Microsoft decision nixes top-level certs, lures IT pros to cloud

The unexpected Microsoft decision to kill off the MCM and MCA certifications left many IT pros crying foul and questioning the company's agenda.

Microsoft recently announced the demise of its top-level certifications programs: Microsoft Certified Master and Microsoft Certified Architect. So, what does that mean for your future as an Exchange admin?

The MCM and MCA program originated in what was the Ranger program in the Exchange product group. The program was originally created to improve the quality of Exchange deployments to drive down the amount of support calls Microsoft received because of badly implemented software. In 2005, the Certified Architect certification was introduced, adding another layer to the mostly technical Masters certifications.

At one point, Microsoft Learning took responsibility for these programs. Now, Microsoft Learning is fleeing its responsibility. In late August, all existing MCMs, MCAs and aspiring candidates received the following message:

We are contacting you to let you know we are making a change to the Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master and Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. As technology changes, so do Microsoft certifications, and as such, we are continuing to evolve the Microsoft certification program. Microsoft will no longer offer Masters- and Architect-level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters-level certification exams as of October 1, 2013.

Regardless of what Microsoft does next, its recent actions delivered a heavy blow to the trust of its most loyal supporters.

Not long after the message was sent, the IT pro community started responding -- heavily. There were many angry messages and blog articles, like this one from Steve Goodman. Even The UC Architects -- a group of MVPs, MCMs and other enthusiasts -- dedicated a special episode in which several people expressed their concerns about how Microsoft Learning handled the situation.

Generally speaking, the company's message missed its goal and, as such, it was poorly received. Microsoft sent out the message on a Friday night before a long weekend, rendering it impossible to respond to customer questions or concerns. What's more, no one expected this.

Immediately after the message was sent, people took several initiatives to bring this bad decision to Microsoft's attention and ask for a reaction. One such initiative came from Jen Stirrup, MCM SQL Server, who started a vote on to collect feedback and unite the MCM-MCA community.

Tim Sneath, senior director at Microsoft Learning, responded in the thread on about the decision. "Sure, it loses us money (and not a small amount), but that's not the point. We simply think we could do much more for the broader community at this level -- that we could create something for many more to aspire to," he said.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that one of the main reasons to end the program is that it isn't making money for Microsoft Learning. But another big reason the company says it's ending the program is a lack of participation. Only a few hundred people worldwide attained the certification, which is far fewer than Microsoft had hoped, Sneath said:

We wanted to create a certification that many would aspire to and that would be the ultimate peak of the Microsoft Certified program, but with only [about] 0.08% of all MCSE-certified individuals being in the program across all programs, it just hasn't gained the traction we hoped for.

Is Microsoft forcing IT pros into cloud?

Microsoft's move to end its high-level certification is just one of many bizarre decisions the company has recently made. It announced the end of TechNet subscriptions a few weeks back, sending that first shockwave through the community. Now it's killing top-level certifications, effectively leaving the MCSE certification as the highest attainable certification.

It's not unusual in corporate environments to end a program when it doesn't reach its goals. But the way Microsoft handled the situation -- and the fact it lost sight of the original intent of the program -- is what's upsetting. The company claims to have legitimate reasons for these changes, but others claim it's all part of a larger strategy to alienate IT pros and force a move to the cloud. It might be part of a larger strategy to become a services and devices company.

The dust hasn't settled yet, and I suspect someone will shed more light on the situation in the coming weeks. Regardless of what Microsoft does next, its recent actions delivered a heavy blow to the trust of its most loyal supporters; it will take IT pros some time to recover.

About the author:
Michael Van Horenbeeck is a technology consultant, Microsoft Certified Trainer and Exchange MVP from Belgium, mainly working with Exchange Server, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He has been active in the industry for 12 years and is a frequent blogger, member of the Belgian Unified Communications User Group Pro-Exchange and a regular contributor to The UC Architects

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