What's the new MCSE certification all about?

Dave Leaver talks about how the new MCSE certification differs from the old one.

When Microsoft announced the return of its MCSE program, many IT admins accepted it with open arms. The original MCSE had been the benchmark of Microsoft certification skills over the last twenty years, and the MCITP had left many IT administrators frustrated and disillusioned with its new format.  However the new MCSE promises something different from its namesake, but is it going to live up to the original MCSE's success?

It's all in the name

The new MCSE certification now stands for Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, as opposed to the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer it used to be. The main reason for the change is due to legal requirements: the term "engineer" holds different meanings in different countries, and to hold the title of engineer requires a certain set of skills. So Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Cisco's book and used the Associate and Expert names instead. The original MCSE was widely recognized by employers as the highest level certification you could achieve in Microsoft operating systems, even if most of those employers didn't know what it stood for. The fact that it now stands for something else isn't going to be much of a stumbling block on its return to IT admin's CVs.

Exam series structure

The original MCSE was made up of seven exams, with the option to specialize with an elective subject, such as messaging or security, once you had completed the five core examinations. The new MCSE has a different approach, with the first few MCSE tracks now available choosing to focus on a particular skill area rather than trying to cover Microsoft operating exams from the desktop to the server.

For example the MCSE exam for Windows 2012 Server Infrastructure is now made up of five exams:

71-410 - Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012

71-411 - Administering Windows Server 2012

71-412 - Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services (MCSA attained here)

71-413 - Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure

71-414 - Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure (MCSE attained here)

There's not a client operating system exam in sight, and that's not because they don't exist — they just have an MCSE all their own.

This does make the new MCSE feel more tuned in for large organizations, with all the current exams available based around large-scale networks with SQL farms, large desktop deployments, and private clouds. The original MCSE was more of an everyman, including a client operating system exam that meant your MCSE could handle minor desktop issues, maintain your server, and design you a new network if your company required it. There has to be a question mark as to what appeal the new MCSE is going to have to your SME IT administrator looking to refresh his or her Microsoft skills.

Exam life span

One of the more confusing additions to the new MCSE is that it now has a life span of two to three years. Taking another leaf out of the Cisco track, this certification is confusing because the previous MCSE lasted in line with the life cycle of the operating system you attained it in. In three years' time Microsoft will have released a new operating system, or be very near to, and therefore upgrading your MCSE will be obligatory if you want to be recognized as an "expert" in that Microsoft product. It is understandable from a Cisco perspective to require a three-year refresh as the core CLI changes very little, so refreshing your skills ensures you iron out any bad habits and refamiliarize yourself with the command set. It is unclear on the exact reasoning why the three-year lifetime has been added to the new MCSE, outside of keeping the exam revenue up in years to come.

In conclusion

The new MCSE has moved in line with the changes in IT over the years, especially with Microsoft's change in focus in recent years to cloud-based technologies. Fundamentally the exam format has changed very little, the examination track is shorter and more focused, and more importantly the qualification is recognized again. The new MCSE won't be any less confusing with exam options than the MCITP, but that was never the issue with the MCITP — it was all in the name. If Microsoft had adopted this approach with the Windows server 2008 examination series, then the MCSE would be even more established than it is today. Long live the MCSE.

Dave Leaver has worked in the IT industry for over ten years in a variety of technical roles. He currently works for a well-established IT Services provider in the UK as a Technical Consultant.

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