A retrospective look at the MCP program's rapid growth and how it was covered in the pages of this magazine.

Five Star Years

A retrospective look at the MCP program's rapid growth and how it was covered in the pages of this magazine.

This month, March 2000, marks five years since we published the premier issue of Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine in March 1995. In that time, we’ve watched along with you as huge changes have taken place in the IT industry, within Microsoft, and in the whole concept of technical certifications. Although I—and you, judging by your many letters—have disagreed with Microsoft plenty over the years, it’s not a company that has ever left us bored with our jobs.

Many of you know that Microsoft was started in Albuquerque in 1975, Windows first shipped in 1985, Microsoft went public in 1986, and the first version of NT was shown at COMDEX in 1991. But if you’re an MCP, here’s a scattering of additional salient facts. They lend a bit of historical perspective to the story of Microsoft certification and the growth of Windows NT/2000…

In our inaugural issue in spring 1995, we report that Microsoft is introducing a developer title, the MCSD, to complement its MCSE and “MCPS” (Microsoft Certified Product Specialist, today’s MCP).

Also in that first issue, we report that there are 15,600 MCPs worldwide, “up from just over 2,000 a year ago.” How many are MCSEs? Just a thousand. And it’s probably worth noting that those first MCSEs earn their certifications almost completely without today’s study guides, Web sites, plethora of books, boot camps, CTEC courses, and practice exams. They also often have to explain to employers what the title means (“It’s sort of like a CNE, only from Microsoft...”) At that time, Microsoft offers 27 MCP exams, with nine more in development (today, I count 45 live exams—several to be retired—with 13 others in active development).

Novell’s far greater number of CNEs (70,000 at the end of 1995), appears to tantalize Microsoft. In a newsletter to its training centers, Redmond admits to “[continuing] its aggressive pursuit of Certified Novell Engineers (CNEs).” For example, the company creates marketing seminars to help CNEs to get training on NT.

Microsoft works to raise the visibility of the MCSE title with an ad campaign for IT managers that warns, “Before you let anyone into your BackOffice, make sure they’ve been through ours.”

Our second issue shows a nerdy-looking “IT guy” on the cover, generating enough reader mail to convince us never again to make fun, even lightly, of our readers. (Well, we thought it was funny.)

In our July/August 1995 issue, Microsoft’s Nancy Lewis, then director of the education and certification program, estimates 35,000 open positions for MCPs around the world at Solution Provider companies. In our July 1999 issue, Microsoft’s Donna Senko, current Director of Certification and Skills Assessment, estimates 647,000 openings for qualified IT professionals worldwide.

In the January/February 1996 issue, our first annual salary survey reports that an MCSE or MCSD (there aren’t enough MCSDs to measure their incomes separately) earns an average income of $64,000 a year—$7,000 more than uncertified coworkers.

Demand for MCPs starts to grow, as do the numbers: There are 62,000 by the fall of 1996. Microsoft launches a $4 million branding campaign to promote MCPs and the term “certified.”

In fall 1996, NT 4.0 ships, to much more fanfare than previous releases received from the industry. Right on its tail, the certification group releases its NT Server 4.0 and NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise exams. For the first time, the OS exams differentiate between running NT on smaller vs. larger networks.

In January 1997, average pay for MCSEs has risen to $70,700 (MCSDs average $76,400). In the same issue we report that the number of Microsoft certifications is nearing 100,000; still, just 14,696 people are MCSEs.

As NT begins to penetrate the market at a remarkable pace, the value of MCSEs begins to soar. Suddenly, it seems everyone is migrating from NetWare to NT (everyone isn’t, of course); and they all want MCSEs on staff to manage the new system. Job shops and training companies are quick to take advantage of the hype, sometimes promoting the title to unskilled career-changers as a ticket to IT riches.

The number of MCSEs grows rapidly in 1997. In February, Microsoft announces it has issued 100,000 certifications. Although the press release doesn’t say so, that number is almost certainly reached earlier than internal projections. In the fall of 1997, Microsoft releases beta 1 of NT 5.0. And late in 1997, the NT Server 4.0 exam overtakes Windows 95 as the most popular Microsoft exam administered. It remains at the top of the list.

Outside the U.S., the MCP growth rate is even faster. In an “@microsoft.com” column in the July/August 1997 issue, Senko reports 120,000 MCPs worldwide and growing; and “the proportion outside the U.S. grows even faster. Currently, 60 percent of all MCPs are based in countries other than the U.S.” That proportion continues to hold true today.

At the very end of 1997, Microsoft announces a new title: the MCSE+Internet, which requires passage of nine exams. This arrives a year and a half after Lewis calls Internet certification “inappropriate at this time.” The certification group says the title reflects the growing importance of the Internet in a systems administrator’s job, and cites job analyses to prove it.

Our third annual salary survey runs in the February 1998 issue, as we switch from a bimonthly to a monthly format. We report that MCSEs average $67,600, a slight drop from the previous year, and question whether the much-vaunted MCSE is losing some of its shine. Turns out it is, but not necessarily in a bad way. Employers seem to be awakening from a short-lived practice of accepting an MCSE as proof of capability. Instead, they gradually return to asking for experience along with certifications and degrees, a practice that continues today. Still, we report that the certification carries value: “Earning an MCSE adds an average of $11,000 to a non-certified individual’s salary.” The number of MCSEs has tripled in 15 months, to over 35,000 at the beginning of 1998.

Microsoft begins introducing new testing technologies promised earlier. The changes are motivated by a desire to thwart inadequately prepared test-takers, so-called Internet “brain-dumps,” and some products that appear to expose actual questions.

The MCSD is revamped to require three core exams and one elective. We report on a handful of additional certifications, like Cisco’s, to help readers boost the value of an MCSE title.

In the fall, as the Windows 98 exam is released and the very first NT 5.0 training begins to appear from Microsoft, the numbers of MCPs reach ever greater levels: 360,000. IDG Books raises the wrath of some of you with its “Certification for Dummies” series. We profile a 12-year-old MCSD and immediately hear from even younger candidates (and their parents). And Microsoft changes “ATECs” to “CTECs” to build on its branding of “certified.”

In 1999, we run an article on “Best Companies to Work for as an MCP.” When we ask you to evaluate how your companies treat MCPs, hundreds of readers write to report on job conditions and nominate their firms. Being an MCP has obviously become part of the job culture in IT departments.

Our fourth annual salary survey, meanwhile, reports that MCSEs now report average earnings of $76,776 (both direct and non-direct compensation, which we separate out for the first time). By now there are an incredible 138,351 MCSEs among 509,085 MCPs worldwide.

As 1999 winds down, Microsoft chooses a ship date for Windows 2000. The certification group announces major changes to the MCSE title to accommodate Windows 2000 and begins retiring exams. Every MCSE will have to pass several exams and certify on Windows 2000 by the end of 2001 to retain the title. Oh—and Bill Gates steps down as Microsoft’s CEO, the first Windows 2000 virus is reported, and there are now 220,500 MCSEs worldwide.

Interesting five years, eh? To those readers and writers and columnists who have been with us from the first, thanks. To the rest of you, stick around and see what the next five years bring. In the inimitable words of Auntie Em, our back page columnist since the first issue, “We’ve run the gauntlet and are now proud members of an elite corps of super-cool ultra-geeks that rarely see sunshine.” Back to work.

comments powered by Disqus
Upcoming Events

Redmond Tech Watch

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.