Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Master of Puppets

You may have heard about the recent announcement from Microsoft to cancel the Microsoft Certified Masters program. AKA, the MCM and MCSM programs. Well, it wasn't really an announcement. An announcement is when you make a public declaration of some information or event. Think about a wedding announcement.

Instead, this was announced in an email very late on Friday night. Because of Time Zone differences, mine came in after midnight. In the email we were informed that all of the MCM exams and the entire program are being retired on October 31st.

A few news sites have picked up on this already, and actually had made public the non-announcement.

What's so awful about this is, within the past few weeks there have been other, contrasting announcements about expanding the number of testing centers, upcoming release of a new exam, etc. It's like the proverbial saying about the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Strange, to say the least.

Anyone who was part-way through the MCM program is being left out to dry at this point. All your time and money spent for naught. I can only imagine how that must feel. Awful, truly awful.

On the one hand, I'm disappointed. I spent a lot of time, effort, and money to achieve the MCM, only to have it discontinued. Kind of a slap in the face. However, I have to admit, that on the other hand, I'm a little relieved.

Wait, let me explain. As I see it, there are some serious problems with the overall Microsoft Certification Program. Since they've decided to gut the MCM Program, this is a good opportunity to fix everything that is wrong with it.

A Looming Deadline

I finished the MCM a little over a month ago, and I couldn't be more relieved. I had put a lot of time, money, and effort into this. My Significant Other has been very patient and supportive during this journey, but it was time for it to end. Or at least be able to rest for a little while.


You see, once you have the SQL 2008 MCM, you only have until June of 2014 to complete the SQL 2012 MCM. That's only ten months away! Also remember, there is a 90-day waiting period for retakes at this level.

If you couldn't make that deadline, then you start back at the bottom with all the MCP/MCTS/MCITP/MCSA/MCSE exams to pre-qualify you for the opportunity to try the SQL 2012 MCM exams once again.

And, guess what, they didn't even have the the SQL 2012 MCM Lab Exam ready. So you have a deadline ticking away, but not much you can do about it.

I was a little frustrated by that timeline. I had just spent a considerable amount of money, my own money, to complete the MCM program, and now I had jump right back in and start spending a bunch more money, immediately. Add to that, I've used about half of my PTO (vacation days) for my studies, travel, and test taking along this journey.

So you can see why I'm a little relieved. Now, I don't have to explain my elaborate cover story as to why I'm not going to bother with the SQL 2012 MCM. Instead, I can join the chorus of folks who are screaming bloody murder about the program being canceled.

Maybe now, I can have a little break and attempt to pay down my SQL 2008 MCM costs. Maybe tomorrow, there will be a new announcement of an entirely news certification program that has been in development for months and months. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Don't Change the Brand

One of the problems with the Microsoft Certifications and the MCM Program is the names and acronyms keep changing. Take a page from other, successful companies and don't.

Since the beginning of time, it has been the MCP. My first certification was an MCP in Visual Basic Programming. That should continue to be the basis of everything. Stop changing the names of the certifications every time a new version of the product comes out.

People are just now starting to learn about the MCM Program. Most don't even know what it is, including recruiters and HR, and now you're changing it to MCSM, why? And now, before people have a chance to be confused about the MCSM, it's getting scrapped.

Keep the standard MCP/MCTS/MCITP/MCM naming scheme, do you see Ford renaming the Mustang to Horse 2.0? No, you don't.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a job posting or spoken to HR/Recruiting and they ask if I'm an MCDBA for SQL 2008 or even SQL 2014.

If you say 'no, I have the MCITP or MCM for SQL 2008 which is the newer version' all they hear is 'no' and move on. So, what you have to say is 'yes, I have the McDBA for SQL 2012' or whatever stupid crap recruiters are asking for.

TLAs are better than FLAs

But if you were going to change the names of the certificates, at least choose something easy to say, easy to understand, and that is intuitive.

People love three letter acronyms. They roll off the tongue easier, and they just sound so cool.

I would propose the following nomenclature:

  • MCA, MCP, MCE, MCM. Simple, easy, TLAs.

  • Associate, Professional, Expert, Master.

