Microsoft abruptly pulls 'masters' certification; hints a replacement may come

Microsoft abruptly pulls 'masters' certification; hints a replacement may come

Summary: Microsoft's decision to pull its highest-level certification across its product lines caught many off-guard.

TOPICS: Education, Microsoft

Microsoft's surprise phase-out of its highest-level certification programs has angered a number of those who have trained or are in the midst of training to be "masters" across a variety of the company's products.


Microsoft officials announced late in the evening on August 30 (the start of the long Labor Day weekend in the U.S.) that it would be retiring its Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013. According to the e-mail message sent out to the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) and Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) communities, Microsoft also will no longer offer Masters and Architect training.

The exact reason as to why Microsoft is doing this isn't clear from the email (a copy of which can be found on Microsoft Senior Consultant Neil Johnson's TechNet blog). It notes that Microsoft is "continuing to evolve the Microsoft certification program." It also adds that "The IT industry is changing rapidly and we will continue to evaluate the certification and training needs of the industry to determine if there's a different certification needed for the pinnacle of our program."

In the comments on a post on Microsoft's Connect site, entitled "Please Don't Get Rid of the MCM and MCA programs," Microsoft's Senior Director of Microsoft Learning, Tim Sneath, attempted to explain the termination decision in a bit more depth. Sneath said the decision to phase out the program "was a painful decision" that was made only after "many months of deliberation."

Sneath went on to say:

"The truth is, for as successful as the program is for those who are in it, it reaches only a tiny proportion of the overall community. Only a few hundred people have attained the certification in the last few years, far fewer than we would have hoped. We wanted to create a certification that many would aspire to and that would be the ultimate peak of the Microsoft Certified program, but with only ~0.08% of all MCSE-certified individuals being in the program across all programs, it just hasn't gained the traction we hoped for."

The certification process costs candidates nearly $20,000, is English-only and is only offered in the U.S., Sneath said.

"Across all products, the Masters program certifies just a couple of hundred people each year, and yet the costs of running this program make it impossible to scale out any further. And many of the certifications currently offered are outdated – for example, SQL Server 2008 - yet we just can't afford to fully update them," he added.

Sneath said Microsoft is "taking a pause" and looking for ways to create a new "pinnacle" certification program. He said, however, that it's still "a little too early to share them at this stage." He added that Microsoft would like to talk to members of the Masters community to evaluate its certifications and build new offerings that would be more sustainable. The original email sent Friday said that those in the current MCA/MCSM/MCA communities would be receiving invitations to "an updated community site," but nothing beyond that.

Sadly, none of this additional information was in the termination email that those in the Masters community received abruptly on Friday. I'd think the decision might have met with less anger if its officials had bothered to share this additional information from Sneath -- not to mention to offer those interested in obtaining a higher-level training credential at least some detail on what will replace the Masters designation.

Topics: Education, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Hmmm

    Technet dead, certifications dead... I don't see how this helps them in the long run. Sounds penny wise and pound foolish .
    • Industry certs

      Like Pokemon cards or Beany Babies they have value - until they don't.
  • Lack of Planning

    If MS has a plan to update their certification programs they should have everything ready to go when the changes are announced. Otherwise, this looks like there is no real plan going forward.

    There is a tendency to hide bad news/decisions late on day before a long weekend when many will not see it.
    • Microsoft no have real planning to go forward in its entire bussiness.

      Microsoft no have real planning to go forward in its entire bussiness. Microsoft has lost its way.
  • Are these the levels

    Where they reveal the alien dictator who dropped people in volcanoes?
  • Re: it just hasn't gained the traction we hoped for

    Interesting, Microsoft fans claim it is Google that are abandoning unprofitable projects.

    It seems some decades later, Microsoft began realizing their "bribe the IT staff with certification" agenda isn't really paying off well. I know, this certification costs money for the applicant, but how many have paid for it from their own pocket? Such low certification interest is an direct indication that US corporations use Microsoft technology, because they are force to, not because they have particular desire to do so. Not anymore, at least.

    One has to wonder, when Windows will be canceled too... ;-)
    • Nice try at the spin, danbi.

      The fact that US/Global corporations choose MS technologies over those of your employers, because they want to, not because they are forced to, must bother you to no end.

      You can't even post a believable spin anymore.

      So sad...
      William Farrel
  • Pinnacle Certification

    It seems like they already found a way to create a pinnacle certification. I think what really needs to be done is to create a new, lower level cert to fill the gap between MCSE and MCSM.
    Thanks for writing it up, Mary Jo.
    • Too Elite

      During the SharePoint MCM R2 rotation, Arpan Shah posted a blog describing the MCM program participants as the Top 1%. Tim Sneath shared the fact that the MCM/MCSM program has only achieved 0.08% of the certification community, and the primary reason for cancelling the program was it's inability to scale.

      It has always been my perspective of the program that it was failing to strike the correct balance between being elite, but also being able to scale. This pespective has placed me at odds with many of other participants in the program who primarily saw the elitism of the program as the primary benefit. While this may have been the primary motivation and benefit for participants, it was not the purpose of the program. The purpose of the program was to provide a pool of highly qualified technical resources to Microsoft customers so they could feel confident in purchasing and deploying Microsoft's products. In this regard the program simply wasn't being successful.

