Is the MCP certification dead?

Everyone knows about Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification. It is one of the best-known certs out there. Yet visit the Microsoft Learning site, however, and you struggle to see any mention of an MCP certification anywhere. There is a wide array of certs available, but not an MCP. So what happened?

"Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications are now the entry points for more pure-play IT jobs that benefit from Microsoft specializations," said David Foote, co-founder, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners, LLC, a Vero Beach, Fla. based independent IT workforce benchmark research and industry advisory firm. "Microsoft also offers entry-level certification tracks specifically for the business side of IT and for developers."

Foote pointed out, though, that changes in vendor certification programs are quite common. With the fast pace of technological innovation and new product introductions, it is understandable that these programs are continually revamped. And with mergers and acquisitions, the programs are often also rebranded, such as the case with Oracle's purchase of Sun. With rebranding usually comes certification content and exam changes that are consistent with cross-product integration, and sometimes much more.

But the fame of MCP is such that Foote Partners continues to track pay rates for people holding an MCP.

"Certs take a little while to die in terms of their market values," said Foote. "They don't just suddenly drop off the face of the earth."

What does Microsoft have to say about Microsoft Certified Professional Training? Don Fields, the director of certification and training at Microsoft, said that the company has moved away from using MCP as an individual certification and it is more of an overarching generic term for a general training program.

The new mainstream

MTA, said Foote, is targeted at students and covers such technologies as Windows, SQL Server and Visual Studio.

"MTA is foundational IT training delivered only by academic institutions," said Fields. "It demonstrates people's acumen on Microsoft technology fundamentals."

There are other cert programs for business professionals (Office and SharePoint) and developers (Windows Phone, Azure, Silverlight and Visual Studio). At the high end there are Master and Architect levels for those completing lower-level certification exams. But it is MCTS and the more advanced Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certifications that form the core of Microsoft's professional IT training and certification lineup.

"MCTS and MCITP are the mainstay of the technical certs we offer," said Fields.

He said that these certifications don't require specific training. It is the exam itself that validates that the applicant possesses the requisite technical skills in using a specific Windows technology.

Inside MCTS

MCTS courses cover such areas as Home Integration, Embedded Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Windows Server, Windows Business Server, Windows Small Business Server, Windows 7, Windows Internals and more. The exams are designed to find out if the individual is competent at installing, configuring and troubleshooting the product in question.

"Anyone can take the test if they feel they are ready," said Fields. "Those with sufficient on-the-job experience may pass even without formal training, but typically, some form of skill development is necessary to be successful."

These exams are administered all around the world at Prometric test sites (www.prometric.com). They cannot be taken online. The exams are timed and include a certain number of questions. These can be multiple choice, putting items in the right order, drag and drop, simulations and more. Multiple choice are the most common. In some cases, there are several correct answers per question and all must be marked. There is a minimum passing grade for each subject.

"Most MCTS certs require only one exam," said Fields. "There are a few that require two exams."

Training to prepare for the exams is offered by various Microsoft-authorized learning partners and is available in most areas. Alternatively, Microsoft Press provides a wealth of books and study guides.

Passing an MCTS is the first step on the road to earning an MCITP certification. Both appear to have high value in the job market.

"Microsoft Certified IT Professionals earn an average of $77,529," said Greg Timpany, senior market research manager at Global Knowledge Training LLC.

Surveys by Global Knowledge of the IT marketplace show that organizations that invest in training their staff reap the benefits in several ways. In addition to increased operational efficiencies and team productivity, they are better able to maximize the value of their existing IT assets.

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