Microsoft introduced its first new certification credential since the MCDST made its debut in February 2004. The name of the new credential, which made its debut at the TechMentor Conference in Orlando, Fla., on April 4 this year, is the Microsoft Certified Architect Program or MCAP. The credential made its initial appearance in a keynote address from Al Valvano, group product manager for the Microsoft Learning Division.
Details about the program are still sketchy and probably won't be completely clear for another three to six months. Everything you read here is subject to change or amendment, but the news that's available is pretty tantalizing for a variety of reasons. The general focus of the MCAP is on what Microsoft likes to call solutions architecture, by which it usually means the work involved in designing, planning and developing software systems.
What makes things interesting is that Valvano claimed the MCAP would not have an exclusive Microsoft focus and that candidates would therefore have to know how to architect systems and solutions that incorporate both Microsoft and non-Microsoft components, elements and environments.
Even more interesting, Valvano indicated this would be a super-premium credential, and that documented, relevant work experience would be needed to earn MCAP certification, in addition to taking and passing a slate of exams. In fact, he wasn't willing to comment on whether or not existing MCP exams -- even those that relate to other Microsoft developer credentials like the Microsoft Certified Applications Developer (MCAD) and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) -- would apply to the MCAP as well.
The credential is slated to include a variety of "soft skills" as well as hard technical skills, so candidates should expect to be able to document or demonstrate (it's not yet clear which activity applies, or if both do) decision-making, written and oral communications, and project management skills. Thus, the MCAP promises to cover a mix of business and professional skills, as well as technical topics. At one point, Valvano mentioned that probably only 25% of the topics covered in the certification exams and other requirements would deal with Microsoft tools and technologies, and the other 75% of coverage would be devoted to more general software architecture topics, principles and best practices.
Valvano also indicated that current MCAP designs include assigning a mentor to candidates to help them work their way through what is planned to be a difficult and demanding certification experience. Furthermore, mentors should be assigned from a pool that includes professionals from outside Microsoft, as well as others who work for the company. Mentors will provide assistance as candidates register for the program and guidance in working their way through the certification process, preparing for exams and so forth.
Finally, the MCAP will include a written submission that candidates must defend before a peer review board, much like doctorate candidates must defend their dissertations before a group of faculty members to earn their degrees. The idea is to create a certification that is second to none in the industry and one that can compete on equal footing with other super-premium credentials, such as the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).
This is admittedly a pretty tall order, but Valvano was forthcoming, saying Microsoft has heard loud and clear from its own cadre of certified professionals and hiring managers. Some feel that the value of existing credentials is not perceived to be as great or positive as it might be. The MCAP is supposed to represent a major step forward in asserting the value of a capstone credential from Microsoft and establishing a new player at the top end of the field.
It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds as Microsoft releases additional details about the types and number of exams, the relationship with MCP programs and requirements, the cost and other stipulations. Also, there's the very interesting question of what Microsoft could or should do to preserve and protect the value of other existing certifications such as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Systems Administrator (MCSA), Database Administrator (MCDBA), MCAD and MCSD. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
Ed Tittel is the Series Editor for Exam Cram 2, and a contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. He also follows certification topics for InformIT.com. He has written numerous books on Microsoft certifications. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.