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Microsoft Releases New Exams

Company plans crossover with partner program.

Microsoft's certification program hit the ground running in February with the release of three new-generation MCP exams and the introduction of the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist title.

But the Microsoft Learning Group, which administers the certifications and exams, isn't breathing a collective sigh of relief just yet. The group will release a slew of exams -- 17 in all -- in the next few months. Together, the tests cover the complete list of requirements for the Microsoft Certified IT Professional and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer designations.

In addition, the company plans to overhaul the Microsoft Certified Professional program so that it better meshes with the Microsoft Partner Program. Specific changes, stemming from customer and partner feedback, were still evolving at press time. But one major benefit of the improved integration between the two programs is already clear: MCP certifications will soon be applicable toward multiple Microsoft partner competencies.

Al Valvano, program manager for Microsoft's Learning Group, says that the group has been examining all requirements for both the MCP and partner programs, adjusting them as needed. Some current Microsoft Office exams seem to be candidates for crossover; for instance, partner Exam 74-138, which covers planning and building a messaging/collaboration environment using Microsoft Office and Windows Server 2003, has objectives similar to those in some MCP messaging exams. Others seem less likely to make the transition -- for example, the exams for Licensing Solutions partners, which, Valvano says, "won't map to any MCP credential."

Members of Microsoft's Certified Partners for Learning Solutions group have been reconfiguring their training schedules to include offerings for SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005.

Microsoft released the first set of exams on Feb. 1, just beyond the company's preferred 45-day window for releasing exams following a software launch.

New-Generation MCP Certifications
Track Technology Series Professional Series
BizTalk Server 2006 Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: BizTalk Server 2006 (none)
Visual Studio 2005 Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Web Applications

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Windows Applications

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Distributed Applications

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Web Developer

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Windows Developer

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Enterprise Application Developer

SQL Server 2005 Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: SQL Server 2005 Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Database Administrator

Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Database Developer

Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Business Intelligence Developer

The new certifications' ultimate impact on hiring won't be evident for a while, says Alex Cullen, a principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Hiring managers "don't change on a dime," Cullen says. "Certification is only one thing they look for and they're not going to update all their criteria for it."

Certifications for Windows Vista, Exchange 12 and Office 12 won't see the light of day until well after those new products do. However, the foundation for the new-generation MCP program is already evident in new titles for SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 (see "New-Generation MCP Certifications" above).

Last year, Microsoft revealed a tiered certification structure with a technology series for the first layer and a professional series for the second layer. In the technology series, the SQL track and BizTalk tracks each have one title while Visual Studio has three, which are broken out into Web, Windows and Distributed programming certifications. In the professional series, the Visual Studio track is similarly divided, while the SQL Server track has three designations: database administrator, database developer and business intelligence developer.

Noticeably missing from the professional layer is BizTalk. Valvano declined to comment on the omission beyond noting that "the program continues to evolve."

Valvano says new titles for those holding MCSA and MCSE papers will be built along similar technology-to-professional job-role themes. But with the feature sets for Windows Vista, Exchange 12 and Office 12 still percolating, he reiterated that "it's too early to tell" when that will happen.

More resources on Microsoft education, certification and exams:

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