Hi All,

As Trika pointed out we just announced the Microsoft Certified Master programs at TechEd (Press info on it here). Based on some great conversations I’ve been having in several places across this vast ole’ internet, we thought it’d be a good idea to consolidate some of the information, provide a bit more behind the scenes insight into the programs and answer common questions we’ve received so far. Here are the high level answers in a nutshell.

·         It’s an awesome program for the intended audience.

·         We don’t expect, or want, everyone to earn a Master certification.

·         Master is not replacing Architect.

·         It’s not for everyone’s pocketbook.

I’ll start with a bit about myself, though, before we go any further: my name is Per Farny and I work in Microsoft Learning here at Microsoft. Officially, I’m “Director, Advanced Training & Certification”, which means that I own the Microsoft Certified Master programs and the Microsoft Certified Architect programs (the Technology ones). I ‘grew up’ as a messaging consultant working for one of our midsized partners in the Midwest (shout out to Goliath Networks!, R.I.P.) before joining Microsoft’s EC3 (anyone remember EC3? Bonus points for those that do) Enterprise Messaging Team where I spent several years visiting our enterprise customers across the world who weren’t exactly having the greatest time with our software and needed some guidance. I then ran the Exchange Ranger Program for 2 years which became known as the Microsoft Certified Architect: Messaging certification. We then added SQL and Directory to the mix, and I was able to hire some people much smarter than me on all of the technologies to run these programs. On a personal note: my name is Norwegian, but I’m German (go figure), I have a beautiful wife and two wonderful boys (2 and 5), have played soccer all my life (Go Deutschland in Euro 2008!!!), and used to love playing rock-n-roll when I still had the time (no, I’m not the singer…and I don’t play drums, so…).

ANYWAY…Hopefully you’ve already gotten the basics about our new Master programs from our webpage.  In short:

·         The programs are appropriate for those individuals who are highly experienced and highly specialized on one particular product and spend the majority of their time designing, building and troubleshooting solutions built on that product.

·         The programs provide the deepest technical training available via top subject matter experts, and will validate individuals via rigorous ‘written’ and lab based exams.

·         The programs consist of 3 weeks of mandatory training, 3 computer based tests, and one lab based exam.

That’s really the gist of it. By the way, we are coming to market with the following ‘flavors’, i.e. tracks:

·         Microsoft Certified Master: Exchange Server 2007

·         Microsoft Certified Master: SQL Server 2008

·         Microsoft Certified Master: Windows Server 2008 – Directory

And will shortly thereafter add:

·         Microsoft Certified Master: Office Communications Server 2007

·         Microsoft Certified Master: SharePoint Server 2007

I’ve been fielding a lot of great questions from you, and I have a lot more that I’d like to say about this program than what I could put on a few “official” web pages, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

Keep your questions coming btw, and we’ll get more details posted on microsoft.com soon, too. You can also sign up for the Live Meeting next month where we’ll cover this and you can ask any other questions you think of.  I know Trika and I (and others) will be there for sure.

-          July 30, 2008, at 7:30 A.M. Pacific Time --- (What time is this in my region?)

-          July 30, 2008, at 5:00 P.M. Pacific Time --- (What time is this in my region?)

So, here we go…

What this is all about

As we aim to do in all of our certifications, we're trying to bring the appropriate certification to the appropriate audience.

The reason we're adding the Master programs is in response to a specific audience that has been looking for a certification to differentiate itself with. These are individuals who spend most of their time deeply focused on designing, building and troubleshooting solutions based on a single product. Specialized consultants (whether working for consulting companies direct or filling that role via direct customer employment) who know the product inside and out, at a technical level that’s deeper than we’ve ever assessed before, will be the most appropriate audience and graduates for these programs. And by consultants I don’t just mean people who only consult in the design area (what I think most people think of when the word ‘consultant’ comes up) but also others that consult on the support / troubleshooting sides. Personally, I think specialized consulting companies are a natural fit for these but I want to make sure to acknowledge that it's more about the job role / function than who you work for.

We've run some of these programs (Exchange, SQL) internally at Microsoft for several years (our ‘Ranger’ programs, for those that have heard the term), and based on a more external demand are bringing them (slightly tweaked) to the public via the Master certifications. Again, these programs are intended for a very particular, niche audience and we’re going to take our time rolling these out worldwide to make sure we do it right. To give you a sense of the neighborhood we’re looking at: our goal is to reach around 20,000 certified individuals over the next 10 years or so. That’s not a lot in the context of our other certifications, and that’s fine. We think it’s the appropriate approach for these programs (have I said ‘appropriate’ yet)?

