MCAP Certification – Has Microsoft Finally Done it Right?

MCAP Certification – Has Microsoft Finally Done it Right?
Excitement is brewing in the digital halls of Microsoft’s Redmond Washington campus! On April 3, 2005, Microsoft unveiled its newest certification initiative called the Microsoft Certified Architect Program (MCAP) – Read more about the new certification at MCAP Certification – More Info.
This announcement is significant in two ways. Not only is it the first new certification in years by the Redmond based company. This credential offering is unique in that it’s specifically designed to certify “architectural expertise” in technology professional’s using both Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies! Al Valvano (Lead Product Manager with Microsoft Learning) notes that although the certification’s requirements are not fully defined, it will be a top tier credential that is both multi-dimensional and a broad based skills assessment. A detailed outline of requirements is due in the 4th quarter of 2005.
Although specifics details are not available, it’s clear that Redmond is taking an aggressive stance with regards to how their certifications are valued in the market place. With the introduction of the MCAP, Microsoft is creating what they consider to be a comprehensive, “board-level”, cross technology certification that will add significant credibility to their professional tracks. This senior level certification offering is yet another confirmation that Microsoft’s is committed to ending the “paper MCSE” syndrome that has served to degrade the credential’s credibility. Having recently replaced the “multiple guess” examinations with practical simulations, the Microsoft’s Learning Team is yet again signaling their resolve to strengthen the quality and prestige of their technical “army”.
Available information indicates that the MCAP will be more than a “certification”. Microsoft is envisioning a credential that demonstrates not only technical skills, but also emphasizes the importance of a multi-dimensional background. Indeed, an initial break down of the exam supports that commitment by measuring skills with a ratio of 25% Microsoft technologies and 75% non-Microsoft skills.
While the specifics are sketchy, it appears that a MCAP candidate will be required to do more that pass a series of technical multiple choice quizzes. Microsoft envisions the MCAP as more of a “process”, with each applicant working through a multi-faceted program that can last between six and twelve months.
The information that is available indicates the following:

  1. The certification will not be available to entry-level technology professionals. The MCAP candidate will have to meet prerequisite training and experience requirements that demonstrate a broad based skill set. Beyond hard technical skills, candidates will need to demonstrate soft skills such as oral and verbal communications as well as project management and business analysis capabilities.
  2. The MCAP program will be designed as a mentor supported environment. Each candidate will work directly with a “mentor” who will be charged with guiding the applicant through the certification process. Mentors will come from both inside and outside the Microsoft corridors. Together with the mentor, the candidate will maneuver the “process” which reportedly consists of written submissions and board examinations. Written submissions will be reviewed by a “peer-review board” of industry professionals and will require defense in much the same manor as a PHD candidate would defend their thesis in front of a panel of peer experts.
  3. Early designs separate the MCAP into a 25 / 75 structure. Microsoft technologies will make up one quarter of the certification, while the remaining three fourths will be non-Windows based, and will focus on soft skills, analysis capabilities, and general networking / architecture knowledge, with a special emphasis on “best practice” methodologies.

As the program’s development is still in it’s initial stages, Microsoft is painting the MCAP certification process in the broadest of strokes, declining to define many of the specifics that will interest most people. Questions concerning mentor qualifications, program costs, sponsorship requirements, timelines, MCP / MCSE credit, experience and skills prerequisites have yet to be defined and are sure to be critically examined when announced.
One thing is clear; the MCAP credential is destined to raise the market cache of Microsoft certifications. Many are comparing this initiative to Cisco’s CCIE and to the burgeoning security industry’s CISSP certifications. In both instances, each senior level credential requires extensive industry experience in addition to rigorous written and practical examinations.
Although the cost of obtaining MCAP status has not been determined, Valvano is quoted as saying that the certification is designed to require a significant commitment of time and money, but never the less, it will pay for itself, being an investment of substantial return.
Even as the MCAP is designed to be a definitive measurement of a candidate’s potential for success in senior level technology positions, Microsoft should take care to not alienate their current Certified Professional base. Microsoft’s almost 295,000 Certified Systems Engineers maintain a significant market presence and arguably act as the organizations most enthusiastic technology “evangelists”, quickly advocating adoption of Microsoft’s newest technologies. These professionals have invested significant resources to obtain the MCSE and Microsoft will be wise assure this base of their continued value.
At first glace, the Microsoft’s Certified Architect Professional program seems a step in the right direction. For years, Microsoft has been plagued by critics who maintain that current professional tracks lack rigor and are technically too easy to obtain. Those criticisms, coupled with a flood of certified talent in the market, have served to dilute the clout of a Microsoft certification. With the introduction of the MCAP, Microsoft hopes to regain corporate credibility and elevate its program to a prestige status.

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