Microsoft Retools Certification Program for Cloud Skills

Microsoft Learning revives older designations in a reinvention of the certification program that addresses cloud skills.

The Microsoft Learning group said that it is retooling the Microsoft certification program to address the increasing role of cloud computing in the IT and developer professions. As it does, it's also bringing back some familiar acronyms: MCSA, MCSD, and MCSE, but in a way that no longer courts controversy -- this time, the E simply stands for "Expert."

In a phone interview, Don Field, senior director of the Microsoft Certification Program, said the next-generation MCP will be similar to the current generation, with three tiers of certifications based on software skills, planning and design, and solutions mastery, with the difference this time also emphasizing cloud services where appropriate.

"We are reinventing our program to work with cloud services, our on-premises solutions, and a hybrid of on-premise and cloud," he said. Field cites feedback from customers and the Microsoft partner community for pushing the change toward more cloud-oriented certifications. "Customers are saying a deeper set of [cloud] skills are warranted as well," he added.

At the skills level, which is currently the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist, Microsoft Learning said it will bring back a familiar-sounding acronym, MCSA, but this time, this level will be relabeled as Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. Field said that exams at this tier will target skills implementing software and services implementation.

The next-generation MCSE, or Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (Expert now replacing the controversial "Engineer" of the older, original title), comprises the middle tier of the program. Like the older MCSE and the MCITP (a.k.a. Professional level) that precedes the next-generation MCSE, it will require candidates to pass a number of exams that test higher-level capabilities in planning, design and infrastructure. Candidates who want to take exams toward achieving the MCSE will have to first pass exams on the MCSA tier, then take a number of required exams at the MCSE level.

The developer track at the expert level is also reverting to the older Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer moniker. Like the MCSE, the MCSD will require candidates achieve MCSA status as a prerequisite to taking any exams at the MCSD level.

The challenge for Microsoft Learning, said Field, is making it clear to candidates when exams get updated with new technology. Field said that it's easy to update exams tied to on-premise software, "which have versions," whereas "cloud versions don't have versions."

The speed with which technology changes in the cloud mandated that Microsoft Learning immediately puts in place "recertification at the Expert level," said Field. According to a Microsoft Certification FAQ, recertification will be required of candidates at around two years for developers and three years for IT pros. Recertification will be in the form of one or two exams.

Shelby Grieve, director of Microsoft Certifications, in the phone interview stepped through a typical candidate's certification process for the SQL Server 2012. "At the MCSA level, three exams will be combined together for the MCSA: SQL Server 2012. Then there are two exams at the MCSE: Data Platform level and two for the MCSE: Business Intelligence. Both will require the MCSA." Here are the specifics:

  • MCSA: SQL Server 2012 (all 3 required): 70-461, Querying SQL Server 2012; 70-462, Administering SQL Server 2012 Database; 70-463, Implementing Data Warehouses with SQL Server 2012
  • MCSE: Data Platform (all 2 required): 70-464, Developing SQL Server 2012 Databases; 70-465, Designing Database Solutions for SQL Server 2012
  • MCSE: Business Intelligence (all 2 required): 70-466, Implementing Data Models and Report with SQL Server 2012; 70-467, Designing Business Intelligence Solutions with SQL Server 2012

Grieve said that exams for all tracks are in beta testing phase. She said that attendees at next week's Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas will also be able to register and sit at those exams at the conference for free during the event. The SQL Server 2012 versions of those certifications will be officially available April 14, said Grieve.

Candidates who are interested in the new Windows OS certification may already be on the path to the new MCSE: Private Cloud certification. Here's how that track shakes out:

  • MCSA exams required (all 3 required): 70-640, Windows 2008 R2, Active Directory Configuration; 70-642, Network Infrastructure Configuration; 70-646, Windows Server Administrator
  • MCSE: Private Cloud exams required (2 required): 70-247, Configuring/Deploying Private Cloud with System Center 2012; 70-246, Monitoring/Operating Private Cloud with System Center 2012 or 70-659, Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization

All exams at the MCSA level are available as part of the current MCTS track. At the MCSE level, exams 70-247 and 70-246 are expected to go live in June and are currently under development; 70-659 has been available since 2010, as part of the MCITP.

Cloud technology has been a component of the exams for some time, with virtualization and Windows Azure items appearing on some exams. Microsoft Learning will be ramping up on testing cloud skills in other technology areas, including private cloud elements in upcoming Windows 8 exams at the MCSA and MCSE level.

At the next tier is the Microsoft Certified Solution Master (formerly, the Microsoft Certified Master). Requirements for this tier will be forthcoming, but should be in line with the various versions of the Microsoft Certified Master. Achieving MCSE status is a requirement for anyone with plans to achieve the MCSM. (On an added note, Field said that no changes were being made to the Microsoft Certified Architect.)

Table 1. Generations of Microsoft Certified Professionals, Compared.
Level First-Generation MCP Next-Generation MCP MCP, Reinvented
Associate Microsoft Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (IT), Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (IT), Microsoft Certified Application Developer (Developer) Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist Microsoft Certified Solution Associate

IT: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

Developer: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer, Microsoft Certified DBA

IT: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

Developer: Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

IT: Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

Developer: Microsoft Certified Solution Developer

Master (not available) Microsoft Certified Master Microsoft Certified Solution Master
Architect (not available) Microsoft Certified Architect Microsoft Certified Architect

So, what happens to those who are in the process of earning the MCTS, MCITP and MCPD titles? Nothing. Microsoft contends that the exams under those certifications are testing current technology and remain relevant. As well, candidates can use exams taken for those tracks to fulfill requirements under the new MCSA and MCSE tracks (notice that the exams for the MCSA level of the new MCSE: Private Cloud are all current MCTS exams). Field said that upgrade paths to the reinvented certifications will be made available where it makes sense and details will be forthcoming.

For details from Microsoft Learning, go here.

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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