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So you think you qualify for the Microsoft Certified Master Program

Jeremy Smith explores what the new Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) program entails in terms of prerequisites and cost.

For many years the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification had been the top tier, so to speak, of Microsoft certifications. However, compelled to compete with other vendor's top certifications, such as Cisco's CCIE or the CISSP, and recognizing that the MCSE was no longer perceived as a "top-tier" certification, Microsoft added a great deal of depth to their certification programs in the last year or so.

Readers may recall the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA), which set a new benchmark for Microsoft certifications. With the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) program Microsoft has added another key component to their certification roadmap and hopes to establish a new benchmark for high-end certifications.

Note: The MCM is a prerequisite for MCA candidates. I covered the MCA certification a few months ago for TechRepublic.com.

In this article, readers will learn about the new MCM program, including its place in the overall Microsoft certification roadmap, the prerequisites, certification requirements, and the costs.

This blog post is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

The "Vision" -- Where does the MCM fit on the roadmap?

Interestingly, while the MCA was more focused on certifying candidates' nontechnical skills (i.e. business acumen, soft skills, etc), the MCM instead provides a tightly focused technical certification. The MCM certifies highly technical candidates -- folks who feel they are experts -- on a specific technical area. The MCM currently emphasizes in the following three areas:

Future areas of emphasis may include:

  • Microsoft Certified Master: SharePoint Server 2007
  • Microsoft Certified Master: Office Communications Server 2007

The MCM requires specialized on-campus classes, written exams, and hands-on lab exams and is designed for highly skilled technical experts in one of the aforementioned fields. As noted earlier, this certification is intended to become a top-tier certification, something in the category of the Cisco CCIE.

To help understand who the intended audience is, it might be helpful to understand who it is not intended for. The recently christened MCTS or MCITP (loosely analogous to the old MCSE) is likely not a good candidate for the MCM -- at least not at first. He or she would most likely not meet the prerequisites for the MCM.

Instead, the MCM is intended for a specific group of people -- those information technology professionals who have been practicing experts on a specific technology for at least five years and who would consider themselves subject matter experts. These professionals, or their company, are ready to document their high level of expertise by achieving the MCM.

Prerequisites

Potential candidates for the MCM must have a robust set of qualifications to even consider this certification. Detailed MCM prerequisites are available, but in general the requirements are as follows:

  • Minimum of five years of hands-on experience with the product in question and/or its predecessor (i.e. for the Windows Server 2008 emphasis you could include your experience with Windows Server 2003 or Windows 2000 Server)
  • Experience with the underlying architecture of the technology
  • Passing grade on specific exams related to your technology area
  • English speaking

How to get certified

If accepted, candidates must attend three weeks of intensive training. Currently, these classes are available only at the Redmond location, but in the future they may be offered at different locations in the United States, Europe, and Asia Pacific. During the program, candidates will experience intense training conducted by the best and brightest practitioners.

Candidates will be required to pass a multitude of written and lab-based examinations. An emphasis will be placed on real-world examples and case studies as opposed to theory only. Candidates who make it through the gauntlet will have achieved a certification that is truly intended to be an accurate measure of a person with a high degree of technical proficiency in the area of focus.

How to apply

This certification is brand-spanking new. In fact, registration begins in August, with the first classes tentatively scheduled for the end of the year, according to Microsoft. However, to apply you have to do the following:

  1. Make sure you are qualified for the track you are interested in (Exchange, SQL, or Server 2008)
  2. Fill out the application and pay your $125 application fee on Microsoft's Web site
  3. Submit a resume (this is used to help demonstrate that you meet the minimum experience levels)
  4. Schedule your three-week program in Redmond, WA, at the Microsoft headquarters
  5. Pay the program fee (see costs section below)

Cost

Following on the heels of the pricey MCA, the MCM is no slouch when it comes to price. The current price structure is:

  • Nonrefundable program application fee: $125
  • Program fee: $18,500
  • Non-lab exam retakes: $250
  • Lab exam retakes: $1,500

Yes...it's expensive. However, when reviewing cost it is important to reevaluate the audience for this certification. Microsoft is targeting high-level individuals whose companies will likely (in theory) appreciate the value of the certification.

For example, a consulting firm responding to a two-million-dollar RFP can easily absorb the cost of the MCM if attaining it increases their credibility and expertise. Admittedly, however, it is prohibitive to individuals and small companies.

Bottom line

The bottom line on this certification is that it's a major step toward providing a means for those subject matter gurus -- you know them: the ones who can do anything, anytime with the system -- to demonstrate their competency in a way not addressed by the now watered-down MCSE. It also provides companies actively engaged in consulting to show prospective customers they employ expert staff.

