This morning, I had the good fortune to get into a conference with David Bjurman-Birr, the Program Manager for the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM): Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 credential. This is by way of following up on my earlier (11/29/2010) blog entitled “No other signs of sweeping changes to Microsoft Certified Master requirements.” Turns out that title was (and is still) accurate but that had I concluded it with a “…yet” it would have been more accurate altogether. What am I saying?
I’m saying that Bjurman-Birr is working through the substantial preliminary efforts necessary to take the Exchange Server 2010 program and do for it what has already been done for the SQL Server 2008 program — namely, to create solid, defensible written and lab exams for this track, so it, too, can separate out the training and testing components required to earn this credential. And in explaining how this works and what kind of effort is involved Bjurman-Birr really helped me to better understand the MCM program in its current incarnation and where it may be heading.
First, however, let me point out that nobody at MS is quite yet willing to go public with a timeline for when this transform will re-make the current Exchange Server 2010 MCM offering into something more like the already remade counterpart for SQL Server 2008. Likewise, Bjurman-Birr could speak only for his Exchange program, so I still don’t know if other similar efforts are underway for other MCM tracks (Lync Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, or Windows Server 2008 R2: Directory). But as more programs head in this direction, it’s surely not unreasonable to speculate that this is certainly creating some momentum to move as many of these programs as makes sense into this general dimension.
Given that the transformation is underway for the MCM Exchange track, it’s interesting to observe that the impetus is to make the MCM scale. Right now, all of the MCM candidates perforce spend time in Redmond and become known to the program managers and training staff in great detail. If the program is to scale, however, this degree of intimacy and interaction between candidates and cert staff at MS must dwindle to some extent. And what’s driving this effort is, as Bjurman-Birr put it, “…there are plenty of people who deserve to earn the MCM for whom it’s inaccessible right now…” primarily because “…tuition is one thing, but three weeks away from the workplace is entirely another…”
That means that MS is looking for more and better ways to deliver MCM training and information aside from its current balls-to-the-wall three week bootcamp training sequence, where candidates are kept busy 12-14 hours per day, every day, so as to be exposed to (and have chances to exercise) what they need to know, learn, and do to qualify as MCMs in their chosen disciplines. All of the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out just yet, but Bjurman-Birr speculated about multiple training modules, books, interactive online labs, and other components necessary to bring those who are almost ready for MCM status up to the level where they can pass the exams needed to earn this credential.
He explained that there’s also a big potential win for Microsoft in expanding the offerings and scope necessary to attract a broader audience than those who can make their way to Redmond for a three week training sequence right now. As you would expect upon even modest reflection on what it takes to field an instructor for this kind of class (teaching to experts is a very different proposition from teaching to those finding their way into a field, or admittedly seeking to develop expertise, rather than to demonstrate it properly), Microsoft has to use the cream of its training and consulting expertise to handle the current MCM curricula. By providing other means of delivery, and possibly even involving training channel partners in that exercise, Microsoft can reach a broader audience as the same time it offers training in smaller, more digestible chunks both directly and by proxy. This should help the MCM program to scale, and to increase the number of certified professionals in its ranks, particularly at the MS partner and large-scale IT consulting organizations where this credential has the biggest draw at present. In the future, it’s even possible that invididuals would become increasingly more willing to “tote this note” on their own, rather than relying on organizational backing to pursue and eventually earn an MCM.
Looks like a looming win-win all the way around, and it should be interesting to watch this whole thing unfold further. Count on me to keep you informed throughout!