The MCM is dead. Long live the MCM.

The small, exclusive club of SQL Server Microsoft Certified Masters is going to remain small and exclusive. This club, with less than 200 members world-wide, includes some of the biggest and brightest names in the SQL Server community. And Microsoft has decided to throw this program to the side.

In an email sent out to all Microsoft Certified Masters / Architects (and in all areas, not just SQL Server), Microsoft has announced:

Microsoft will no longer offer Masters and Architect level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013.

You can read the entire email at http://blogs.technet.com/b/neiljohn/archive/2013/08/31/retiring-the-microsoft-master-certifications-and-training.aspx

Microsoft probably anticipated this decision to be unpopular – this email went out on Friday, August 30th 2013 at 10pm. This email was sent out late at night, at the start of a US holiday weekend. They are obviously hoping that this announcement will be missed and/or minimized by their timing. Alas, already the private distribution lists for the MCMs are buzzing about this announcement, and people are already starting to blog their thoughts about this decision:

Radi Atanassov blogged about how this affects the SharePoint community. This applies to all communities – just substitute “SharePoint” with your MCM community. http://www.sharepoint.bg/radi/post/The-fall-of-the-Master.aspx

Nicholas Cain: http://sirsql.net/blog/2013/8/30/so-long-mcm

Jon Gurgul: http://jongurgul.com/blog/master-certification-cancelled/

The Value of the MCM program

The MCM certifications are the only set of certifications to show that one has actually acquired the knowledge and skills by requiring one to actually perform the steps to achieve the necessary outcome, and across a broad spectrum of the product. This is not an easy certification to attain (most people don’t attain it on their first attempt), and you just can’t “brain-dump” it. People that have attained the MCM certification are indeed the crème of the crop. As Joseph Sack (@josephsack), former head of the SQL MCM program at Microsoft, tweeted:

The value of MCM was not to make a profit. The value instead is strategic and reinforces each product and people behind it.

With the demise of the MCM certification, this leaves us without any certification that truly shows that one has a certain level of knowledge / skills. An internet search for the remaining certifications will provide quite a list of companies offering training (either self-study or in-person) where they guarantee that you will pass the exam, so that a quick cram session enables you to pass the exam. Knowledge learned in this manner is easily and quickly forgotten. To me, the only thing that these certifications show is that the person has been exposed to newer features – the certification does not show proficiency or any level of expertise with the product.  Now that there isn’t a certification worth having, why not just retire all certifications?

Perhaps the MCM certifications should be run from the individual product teams instead of through Microsoft Learning (where, let’s face it, it’s not likely that they’ll ever make a profit). These certifications are a necessity, not an expensive line item on a budget to be cut because the department running the advanced certifications isn’t making a profit on them. Microsoft needs to look at the overall picture that the MCM program provides, not just the specific budget line item. As Joe stated:

Their value is strategic. A few bright people making a huge difference for Microsoft customers – that was the vision.

The Future

So where does this leave us for the future? I know several people that, up until today, have aspired to become an MCM, and I’m willing to bet that most are re-assessing their goals and objectives today. Without this goal, will they just become a bump on a log? Will they languish at a lower skill set, instead of striving to reach that higher standard? Will they settle for a mediocre skill set? If the overall skill set slides, will companies start shifting towards other products? Is it still wise for your long-term career goals to have all of your eggs in the Microsoft basket?

What about the current MCMs that are being abandoned? A lot of time and money has been invested in attaining the MCM credentials (remember, this used to be a 3 week on-site training at Microsoft, and cost $18,000 USD). Many people currently working towards attaining the MCM certification are doing so at their own expense and time. Has this effort and expense all been made worthless by this decision?

I’m not sure what factors were considered when this decision was made, but I doubt there will be very much support for it.

At least they’re not withdrawing this certification from anyone that has previously earned it.

@microsoft #fail #mcm

Update: Jen Stirrup has filed a connect item to keep the MCM / MCA programs. Please go and up-vote it.