Microsoft Certified Master & Architect (MCM & MCA)

– The End of Advanced Certification. – And a planned new beginning?

“The MCM is dead, long live the new one…”

– There is no new one. (Or maybe there is? – I’ll get to that at the end of the blog.)

This morning, Saturday, the 31st of August, shortly after 7 o’clock – corresponding to a Friday evening at 10 o’clock, just before the national holiday weekend, in the US – I received an email from “Advanced Certification Program” with the harmless title “MCM/MCSM/MCA Program Update.”

However, these were not the long anticipated news as to when it was finally possible to do the MCSM for SQL Server 2012. To quote the decisive sentence:

“Microsoft will no longer offer Masters and Architect level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013.”

Yes, you read correctly. In other words: As of October 1st, there will no longer be the possibility to pass the certification of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) or even Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA). (If you would like to read the complete email, please find it at the end of the article.) The Master/Advanced certification program will thus be terminated.

Update 18 Sept. 2013: Due to the strong reactions from the community, Microsoft Learning has extended the program by 3 months: Microsoft Certified (Solutions) Master, MCM/MCSM: The race is extended. – Who will be the last MCM SQL Server 😉 ?

The MCM itself has no “expiration date” – also due to the fact that one would usually add the product version to the title. “Thanks to grace,” one may continue holding the additional title MCSM Charter Member.

“As a Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or Microsoft Certified Architect, you have earned one of the highest certifications available through the Microsoft Certification program. Although individuals will no longer be able to earn these certifications, you will continue to hold the credential and you will not be required to recertify your credential in the future.”

Or, to visually quote from Robert Davis, the former MCM program Manager:

Of course, the martial look is not to be taken so seriously 😉

Being a database system architect and MCM for SQL Server 2008 myself (thus the second and simultaneously last version available for this title), I cannot deny my disappointment in this decision. Also because it came completely out of the blue. In fact, just in mid-August, the number of test centers had been increased (!). And it was exactly 3 months ago that I was trying to make the MCSM more known through my blog (“Survey about the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) certification, training opportunities and interview”), and now I am supposed to announce the end. I think it is legitimate to be slightly frustrated.

Microsoft certifications today

I have always held the opinion, and still do, that due to manifold reasons the existing certifications awarded by Microsoft were not able to separate the wheat from the chaff. This can be accounted, for one, to the widespread method of checking out the exam materials using brain dumps and memorizing them beforehand. And on the other hand, it can be accounted to the so called “Boot Camps”; mostly upscale seminars where study materials required by a particular exam are being drummed into the participants in one week’s time. Within 2-3 weeks, one will have achieved the certificate. One of the best known providers of this method is Firebrand. (I have refused to offer my MCT and MCM title for these trainings.)

Whoever has looked at the descriptions of the certification levels before will know that among the recommended requirements there is always a number of years >1 of practical experience with the respective technology. It is thus inherently frivolous to do these certifications “hands down.” Thus arose the dictum “MCSE: Microsoft Consultant Searching Experience” and similar translations. At the time when it was created, there was just an “inflation” of MCSEs around Windows Server 2000. Now, we have the acronym MCSE with yet another meaning (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert). Even if the exams of the new generation are in fact significantly more difficult than those for the MCITPs, this will not, I am afraid, change their vulnerability to the methods stated above. Moreover, there are extreme (but not rare) cases in which exams are completely faked or carried out by someone else. The dark figure for these cases is by nature very high. Those familiar with the topic will confirm these issues.

All of this correspondingly adds to the devaluation of these certifications.

– In the end, it is those who take it seriously and actually gain practical experiences or educate themselves further in real deep-dive trainings and workshops instead of “drilling answers” who suffer from this.

As an antipole to these common offers, for example, I have started to work out the details of the SQL Server Master classes some time ago. These are trainings primarily based on practice and diving deep into the SQL Server, and are scarcely available on the open German market up to now. – Which is why I myself accessed the offers of Master level classes from and in the USA at the time.

