Clarity: MCSA vs. MCSE: the what and why

This article was originally published in June, 2012. Due to the relevance and current interest in certifications I decided to republish. -MDG

When I found out that Microsoft Learning was (again!) revamping the certification stack, I thought to myself that after all these years it might be time to stop chasing certifications.  After all, when they created the MCTS/MCITP model I had to essentially start from scratch, and if they were doing that again it might not be worth the effort.

Let me clarify that statement… Certifications are extremely valuable and necessary to an IT Pro, but at a certain point you have proven yourself… I have by now passed over 35 Microsoft exams, and expect that by now people know that I am established.

I stated in an article earlier this month that certifications are not for our current job, they are for your next job.  Unfortunately, as a contract worker, I am always working for my next job.  That means that I always have to maintain my certifications current, or at least I cannot let them get stale… Once I became an MCITP: Enterprise Admin on Server 2008 I might have gotten away with not taking my exams for Windows Server 2012… but because the new generation revolves around solutions rather than products I expected I would need at least my MCSE: Private Cloud… then people looking at my credentials would know I knew at least Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012.

Cert StackI like the way the new certification ‘pyramid’ is designed.  The ‘junior certification’ is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, which is product-focused.

As I stated earlier, the requirements for an MCSA: Windows Sever 2008 are the same requirements you previously needed for the legacy MCITP: Server Administrator.  It is three exams, and you are certified.  I assume that when Windows Server 2012 comes out there will be a new MCSA for that platform, and I have no early insight into what that will look like, nor how many exams will be required.

My point is this though.  Now that the junior certification is now three exams deep, it is going to be harder for people to claim the title.  When I first got certified any exam you took earned you the title Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).  I knew people who passed one exam, and coasted on that certification for years.  Heck, I was one of them for about a year… at least the first exam that I took was for Windows 2000 Professional, and not a sales-related exam, which gave you the same MCP title.

That problem was supposed to be resolved in the next generation, the MCTS/MCITP era.  At the beginning there was talk that not every exam would earn you that MCTS certification, and I believe that on the dev side there were a couple of those.  However on the IT Pro side there was never an exam that did not give you a cert… so when I passed three exams to get my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator cred, I had three certs, including two MCTS and the one MCITP.

I was asked this morning by Veronica Sopher of Microsoft Learning what I thought of the 70-246 exam, and my first response was it was ugly.  However that was my way of saying that it was tough, and that it tested your knowledge of a lot of different products in a relatively small number of questions.  In truth I am glad that it was as tough as it was (now that I have passed) because it means that Microsoft is trying to make earning your senior certifications more difficult, which means that you will really need to know your stuff.  A step in the right direction, no doubt!

As for the Master level – the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – I assume this is still going to be out of my grasp, until I decide to take a job running the infrastructure for a major international company.  I like what I do, so I don’t know that is in the cards.  However If you are an MCSM (equivalent to the former Microsoft Certified Master / MCM) then you are certainly recognized as a very top expert in the technology.

If the MCSM is anything like the old MCM then you not only have to know the technology, you then have to spend several weeks in Redmond on the Microsoft Campus learning from the product team, and then have to pass a series of exams and boards.  There is a reason they are called Masters… it is not for the faint of heart!

I appreciate Microsoft Learning’s revamped certification plan.  It makes it harder to ‘just get by’ and easier to distinguish IT pros by the exams they have passed.  I think it’s a step in the right direction, and look forward to seeing what other MCSE tracks will be revealed as the next generation of Windows operating systems launch later this year!

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12 thoughts on “Clarity: MCSA vs. MCSE: the what and why

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    1. Mitch Garvis Post author

      You do not have to take the exams in order, but as soon as you have completed the requirements for the MCSE you will also have the MCSA. These credentials are not experience-based, they are based on taking the exams.

      Reply
  4. Ahmed Altaf

    i am new to this…i want to do these certifications and reading your article makes me think you can help…
    so please guide me through it…in what order should i take my exams (with their respective codes please)

    regards,
    Ahmed Altaf

    Reply
    1. Mitch Garvis Post author

      Hi Ahmed,
      There is no specific order in which to take your exams. Depending on the cert you are going after I would always recommend taking the one that you are most comfortable with first. Good luck! -MDG

      Reply
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  6. Peter Trast

    “Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – I assume this is still going to be out of my grasp, until I decide to take a job running the infrastructure for a major international company.”

    I have been both an Enterprise Architect and a consultant for many large companies and I still failed on my first MCM attempt. It is brutally hard to get. A few of my classmates, who I consider vastly superior to me, barely squeaked it. I will try to take it again in the future, but I will do WAY more pre-prep next time. You have to go as deep as you can on prereading and home labs to have the remotest chance. You have to know your subject so cold it oozes out of your DNA :) That is why the list of Masters is so small. They have certainly earned the hardest and most legitimate cert of all.

    BUT, you can still make a very nice living with only the MCITP/MCSE certs.

    Reply
    1. Mitch Garvis Post author

      Peter thanks for sharing your thoughts! I believe the MCSM was retired in 2013, so there won’t be any new candidates until they announce a new program. I do know it was always REALLY tough! I also do pretty well as am MCSE though ;) -M

      Reply

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