Microsoft Previews Board-Level Certification at TechMentor

Microsoft plans to introduce a board-level certification, called the Microsoft Certified Architect Program, designed to "identify architectural expertise," says the company.

(With additional reporting by Keith Ward, Managing Editor, Redmond magazine, in Orlando)

ORLANDO, FLORIDA -- Microsoft yesterday announced its first brand-new certification in years, one aimed at high-level IT pros with significant experience in architecting solutions that involve Microsoft -- and non-Microsoft -- products.

At 101communications' TechMentor conference in Orlando, Al Valvano, Lead Product Manager with Microsoft Learning, unveiled the Microsoft Certified Architect Program, a board-level certification on a scale the company has never attempted before.

Valvano acknowledges that the MCAP is a work-in-progress, very preliminary work has been done, and any details they've worked out so far are sketches. He said to expect a more detailed announcement with solid information in late summer to the end of the year. Eric Ekstrand, a TechMentor attendee who works for Optum UnitedHealth Group, is cautious when he calls the MCAP "a great idea." Like several in attendance, he's "curious to see how it plays out.

Al Valvano at TechMentor, Orlando
Al Valvano, Lead Product Manager with Microsoft Learning (standing), offers details on new Microsoft Certified Architect Program to TechMentor Conference attendees. (Photo: Sara Ross)

That curiosity extends to Steve Riley, who's been an IT professional since 1983. Riley doesn't see the MCAP as his next stepping stone, but as someone who's involved in hiring IT experts, he acknowledges that someone with a board certification would have immediate cachet: "[The candidate] would have to have proven themselves in front of their peers, and that would make a difference."

Ekstrand agrees. "The MCAP will provide another mechanism for the employer to make an assessment of skill levels."

Some highlights from Valvano's keynote:

  • The MCAP will consist of prerequisite training and experience, and the skills domain that candidates will face throughout the process will be broad, including such objectives as project management, decisionmaking and oral and verbal communication. Valvano said it's too early to give any definition to those requirements, and wouldn't say whether any of the current exams or training in the MCP program would be applicable to the MCAP.
  • Candidates will be assigned a mentor to help foster success through the program's rigorous certification process. Valvano said that mentors will come from Microsoft as well as externally chosen sources.
  • Candidates, with the help of the mentor, would apply for entrance registration into the architecture candidate process, which consists of a written submission and board examinations. Valvano said that details on what the written submission process and who would be on the peer-review board were still in development. Valvano compared the process to attaining a Ph.D, where a candidate has to defend a thesis.
  • Valvano stressed that only about a quarter of the emphasis of a candidate's knowledge will be on Microsoft-related architecture technologies; the rest will relate to general architecture principles and best practices that aren't Microsoft specific. A candidate for the MCAP will have to have a broad-based knowledge that extends well beyond the narrow bounds of Windows.
  • Finally, Valvano estimated that completion of the program could take from six to 12 months and would not come cheap. Valvano says that the program is designed to pay for itself; nonetheless, he says that "it will take a substantial commitment in time and money" for both the candidate and the board to come together for all the meetings and tests for completing each step.

Given the demanding nature of the requirements, Valvano believes the MCAP can eventually rise to the level of prestige that come with demanding certifications like Cisco's CCIE. "My belief and the strong opinion from [early customers and partners] is that the bar is actually much higher than anything we currently have in this market today from any vendor, in terms of the rigor and reward, the feat of accomplishment and by the benefits of [having achieved it]," he adds. Microsoft has fought the perception for years that its certifications are too easy to get and lack the value of some other certifications in the marketplace. Valvano admitted during the keynote that Microsoft has heard similar complaints from its own certified professionals and IT hiring managers.

Whether the MCAP warrants such prestige, it's much too early to tell. Says Ekstrand: "The market is going to have to accept it as a worthwhile certification to have real value."

This is a developing story; will continue to post details as they happen.

