At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference 2005 in Minneapolis over the weekend of July 9, group project manager Al Valvano of Microsoft Learning finally sketched out planned changes to the company's certification program in light of the upcoming November releases of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio .NET 2005. Essentially, what surfaces from Valvano's presentation is that there is a more fully fleshed out vision for where the whole Microsoft certification apparatus is headed, as the company gears up for the forthcoming Longhorn platform releases in 2006 (desktop) and 2007 (server).
The Microsoft Certified Architect credential announced earlier this year emerges as the capstone in a new, three-tiered certification ladder or sequence that looks something like this:
- Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist is the title for the bottom tier in this series. Earning this credential requires taking and passing anywhere from one to three exams focused on some Microsoft technology. The credentials will remain viable only as long as the products or technologies they cover continue to receive Microsoft support: Once the product or technology is no longer supported, the related exam will be retired as well.
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional/Professional Developer reflects two tracks for certified Microsoft professionals (IT and development-focused professionals, respectively). The Technology Specialist cert is a prerequisite for these credentials, along with one to three exams to earn them. Valvano tied these credentials to specific job roles, as planned credentials presented later will illustrate. Individuals who earn these credentials will have to recertify at regular intervals to maintain them.
- Microsoft Certified Architect is a demanding and difficult capstone credential involving peer mentoring and review as well as job experience, oral and written communication, plus project management and leadership skills. Credentials from the other two tiers are not prerequisites for this credential, but it's likely that professionals will seek them as they climb this new sequence or ladder for professional development.
While details still remain somewhat sketchy, more news should be coming soon simply because November is only four months away. What we discovered in the wake of Valvano's presentation is the following:
- MCDBAs (Microsoft Certified Database Administrators) and MCSDs (Microsoft Certified Solution Developers) must each take two upgrade exams to advance their credentials to Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Database Administrator and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Enterprise Application Developer status, respectively.
- MCADs (Microsoft Certified Application Developers) can take one upgrade exam to upgrade to the Microsoft Certified Application Developer: Windows Developer credential and/or another upgrade exam to do likewise for the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Web Developer credential.
- Individuals who currently hold MCDBA for SQL Server or SQL Server 2000 will be interested in one or more of the following related credentials planned in the wake of the SQL Server 2005 release:
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Database Administrator
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Database Developer
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Business Intelligence Developer
- Individuals who currently hold MCAD or MCSD for Microsoft .NET can expect to pursue the Windows Developer, Web Developer or Enterprise Application Developer credential under the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer umbrella.
- Following the release of Longhorn, similar developments for Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) holders are planned but have yet to be disclosed. An upgrade path will be announced when sufficient information is available, but with Longhorn's release more than a year away, that probably won't be for some time yet.
There are several interesting and encouraging signs in this newly minted approach to Microsoft certification. Regular or periodic recertification for second- and third-tier certs is not only in keeping with most other major cert programs, but it also reflects a sensitivity to currency that certified professionals and the organizations that hire them can appreciate.
Increasing the focus on job roles and key technologies in the middle tier also is in keeping with developing the right kinds of professional skills and specialties. Further developments and announcements should start coming thick and fast after the summer is over and will be interesting to observe and analyze.
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer and consultant who specializes in certification and training, information security, markup languages and networking topics. He writes for numerous TechTarget Web sites, is technology editor for Certification Magazine, and writes an e-mail newsletter for CramSession called Must Know News. He has written or contributed to many computer books; his latest is The PC Magazine Guide to Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware (Wiley Publishing). E-mail Tittel at firstname.lastname@example.org.