Microsoft Previews Board-Level Certification at TechMentor

Microsoft plans to introduce a board-level certification, called the Microsoft Certified Architect Program, designed to "identify architectural expertise," says the company.

(With additional reporting by Keith Ward, Managing Editor, Redmond magazine, in Orlando)

ORLANDO, FLORIDA -- Microsoft yesterday announced its first brand-new certification in years, one aimed at high-level IT pros with significant experience in architecting solutions that involve Microsoft -- and non-Microsoft -- products.

At 101communications' TechMentor conference in Orlando, Al Valvano, Lead Product Manager with Microsoft Learning, unveiled the Microsoft Certified Architect Program, a board-level certification on a scale the company has never attempted before.

Valvano acknowledges that the MCAP is a work-in-progress, very preliminary work has been done, and any details they've worked out so far are sketches. He said to expect a more detailed announcement with solid information in late summer to the end of the year. Eric Ekstrand, a TechMentor attendee who works for Optum UnitedHealth Group, is cautious when he calls the MCAP "a great idea." Like several in attendance, he's "curious to see how it plays out.

Al Valvano at TechMentor, Orlando
Al Valvano, Lead Product Manager with Microsoft Learning (standing), offers details on new Microsoft Certified Architect Program to TechMentor Conference attendees. (Photo: Sara Ross)

That curiosity extends to Steve Riley, who's been an IT professional since 1983. Riley doesn't see the MCAP as his next stepping stone, but as someone who's involved in hiring IT experts, he acknowledges that someone with a board certification would have immediate cachet: "[The candidate] would have to have proven themselves in front of their peers, and that would make a difference."

Ekstrand agrees. "The MCAP will provide another mechanism for the employer to make an assessment of skill levels."

Some highlights from Valvano's keynote:

  • The MCAP will consist of prerequisite training and experience, and the skills domain that candidates will face throughout the process will be broad, including such objectives as project management, decisionmaking and oral and verbal communication. Valvano said it's too early to give any definition to those requirements, and wouldn't say whether any of the current exams or training in the MCP program would be applicable to the MCAP.
  • Candidates will be assigned a mentor to help foster success through the program's rigorous certification process. Valvano said that mentors will come from Microsoft as well as externally chosen sources.
  • Candidates, with the help of the mentor, would apply for entrance registration into the architecture candidate process, which consists of a written submission and board examinations. Valvano said that details on what the written submission process and who would be on the peer-review board were still in development. Valvano compared the process to attaining a Ph.D, where a candidate has to defend a thesis.
  • Valvano stressed that only about a quarter of the emphasis of a candidate's knowledge will be on Microsoft-related architecture technologies; the rest will relate to general architecture principles and best practices that aren't Microsoft specific. A candidate for the MCAP will have to have a broad-based knowledge that extends well beyond the narrow bounds of Windows.
  • Finally, Valvano estimated that completion of the program could take from six to 12 months and would not come cheap. Valvano says that the program is designed to pay for itself; nonetheless, he says that "it will take a substantial commitment in time and money" for both the candidate and the board to come together for all the meetings and tests for completing each step.

Given the demanding nature of the requirements, Valvano believes the MCAP can eventually rise to the level of prestige that come with demanding certifications like Cisco's CCIE. "My belief and the strong opinion from [early customers and partners] is that the bar is actually much higher than anything we currently have in this market today from any vendor, in terms of the rigor and reward, the feat of accomplishment and by the benefits of [having achieved it]," he adds. Microsoft has fought the perception for years that its certifications are too easy to get and lack the value of some other certifications in the marketplace. Valvano admitted during the keynote that Microsoft has heard similar complaints from its own certified professionals and IT hiring managers.

Whether the MCAP warrants such prestige, it's much too early to tell. Says Ekstrand: "The market is going to have to accept it as a worthwhile certification to have real value."

This is a developing story; will continue to post details as they happen.

About the Author

Michael Domingo has held several positions at 1105 Media, and is currently the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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