About the Author

Michael Domingo is Editor in Chief of Virtualization Review. He's been an IT writer and editor for so long that he remember typing out news items in WordStar.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Aug 29, 2005 Shunmugam Tirunelveli(Tamilnadu - india)

i want MCSE Certification, Examination and Registration Details

Sun, Jul 24, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

I agree with one of the Anonymous posts on here. I myself am 22 years of age, and have been absolutely totally and fanatically obsessed with computers since the age of 4. I found them just so interesting, think of it, as a 4 year old, what is this box? What is it telling me? What can I do with it? - 18 years later, a Degree in Business IT, 3 x MCP's (going MCSE of course) later, and I'm still asking those questions :D I absolutely adore IT, and I find it saddening that there people out there, and people who are close to me, who are "supposed" certified professionals, and who are frankly poor. I know for a fact that those people bootcamped their MCSA whereas i'm taking all these certifications out of my own time, and own passion for IT. With the background I've got, I know some may consider ME a paper cert, but believe you me, I think my own "real world" or personal experience counts for something too! I'm looking to become MCSE: Messaging at around March next year.

Paper certs at the end of the day get their come-up-ance in private industry. What if a major situation occurs, and that bit of knowledge required is forgotten by the crammer? It wont be long before questions are asked, and people get fired? surely?

There are still jobs out there in IT that can earn a lot of money with MCSE's, I think you just have to be prepared to move to get them. Where I live, high paid jobs in IT are rare, so i'm moving out from here first opportunity I've got.

At the end of the day, i'm not that interested in the money I can earn.

I want to be the best - the personal satisfaction far outways the financial side.

Wed, Jul 13, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Interesting - the idea of an upper level MS Cert has been kicked around for awhile and I think it has merit as long as the lower level certs remain. I know most folks rant and rave about paper MSCE's (heck I do too), but supprise, supprise, some of those folks actually turn out to be quite good after a bit of seasoning. If the MCAP is to have ANY worth what-so-ever, it must remain VERY aloof, not just in cost, but in pay out as well. If I'm to send 1/2 year - 1 year just prep'ing/training for this board cert, that means a VERY substantial investment on the order of 5+ figures, then I must demand over 6 figures for my services. I don't see that happening in very many circumstances for the majority of current IT professionals. Most small-to-medium sized business can't afford a staff of IT earning $100K salaries and even if they could, most busisnesses didn't get to be profitable by serving caviar in the lunch-room. So good luck to those that chase it, as for me, a 52 year old MCSE, MCDBA, and CCNP, I think I'm gonna have to pass on it and start thinking about doing some fishing.

Wed, Jul 13, 2005 Ian OZ

Make no mistake - this is ONLY ABOUT MAKING MORE MONEY. It is operating under the facade of improving quality, but this MEANS NOTHING, this is a LIE.
I have an MCT MCSE MCSD MCDBA MCAD (and novell certs as well as others).
And they mean NOTHING.
They are just a way of Microsoft making more money from folks they already have in thrall, spinning in rat hell on that little rat wheel of certification. Only the incompetents will go for this new bag of certs; the manager types that have screwed IT for years and can screw themselves a budget for it, and the wannabes and career changers who are looking for an easy way into management/IT.
Baby Boomers rusted onto devolved roles and spoiled X'ers who want it all without the hard work...
Those that can, DO - forget these bull**** certs and just get on with it - do the code or design or GET THE HELL OUT OF IT you damn WANKERS, no cert will make you a better coder or architect.

Wed, Jul 13, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

What we really need are certifications for the idiots who have been running this country for the last 40 years. George Dubya has got to be the stupidest man to ever become President. Voting machines with no paper audit trail? What in the hell is wrong with this country? Never before in the history of the nation have so many educated and qualified people been paid so little. And anyone who thinks it is okay that .05% of the population owns and controls 99.0% of the wealth should go take pills with the idiot of all idiots, Rush Limpjaw.

Fri, May 6, 2005 AL Woodland Hills,CA

This is really a pre-mature notion on behalf of this guy Al Vovano-- The so called P.M. fluffy talk by including a cert which is of no consequence to people who are now willing to certify. He does not seem to understand nor forsee the shortcoming of the IT Business itself. Anoher gimic by Microsoft to make people pay for their exams and make a lot of money........

Wed, May 4, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

I think a major system development company such as MS should deliver a more professional level certification. I've got my MCSE six years ago and honestly I don't believe I have a compelling reason to continue updating it. I'd rather working on my CISSP in addition to a masters degree - exactly what I am doing now. I would not spend my time, energy and money only in a certification that would be well respected. Cisco has its CCIE and Microsoft should develop the same level of certification.

