Microsoft updates the MCSE program for the cloud, but what about the other guys?

I don’t want to seem to rain on Microsoft Learning’s recent announcement about the new cloud-based Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) accreditation program as there are some very good points, such as an alignment to real-world solutions delivered across multiple versions of technology. I also think that the new program reflects a general increase in cloud computing that is felt across the industry. Even so, some nagging doubts linger - at least in my rambling mind.

There’s no doubt that the old-model Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (also MCSE) program had run into choppy waters. Apart from the problems with the word “engineer”, which has a particular professional meaning associated with multi-year university degrees in some countries, the old MCSE program lacked credibility in part, if only because there was little to differentiate between the “paper” MCSE who had qualified after cramming for two weeks at a boot camp and a real industry pro with tons of experience. Both MCSEs were equally valid in the eyes of Microsoft, which doesn’t seem right.

To their credit, Microsoft attempted to credit a higher level accreditation in the form of the Microsoft Certified Systems Architect (MCSA), a program launched at TechEd in June 2005. MCSA status cannot be earned by passing one or more exams. You can’t cram for it either. Instead, MCSA requires candidates to present themselves before accreditation boards to prove that they have the necessary combination of breadth and depth of industry and technical knowledge to warrant earning MCSA status. Of course, the word “architect” is also a protected term in some countries but MCSA has also suffered from Microsoft’s ability to popularize the program and to scale it up so that the accreditation became well known on a worldwide basis. That being said, MCSA stands well above any MCSE in terms of the effort required to earn the recognition.

So what are we to make of the new MCSE program? Some of the documentation released by Microsoft, including this interesting graphic (below) makes some curious claims about all the joy that awaits successful candidates and the companies that are fortunate enough to employ them. No data is provided to allow us to ascertain what pool of managers were quizzed whether Microsoft-certified individuals are “more efficient” than folks who don’t possess these credentials. Apparently 62% of the questioned managers think that this is the case. I guess it all depends on who these managers are, what their role is, and what knowledge they have about Microsoft certification programs. I have met some real bozos who were certified by Microsoft in my time and the words “more efficient” would never feature in any description of their capabilities, but maybe an exception proves the rule.

MCSE

Individuals will probably focus on the salary implications of Microsoft’s data. 58% of those questioned said that certification led to a salary boost or bonus, 63% say that certification resulted in a promotion, and 60% said that their success in being certified led to a new job. Hmmm… one way for a manager to look at this data is to say that they’ll never support an individual becoming certified because they’ll only be unhappy afterwards if they don’t get a promotion or bonus – and even then there’s a 6 in 10 chance that the newly certified professional will leave to find a new job!

In any case, my concern is not with the notion of a certification program that recognizes the prowess of individuals in specific areas of technology. I think this is a good thing. I guess my doubts are in the cloud-focused nature of the launch. We all know that Microsoft is “all in” the cloud and that they have made major investment bets to reinvent their technology. But I think that accreditation shouldn’t be used as part of a PR campaign to convince everyone that there is only one true way. There are many places around the world where the cloud is simply not practical because of poor network infrastructure. There are companies where the cloud doesn’t meet their needs. There are others that fret about the weaknesses that exist in some elements of cloud infrastructures and point to components such as DNS or the Internet itself as evidence that they should remain on-premises for some time to come.

The rush to label everything with “cloud” smacks a little like a view of the world as if everyone worked in the same conditions that pertain on the Redmond campus where Microsoft’s best and brightest spend their days. But that’s not what life is like, at least, not outside Redmond, WA. I wish Microsoft Learning success with the relaunch of the MCSE program and hope that it avoids the sins of the past. I also hope that they remember to balance things out so that the hopes and ambitions of those who work with on-premises deployments are accurately and appropriately reflected in Microsoft certification programs.

Follow Tony’s ramblings @12Knocksinna

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Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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