By: Ben Brumm - Guest Contributor
Ben Brumm has been working as a consultant in the IT industry for the better part of a decade. Ben's background includes database development as well as application support and he is currently involved in a business analysis role in the IT solutions field. He started Complete IT Professional to improve his own skills, ultimately creating a platform to help others do the same - find out more at Complete IT Professional.
Microsoft is one of the most prominent providers of IT certifications. With that in mind, if your career involves any amount of software development, server administration, desktop support or any other Microsoft technologies, then you should be aware of how Microsoft's recent changes to its certification lineup impacts the IT job market and placement process.
Microsoft Certifications Have Changed
In late 2012, Microsoft made some significant changes to their certifications. Most of the existing certifications will be retired including:
MCTS – Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist
MCPD – Microsoft Certified Professional Developer
MCITP – Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional
MCM – Microsoft Certified Master
The MCA (Microsoft Certified Architect) will remain in their lineup. The new certifications that Microsoft have introduced are:
MCSA – Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate
MCSE – Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert
MCSD – Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer
MCSM – Microsoft Certified Solutions Master
Many of the existing certifications can be upgraded into the new ones. For example, several of the MCPD’s are able to be upgraded to the MCSD. As Microsoft's website states: 'If you achieved an MCITP or MCPD certification that corresponds to a new expert-level certification, there will be a shorter upgrade path available to you for a limited time.'
Movement to the Cloud
Microsoft states that their reasoning for changing the certification names is to maintain market relevance as the industry shifts to the cloud. As I'm sure you're aware, cloud computing is one of the most salient trends in the IT industry, with services and infrastructure being hosted externally and provided to companies when needed, rather than hosted on dedicated internal systems. This impact extends far beyond the walls of the IT industry as well.
How Cloud Computing Helps Other Industries
The IT industry is the main driver behind the movement to cloud computing, hence the decision by Microsoft to adjust and rename their certifications. However, many other industries that integrate IT but don't have it at the center of their business can benefit from this movement to the cloud as well.
The financial industry has had a history of heavy involvement with IT. A 2012 report by Celent -a research and consulting firm focused on the application of information technology in the global financial services industry - identified that IT spending by banks in North America reached US$56.3 billion that year, an increase of 2.9% from 2011. The finance industry is clearly leaning towards the benefits that IT can have to their companies. Nonetheless, cost cutting is an important consideration for banks, hedge funds and beyond. As such, hiring IT staff that can focus on financial application development in the cloud is generally a good way of cutting infrastructure and service costs.
Another industry that may benefit from the focus on cloud computing and related Microsoft certifications is the legal industry. Traditionally, the legal industry hasn’t been very IT focused, even though legal professionals have a great need to store and access documents securely from many locations for their clients. As such, securing technical talent with cloud-based Microsoft certifications would enable legal pros to enjoy the many benefits of efficient document storage and retrieval without distracting from their primary duties involving the legal system.
The media industry can benefit from the procurement of cloud-savvy Microsoft technical professionals as well. Media professionals are involved in creating and consuming a wide variety of communication forms, such as text, video and audio. This information needs to be stored somewhere, and the cost can be quite significant to store it internally. The advantage of cloud computing is the ability to host and manage it externally, so those interested in media technology are at an advantage if they can refine their skill sets for the cloud as well.
How Do These Cloud-Related Certifications Help Me?
You’re probably wondering, “How can these new certifications help me?” Well, if Microsoft has identified that the focus on cloud computing is so important that they have totally reoutlined their certification structure, then there's your first indication that cloud storage is where all IT departments in virtually all industries are headed.
So, if you’re involved in any Microsoft technologies in your current role or any possible role in the future, it’s a good idea to have a look at these certifications.
They cover many of Microsoft’s technologies and are available at different experience levels. The MCSA is an entry-level certification and includes Windows Server, Windows desktop, and SQL Server. The MCSE and MCSD are the mid-level certifications and focus on many technologies such as web development, Windows apps, SharePoint, server and desktop infrastructure. Finally, there is the MCSM, which is the expert-level certification that is available for Messaging, Communication, SharePoint and Directory Services. The new certification structure also brings the overall count of certifications to about 20, down from over 75.
All of those interested in Microsoft technologies to look into and even consider getting a Microsoft certification as they are highly relevant and are provided from one of the industry’s leading companies.
Editor's notes: Will a Microsoft certification help me get a new job?
In short, it may certainly help but as with most things, Microsoft certs guarantee little. Nonetheless, here are a few ways that Microsoft certifications could give a technical professional that extra edge that leads to a placement.
Build some cred: In general, hiring managers are more impressed by solid experience than solid certifications. But, for more junior folks without deep experience, certifications are a great way to show initiative, learn new skills and make the resume pop a little more.
Corporate Necessity: Being recognized as a Microsoft Partner (especially on the gold or silver level) is a prestigious distinction that many companies hold dear. However, in order to attain/maintain Partner status, companies sometimes need a certain amount of Microsoft certified professionals on board. For example, according to the Microsoft Partner Network website, attaining Application Development gold competancy means a company must posess "Four unique MCPs with credentials not assigned to any other gold competency must pass qualifying exams or hold the required certifications." Statements like these suggest that having the certification could be a major selling point to a hiring organization.
Icing on the cake: Even if you have solid experience, it is always a great idea to refresh your knowledge and learn new skills (or familiarize yourself with the latest iteration of a technology you already use). Additionally, many experienced IT pros can leverage their status to have their employer pay for the added training, mitigating much of the cost that deters IT pros from obtaining Microsoft certifications.It may also better position you to climb the corporate ladder.
The bottom line: A user on Stack Overflow put it well. John says he read a book on WPF but has no hands on experience. Dave read the same book and also got the certification. Pete has no certifications but worked with the technology for two years. While individual differences will dictate who gets the gig, it is clear that Dave and Pete are far better off than John.
In short, while not necessary, obtaining a new Microsoft certification has the potential to best situate a technical professional for a new job and/or career growth. And considering the salience of cloud computing, it might just give you a leg up on the competition.
Infusive Solutions Inc. is an NYC-based niche technical recruiting firm within the Microsoft Partner Network dedicated to helping clients hire NYC IT professionals and helping .NET, SQL Server and SharePoint developers as well as Windows Systems Engineers, DBAs and helpdesk support professionals take their careers to the next level. Join us on Twitter and Facebook.