Fri, Apr 15, 2005 David Santa Rosa

OK, I think this is a good opportunity for devoted technologist to obtain additional credentials. leading us as the proverbial carrot, certifications serve the purpose for a collaborative elevation of knowledge . sure there is always going to be the percentage of paper chasers that cram for their certs and never really apply gained knowledge, but I like to think that any respectable senior management (Worthy of working for), would be able to exploit such weakness through the interview process? Having a career in IT is more of a technological journey than a destination. this cert is just one more leg...

Wed, Apr 13, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

4xMCSE, CISSP, and too many CompTIAs certs...add in CCP, CCA...and I will climb to the top of the Cisco ladder too. Why? I'm a geek and I love it. And, it has and continues to, made me very good money. Board level sounds great! Bring it on, please make it harder than the lawyer there are too many of those just like MCSEs. Raise the bar, raise the standard, heck...disqualify anyone with a criminal background too! Please, make it easier for the top employeers to realize that geeks are good.... and good geeks are even better. I agree with the previous comments that a 3rd party vendor should be selected... then MS should make thier own people go through it.

Tue, Apr 12, 2005 Darby Weaver


Finally, A premium certification from MS. Who will be on the board initially? The MCPs or those who hold the majority of Microsoft's Certs? Someone jhas to start the program off on the right foot.

I hold an MCT, but I do not feel 100% confident in MCT's since most tend to live in their not necessarily historically correct world in which they explain their experience comes from... i.e. they are part of the reason the cert has lost its value. I know many certified professionals and very few who can speak to me at the level on which I have to perform on a day-to-day basis. Sadly, very few... I pity managers who have to make hiring decisions based on "experience" or certs in today's market. An enterprise level designation should be rigorous, expensive and extremely intensive. There may not be many initially but whoever attains it should be rewarded accordingly. As for comparing it to a CCIE, not necessarily a good thing. A CCIE is not necessarily schooled in the good art of design, but instead in the use of features and the ability to twist them. I think this is contrary to the requirements of a stable nework, in my own humble experience. I also think that a premium MS Cert should require X years in an Enterprise Environement 100 or more servers and 1000 plus seats at least and this is really only a mid-level network, but it would help to guarantee that a person with the credential has the ability to function at such a level. I have more thoughts on the issue for any who care to discuss offline...

Mon, Apr 11, 2005 LarryWestMCSD Louisville

Everyone is mentioning MCSE here. There are already architect exams as part of the MCSD (70-100 and 70-300), both of which I found to be quite easy if you can think analytically. Is the new certification going to be based on the MCSD or MCSE or both? My recommendation is that the prerequisite for the program be that one have all three: the MCSE or MCSA (operating system knowledge), MCSD (software knowledge), and MCDBA (database knowledge).

Another problem I have is time. Currently I can't take any exams because the only time they are offered is when I am at work, and being on an hourly contract I cannot afford to take the time off to take the exams. Will the "mentors" be flexible, time-wise, or will they require me to take even more time off of work.

Fri, Apr 8, 2005 Michael Domingo Irvine, CA

Microsoft says that details will be ironed out in a few months; they wouldn't give us a date on it just yet. We'll definitely report on them when we get those details.

Fri, Apr 8, 2005 MCSE, MCSA, MCP, A Florida

To Host: Where can we learn more about this? Will mcpmag or REDMOND mag be reporting the details soon? Thanks

Thu, Apr 7, 2005 Joseph california

The people that seem to have the biggest problem with IT today is , there are two groups of people. The First Group are the people that have worked with Computers ALL there lives and did it without money as their GOAL . The second group are the lets make a career change and make some Money !
The first group will work with computers and do it out of Passion , The second group for a buck
Make sure you know what group your in and stick to it and stop complaining.

Thu, Apr 7, 2005 Alvaro Spain

This is the best news I've read since the introduction of the MCSE program. Excellent!

Thu, Apr 7, 2005 Al NY

This certification is exactly what the doctor ordered a certification that can only be obtained by experience, project knowledge, software knowlede- breadth and depth. The board requirement forces you to defend that knowledge and demonstrate it with actual projects.


