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The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification and its two related specializations, MCSE: Security and MCSE: Messaging, are highly valued and sought-after credentials. Likewise, the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) credential and its two related specializations (Security and Messaging) are also popular and highly sought after. Many IT professionals have been eager to know what changes will be occurring to the Microsoft Certifications program in the Longhorn timeframe. I recently attended a Microsoft Live Meeting held by members of the Microsoft Learning team and would like to share the fruit of that meeting with you.

It’s important to note that the current iteration of both the MCSA and MCSE credentials for Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 are not being retired any time soon and will stay on your Microsoft Certified Professional Transcript indefinitely. Likewise, these credentials are not changing.

A key takeaway from the Live Meeting was that people who are currently pursuing their MCSA/MCSE on Windows Server 2003 and who have already completed some exams should attempt to complete the credential because an upgrade path to the Longhorn certifications will be available. In fact, you can now use various exams based on current products, such as Windows Vista and Exchange Server 2007, as credit towards your MCSA/MCSE. Information about this will be posted soon to the Microsoft Learning site.

You’ll notice that in connection with that upgrade path, I specified the 2003 version of these credentials. Please note that there will be no upgrade path from Windows 2000 to the Longhorn credentials. Furthermore, Windows 2000-related exams will be retired on March 30, 2008. This includes the 2000 to 2003 upgrade exams: exam 70-292 and exam 70-296. A Microsoft Learning senior product manager for IT Professional and Developer Certifications explained that these retirements are based on Microsoft’s published mainstream support timeline and that, at the point of retirement, these particular exams will have been available in the industry for eight years.

A New Generation

Last year, Microsoft Learning redesigned the certification program in an effort to “create more targeted, relevant and cost-effective certifications.” Specifically, the new generation of certifications is based on the following three principles.

Principle 1: Targeted & Flexible

·         Create certifications that reflect specific job roles

·         Create credentials that allow individuals to identify custom skill sets

Principle 2: Rigorous & Credible

·         Advance testing technology using simulations, case study, and other complex methodologies

·         Create straightforward exam paths that test more completely and accurately

Principle 3: Relevant & Simple

·         Technology exams verify depth in using technology

·         Professional exams verify relevant job role skills

The new generation of certifications consists of three skill areas and four credentials.

Skill Area 1: Core Technical Skills

·         Proven skills on Microsoft technologies

·         Credential: Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist

·         1-3 exams per credential

·         Certification retires when mainstream product support for the product being tested ends

·         Focused on a key product or technology (Vista, SQL Server, Exchange, etc.)

·         Does not include job role skills

Skill Area 2: Professional Skills

·         Proven ability to perform on the job

·         Credentials: Microsoft Certified IT Professional and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

·         1-3 exams per credential

·         Technology Specialist Prerequisite

·         Focused on a single job role

·         Recertification required

Skill Area 3: Business IT Skills

·         Proven ability to delivery business solutions

·         Credential: Microsoft Certified Architect

·         Rigorous entry process

·         Work closely with a mentor

·         Culminate in oral review board

·         Recertification required

For a graphical representation of these skill areas click here.  These areas don’t build up in levels as a pyramid would; they are rather a puzzle with the varying pieces fitting together. In other words, you don’t have to obtain all the credentials on the lower half of the image to become a Microsoft Certified Architect, for example.

The new generation of certifications also means new logos. The new logos are split into two parts, with the left side depicting the credential and the right side enumerating the certification(s) held. For example, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) may have completed the requirements to be both an Enterprise Messaging Administrator and an Enterprise Support Technician. A certified professional can use a tool called Logo Builder to combine these certifications into one logo. The new logo allows certification holders to be more readily identified to their peers, managers, clients and recruiters as holding the credentials that are in demand in a given situation.

Longhorn certifications will follow this new framework. Specifically, there will be three Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credentials. These three are prerequisites for two Microsoft Certified IT Professional credentials. Note that these are credentials, not exams. The exam numbers, exam titles, and exact certification titles are not yet available. This information will be previewed to Microsoft Certified Professionals in May and generally announced in June. If you want to be the first to know about these details, sign up for the MCP Flash newsletter here.

If you are currently certified as an MCSA/MCSE on Windows Server 2003, upgrade exams to the MCTS credentials will be available. One exam will upgrade MCSA; an additional exam is required for MCSE. Please note that there is no upgrade path from MCSA/MCSE to MCITP. You will first have to pass the one or two exams required to upgrade your credential to MCTS. From there you can take whatever exams are required to obtain the MCITP credentials.

As I mentioned, recertification of these credentials will be required every three years. Recertification is likely to be a MCTS exam, and if this is not completed within the three-year window, your certification is not revoked but expired. You will need to pass only the relevant recertification exam to be reinstated. Details are yet to be provided on what will occur when a product covered by an MCTS credential enters the mainstream support phase and the credential is retired. Many certified professionals were curious to know whether their transcript would show “retired” or “expired” or merely disappear altogether.

As you might have guessed based on all of this information, there will no longer be any specializations (either Security or Messaging) in the Longhorn certifications. Existing credentials highlight these skill sets: For example, Exchange Administrators can earn the MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator credential.

Mark Your Calendar
Going forward, here are some key dates to keep in mind:

  • April 18, 2007: 2007 Office System Certifications Live Meeting. These certifications are also being updated from the existing Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) credentials to a new generation. Click here  for details on the new credentials.

  • May 2007: Preview of Longhorn certifications to current MCPs

  • May 2007: Vista/Exchange Certification Review Live Meeting

  • May 2007: Integrity in Microsoft Certifications Live Meeting

  • June 2007: Microsoft Certified Architect Live Meeting

  • June 2007: MCSA/MCSE to Longhorn MCTS upgrade exams in beta at TechEd 2007 (and likely expanded to other MCPs afterwards – click here  for more information on beta exams)

  • June 30, 2007: Complete your MCSA/MCSE 2003 credential by this date and save 40% on your Longhorn upgrade exam. Click here for details. You must register for this offer.

  • October 31, 2007: Windows Server Longhorn expected RTM

  • RTM + 30 days: MCTS exams released

  • RTM + 60 days: MCITP exams released

      To view a recorded version of the Longhorn certifications Live Meeting that was held on March 28, 2007, please visit Trika Harms Zum Spreckel’s blog. You’ll also find a link there to the recorded Live Meeting that was held regarding Exchange 2007 certifications. Trika’s blog is a great addition to your RSS reader if you want to stay current on the latest happenings in Microsoft Certifications.

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