Looking Back to the New Wave of Microsoft Certifications

Since I wrote my last blog post in April, I have been busy updating my other, Spanish-speaking blog, together with learning a lot about Windows 8 and SharePoint 2013. I will try to write more frequently here, as I feel that this English-speaking blog also has a place in the Net. I intend to keep the other relevant to local topics and focus this one more on thoughts and opinions about the SharePoint/NET/Microsoft spectrum.

As a token of good faith, I will pick up the latest post. It involved the new wave of Microsoft certifications. In my opinion, the “Cloud-built” prefix is a misnomer, because there are more changes than just including the cloud-related questions into the process. But, being Microsoft means playing hard on the marketing side of the things and stick with a pervasive name (can you remember the “.NET” prefix in the 2002-03 and the “Live” prefix until now?), so we have to keep reading between the lines for some time.

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The “old” MS certifications (left) and the new wave of certifications (“Cloud-built” ones, on the right)

Since writing the blog post, I took two new-wave beta exams: 70-486 (Developing ASP.NET 4.5 MVC Web Applications) and 70-484 (Essentials of Developing Windows Metro style Apps using C#). Of course, as per Microsoft Learning NDA, I can’t exactly tell you what is in the exam, but I can give an opinion on them:

  • The exams are much more relevant to the real work experience. Congratulations on that, Microsoft Learning!
  • The difficulty bar is set a little bit higher than before, ensuring the prestige of the certification
  • The questions allow for much more uncertainty, thus reducing the possibility of guess by discarding the non-logical answers in the multiple choice questions
  • The testing software is still somewhat rough around the edges, I experienced occasional glitches and hangups, but when restarted the exam continued as expected

I have two more beta exams to take this month: 70-483 (Programming in C#) and 70-485 (Advanced Metro Style App Development using C#) and I’m looking forward to it.

My View on the New Microsoft Certification Titles

In the past few weeks we’ve learned that Microsoft has changed the structure of the certification program that has been established in 2007.

Right now we had three different tiers of the certification:

  • Technical Specialist (MCTS): the competency in a specific technology
  • Professional Developer (MCPD) / IT Professional (MCITP): the competency in design, analysis and decision-making about the technology
  • Master (MCM): the top-level certification for a specific technology

Well, now Microsoft has changed the tiers into the following:

  • Solutions Associate (MCSA): The entry-level certification
  • Solutions Developer / Solution Expert (MCSD / MCSE): The professional-level certification
  • Solutions Master (MCSM): The top expert level

The focus here is on the competence in providing solutions, on premise, cloud or hybrid. The exam content and difficulty are adjusted to the real-world solutions, not to a technology-only crammed concepts and code. It should protect and ensure the value of the new certifications in the real world.

I think that there’s still a lot of work to do for Microsoft to successfully communicate the need for a change. As far as I can read, the new certifications are “cloud-ready” but I have a tingling feel that it’s a marketing rebranding of an existing 3-tiered structure, together with really important changes in the format and content of the certifications. In my opinion, the changes themselves should be highlighted more prominently but they are hidden among the Azure/Cloud marketing fluff.

Microsoft has posted more information about the new certification schema and the upcoming titles. The first new certifications are: Private Cloud MCSE, Database MCSE & Business Intelligence MCSE:

The Value of a Certification

I just attended the 2nd Microsoft NetWork event in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I spoke about how to start with SharePoint development for existing ASP.NET developers. I really enjoyed the conference and made a lot of friends there.

There was one thing that stuck on me, during the initial experts’ panel speaking on competitiveness and opportunities for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the regional and global IT industry. The piece that piqued my curiosity was the one when the value of the university degrees was cast into doubt in face of several private universities operation in the “gray” area of legality. The CEO of LogoSoft, the MS Learning Partner, replied that there should be more focus on the global certifications that are recognized worldwide. They are much more difficult to achieve and very difficult to bluff on.