Thu, Apr 7, 2005 Eric Ekstrand Anonymous

You spelled my name wrong. It's Eric Ekstrand: )

Thu, Apr 7, 2005 Jeff Buffalo

You shouldn't have a loan for an MCSE.. If you do, sounds like a boot-camp to me.. I didn't go one red cent into debt for any of my certifications, so I don't understand how anyone else did. I got old hardware from friends and family, I bought used books and borrowed books and bought a couple new ones, and I paid for the exams (if $125 is going to break you, then you're in the wrong field).. I think that the new cert SHOULD be costly, as then only the dedicated will get it. If you don't think you can pass it, then why waste the money on it? That was the problem with the MCSE exams, anyone could bootcamp them or braindump them and they were certified. The new cert should be expensive, and I like the board idea. I'm all over this.

Thu, Apr 7, 2005 TK - MCSE NT4, 2000, 2003 Floridia

I am very interested in the Cert but I was put off when it was said that it will be expensive. Many MCSEs went into debt working for the certification only now to find out that they are laid-off or under paid and have this loan to pay on. If MS wants to help the IT community, don’t make it such cash cow but rather make it inexpensive and difficult. This way only the dedicated people will pass, and not go into debt more. Those who cannot make the cut won’t go bankrupt. Maybe this would help the best one get back on their feet.

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 MCSE MCSD MCDBA MCT Malaysia

Contraty to the usual belief that "CCIE is tough and that is why less ppl etc." was not exactly true.
Two important contributing factors were grossly neglected: The cost (too expensive for Asians) and No local venue to take the exam! (eg Malaysia)
MCAP should overcome these in order to better serve the global market place.

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 SF Chantilly

Recently, I completed Masters of Engineering Management Program and more than half of the program was about project management, risk management, and decision analysis. I also have over 12 years of IT (Windows/LAN experience). I have been looking at how I can relate engineering management knowledge to IT idustry; this certification program sounds promising. Most IT projects, even with the help of Architects, do not utilize total quality control and such certification could help managers ensure project's success.
No single or multiple certification provides competency, IT skills are earned through studying, practicing, and trial-errors. Certification gets you to the interview but does not gurantee hiring.

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 Jeff Buffalo, NY

I, too, have been jumping through hoops since 1998.. MCSE NT4, 2000, 2003, MCSA, etc etc... It would be nice to finally have a Microsoft Cert that you CAN'T just boot-camp for.. It would be a welcome addition to my resume...

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Good news for MS Platform System Engineer.

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 MCSECHAP London

This is amusing I keep hearing about how bad IT is as a career but I keep finding out why. A company comes in to one of our customers to test a VOIP router. they change the default gateway on our server to match their router and do not set it back. Result support call and un happy customer.
Be passionate an obsessive about customer service and be technically competant and you cannot IHMO fail
I pulled a support contract worth 8000 USD (6 machines one server no exchange) from one of the big players who had sold the hardware Why? Their technicians were impatient!
This cert is just another money spinner for MS whose conduct on the MCT program defies belief
If you are MCT and you have not got enough training days they will de register you. If you make them up then you can re register. But they meanwhile disable the course material downloads so if you are offered a slightly differend course by an CTEC then you cannot do it
You could not make this up

Then you get deregistered but if you go and sit on your butt in on a five day course at some ctec, do nothing and get the cert then you can just start again.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Mike SC


I have been resisting the MS certs for some years after they pulled the stunt with the NT4. I do hold NT4 and 2003 certs with security and most of the Comptia certs. The issue is that the MCSE's do not have to prove themselves. I have been in IT since 1993 and this cert, from what I have read so far is useless. Think about it, if you have a college degree you should know how to write in proper English and it is up to the hiring managers to look at that during the interview process. What MS is missing is the CCIE type of Labs and MS needs it to bring the reputation back. The issues I have seen is that the candidates out there do not know hardware, what makes a server hum, how to create a cluster and implement multiple raid configurations for database tweaking. The value of the MCSE was lost when the new MCSE certified individual did not know what an IRQ or a PCI bus was. I have always had an issue with MS exams because they never depicted the real world situations facing IT professionals today. MS should hire or contract out a third party to administer a separate CCIE type of certification that has real meaning. Put a person in a lab for 3 days to setup an AD domain, implement RIS and create images that can be rolled out to several desktops, then troubleshoot that when it breaks or is infected with a virus. MS needs to reexamine the meaning of MCSE and an advanced certification that holds weight in the industry, go talk to the businesses out there and see what the hiring managers have to say.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Richard P. Coakley Austin, Texas