      I agree with everyone that how this program was terminated was done very poorly, and I don't understand why the investment made in the program so far could not have been re-designed to scale better while continuing to be a pinnacle certification. Maybe it is easier to start over with new expectations, than trying to change the program yet again, or maybe the market has spoken that it simply doesn't see the need or value.
      • Nailed it

        Very interesting take Chris - this is the most rational proposed explanation/opinion I've seen on the topic so far.
  • Timing and motive

    How typical of communications folks to unload an unpopular decision on the Friday of a long three-day weekend in the USA.


    1. Announcing the decision is one thing, but why so little warning?

    2. Now that Ballmer is heading for the exits, are they going to unload all the unpopular decisions so that the new person comes in with clean hands?

    3. Another sign the Microsoft wants to be our operations overlords?
  • Let's see...

    they are getting rid of it because only a small fraction of the community participates in it. That is like saying we should just get rid of Doctoral Degrees because only a small portion of those that go to college will ever get it. The low number of people with the certification makes them more valuable to employers. If everyone had one they would be worthless.
    Thomas Kolakowski
    • If hardly anyone has the certification it's not woth the effort either

      Seen from a Microsoft perspective it makes a lot of sense to create a higher level certification program that is attainable for more people. I feel sorry for the people that got the Master certification but silently I was hoping for such a move. I would really like to be able to certify at a higher level than the MCSE level without the need to spend over $20K.
  • An Insider's Point of View

    I am a SQL Server Certified Master and I used to be the Program Manager who ran the SQL Server Master Program at Microsoft. I have more insight to this than most people, and I want to share my perceptions here.

    First of all, I'm not sure if Tim Sneath failed to mention it or failed to realize it, but in 2010, the SQL Server Master program overhauled the program to remove the false barriers that he talked about. We scaled the program out to test centers around the world, removed the on-site training requirement, and got the price down to $2500 US instead of $20,000 US.

    Other Master programs were in the process of scaling out their programs as well to remove these same barriers. Some barriers still exist, but some are just too costly to overcome.

    The hints that there is a possible replacement does give me some hope, but it also gives me a fair amount of fear. I participated in the scaling-out of the SQL Master program (I was not yet the PM of the program) and helped mold the new program and write the new exams under the leadership of the then program PM, Joseph Sack. Our main priority was to protect the integrity of the program. Today, the MCM and MCA certifications remain the only Microsoft certifications that are untainted by reports of cheating and inexperienced people boot-camping their way to certification. My fear is that whatever they are planning to replace it with will not have the same dedication to preserving the integrity of the program.

    If they are going to give up integrity in lieu of higher adoption rates, everyone will pay the price. The current certified Masters will lose the integrity they have if the new program does not have the same integrity. If that's the case, we'd be better off if they just let it die.
  • A pinnacle program for the masses?

    At 20,000 USD/head, and "only 0.08% of all MCSE-certified individuals being in the program" cancelling it after people having made the investment seems a really bright idea of ensuring even less future participants in whatever they launch next.

    It's also interesting to note that they expected the pinnacle to be really popular. I thought it would mean "for a select few dedicated" who are willing to not only pay, but put in the time and talent.
  • Vendor Certifications Have A Short Shelf-Life, Anyway

    A certification in version N of a product is pretty much worthless once version N+1 comes out. Far better to have a proper grounding in the fundamentals of Computer Science, which will outlive any particular vendor's product.
    • Those certifications may have been version specific

      But anyone who obtained them would be recognized as someone way beyond the level of a typical vendor certified person. They were not easy to get, and they required knowledge and experience *way* beyond what is normally required to get some vendor certified string of letters after your name.

      I've been in the business 30+ years. I spent a dozen of those at Microsoft. I looked at the MCA a few years ago and decided it was unlikely that I'd be able to get the certification.
  • Strategy?

    If there is a Microsoft strategy to support IT Pros I am getting lost here. I valued my TechNet Subscription and I spent time and money developing an evaluation lab on a home server. A mini AD environment for testing. Some people have spent thousands on getting MS certifications for professional development. Yes IT Pros hope to advance their careers and make money for learning but the cost in time and money is considerable.

    Microsoft benefit from having a pool of IT people who recommend their products based on personal knowledge. In meeting rooms throughout the world people with MS certifications, experience with TechNet software etc are giving advice about buying Microsoft product and implementing millions of dollars of IT solutions.

    The logical ting to do would be to support IT Pros but Microsoft just throw a armed grenade into the room.

    It's not really about these high level certifications. Even IT Pros who just get certified to roll out Windows desktop in the enterprise and spend 1000 dollars on training an exam fees must also be wondering if that is worth it if MS can pull the plug suddenly.

    What's the strategy here? What's the good news for IT Pros?

    It's a mystery to me...

    Stephen Townsley
  • Is Microsoft really declining fast like their collage mates - Yahoo, Nokia

    Many IT professionals like me have strived hard to thrive in the ever changing "windows and vision" of Microsoft.

    From one internal architecture to other and from one master certification plan to other, many stayed with a belief that their new product brochures and change of product theme colour will change the style-sheet of their life accordingly. Anyway, this dilemma in IT prof life will remain there that either stick to a product and die with it or remain on toes and run to thrive.

    However, such sudden (shocking) decisions by Microsoft explains the reason of departure of Steve Ballmer and calibre of Microsoft management at the moment. A future leader from outside will also confirm the same thing sooner or later.

    So question is:
    Is Microsoft really declining faster like their nearby age fellows Yahoo, Nokia and blackberry etc.?

    Is this really worth putting any further energies and spending time in any of future technologies and education provided and planned by Microsoft's "Pinnacle" and failed internal management?