MCSE – the new top-level certification instead of the MCSM?

When for a MCITP/MCSE a 4-6 year experience is noted as a minimum, it was 10 years for the MCM/MCSM. Brain dumps: negative report. (By the way, this was another reason for the high exam costs.)

I suppose it is sufficiently known that the exams for the MCSE do not approximate the MCM by far, which I have already written about in my blog article from June.

Even if I have been observing with concern how the MCM/MCSM program was further softened in the past months (shortened to no waiting time for retakes), it is still the only Microsoft certification for the exam of which a real practical proof of one’s skills – not just theoretical knowledge – had to be performed.

And just because one does not necessarily need to “re-prove” practical skills once you have acquired it, the MCM is valid as a certification without expiration (contrary to the planned MCSM).

Two to three releases from today, and the title will possibly be completely unknown – unless it experiences a “revival.”

According to the sole existing public list, there are currently 121 Microsoft Certified Masters for SQL Server 2008 worldwide, 7 of whom in Germany, of whom 5 are at Microsoft or the Microsoft subsidiary Avanade. How many have unavailingly tried themselves at the certification will remain unknown…

This number is unlikely to change even though the official “termination date” of the program is October 1st. But who knows. “Last chance” for all those who “played with the idea.”

I am sorry for those who would have had the skills and ambition for this certification. Yet, there will always be demand for true know-how and practical experience. Therefore, one should not invest less in one’s own skills. Whether certified or not. Maybe the future for advanced certifications will also belong to manufacturer-independent certifications. (?)

Exact reasons for the discontinuation were not announced to us, in case you, dear reader, were missing them here. At the PASS Summit in Charlotte/USA in October 2013, this will doubtless be a hot topic among us, the “last MCMs.”

One thing will always be true: If something is constant, it is change.

The end of the MCM program is not the end of all learning. Practical knowledge and reputation are more important than certificates.

In this spirit: good luck with the studying and practicing. There are still plenty of other opportunity to make a difference.

Update Sept. 1: At Microsoft Connect, a feedback item was initiated in order to acquire the MCM & MCA for SQL Server. Numerous, partly enraged, comments show how stirred the community is because of this decision. With more than 200 voices on the first day, this might actually be one of the most voted Connect Item.

Update Sept. 2: Less than 460 voices in favor of the continuation of the MCM program. Within 3 days, it has become the No. 2 feedback item for SQL Server! – At the same time, an indication of how strong the SQL community is at the moment compared to all other product groups. We can be proud of this. It remains to be seen how Microsoft regards this.

Update Oct. 1: At the status of more than 750 (!) voices, the Connect Item was closed on 6 Sept. on the request of Jen Stirrup who had opened the item. This was on account of a couple of direct and personal attacks on community members. This is a shame, as these few ones damage the MCM community as a whole. Read more about it from herself:

An anonymous community member has copied the item including many comments before it was closed:

One can presume that none of the decision-makers has anticipated this kind of outcry. It is not like one could not go about such issues with a longer advance warning period. In fact, here, it is not about “IT pros,” but it is about the precursors and architects implementing Microsoft’s technologies. Many of them have invested thousands of dollars/Euros/pounds etc. in their education, and put years into the preparation to achieve this level. And guess who they call when problems seem unsolvable? Yes, indeed, exactly those MCMs and MCAs… – The consequences of the loss of confidence born from this course of action are not yet quite foreseeable, and the future is still in the dark.

Among the numerous comments, Tim Sneath from Microsoft expressly assumes responsibility for this decision, explains background information and suggests deliberations for the future.

