All of the major IT vendors offer certification programs these days, and with the speed that they develop their technologies, more certifications become available or are replaced by upgraded versions. Microsoft's new MCSE program is the third incarnation of its certification series in ten years. Although it's still only in the early stages, it's very clear it will focus on cloud technologies, and supporting the hosted environment. However, with the current economic climate, and with technologies such as virtualization and advanced networking all high on an employer's wish lists, is the new MCSE a worthwhile qualification to gain?
The term cloud is so over-used in IT now that even non-technical employers are aware of what it is. But for IT pros, having the new MCSE on your resume shows that you have an expert knowledge of both on-premise and hosted solutions. The MCSE Cloud Services Exchange exam track includes a mixture of those:
70-662 - Exchange server 2010, Configuring
70-663 - Exchange server 2010, Designing and Deploying
70-321 - Deploying Office 365
70-323 - Administering Office 365
Being Microsoft-accredited can help you stand out. However, the higher levels of Microsoft certifications have always lacked the weight that, say, a CCNP or VCP receives. This may change with the new MCSE since it includes all of the IT skills relevant for today's IT market: Virtualization, VDI, hosted services (such as Exchange), and large-scale management tools like System Center, for example. As long as Microsoft keeps up with the technology companies demand, then its qualifications will stay credible to employers.
Return on Investment (ROI)
Like any certification, the MCSE is both an investment of time and money. You may be fortunate enough that your MCSE exams are funded by your employer, with an added financial incentive if you pass the exams. This is a great position to be in—when the certs are relevant, and someone else is making the investment, then you know it's paying off.
However, you may be in the other camp-you're paying for your own exams, studying for them in your own time, and may even have to take leave from work to take the exam. You're taking on this extra workload in the hopes that you're improving your skills, which will eventually get you that better paid job.
But will the MCSE bring you the big bucks? Unfortunately Microsoft's wide variety of applications and operating systems is also its downfall. A variety of different IT vendor skills on your CV is a given these days, but Microsoft is still seen by many as the base level, the knowledge of which is a given in comparison to more complex technologies such as Cisco, Citrix and VMWARE—which do offer the bigger salaries.
Although Microsoft has to contend with a lot more competition these days, up against vendors that are often better than Microsoft at what they do in their specialist areas, the familiarity of Microsoft products for many IT Admins makes it a mainstay in many networks. Pursuing the new MCSE will prove to be a wise investment as Microsoft releases its 2012 product set and continues to push cloud computing over the next few years.
Outside of business demands, it boils down to whether your situation calls for the MCSE. If you work with Cisco equipment all day, the new MCSE may not be a lot of use to you. If you work in a primarily Microsoft house and you need to keep on top of the latest technologies, then you need to consider the new MCSE as your next certification goal. Even the smallest of businesses are turning to hosted solutions as the alternative to owning a room full of IT equipment.
With the continued growth in the cloud and the skills needed to manage it, the MCSE may gain the recognition and financial benefits that other vendor certifications have to offer.