In all honesty, the certification still has some work to do, as not everyone knows about it yet. As usual, the market forces that control these sorts of things will determine the value. If this cert is what it is cut out to be, it will succeed, gain the preeminence Microsoft is after, and earn the respect of industry professionals. If not, well, we all know about the MCSE. I tend to think it will stick (and you can hold me to that prediction!).

Author Notes

  • I just wanted to point out that I am not "bashing" the MCSE. As a legitimate MCSE holder (NT, W2k, W2k3), I am saddened that its perceived value has diminished over the years. But the reality is that its perceived value has diminished. This is not meant to take away from the efforts and skills of those of us who do know what we are doing!
  • Special thanks to Per Farny and Rob Linksy, both from Microsoft's learning program, who were kind enough to answer my questions on extremely short notice. They are too kind!

References:

Author Bio

Jeremy L. Smith is an accomplished freelance writer and regular contributor for TechRepublic.com. He has covered many Microsoft topics, including certifications, Active Directory, IPSec, and Exchange. As a former Microsoft Certified Trainer he taught hundreds of students on many of Microsoft's most popular products. He holds the following IT certifications: CISSP, MCT (inactive), MCSE+I, MCSA, CNE, CCDA, CCNA, A+, N+, and has completed a Masters of Science in Information Technology and MBA. He currently works as a solutions architect designing enterprise implementations of the Active Directory for the Public Safety Industry. His Web site is http://www.Synaptec.org.

35 comments
RobSilver
RobSilver

Hi Yip, I attended the MCM DS program in Redmond in Feb/March '09. It was a fantastic experience! Being trained by the best (you know - the guys that wrote the code...). I would recommend it to anyone who meets the pre-req with enough experience. Rob Silver Microsoft Certified Master - Directory Services 2008

mwagner
mwagner

to become a certifed linux master.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

It would be a heck of an experience to get or even be qualified for either of the new top end certs. The demonstration of mastery of product and situation could get the earner enough scratch to easily cover the cost... even if as a super-qualified consultant

perfarny
perfarny

Hi All! Some pretty funny comments here (in addition to the serious ones, of course), thanks for chiming in! :) A couple of clarifying points: As Jeremy correctly stated - this is for a very limited audience. In fact, it's for 1% of the currently Microsoft certified individuals(I'd like to see 20,000 Masters across all programs within 10 years). Just like with all of our certifications, we're trying to provide the appropriate certification for the appropriate audience. This is one audience Microsoft has not really catered to in the past (aside from the more internal versions of this program i.e. the 'Ranger programs' for those of you who have heard of it). For these folks, the cost is very justifiable. Realizing that all things take time to establish, I'm very confident in the quality bar that we are setting within our programs and that certified individuals will prove themselves as having those top most technical skills. Interesting comparison with a University's master degree. But, perhaps not completely on point as I don't see consulting organizations (for example) securing multi-million dollar contracts by virtue of being able to provide someone for the job with a Master's degree. It's all about the right tool for the right job (or the right cert/degree for the right job). Again - these programs are certainly not for everyone, certainly not for the majority of IT Pros out there, but I'm very confident they will do a great job of filling a niche we have previously not catered to. All the best, Per BTW - lots more info about this here: http://blogs.msdn.com/trika/archive/2008/06/26/more-on-the-certified-master-programs-from-me-per-the-program-owner.aspx

Doug Vitale
Doug Vitale

Is Microsoft serious? Come on, my six years of college only cost me $15,000 with books. $20,000 for one certification? Well, if someone's employer is extremely generous and will foot the bill, then all the power to them. However, it will be MANY YEARS before the Master and Architect certifications get the recognition and respect that the CCIE and CISSP do, if that ever even happens.

thephoton
thephoton

The Rich Get Richer and Small Business Gets The Shaft. It proves that if you have money, you can buy anything!!!!!

Bizzo
Bizzo

OK, so we know that Vista's sales weren't that good, so they've created a new certification program to bring in more money? Well just to let you know I have created two newer Microsoft certifications. The first is for MS trainers to allow them to show off their skills: Microsoft's Unofficial Practioners Portfolio of Educational Training 2008 And the second is for IT people undertanding what consultancy groups do: Microsoft's Understanding Gartner Group 2008 So if anyone wants to become MUPPET certified or a certified MUGG, then drop me a line :)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

was. 1) Rich enough to pay for this 2) Dumb enough Howver aside from a personal desire for three week jolly in the US, and lining MS's coffers of course, I fail to see the point. You can see the cert muppets in HR now MCM 2007, a master in Comp Sci and ten years experience required, 35k. That will stop us getting innundated with applicants!

mwagner
mwagner

I think I could go back to school and get my masters degree

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The Microsoft Certified Master certification is going to take some effort and a significant amount of funding. While it appears MCM graduates will have to know their stuff, does that justify the time and expense? Will you or your company be participating in the program?

