A Feather in Your MCAP

Comparing the MCAP to a PhD is a bit lofty, and, well, wrong.

So, apparently Microsoft has finally gotten the message that MCSEs are tired of having CCIEs kick sand in their faces at the beach. At least, that's one possible explanation for the coming Microsoft Certified Architect Program (MCAP) which was pre-announced at the TechMentor conference in Orlando back in April.

Details are sketchy, but it's clear that this will be the most rigorous and difficult to obtain certification that Microsoft has ever offered. It will include some sort of training and experience prerequisites, and will require project management and communication skills in addition to technical ones. It will require a written submission (though what form that will take remains to be announced) and vetting by a peer review board.

The Microsoft Program Manager who announced the program said that only about a quarter of the emphasis would be on Microsoft technologies, with the rest being general architecture and non-Windows technologies. The program will take six to 12 months to complete and will require a substantial expense. All in all, the message that Microsoft sent in the early discussion was "this is big medicine."

Of course, it's the rare Microsoft announcement that gets made without the hyperbole meter getting pegged, and this was no exception. There's just something about new products and programs that forces those folks to flights of exaggeration. Along with the details (such as they were) came the positioning. This is going to be a "board-level" certification and the process will be comparable to getting your PhD by defending a thesis.

Um, yeah, sure.

Here's some free advice for the Microsoft Learning team: launch the program and let people evaluate it, and then let's see where it stacks up compared to board certifications and doctoral programs. Because frankly, based on the ten-plus year history of Microsoft certifications to date, those are simply ludicrous comparisons on their face. Allow me to elaborate.

Board certifications, for those who aren't immediately familiar with the term, are those things you see hanging on the wall of professionals like doctors and architects. (No, not the illustrated charts of the interior of your small intestine; the fancy certificates that say your doc really is qualified to poke cold instruments into your most intimate orifices.)They come from groups like the American Board of Pediatricians or the Alabama Board of Architects. Notice something there? Those are not vendors. They are industry-wide groups and independent non-profit organizations, often with a governmental mandate to keep watch over professionals in a particular industry and geographic area.

Now, Microsoft may well be able to put together a program that would be just as tough as one that a hypothetical American Board of Software Architects would administer. But no program spearheaded by a single vendor is going to have the same acceptance and independence as one supervised by, well, an independent group.

As for comparing MCAP to a PhD…c'mon. I've been in a PhD program as have, I know, many people at Microsoft. Obtaining a PhD sucks down years of your life and requires performing original research. And granting the PhD is a privilege that is rather jealously guarded by the institutions that already do it; you can't just announce that you're granting doctoral degrees and get away with it. There's a whole, tough, accreditation process for institutions.

Comparing the MCAP process to the PhD process is like saying that the gal who runs the corner grocery in my little one-horse town has the same job as Steve Ballmer. After all, they're both CEOs of their own firms.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think the MCAP is a great idea. I've been one of those folks clamoring for years for Microsoft to add a certification that can't be easily obtained by spending a few thousand bucks on a bootcamp course or by spending an afternoon typing "braindump" into the search engine of your choice. But would there be anything wrong with calling the MCAP a rigorous, challenging certification that requires industry experience and a broad range of knowledge, rather than insisting on misleading and ultimately empty comparisons like "board-level" and "PhD-like"? Let's hope that Microsoft delivers a certification that can be a source of pride for the elite few who obtain it. That will come from a serious attempt to set and maintain high standards, not from cheerleading and hyperbole.

Paying any attention to Longhorn yet? Or are you ready to close your eyes and just hope the whole thing goes away? Would you rather Auntie just came back? Brickbats and praise alike are welcome at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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