Microsoft Certified Master isn’t supposed to be for everyone; it’s not “MCITP+”

Some of you have asked whether the release of Master means that MCITP isn’t “the end goal” or “good enough” anymore. Er, no. For the majority of IT Pros and developers, Master isn’t applicable —it’s too deep and too narrow in relation to those job roles. But if you’re one of those who truly specialize in one of these focus areas—and if you’ve done so for more than five years in truly complex environments—Master might be the perfect way to recognize your deep expertise. The MCITP certifications—and MCSE—that many of you have completed or are working toward are still the best way to show your highly skilled, professional-level expertise working with one or more Microsoft technologies.

Something different: required training and a comprehensive lab based exam

One of the main differences between the Master certs and the other certs you’re used to from us (MCP, MCSE, MCITP, etc) is that we are requiring candidates to attend a mandatory 3 weeks of training as part of the program. This training will initially be delivered at Microsoft by full time Microsoft employees or Microsoft contracted individuals (this has been the practice to date in the internal versions of the programs) until we can build up our instructor pool. The training will be delivered in Redmond only in FY09, and we will start rolling out worldwide in FY10.

 

Current instructors are utmost subject matter experts who spend the majority of their time designing, building and troubleshooting solutions on their respective technologies. They often have very close ties to Microsoft IT and the product development groups, and are looked to, across the company and industry, as go-to individuals for their particular area of technical expertise. Our goal for FY09 is to build up this instructor pool to enable worldwide delivery. Note that during the 3 weeks of training, candidates will have between 5-10 different instructors, i.e. no single instructor will teach the entire curriculum based on the deep, deep technical expertise and personal experience we’re looking to provide on each topic.

 

Also, every certification track will require a lab based exam as the capstone to the certification. This will take the better part of a day and will require actual ‘doing’ in a virtual environment. The focus will be building a solution given certain requirements, and then also troubleshooting a solution. This has risen to levels of infamy in our current programs as the “Qual Lab” (short for Qualification Lab Exam) as it requires comprehensive knowledge on the platform and surrounding technologies to complete successfully and the time frame given is very tight. In general, “those that know will pass; those that don’t, won’t”. We think it’s a great way to test whether people can put it all together.

Microsoft Certified Master Does NOT replace Microsoft Certified Architect

No, Master will not replace MCA—it will live almost side by side. We are fully committed to the Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. Based on feedback over the last several years, we are evolving the programs to more fully meet customer and industry needs. This will likely mean an expansion of the MCA family and a focus on growing the communities overall. In a nutshell, we're making the differentiation clearer between a top technical person and an architect as we're finding the skill sets and job roles are actually quite different.

Master certification is, in effect, an evolution of the purely technical pieces of the Ranger programs, more cleanly separating the technical from the architectural / business / consulting / soft skills. Stay tuned for further details on the MCA evolution.

This year the program is in Redmond only; seven more locations within two years

In our fiscal year 2009 (July 2008-June 2009) we will offer the 3 weeks of training all together in one block, in Redmond, WA (United States) only. In FY10, we want to offer the training in a 2-week and a 1-week module and  deliver these worldwide; so it should get better in terms of consuming the training in shorter blocks. The FY10 goal is to deliver in 2  locations in Europe, the Middle East, or Africa and 2 Asia Pacific locations in addition to 3 sites across the US.

Btw, I still want to keep the 2-week block because of the longer lab scenarios, and the community building it does. Quite honestly, odds are you'll be in contact for a long time with the people you share that classroom with, and the community aspect of the programs is a really strong one. People bend over backwards for each other and help each other out as much as possible.


Not pocket change: pricing and registration

The prices for the programs are $18,500USD which includes 3 weeks of training, and the first attempts at each of the four required tests: 3 'written' tests and one lab based exam. Retakes cost $250 per written test, and $1,500 for the lab exam, and you are only allowed a maximum of three attempts per test. We know this isn’t exactly pocket change, but based on customer feedback from the Ranger program, we are confident that it is a good value to those of you who will go through the program. We recognize that the cost may be a barrier to entry to some people who could otherwise make the grade—but that is something we will have to live with in the short term; getting top notch subject matter experts in one place for three weeks, the hardware, etc. just don’t come cheap.

We are not quite ready to sign people up for the program. We hope to have that ready in 4-6 weeks and details will be posted on our website once we’re ready.