Kokan
Kokan

"you know - the guys that wrote the code..." Not sure that the guys who write code at Microsoft are often considered the best by those who use that code in the form of finished and updated and Service Packed and patched products. Joking aside... I meet the prerequisites and have enough experience. Since first considering the MCM and MCA certifications, I've spoken to three of my employers (I'm a contractor) and none were prepared to pay any more for me had I been in posession of either certification. What's more, none had a clue as to how they are differentiated from MCSE (MCITP was completely foreign to them). So, until MCM/MCA program does a bit more to publicise the certification, they will remain in the niche currently 50% populated by MCS folk. Cheers, Bojan Nenadic

john_t_bailey
john_t_bailey

or similar companies, our employers will still tell us there is no "business justification" for this... as they're laying us off and hiring the folks who have already earned 7 University Degrees, CCIE, MCM, MCA, and a partridge in a pear tree for roughly half of what they're paying for folks who already have 20+ years supporting the business... Many corporations have recently stopped paying us to maintain our current MS certs (at the incredibly high price of $75-$125, depending on whether we took advantage of the 40% off coupons). How do we tell 'em we need $20,000, three weeks off, and travel expenses? Or should we just start saving up our own money? MS needs to do a lot more marketing to the corporate bean counters before this ever even makes it to the drawing board... There's no way any technical person can justify this expense to their leadership as it is currently presented...

cbeatley
cbeatley

Again, you're kidding, right? You don't see companies securing multi-million dollar contracts by virtue of being able to provide someone with a Master's degree? Are you actually arguing that Joe cert with a HS diploma is gonna get the multi-million dollar contract because he's one of 200 Microsoft Certified Masters? If the real world worked that way, Accenture wouldn't exist. What/who EXACTLY was Microsoft catering to BEFORE, then? More to the point, if the PREVIOUS certifications were really "just kidding" certifications, then what really makes this one different. This is just the "seven minute abs" argument. Are you actually telling us that you can't get your heart rate up in 6 minutes? That's what it sounds like to me.

john_t_bailey
john_t_bailey

...now Microsoft tells us only the 1% of us who work for a company willing to pay an impossible fee are "worthy"... Makes me sick to my stomach...

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Thank you for adding your insight to the discussion. I hope you can stick around for a few days to answer questions and provide additional information.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I mean that would be a nice tidy sum wouldn't it? The biggest complaint I have about certs is their perceived longevity in the industry. When you couple that perception with your own business model, new version = new certificate ....... Can you imagine your boss' face when you add to the cost of rolling out 'Exchange 2010', another 20 plus K to get the new cert? Can you prove an ROI on this? Not yours, a customer's.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

The rich seem to be wasting their money, and the small business seems to know better.

cbeatley
cbeatley

can't agree more, but $35K sounds a bit high for 10 years experience

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...wouldn't have the half-life of milk, like a Microsoft certification would.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's a cert. New version of software comes out, HR will cross you off the list for a junior support role as, out of date. Where as a masters will get you that interview :(

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

The only useful certs have been CCIE and, at a very distant second, the CISSP. Both certs cover a huge amount of information, but the cissp is more about knowing how to answer the questions than it is about knowledge, but I do admit there is also a lot of information to absorb. The problem with the CISSP however is that it does not, in any way, shape or form, make a Security Administrator. It does not help with knowing how to program a PIX, securely. It does not tell you how to track down packet trails, or even how to read a packet. It's mostly about theories and conjecture such as the Orange Book and the Trusted Computing Base", with some good stuff thrown in there like cryptography and PKI, but again, infrastructure models only. The CCIE was the best cert because it required that you PROVE you can do the things you're claiming you can do. I have a friedn who took and failed the lab twice. He never completed the CCIE cert.

perfarny
perfarny

it's the appropriate cert for the appropriate audience. It's not that only 1% 'is worthy' as you put it, it's that it only makes sense for 1% of currently certified folks to get this certification. For the rest, it's not justifiable based on job role. For the 1%, as I mentioned, it's much easier to justify - again, based on job role and the business of the company that the individuals work for. -Per

