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The 2016 Revamp of the Microsoft Certification Program

Near the end of September of this year, (2016), Microsoft formally announced that they were streamlining their technical certification program, so that it was more closely aligned to industry-recognized areas of subject matter and expertise – “Centers of Excellence, used by the Microsoft Partner Network, which identifies technical competencies that are widely recognizable by both Microsoft partners and customers.”
The Microsoft Certification program has undergone many changes in the past four or five years; many of these had been very subtle, up until now, but that wasn’t the case five years prior to that, as the program underwent a major change at that time as well.
In this blog post I will outline some of the certification program history as I experienced it over my career in the information technology field. In future posts, I will review some of the changes being made to Microsoft Learning and the Microsoft certification program, between now and the end of 2016, as I see it as a certification holder.
Back in the late 2000s, the entire Microsoft certification program was up-ended with the “retirement” of the prior certification designations of the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential and the major certification track – the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). What was released as part of the redesigned program was the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credential and the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) major certification. The middle tier certification, Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification, which was released with the Windows 2000 Server technologies, was also retired.
The retired certifications are still shown on your Microsoft Certified Professional transcript under the “Legacy Microsoft Certification” section (as shown below in the screen capture from my own transcript).


At the time, the thought process was for Microsoft to rebrand its technical certification program, along with its releasing technologies, (part of the Windows 7 / Server 2008 “wave”) and to move away / distance itself from the many “known” paper certification holders of the day – the people that mainly certified via “cramming” – both legitimate and illegitimate means. It was a well-intended plan that ended up falling apart on poor communication, poor public relations / marking, and lackluster initial execution.
Certification holders at the time, especially those that worked hard via expensive classroom courses, as well as on the job training, didn’t understand the changes to the programs and the certification tracks – the existing ones and the new ones to be released – as “the message” was not communicated well over the first year or so.
At the same time, technical trainers and educational centers were not well versed on the changes either; I cannot tell you how many times as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) I had learning centers calling to ask me if I was “MCSE certified on Windows 2008″ as they needed instructors. I actually argued with a couple of them to no end – they dug in hard that the certification existed and they needed people certified to teach.
When the MCSE track was changed, after the release of Windows Server 2003, the major certification for Windows Server 2008 was the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification – there was no “MCSE” for it (as shown below in the screen capture from my own transcript).



The revamped program struggled over its first year in release, but mainly due to more time under execution, better clarification of programs and learning tracks, general acceptance, and the end-user want and / or need to gain the certifications (for work requirements to maintain or advance in their careers), the program managed to “right” itself.
With the release of Windows Server 2012, Microsoft Learning “reintroduced” the “MCSE” branding, slightly renamed – it now stood for “Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert” and launched the new certification tracks. The “MCSA” was also re-introduced as the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certification (as shown below in the screen capture from my own transcript).


One of the major changes made to the rebranded MCSE program at that time was the recertification requirement under a given technology.
Simply put, many (but not all) of the MCSE certifications required that the certification holder needed to show continued ability to perform in the given solution area; this was generally accomplished by completing a recertification exam every three years for that technology.
The consideration for this was along the industry standard mindset of “continuing education accreditation” that other technologies utilized. Rather than requiring a certain amount of training points or credits, Microsoft simply required the certification holder to “re-test”. If they passed the re-examination, their certification remained “ACITVE”. If they opted to not revalidate their credential, the certification remained on their transcript but moved to the “INACTIVE” classification. You can see these tentative “expiration” dates listed in the screenshots above under my Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert credentials.
If one of your certifications falls into “INACTIVE” status, it will also be shown on your transcript (as shown below).


You might notice in the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert section of my transcript, the designation of the brand new “MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure” certification from September 26th. That came about as part of the changes being made to the certification tracks and the overall program and I will discuss that in some more detail in my future posts on this subject.


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