Some excerpts from his comment:

„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. “

„That’s why we’re 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. 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.“

“Perhaps you think it is wrong-headed, but I wanted to at least explain some of the rationale. It comes from the desire to further invest in the IT Pro community, rather than the converse. It comes from the desire to align our programs with market demand, and to scale them in such a way that the market demand itself grows. It comes from the desire to be able to offer more benefits, not fewer. And over time I hope we’ll be able to demonstrate the positive sides of the changes we are going through as we plan a bright future for our certifications.”

In my view, many of the listed reasons are comprehensible, and I am actually also seeing some truly important aspects, such as language barriers and a lack of name recognition.

However, I do not agree on the resulting conclusion to close the MCM program. The marginal name recognition is well-known, and in my opinion, one should and could have worked on that.

As for the statement that merely 0.08% of all MCSEs are in the MCM program (!), this is something I do not consider a weakness but in fact a hallmark of quality.

Reactions from the community and press

In the same vein, Windows ITPro expresses itself, too: Microsoft Learning kills MCM and MCA accreditations – interesting to read for those dealing with the subject of certifications in general.

2 articles by “The Register”:

Further comments from MCMs and MVPs:

At this point 3 quotes from community members, which I leave uncommented, since they speak for themselves.

Gail Shaw (MCM, MVP)

“As of last night, there are now 0 certifications that one can take that I will immediately respect. MCITP/MCTS/MCSA/MCSE tell me that either a person is interested in learning more, that they were required by their company to take the exams and did the absolute bare minimum memorisation or that they’re a cheat, which it is I have to find in the interview. “

Grant Fritchey

“Just read about the death of the MCM. The one and only Microsoft certification I respected is gone. Back to no respect.”

Greg Low (MVP)

“A first step in making the program more relevant would have been to make use of it within other Microsoft programs. For example, Microsoft Certified Trainers could have been required to have at least taken the knowledge exam. When I suggested that, it was met with howls of “but we’d lose most of the trainers”. While that’s partly true, what does that tell you about the existing trainers?”

I am curious about the future, but also worried that a new edition could be sort of a “Master light”.
I strongly hope that Microsoft Learning doesn’t interchange quality with quantity, and short-term financial advantages don’t win against a strategy based on long-term considerations.

Andreas Wolter

MCSM: Charter Data Platform
MCM SQL Server 2008

Now this badge is something of a rarity for real…

Below the (almost) complete email from Aug. 30:

“MCM/MCSM/MCA Program Update”

We are contacting you to let you know we are making a change to the Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, and Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. As technology changes so do Microsoft certifications and as such, we are continuing to evolve the Microsoft certification program. Microsoft will no longer offer Masters and Architect level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013. The IT industry is changing rapidly and we will continue to evaluate the certification and training needs of the industry to determine if there’s a different certification needed for the pinnacle of our program.

 As a Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or Microsoft Certified Architect, you have earned one of the highest certifications available through the Microsoft Certification program. Although individuals will no longer be able to earn these certifications, you will continue to hold the credential and you will not be required to recertify your credential in the future. You will continue to have access to the logos through the MCP site, and your certifications will continue to show in the appropriate section of your transcript, according to Microsoft technology retirement dates. If you are a Charter Member, you will continue to hold the Charter Member designation on your transcript.

 Also as a Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or Microsoft Certified Architect, you are a member of an exclusive, highly technical community and you’ve told us this community is one of the biggest benefits of your certification. We encourage you to stay connected with your peers through the main community distribution lists. Although we won’t be adding more people to this community, you continue to be a valued member of it. Over time, Microsoft plans to transition the distribution lists to the community, and, with your consent, will include your information so that it can continue to be a valuable resource for your ongoing technical discussions.

 Within the coming weeks, you will receive invitations to an updated community site. This community site will require you to sign in with a Microsoft Account and will replace the need for a Microsoft Partner account as is required today. From this site, you will be able to manage service requests for the Masters and Architects communities – such as ordering welcome kits and managing your contact information for the distribution lists and directory – and accessing training rotation and other community content (if applicable).


We thank you for your commitment to Microsoft technologies.


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