perfarny
perfarny

Hi Tony, I think 20,000 is the right number in terms of how many people at this caliber are likely needed to support the software business. Believe it or not, these programs will not be a big contributor to our bottom line. Industry renowned instructors, for example, cost a fortune, the curriculum development leans on these types of people also, etc. In the end, yes - we should make some money on this vs. lose money (no one would fund it otherwise), but it will pale in comparison to our overall certification business. That's the truth, Tony, take it or leave it. A customer's ROI... Again, I've tried to articulate who these programs are for. The number #1 direct customers are consulting firms who will emply Masters on staff. The cost of getting a Master on staff is easily justified when it allows you to win a large / critical customer engagement. For the end customer: deploying new products, doing large migrations, upgrading, etc. is wrought with risk. One clear way to minimize that risk is to have a Master lead the technical effort. Note, that if you have one Master certification, we will give you 50% off any other Master program you would like to attend. The upgrade path will also vary per product. If we have an incremental product change (think Exchange 2000 to Exchange 2003) we certainly wouldn't require you to attend another 3 weeks of training. Perhaps it's a 3 day refresh course followed by an upgrade exam? However, when moving to a new generation (think Exchange 5.5 to 2000 or 2003 to 2007) we'll probably need to refresh the vast majority of the curriculum and provide a net new 3 weeks of training. The cost between these options will vary widely, but as I've stated, the worst case scenario would be doing 3 weeks of training, the corresponding tests, at 50% of the normal price. Let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers, Per

cbeatley
cbeatley

A Master's degree would have the half life of milK, but a Microsoft cert would be better? Get real. If I have a candidate with a master's degree, that person is gonna get some real consideration. If I have a candidate with a certification, that person will get a check mark for a specific technology. Rarely does a single technology define a job. Certs are nice, but they'll never trump the commitment made to get a real education.

cbeatley
cbeatley

SLQ is a new technology from Microsoft that requires a certification. It's not based on any previous technology and is far superior to anything that previously existed. Mastery of SLQ will make you smarter, sexier, faster, and possibly taller. It requires you to be able to speak ancient Greek backwards, visit wild, wonderful Redmond for a 16 year training program, and pay to Bill Gates $1.8 (or provide an equivalent value in beany-babies). Version vaporware 1.0 will be superceded by doesn'treallywork 2.0

perfarny
perfarny

I'll have to double check our workload, but I think we could get to that one right after we get the core Server 2007 and Server 2007.7536 out the door ;-) Cheers guys..I'm on Holiday now, will check back in a week or so. Take care, Per

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Hmmm Per when are the SLQ on Windows 2007 certs coming out? I need to get technically up to date to keep my job. It makes you want to SCREAM.

neilb
neilb

It runs on Windows Server 2007. :p

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

After all, if you are successful, someone (possibly me :( ) has to shell out for the super cert.... I'm going to change my name to Yossarian. :p

perfarny
perfarny

It's up to Microsoft to make sure hiring managers / HR understands our offerings / certifications. We've gotten the feedback loud and clear that few understand our new certifications and coworkers of mine will be focusing on this in the coming year.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

At least you can't testking / boot camp them. However, the job market obviously does not. The biggest job board in the UK. Two ! jobs that mentioned it and look at them Support Team Leader, Service Support Leader, senior Technical Support, MCA, Coventry, Warwickshire, Warwickshire, ?25k to ?35k salary Dependent upon experience plus benefits, Systems Administration, Systems Security, must have MCA and degree educated, MCSE desirable, managing support team, Windows Server 2003, upgrading to Windows Server 2007 in near future, excellent opportunity, stable environment VB.Net Web developer - VS2005/08 - SLQ 2000/2005 - T-SQL We are looking for a super star senior VB.Net Web developer using VS2005/08, SLQ 2k/2k5, T-SQL. JavaScript, HTML etc with at least 3 years commercial experience in a Web development environment. You will need to live close to Basildon Essex and have current MS certification of MCPD/MCAD/MCSD/MCTS/MCA etc. You will need to have a genuine interest in development technology and a desire to exceed expectations. Possibly says more about the numpties in HR and recruitment than the certification, but, taking the MCA and then getting knocked back because a buzzword search didn't find MCSE in the resume, just sucks.... By the way, what the heck is SLQ? :p May be you need to do a cert for recruiters and HR.....

perfarny
perfarny

I see that you are in support / development? What type of certification would help advance your career (sounds like none that exist today)? I think it's tough in IT to not focus on current technology, if you design, build, troubleshoot solutions. Architects, though, may start getting away from that a bit, and - just FYI - I am also responsible for our Architect certifications. We have some here that are technology neutral and across all of them we focus much more on strategy, leadership, org dynamics, etc. Take care, Per

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Rubbish. The number of potential MCMs will be limited by the number of roles within businesses where this sort of outlay could be justifiable. Nothing to do with number of people who have the potential to do it. I've done six major ports in my career, two to MS technologies. Understanding the constraints and enablers, while useful, is far less important than what they impose on the task and strategies to cope with them. Calibre.... I'd be far more interested in something along these lines that wasn't vendor, never mind version, specific. I can understand why you aren't, but I couldn't honestly recommend this to any employer.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

post I think he was saying your mast3rs wouldn't have the half like of milk...