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Redmond's certification chief explains death of MCM and MCA

High-end cert program 'just hasn't gained the traction we hoped for'

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Microsoft's late Friday afternoon decision to ”retire” some of its highest-end certifications has been explained by the chap who made the decision to do so.

News of the certifications cancellation has enraged those who hold or were studying for the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM), and Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) certifications, as they feel the certifications are jolly good ideas that mark them out as especially clever and skilled. Several were also well and truly ticked off by Microsoft's decision to announce the certifications' demise late on the Friday before a long weekend in the USA.

Microsoft has since responded, with Tim Sneath, whose profile says he “runs product development for Microsoft Learning, encompassing books, digital and classroom training and certification” posting to a thread in the Microsoft Connect thread titled “Please don't get rid of the MCM and MCA programs” initiated by Most Valued Professional Jen Stirrup.

In his post, Sneath tries to set to rest the idea the certifications were killed off for financial reasons, insisting “I'm not a 'bean counter'” and that the program “loses us money (and not a small amount)” before adding “that’s not the point” for the closure

The point, it turns out, is that Microsoft designed certifications that didn't meet its own goals. Here's how Sneath puts it:

“Only a few hundred people have attained the certification in the last few years, far fewer than we would have hoped. We wanted to create a certification that many would aspire to and that would be the ultimate peak of the Microsoft Certified program, but with only ~0.08% of all MCSE-certified individuals being in the program across all programs, it just hasn't gained the traction we hoped for.”

Sneath goes on to offer the following hint at replacement certifications:

“We simply think we could do much more for the broader community at this level – that we could create something for many more to aspire to. We want it to be an elite community, certainly. But some of the non-technical barriers to entry run the risk of making it elitist for non-technical reasons. Having a program that costs candidates nearly $20,000 creates a non-technical barrier to entry. Having a program that is English-only and only offered in the USA creates a non-technical barrier to entry. Across all products, the Masters program certifies just a couple of hundred people each year, and yet the costs of running this program make it impossible to scale out any further. And many of the certifications currently offered are outdated – for example, SQL Server 2008 - yet we just can't afford to fully update them.”

He goes on to say Microsoft is “taking a pause from offering this program, and looking to see if there’s a better way to create a pinnacle, WITHOUT losing the technical rigor.”

The good news is “We have some plans already, but it’s a little too early to share them at this stage. Over the next couple of months, we'd like to talk to many of you to help us evaluate our certifications and build something that will endure and be sustainable for many years to come.”

“We hate having to do this,” Sneath continues, “causing upset amongst our most treasured community is far from ideal. But sometimes in order to build, you have to create space for new foundations.”

Future certifications, he says, will “align our programs with market demand, and … scale them in such a way that the market demand itself grows.”

In a breathtaking pivot, Sneath thinks IT pros burned by the decision he made will help Redmond to design those new courses.

“Over the next couple of months, we'd like to talk to many of you to help us evaluate our certifications and build something that will endure and be sustainable for many years to come.”

Whether Microsoft's community wants to help it out again is anyone's guess. Responses to our story breaking news of the cancellation generated lots of anti-certification comment. Feel free to give Redmond props, or a second barrel, now. ®

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