I recently saw a post in a forum entitled “drowning in sea of exams” complaining about how confused they were by the current Microsoft  certification process. At first glance, certification can seem that way, but if you break it down it is actually pretty simple and really makes a lot of sense. If you are thinking of getting certified, you need to complete four steps.

  1. Choose your certification goal/exam
  2. Figure out what you don’t know
  3. Fill in the gaps
  4. Take the exam

In this blog post I’ll explain how to complete Step 1 - Identify your certification goal/exam, more blog posts to follow on steps 2-4.

Step 1 – Choose your Certification goal/exam

To determine your certification goal, you have to figure out:

  • The certification level you want to achieve
  • The technology certification that most closely matches your skill set
  • The exams required to earn that certification

Saying you have an MCTS or an MCITP doesn’t really tell an employer anything. That’s like saying “I took a course”. A course in what? SQL Server? Spanish? Cooking? You need to be specific when you choose your certification goal, do you want an MCTS SQL Server Business Intelligence, or an MCITP Exchange 2010.

Let’s look at each level, and then you can follow the links to see the technology choices and exam requirements for each level.

MCTS – Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist

This is someone who knows how to perform tasks using a specific technology. Someone who knows the commands, the syntax, what properties to set to enable features. If I am a manager looking to hire someone to do my database backups, I know someone with an MCTS Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance will know how to perform a backup or restore a database. If I am looking to hire someone to write reports I would look for someone with an MCTS Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance. (FYI – MCTS is kind of like the old MCP certification, but and MCTS is specific to a technology)

Earning an MCTS will require passing 1 or 2 exams. You can see a complete list of the MCTS certifications for each technology and the exams required to earn each one here.

MCITP – Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional or MCPD – Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

MCITP is the title for infrastructure technologies, MCPD is the title for developer technologies. the MCITP and MCPD certifications are referred to as Professional level certifications. When you earn an MCITP that tells a potential employer that you not only know how to perform specific tasks with the product, but that you can design a solution with the product. You understand the different features and you know how and when to use them. If I am a manager and I want to hire someone to design my virtualization strategy I would look for someone with an MCITP Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2. If I want to be promoted from web developer to web architect, I would work on earning my MCPD Web Developer 4. (FYI an MCITP is similar to the old MCDBA, MCSA, MCSE certifications, MCPD is similar to the old MCSD)

Earning an MCITP will require earning one or more MCTS certifications and then passing 1-3 additional exams. You can see a complete list of the MCITP certifications for each technology and the exams required to pass each here. You can see a complete list of the MCPD certifications for each technology and the exams required to pass each here.

MCM – Microsoft Certified Master

The Masters certification is a major undertaking and shows that you are an expert in the technology. You have deep technical understanding of all aspects of the product. You are a guru! If you want to go out and help large organizations plan their strategy for implementing a technology, or you want to be THE go-to person on a product, you go for your Masters. Earning a Master certification will require completing one or more MCITP certifications and completing a 2-3 week training program and passing a knowledge exam and a qualification lab exam. Suffice to say I know many many people with MCTS, and MCITP certifications, but only a handful with a Masters certification. It is a big investment and effort to earn, but it certainly distinguishes you from others in your field and is really a badge of honour!

You can see a complete list of the MCM certifications for each technology and the requirements here.

You need to choose the level of certification that is suitable for your role and goals. Every level of certification will require earning an MCTS, so that is always a good place to start. If you follow the link to the MCTS certification listing, you can expand any technology to see the MCTS certifications available for that technology. You will also see the exam or exams you need to pass to earn each certification. As I mentioned before most MCTS certifications only require passing one exam. The figure below shows the list of MCTS technologies, and I have expanded the list of certifications for SharePoint and SharePoint Server. If you are an administrator working with SharePoint 2010 you would want to earn the MCTS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuration by passing exam 70-667. If you are a developer working with SharePoint 2010 you would want to earn the MCTS: SharePoint 2010, Application Development by passing exam 70-573.

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So there you have it, I hope that helps you understand and navigate your way through the Microsoft certifications, and helps you understand what exam you need to take to earn that certification. Next blog I’ll give you some tips on how to prepare for that exam! Certification is good for your career and for building your own skills. It’s not as hard as you think so go out there and get certified

This blog is also posted on Susanibach’s blog