That’s the subject of my post: how the Microsoft certification has been improving in order to keep the value of the certification current and untarnished. Several years ago there were many sites where you could download the “cram” sessions and even the whole exam questions list, answered of course. That really diminished the difficulty that the candidates faced on the certification exam and thus diminished the value of obtaining it.

Microsoft has improved since then, pursuing the offending sites and rotating the question pool frequently. In the next wave of the exams (addressing NET Framework 4 and Windows 7) they even contacted us MCTs to listen for improvements. With our feedback, and feedback from other subject matter experts (SMEs), the exams were adjusted to keep the bar high enough and to test the really relevant questions to evaluate the candidate level of knowledge, focusing on real-world usage instead of textbook examples.

This all means that when you earn a Microsoft certification, your employers and peers know that you have up-to-date technological knowledge, and can bring more insightful problem solving skills to the workplace.

Reflections on Windows 8 Tour and Camp in Seville

I attended the Windows 8 Tour and Camp, held in the beautiful city of Seville (Spain) on March 22nd and 23rd. The presenters, Boris Armenta and David Salgado did their best to inoculate the “Metro App Virus” to all of the attendees. I went as a support person for the hands-on labs that were held on the second day.

Windows 8 is a very, very big change that will surely cause a lot of movement in the IT industry. As I mentioned in my previous post, we the professionals have to embrace the change and keep learning due to increasingly shorter cycles between product releases.

Windows 8 is also an example of that.

Microsoft is already preparing the certification paths to Windows 8. While there is still not much information out there, there are things that you can do now to prepare for it:

If you’re a .NET developer, you can start certifying on Silverlight 4 or Windows Phone 7 development, in order to brush up with XAML-related development. Windows 8 development has many overlapping concepts from these two technologies.

If you’re an IT Pro, you can upgrade your certification to MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Windows 7 in order to upgrade it later to Windows 8 certification.

Whatever your field is in the IT, the change is the only constant thing. Who said boredom? Smile

How to Keep Your Certifications Relevant

We live in a evolving and changing world. For us developers, the times they are a-changin’ at an ever-increasing pace. We have new versions of our favourite technology coming every year or two, and just to keep updated we have to embrace the change and learn along the way.

However, there are new technology paradigms that require us to broaden our view and to challenge preconceived notions. Technologies such as cloud computing, ubiquitous touch-enabled smart phones and deep social media integration have established themselves as the mainstream in very short period of time. Today we can’t even predict what will the mainstream be in the next few years (although the guys at Redmond do try to envision it).

So, there’s an increasing pressure on us to stay certified on the current and new technologies. We will have to specialize a lot more than we were used to. Just imagine how for instance the single XAML technology has evolved and specialized in the Windows Phone 7, Silverlight, Windows 8 Metro Applications and the WPF desktop apps, each one with a specialized certification path.

For me as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) it has been an ongoing challenge to keep with the relevant certifications and provide others with the information and facts they need to assess and choose their certification path. I’ve been watching Microsoft Learning evolving and adapting the certifications (both the exams and the technology tracks) to the new, challenging times. The guys at MS Learning have a tough time balancing between the stable set of deep-rooted technology tracks (keep the number of options small enough not to be overwhelming) and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink explosion of new technologies. In between, they need to watch when there’s a significant change in the technology to warrant a new certification track.

For example, the cloud computing is slowly becoming yesterday’s news. Developers and IT Pros alike are being used to the cloud as the everyday platform, one more to be aware of when making daily decisions. Lately the focus has been cast on the private clouds, where we can leverage the same excellent ideas and approaches that are the basis of Windows Azure and apply them on a smaller scale with our own datacenter. Microsoft has been providing the underlying Azure technology in its System Center and Windows Server products to allow you to cloudify your datacenters for a quite time now and the certification has also kept in sync. There is a private cloud certification track available now on Microsoft Learning where you can prepare and practice for the certification, sign up for the upcoming Private Cloud Jump Start course, and get a head start on your private cloud certification.

This new offering is just another example of how the technology keeps evolving and the certifications are evolving together with it to keep current and valuable to you as developers and IT Pros. Embrace the change!