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Microsoft certifications: How MCSE and MCSA have changed

Microsoft's revamped certification program brings back familiar acronyms like MCSE and MCSA, but other important changes have occurred as well.

In April 2012, Microsoft revamped its certification program. And while the acronyms have reverted back to the ones used previously, the titles are far from the only things that have changed.

From 1996 until 2008, two credentials ruled the world of Microsoft certifications: Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA). With the introduction of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft introduced two new credentials: Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). The MCTS and MCITP certs picked up where MCSE and MCSA left off, with certifications for products that carried a release date of 2008 or later.

Things changed again when Microsoft revamped its certification program in April 2012. The following credentials are now available:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)

These new certifications lean heavily toward the cloud, reflecting the perceived growing importance of cloud-based tools and technologies in the IT profession. In fact, the very first of the new certifications announced, MCSE, is known as the MCSE for Private Cloud. Other new types of certifications -- MSCA for SQL Server 2012, MCSE for Data Platform and MCSE for Business Intelligence -- target “the next wave of database and information solutions built in the cloud,” the company said.

The new Microsoft certifications: Requirements and changes

The new MCSE is similar to its predecessor in that it requires candidates to pass four to seven exams and represents an intermediate- to advanced-level of knowledge in the Microsoft certification ladder. All MCSE candidates are required to first take the three exams that confer the MCSA and then one or two additional MCSE exams to earn that credential.

Some of the current MCSE offerings also offer an upgrade option. For example, those who possess a related three-exam MCITP credential, like SQL Server 2008, must also take three transitional exams to upgrade to the MCSE for SQL Server 2012.

Similar to the previous MCSA/MCSE sequence, the MCSA exams serve as building blocks toward attaining MCSE certification. The current sequence involves three exams for the MCSA, then one or two more exams to acquire the MCSE.

Given the extreme popularity and name recognition of the MCSA and MCSE credentials, I can see why Microsoft decided to revive them with a new set of topics. With the release of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 later this year, I expect the number and variety of MCSE and MCSA credentials to increase.

Helpful resources for MCSE and MCSA candidates

In the meantime, certified Microsoft professionals with relevant MCITP credentials should check out the 60Days2MCSE community challenge program. IT pros who have already completed two or three of the new MCSE exams need pass only one or two additional exams to move up to a new MCSE. Several ambitious IT pros decided they could knock this off in a couple of months, and the challenge was born.

Interested readers can join the forum, which is housed as part of Microsoft Learning’s Born to Learn website. Michael Bender's “My Plan” post is worth reading; it provides a schedule for meeting the MCSE in two months. In Bender’s post, you’ll also find pointers to helpful resources from other community members. I suggest reading Matt Griffin’s blog, which includes a collection of pointers, books, videos, practice tests and more to help would-be MCSEs earn their stripes.

Savvy IT professionals, hiring managers and HR folks should all be glad that Microsoft is breathing new life back into the MCSE and MCSA credentials. Because they are already so well-known and widely recognized, I expect the new versions to be every bit as popular and sought-after as their predecessors.

Ed Tittel
is a full-time freelance writer and researcher who specializes in Windows operating systems, markup languages and information security. He blogs thrice weekly for TechTarget’s IT Career JumpStart and Windows Enterprise Desktop, and once a week for Tom’s IT Pro (Making It in IT) and A contributor to over 100 computing books, Ed is probably best known for creating the Exam Cram series of IT certification prep books.

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