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

Microsoft's decision to pull its highest-level certification across its product lines caught many off-guard.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

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.

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