Most people intuitively know how to rank those four levels. You don't need to know anything about the technology in order to understand that an Associate is lower than an Expert, or Master.

Certificates Shouldn't Expire

I'm not saying you shouldn't continue to train, get certified, learn new skills, etc. But the certs you've earned should stay with you, period. Think about how many SQL 2000 installations there are still out there.

If you are an expert on an old piece of technology, and the customer needs that, then you are still the expert.

If a certification is tied to a specific version of technology there is no need to expire it. That person is not diminishing or interfering with new technology or certifications.

If someone only has certification from ten years ago, and nothing more recent, then let the customer decide if that is what they want.

Specialists Specialize

The SQL 2008 Server Certification program had three tracks: DEV, DBA, BI. There were two levels: junior and senior. Now, you have to complete all three tracks to get the entry level certification for SQL 2012.

Think about cars for a minute. Mechanics specialize. You have transmissions, engines, fuel injection systems, etc. Someone who knows how to fix one, rarely knows the others. Or you have an oil-change technician.

Or doctors? Orthopedic surgeon; ear, nose, and throat; endocrinology. Or you have a general practitioner.

Have you perused job descriptions that require you to be an expert in all three: BI, Dev, DBA; yet paid lower than just one? Me too, lot's of them. Those are interesting interviews, but they are also jobs to be avoided like the plague.

The official party line seems to be that Dev, DBA, and BI are so intertwined that you have to understand all of them in order to do any of them. Well, the real world doesn't quite work that way. Knowing about other areas certainly makes you better, and should be rewarded. But for an entry level certification that is ridiculous.

And, if you truly believed that, then how come someone can upgrade to the new MCSA with only one of the old MCTS certs. If all three skills were so intertwined, then you would require someone doing the upgrade to hole all three MCTS certifications.

Cost Benefit Analysis

All this leads me to the question whether I made the best choice of pursuing the SQL 2008 MCM. What is the cost / benefit analysis of all the time, money, effort, PTO, relationship costs, etc. for pursuing the MCM?

With the same money, you could self-fund a trip to the PASS or BA conferences. You could speak at tons of SQL Saturdays. You could take all the SQL 2012 MCSE Certifications. You could go on a SQL Cruise. And you'd still have money left over.


I do hope Microsoft reconsiders canceling the MCM Program. This was the only certification that was serious and had sufficient rigor. It gave you something to strive for if you wanted to distinguish yourself from your peers.

Please take a moment and register a comment on the connect site and let Microsoft  know how you feel.


  1. Nice write up Steve, I agree with the 2012 track. I am currently studying the DW exam to complete my MSCA 2012, I have no desire to do BI work and find it pointless studying it for an entry level cert!!!

  2. Hiya Patrick, thanks for the feedback. Yeah, I'm contemplating the same thing. I've been doing more BI lately, but I still thinking it's a bit weird cramming all the disciplines in together.

    How about this... For the Associate Cert, you do one area, as an Expert do two areas, as a Master do all three? There's flaws there, as well, but better than the current model.

  3. Hi, I agree with this. I am currently having to learn all about data warehouses to get the MCSA Sql 2012 which is very new to me although I have been an SQl administrator for nearly 5 years. I liked it when they split it into three tracks and you could specialise. I am disappointed about the MCSM not being available anymore as that was my long term goal.

  4. Hi Charles, I totally agree with you. I feel like someone from marketing decided it would be better to "cross pollinate across the paradigm" or some such rot. While I certainly applaud people who are proficient in multiple disciplines, that doesn't belong at the entry level certification. I think it would be better to layer that on as an advanced certification.

    Regarding the MCM/MCSM, I truly feel for the folks who have passed the Knowledge Exam but no won't have the opportunity to complete the Lab Exam. I think time needs to be extended to allow people to have two attempts at the Lab Exam before closing down.

  5. Thanks for the great write-up Steve. We can only hope that MS does reconsider and cancels the cancellation.

  6. Thanks Wayne! I liked your post as well.

    I think at the very least Microsoft needs to allow those who have finished the Knowledge Exam continue on and take the Lab Exam.

    If not, then some refunds are in order.