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

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.


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)


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!


Author Bio

Jeremy L. Smith is an accomplished freelance writer and regular contributor for 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