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Microsoft opens slots in new certification program

Microsoft is now taking applications for 250 slots in its new Microsoft Certified Architect program for experienced IT people who have married their technical skills with their business savvy to accomplish company goals.

BOSTON -- Microsoft is now taking applications for 250 slots in its new Microsoft Certified Architect program, designed for experienced IT people who have married their technical skills with their business savvy to accomplish company goals.

Microsoft Learning, the company's certification division, has operated the architect program in beta mode for more than a year and has certified 60 architects to be mentors to future applicants. Microsoft announced it was officially opening the 250 slots to applicants at the TechEd conference here on Tuesday.

The Microsoft Certified Architect program is a departure from the usual Microsoft certification programs because it is run by Microsoft and not by third-party training companies. There is no traditional exam. Instead there is a peer review board that decides whether candidates have proved their expertise. Approved candidates will work with mentors as they develop their written and oral presentations for the review board. Each board will be composed of four peers and one Microsoft representative.

The certification program costs $10,000 per person, and the application fee is $200. Although the program sounds intriguing to some IT people, the price tag might be a stumbling block.

"The price is probably a little steep," said Jason Bennett, part of the IT team at Woodward Governor Co., a Rockford, Ill.-based designer and manufacturer of energy control systems and components for aircraft and industrial engines.

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Bennett had heard of the program and said it sounded interesting but doubted that his company would want to pay that much. He added that he could see the wisdom of consultants going through such a program because they could use the designation to prove to potential customers that they really did know their business.

Bennett's coworker, Kevin Hayden, said there was more encouragement to get training that could be immediately applied in carrying out his job. With a teenage daughter and a nine-year-old son, Hayden said he wouldn't be able to make a time commitment of that magnitude. "For me, my family is first and my job is second," he said.

To be considered in the Microsoft program, candidates must show that they can persuade business and technical people to adopt the systems they design based on return of investment as well as on solid technical reasons, said Andy Ruth, Microsoft's program manager for the architect certification program. Leadership skills are as important as technical knowledge, according to Al Valvano, Microsoft's director of certification programs.

There will be geographic peer review boards held in different locations, with board members paid for their time, Ruth said. The $10,000 price tag is designed to cover travel, hotel and any other costs associated with the program for candidates and board members. Ruth has been inundated with email and phone calls from potential program candidates, he said, as well as from IT department heads who are thrilled with the idea of set criteria to judge job candidates on their technical and business savvy.

In general, technological changes happen so quickly that recertification looms every couple of years, said Ian Coll, a solutions architect for Aliant Inc., one of the largest telecommunications companies in Canada with about 8,400 employees. Because of that, Coll said he wasn't sure he would be interested in the program. Although architectural certification might last longer than other certifications, he said the price tag would likely be problematic.

Frazer Smith, a service architect at Aliant, said his company pays the cost of taking exams, but training money is not always guaranteed. "It's sort of up to the individual to pursue it," Smith said.

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