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Preparing for Microsoft developer exams: Tips, topics and resources

This article discusses the key topics, programming languages, interfaces, development tools and environments that candidates for the MCAD and MCSD credentials must consider (and eventually master) along with pointers to resources to help prepare for such exams.

While the material is demanding, and the subject matter both broad and deep, Microsoft's MCAD and MCSD certifications...

offer solid value to individuals who pursue and obtain these credentials and to organizations that employ or contract with their holders. Recent salary and employment surveys indicate that demand for the MCSD remains strong; likewise, as organizations learn more about the MCAD, opportunities are starting to appear.

In part one of this article, "Understanding Microsoft developer certs," I described the requirements and general coverage for these credentials. Here, I cover the key topics, programming languages, interfaces, development tools and environments that candidates for these credentials must consider (and eventually master) along with pointers to resources to help prepare for such exams.

To be most effective as a Microsoft developer, a candidate should first have an understanding of the following subjects as a foundation on which to build.

  • Data structures (and analysis): good programmers intuitively know how to match the ways in which data is represented in a program (data structures) to the information they're trying to represent (real-world data).
  • Programming languages: good programmers usually know or understand multiple programming languages, and have some sense of the various types of programming languages and related development environments.
  • Object-oriented programming (OOP): the major thrust of modern development languages, tools, and environments is heavily oriented toward OOP. Thus, a working knowledge of key OOP terminology, concepts, methods, tools, and design and development techniques is invaluable for programmers in general and for Microsoft programmers in particular.
  • Software development tools, techniques, and methods: a good programmer understands the complete lifecycle of software development, from initial requirements analysis and design through maintenance and migration to newer versions or systems. He or she also understands what kinds of tools and techniques are likely to be used during design, coding, testing, deployment, and maintenance phases of software development.

    Two to four years of on the job software development experience will usually teach much or most of this material, as will a bachelor's or more advanced college degree with some kind of emphasis or coverage on software development, engineering, or related topics.

    Microsoft's recommendations to prepare for the MCAD and MCSD cover several subject areas, that bring specificity and immediate focus to items just mentioned. These include the following:

  • Programming language: MCAD and MCSD both include two or more exams that require knowledge of either Visual Basic .NET or Visual C# .NET.
  • .NET Framework: MCAD and MCSD both focus on .NET tools, technologies, application programming interfaces, services and more. Thus, a good understanding of the .NET Framework is essential (but that knowledge must be both broader and deeper for MCSD than MCAD certification).
  • Windows application development: An understanding of .NET applications in the Windows environment is important for Microsoft developers in general, required for MCSDs, and may be what MCADs decide to tackle to get that certification. This includes topics like designing or building applications using ASP.NET, ADO.NET, Visual Studio.NET and so forth.
  • Web application development: Whereas MCSDs are concerned with design and management issues, both MCSDs and MCADs must know how to build, test, maintain, optimize and troubleshoot Web application code. A primary focus in this area is working within Visual Studio .NET.
  • XML Web services and server components: Candidates must also understand basic XML syntax and structure as well as numerous so-called "XML Vocabularies" (markup languages built using XML notation). As a powerful and emerging phenomenon in the entire development world, this is a completely worthwhile endeavor for both MCADs and MCSDs.
  • Microsoft .NET architecture: MCSDs must take and pass exam 70-300 Analyzing Requirements and Defining Microsoft .NET Solution Architectures to obtain this certification. This exam has the reputation of being among the most difficult of all MCP exams, because it covers a huge amount of complex and demanding material -- basically, it requires working knowledge of all major and many minor Microsoft APIs and development environments, and how they may be best used to implement specific application or service requirements. A couple of books and a lot of time behind the wheel applying what's covered is strongly recommended for those who seek to pass this exam.

    Those who seek to prepare for these exams can benefit from lots of great resources.

  • Microsoft offers training on all topics in the MCAD and MCSD requirements. These cert requirements pages (mentioned earlier) include pointers to all related classes.
  • Numerous publishers offer books on topics and elements related to general background items and certification specific items mentioned earlier. Where possible, look for comparative reviews, or ratings from readers or experts to help identify "best of breed" publications.
  • Practice exams for MCAD and MCSD topics are a bit harder to find than those for MCSA and MCSE but numerous options do exist. Check the portals and the major practice test vendors first, including,,, and many others.
  • Online discussion groups, chat rooms, message forums and inside news and information for .NET topics abound. Check the portals and practice test sites, but also check out the VS.NET Info Center, and as well.

    In addition to the list above, always remember to use your favorite search engine to look for alternatives, or look around at well-known certification portals like,,,, or for similar tools and resources.

    By marshaling a good collection of resources to prepare for these exams candidates can help to ensure a positive testing experience. Even better, by rolling up your sleeves, writing lots of code and learning by doing, you'll be ready to tackle these exams using their own terms, concepts, tools and techniques!

    Ed Tittel is the VP of the Content Services division of iLearning, Inc. (a CapStar company). Based in Austin, TX, Ed's company specializes in Web markup languages, Java programming, and IT certification topics. Ed is also series editor for Que Certification's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide books.


    The Visual Studio .NET Info Center
    Trying to get up to speed on .NET and what it means for you? Visit the VS.NET Info Center for the latest .NET news, tips and expert advice.

    Best Web Links: .NET Training and Certification
    Find out what you need to get ahead in the .NET world. From the PMP to the MCSD, we've rounded up a collection of articles and advice to help you stay ahead of the curve.

    Ask the Career and Certification Expert: Ed Tittel
    Do you need specific certification or career advice? Ask expert Ed Tittel! He's standing by to help you make the right choices to get ahead in your job and the IT industry.

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