In June, 2008, at Tech-Ed in Orlando, Microsoft announced a new high-level certification program to attendees and the rest of the world. As the name is intended to convey, the new Master credentials are intended to “…help IT professionals attain a ‘master’ level of proficiency in specific products – something previously only available internally to Microsoft employees and select partners. The programs will focus on design, build, and troubleshooting skills, and will require three weeks of mandatory training per track, delivered exclusively by top subject matter experts and industry-renowned instructors.”
The topics that are currently available for such certification include Exchange Server 2007, SQL Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 – Directory (Active Directory/Directory services). According to a blog posted on 6/26/08 by program directory, Per Farny, Microsoft also plans to add credentials for Office Communications Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2007 fairly soon (it’s now October 08 as I write this, and still no sign of them yet on the Microsoft Certified Master Program Web page).
To me what’s most interesting about these credentials is the following (quoted from Per Farny’s blog cited in the previous paragraph):
One of the main differences between the Master certs and the other certs you’re used to from us (MCP, MCSE, MCITP, etc) is that we are requiring candidates to attend a mandatory 3 weeks of training as part of the program. This training will initially be delivered at Microsoft by full time Microsoft employees or Microsoft contracted individuals (this has been the practice to date in the internal versions of the programs) until we can build up our instructor pool. The training will be delivered in Redmond only in FY09, and we will start rolling out worldwide in FY10.
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The prices for the programs are $18,500USD which includes 3 weeks of training, and the first attempts at each of the four required tests: 3 ‘written’ tests and one lab based exam. Retakes cost $250 per written test, and $1,500 for the lab exam, and you are only allowed a maximum of three attempts per test. We know this isn’t exactly pocket change, but based on customer feedback from the Ranger program, we are confident that it is a good value to those of you who will go through the program. We recognize that the cost may be a barrier to entry to some people who could otherwise make the grade—but that is something we will have to live with in the short term; getting top notch subject matter experts in one place for three weeks, the hardware, etc. just don’t come cheap.
He also has this to say, to answer the inevitable question “How does this compare to/What does this mean for the Microsoft Certified Architect credential?”
Master will not replace MCA—it will live almost side by side. We are fully committed to the Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. Based on feedback over the last several years, we are evolving the programs to more fully meet customer and industry needs. This will likely mean an expansion of the MCA family and a focus on growing the communities overall. In a nutshell, we’re making the differentiation clearer between a top technical person and an architect as we’re finding the skill sets and job roles are actually quite different.
Master certification is, in effect, an evolution of the purely technical pieces of the Ranger programs, more cleanly separating the technical from the architectural / business / consulting / soft skills. Stay tuned for further details on the MCA evolution.
MS plans to seat 250 candidates for this program in classes for FY09 (which starts in June 08), and then 500 for FY10 (June 2009 through May 2010). Microsoft is also avidly pursuing the best and brightest instructors they can find on these subjects, both inside and outside the company, to make sure the program is properly staffed. In essence, they seem to really want their candidate Certified Masters to learn from “real masters” on the platforms involved.
I’m really, really interested to read about this. It represents the first real step Microsoft has taken to add depth to its cert programs since I first became aware of them in the mid 1990s. I can only hope that Microsoft Learning can deliver on this promise, and that the results will live up to the high expectations they’re doing their best to cultivate.
This program is worth watching, but is priced and structured to steer away all but the most knowledgeable and dedicated candidates, probably funded by companies or organizations that understand the value that these kinds of credentials can bring. This should be an interesting program to follow; count on me to do this. Please: stay tuned!