It is about time MS developed a clue. Funny how it took almost 10 years before MS woke up. We (the MCT Community) were asking for something like this a long time ago. We specifically referenced the CCIE Program (hands on 2 day final exam with an 85% fail rate) as a future model for MS Certification. We were told over and over again "It won't scale". Looks like they finally understand. IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO. Proof positive that brilliant people can still be quite stupid. I hope it works. I want to hear the paper certs crying about how hard it is to pass the exams and asking each other how anyone could ever possibly meet the prerequisites. When I hear that, I'll know MS is back on track. I'm looking forward to it!

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 John San Jose, CA

I'm with the guy from Buffalo, NY. I've been jumping through Microsoft' hoops for years. MCSE NT, 2000, 2003. Now I'm lucky I do desktop support. The layoffs are coming up in two weeks. After 3 and a half years here, I may be out. Those certs helped me get this job, but they're not going to help me keep it. And I don't use much of the knowledge I got obtaining them when working on desktops. So, I probably wouldn't even be considered a valid candidate for this SUPERCERT. You can have it.....

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Another thought:
Maybe this cert will somewhat be the answer to the hands on lab exam MCSE's have been wanting for so long. Also I dont think just pre-requisites work. I know guys who are CISSP's and PMP's that are meant to have X number of years experience but still get around it if you already know another CISSP ect. The only real answer to the paper cert problem I think is a hands on lab exactly like the CCIE.

CA. Brisbane- Australia.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

hey Dan im from Brisbane! Wanna study for the MCAP together? :)
What do they mean by "board" in the article?


Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Dan Yarrow Queensland Australia

I think this is the best news I've read since the introduction of the MCSE program. As a previous post stated, the ease in which some people obtain an MCSE due to "cramming" has always be a major pitfall of the program, which in turn de-valued the certification. I obtained mine through hard work and prior knowledge; however this could not be reflected in the certification. If this program enables IT professions a way to prove that they are not simply a paper MCSE, then I whole-heartedly approve. By weeding out this kind of element by having to meet pre-requisites the program is on its way to being a great success.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 MCSE, MCSA, etc Buffalo, NY

Another cert? After getting my certs, additional education and experience, I now make half of what I made in1984. With an MCSE and a $1.69, I might be able to get a cup of coffee. After seeing all the inept people in IT at the upper levels of management, it's not certifications or skill that gets you the job or promoted.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Curt Spanburgh San Diego

Rapid changes with Microsoft products make this cert a welcome addition. The Enterprise class applications. Just today, I had to explain to developers who are using Econnect and Biztalk and SQL Reporting Services how vital it is to have knowledge of infrastructure. Project planning involves aquiring a wide overview of system and ergonomic details. Imagine implementing a CRM or ERP solution for a firm. What would be the requirements for such a project. How will such a large investment in time and money produce a RTO to the firm?
Who will do the training and support? What are the security issues and how do you give remote access to these apps.

All very tough questions to the person new to IT.

Thanks to Microsoft for considering this.
I hope there are more to come.

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 MCSD Phoenix

The problem with MS-sponsored exams is that the answer you need to pass, is not always the real-world best answer. Why would this one be any different?

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Rajesh Chicago

I could see one of the reasons for making the Microsoft Certifications more easier is to have more widely available sample questions which makes anyone can to clear the exam with very little effort. Due to this, Even the genuine certified professionals are not able get the value that they can really deserve. I hope, atleast the future certications can have some solution for this..

Tue, Apr 5, 2005 Nick Clark Springfield, IL

I don't see how other certs' bad perceptions will give this so-called Ph.D type of certification a higher value. It seems to me it's in it's own league so why even compare or concern it's value with lower certs like the MCSD or MCSE?

Sounds to me like alot of fluff that only the smarty-smarts will go after - like they need it?

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