For acceptance into the program, we have the pre-requisites already published on our site. (No, if you only have four years and 330 days, we won’t throw out your application…) We will request a resume (C.V.) which we will study to determine if you have good experience leading projects in the particular technology. We will only contact you if we have questions on this. Overall, we want to make sure that whoever signs up, is positioned for success. Depending on the amount of applications we get, we may have to move from "first come, first served" to some type of prioritization scheme based on resume details / work experience.

 

Seating will be very limited. 250 seats in FY09, 500 in FY10 and we’ll see from there. To give context here also: our certified partners for Learning Solutions (CPLS) partners train 800,000-900,000 individuals a year, with excellent quality courseware and trainers. We are not intending—and aren’t capable—of replacing that. Master is only a tiny blip on the scene and fulfilling a market need we see that is not being addressed right now.

More about the training: it’s an experience

We attempt to get a lot of information across to our candidates, and no matter how deep technically many of them are when they come into the training, we have repeatedly gotten the comments, "Wow, I had no idea what I didn't know". It can be quite humbling, actually; at least it was for me when I went through the Exchange program several years ago.

The reason for this is that we do our best in getting the utmost subject matter experts in front of you. One of my favorite examples: our 'storage building blocks' module has been taught by an individual who has dealt with hard drives and the surrounding technology for 30 years. He is a storage architect leveraged extensively across our company, and can analyze SCSI commands on the wire (which happen to fly by in nanoseconds, never mind milliseconds) in addition to being very future looking from a high level perspective. He has forgotten more than I have ever learned on the topic. What I'm getting at here is that personally, the best training I've ever attended is one where the instructor not only 'has' lived the life, but currently 'IS' living the life. They have their pulse on the technology and they answer questions mostly based on direct experience. Of course, they have to be able to teach, and that's no small feat either. We've had a couple of our instructors plenty bright on the technology, but not a very effective teacher and we've had to address those issues; that’s why we’re hoping to leverage some of you in our proven MCT community when we start scaling up!
We have contacted a very small portion of that community already to help with the seeding efforts. If you’re an MCT, jump on the MCT newsgroups, I’ve been talking to you guys for the last few weeks in there (just look for the post with 130 some replies ;-) )!

Back on topic: by having folks like him in front of you, everyone gets inspired and determined to internalize as much as possible and of course pass the exams. The style, the feel is somewhat high pressure here: "I want to prove I'm one of the best, that I belong, that I deserve this". So, during the training, candidates band together and start building community: study groups are the most common example. In general, if official training ends at 5-6pm, candidates take an hour for dinner, and then get together later on again to review and learn more. At the end of 3 weeks, you are quite literally mentally and physically exhausted...but it feels great
J. Lastly, everyone in the class knows something of course; everyone has something unique to bring to the table, so peer learning is also something great that happens during this time.


Each instructor has lecture and lab components. The labs are goal based, and candidates complete them on servers they are assigned to (most are now quad-core, 8GB of RAM, plenty of disk space, and we have 4 modular / enterprise storage arrays also available for certain storage stress testing scenarios). As for lab instructions: they are not what you’re likely used to. The concept here is: we just talked about it, so go do it! If candidates need help, the instructor is there, but otherwise, instructions are something like, "Configure a front-end / back-end infrastructure for Exchange utilizing ISA, and publish Outlook Anywhere". We've received some of the most consistent feedback on this aspect, and that feedback has been very positive.

Depending on program, we also require candidates to complete labs that are not directly tied to an instructor but are more focused on putting all of the topics covered together in a single solution.

English only for now

Very sorry about this but for now that's all we can offer. This is mainly due to our instructor pool being very limited right now (all native English speakers without secondary languages). We don't really want to exclude anyone based on language; we just don't have the resources to do more right now.

 

We haven’t forgotten you developers.

“What about the developers?” I’ve received this question several times in the last couple of weeks. Right now, we don’t have any plans for a developer based Master program, but once we get this first set out the door, we’ll look at other appropriate tracks. Perhaps a developer one is needed?

 

 

Geez, what a novel…sorry about that ! For those that made it this far – another round of bonus points for you!

 

Anyway, that’s all I can think of right now J I’m really excited to get these programs out there as I think they will meet the specific needs of the audience and that they will prove themselves to be very valuable.

 

Let me know if you have any questions / comments / feedback! And thanks, Trika, for inviting me here and giving me the opportunity!

 

All the best,

Per