Microsoft’s Certifications Reinvented for the Cloud

REDMOND, Wash. — April 11, 2012 Microsoft today announced that it has reinvented its certification program to directly address technology’s evolution to the cloud.

Organizations are increasingly turning to the cloud to improve productivity, cut costs and fuel business growth. By 2015 IT innovation produced by the cloud could create US$1.1 trillion a year in new business revenues according to a recent IDC study (1). As a result, top of mind for companies today is making sure they have the right skills and people in place to help them fully realize the benefits the cloud has to offer.

Microsoft Certification - Reinvented for the Cloud Microsoft Certification – Reinvented for the Cloud

April 10, 2012
Microsoft Certification is an effective way to validate your IT skills, distinguish yourself from other job candidates, and impress hiring managers.

“The changes we’re making will help technology professionals gain the skills they need to plan, design, implement and operate cloud and hybrid solutions today and into the future,” says Don Field, senior director of product management for Microsoft. “And it will help hiring managers find people who have the skills they expect in their IT environments moving forward.”

Cushing Anderson, program vice president of the Consulting, HR and Learning practices at IDC, agrees. “Overall the changes to Microsoft’s certification program are an appropriate evolution toward greater industry relevance and business value.”

Cloud Requires Skills Shift

The new certifications reflect the changing role of IT professionals and developers in the cloud. Peter de Tender, managing partner of the IT company ICTinus, has firsthand experience with the skills shift the cloud requires. De Tender is also a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) and member of Microsoft’s MCT Advisory Council.

“Most of our time was previously spent on deploying the base infrastructure, where now this entire infrastructure is already available in the cloud,” says De Tender. “Our consulting focus is moving more toward becoming cloud architects — assisting customers in deciding on the right cloud technology, as well as helping them migrate from the on-premise solutions to the cloud.”

Because the cloud frees up technology professionals to focus more on planning and design, it will allow them to add greater value by translating organizational needs into technology designs, says Field. “This provides a great opportunity and also changes the emphasis of skills an individual needs to acquire to be successful.”

A New Approach

The revamped program is a wholesale new approach to ensure certified individuals have the skills required to steward an organization’s journey to the cloud.

The new certifications align to real-world solutions rather than specific products and validate a broader and deeper set of knowledge and skills. Because many organizations will continue to have a mix of both cloud and on-premise technologies, the new solutions-based approach helps ensure technologists can work with a range of products and services and manage a mixed environment in a way that is seamless for users within and outside their organization.

The new certification framework has also been streamlined to three skill levels to make it easier to navigate:

  • The Associate Level comprises the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification, which provides a clear starting point for job seekers early in their technology career. Candidates must prove they have the required skills to hit the ground running. This level represents a foundation and is the prerequisite certification necessary to earn an MCSE.

  • The Expert Level comprises the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) or its developer equivalent, Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), and is Microsoft’s flagship certification for individuals who want to lead their organization’s transition to the cloud. These certifications recognize IT professionals and developers with broad and deep skill sets across Microsoft solutions.

  • The Master Level is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) certification that differentiates the select few from their peers and represents the highest bar of knowledge and skills validation.

Microsoft is calling MCSE its flagship credential because it is the level that most people will aspire to, says Field. It validates an individual’s ability to design and build solutions that may integrate multiple technologies, versions and products. These are the new kinds of skills that are needed for the cloud.

“Microsoft offerings, from on-premise to private cloud and public cloud, are very broad, and we are reflecting the breadth and depth of those offerings in the ways that we train and certify developers and IT professionals,” says Field. “With its rigor and completeness, the new MCSE is the embodiment of the solutions that Microsoft is bringing forward.”

Anderson from IDC says the new MCSE acknowledges the evolution of the role of the IT professional. “The heterogeneous skills that this new approach will engender in both individuals and the certified community in general represent what it really takes to be successful.”

The MCSE certification — or its developer equivalent, MCSD — also demonstrates an individual’s commitment to staying up to date on cutting-edge technologies because it requires recertification.

For hiring managers and employers, recertification provides assurance that certified individuals have current competencies even amid a rapidly changing technology environment of service packs, revisions and new product version releases. In other words, it means the certification will hold its value over time, which is also crucial to the person who earned it.

“There’s little that’s more important to someone who earns a certification than knowing that certification is valuable in the marketplace,” says Field. “It requires a high level of skill and competence — not to mention quite an investment of time and effort — to get major industry certifications such as those we offer. Once people do, they want to make sure they retain their value.”

“Cloud services don’t have versions, so we needed a new way to identify that an individual’s skills are current,” adds Field. “Members of our program recommended that we use recertification to ensure value moving forward.”

Raising the Bar

The value of Microsoft certifications is something Microsoft takes very seriously. Referring to the last annual Microsoft Certification Program Study, Field says 91 percent of hiring managers consider Microsoft Certification a criterion for hiring. “We know that what we’re building is something that is really important to hiring managers, helping them to ensure that they have the right skills in their organization. Part of our motivation in the changes we’re making was to make sure we continue to do a better and better job of that.”

“The bar is higher,” adds Field. “For an individual to successfully earn these new certifications, they’ll have to demonstrate real-world, hands-on experience — not because we want exams to be harder in their own right, but because that’s the skill level that’s needed in the marketplace to be consistent with the requirements the cloud is placing on IT professionals and developers.”

De Tender thinks Microsoft has indeed raised the bar. “The new certifications will clearly show you are evolving in your technology scope as an IT pro. Because Microsoft is one of the bigger cloud enablers in the market, having this updated credential on your resume will tell your customers you are up to speed.”

To learn how to attain Microsoft certifications, visit the Microsoft Learning site.

(1) “Cloud Computing’s Role in Job Creation,” IDC, March 2012