are available then official training material should be too. Whilst this can be difficult, especially as most books are written before the software is RTM’d and are amended to take into account changes at RTM, it shouldn’t take as long as it does – especially in age of eBooks.
  6. Create Master level exams that are relevant to today’s IT landscape. For example we’re now living in a world of Cloud, make a Master level certificate that covers this. Maybe even abstract the technology out and just go for concepts. Just because you know which button to click doesn’t mean you know why you should use that button! Understanding when and where to use a Cloud (public/private/hybrid) is as important as knowing an application’s specific button combination
  7. Learn the art of communication – MS gave 1 month’s notice that the Master level certifications were being pulled. Not good.

There may be some amazing new things coming from Microsoft on the qualification front – they may not.

There may be a new form a low cost MSDN subscription to replace the now dead TechNet subscriptions – there may not.

Communications from Microsoft may improve – I doubt it…


Posted on 2 September, 2013, in Microsoft. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Just want to agree on the pain on the new certifications. I managed to get the MCSA easily (public sector so a lot of training vouchers and the end of an EA) but have struggled with the 70-414 exam, taken 3 times so far, been looking forward to the O’Rilley book, but now it is delayed again….. Oh well my employer doesn’t care about certification anyway…..

    • 70-414 is a pain, bizarrely I found 70-413 MUCH harder.

      Your current employer might not care about certifications, but your next employer might 😉

      Not sure if you’ve used Microsoft Virtual Academy but I’d suggest getting on there and go through the System Center jump starts, the Datacenter Solution Accelerators and the Highly Available/Clustering courses – that should give you a really good platform to work from for 70-414! I found ADFS and AD RMS the most difficult for me as I don’t use them on a daily basis.

  2. Interesting this one Ryan. Whilst I agree with some points I’m not sure I agree with them all. As a consultant I get to see many different IT environments in many different companies and from where I sit the truth is that most companies aren’t on the latest and greatest OS, SP or patch level. The fact that the exams are equally ‘out of date’ shouldn’t be a problem if you know the core product. After all a cert doesn’t necessarily mean you know a product inside out, it means you passed the exam.
    The MCM doesn’t seem to have been around very long, but maybe that’s my short memory. I agree there should be a level above MCSE for specialised people to help prove their worth. I realise that may be slightly contradictory to my previous comment but I’m sure you understand what I mean. I wonder what they’ll come up with as a replacement, there has to be something as Microsofties would have nothing to aspire to but it has to be cheaper than the MCM was as for many it was unachievable whether you had the skills or not.

    • I agree with what you’re saying about companies not being up to date – if they were then no one would care about Windows XP going EOL!

      The main point is that Microsoft are accelerating the development of many products yet the exams are not keeping up and Microsoft Press are useless.

      There needs to be an attainable qualification above MCSE for the core pillars of MS’s vision. This should help IT Pros, or devs, really stand out from the crowd.

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