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Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint

Print | posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 7:15 PM

During TechEd ITForum a couple weeks ago, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) for Office SharePoint Server 2007 and the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) for Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Pretty quickly a micro-debate started on this and a few people posted their thoughts on blogs. I promised at the time to do a post that detailed out the salient points, which unfortunately have been missed thus far. There has also been a lot of complaints regarding the associated cost. So here goes.

Forget about the SharePoint Technical Specialist Exams
Firstly, there is no relationship between the current four MSTS exams for SharePoint, other than the fact they form part of the pre-requisites for application into the MCM. Those things are badges. I understand their place and the need for those badges, but they are badges! The MCM is not really a certification in line with these exams or the others in the past like MCSE or MCSD. The MCM will validate that you really know your stuff through a combination of testing, group exercises, documentation and so forth as opposed to a simple CBT where you have a 25% chance at every question.

The MCM and MCA are different things
The MCM and the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) are two different things. The MCA has been around for a long time. In fact I got dissed for this around 18 months ago, which speaks to the quality of that particular certification (I've been doing enterprise architecture for a long time). The MCA talks to a much wider skill set - in terms of technical and non technical disciplines necessary to do real engagements generally for large enterprises. There are just as many non technical skills assessed in this certification. Communication with business peeps, real consulting skills, driving consensus are a few examples. In order to be considered for the MCA for SharePoint, you must first gain the MCM. At that stage you can apply for a MCA Board Review. Therefore if the MCA for SharePoint is your long term goal, you must first attack the MCM.

There is no relationship to the MVP Programme
A number of folk have bought up the MVP award within the context of the MCM (and other) certifications. However the MVP award has absolutely no relationship to technical skills per se. It is not a certification, it is an award for "outstanding community contribution". The MVP award is about community. It's coincidental that SharePoint MVPs are generally speaking technically excellent. Being an MVP won't give you a better chance of becoming an MCM, and nor should be taken to mean you are technically excellent in and of itself.

Don't assume what you have what it takes to be selected
One of the best things about the MCM certification is that it is broad and deep. In addition it's not just about SharePoint, but all the things you need to know to successfully implement it. You have to apply, your experience and qualifications will be reviewed by someone who knows what they are doing. This is a serious business. You may think you "know" SharePoint like the dude from the Matrix knows Kung-Fu, but the harsh reality is, you don't. I know of no-one who does, including all of my friends at Microsoft. So if you are serious, understand what it's all about.

It's a serious undertaking
Three weeks class work (slides and demos), group discussion, group exercises, white boarding, homework, and hands on exams. It's not a MCSE boot camp where you go out on the lash every evening and take your head off the desk the next day when the instructor says something mildly interesting. Your head will hurt, but not because of your hangover. If you take this course and have a hangover you're an idiot, plain and simple. The others in your class will also be "the best of the best". Sounds like fun, doesn't it? (it certainly does to me). You'll be challenged by your instructor and you will (if you're good) challenge them.

IT Pro & Dev
A bunch of folk have discussed whether having a single certification which covers both "IT Pro" and "Dev" is really fair. Most people specialise in one of these areas, and I understand that, but this false divide has always annoyed me. I've been doing this stuff for 15 years and I see over and over again the real pain this line causes.

There is no product like SharePoint for demonstrating what a false separation this is. At the end of the day it's all about sound architecture and it's all software. SDL, or ADL as it's now called by marchitecture types - that cannot be easily shoved into any one box. It's neither IT Pro or Dev, it's both. Another example, Joel Oleson asks, does AC, a developer, need to know about setting up Load Balancing. Well no, he doesn't really (although I have a sneaky suspicion he does). What he does need to know however is the implication of using In Memory Session State. It's all the same conversation - architecture.

It's not about being a "master of all, jack of none", which Woody infers - it's about having a solid understanding of the key tenants of enterprise solutions architecture as it applies to a particular product set (in this case, SharePoint). The MCM simply wouldn't have any credibility if there was a delineation between IT Pro and Dev. The MCM is not about "well, it worked on my workstation", you dig?

Lots of people have suggested names of people who might be able "cover both" to achieve MCM without really knowing what's involved. I'm not going to name names here (that would be bad form), but there is a very small list of people I know who have what it takes.

which leads nicely onto...

It's not just about SharePoint!
Successfully deploying SharePoint is not all about SharePoint, really it's not. Take my word for it. I've done it a fair few times. It's all the other elements. Windows ecosystem, process, people and tools. Try and build a large Corporate Portal without knowing inter-data center failover techniques. Take it down a level, Active Directory, Kerberos, Load Balancing, SQL Server, Operations Manager, Backup and Restore - the list is endless. Joel Oleson had a really good post a while back on the skills you need to be a decent SharePoint consultant and it was a big list. That list is *half* what you need to be aware of to do MCM. How about the cost metrics of buying all the add on tools you need in the real world from different vendors - supportability and so on.

I mentioned earlier my small list of people I believe could achieve the MCM. You know what? Most of them are not SharePoint people, but they are architects with the experience neccessary.

As for SharePoint - by which I really mean MOSS - that's a monster. That's basically seven products in one box. Again, it's not about being a master of all, jack of none. It's about understanding the overall, holistic nature of the solution space. Most implementations I see suffer from this a key problem in the field; lack of holistic planning and architecture. "Why's my SharePoint web site slow?" - "because you forgot to to deal with caching my old china".

What value does the MCM bring to me or my company?
You will be one of a very small number of people worldwide recognised to be of superlative quality in the realm of implementing business solutions on SharePoint. This ain't no exclusive gentleman's club. It's a "club" which will bring significant credibility to you or your company. You will be recognised as a practitioner whom has been validated, not tested. Sure some folk will think they can get better rates, and pimp the badge, but that's not what this is about. Plus, think about the contacts you will have following the course.

Isn't it all a bit expensive?
No! It isn't. Really. Everyone seems to have a real bitter aggression towards the capital cost investment. Dude, how much did your CISSP cost? How much that MBA? How much that PhD? Come on, get a grip - I'm not comparing the MCM to a PhD, but you get the point. It's an investment.

Lot's of folk think Microsoft is making money of the program. Riiiiight! :) That really isn't the case. It ain't cheap to deliver a three week course of this nature. You remember that small list of people I think cut the mustard? You know they have day jobs. Those are some of the people doing the teach. Think about it.

It's not perfect yet
Just like everything else SharePoint, it's not perfect yet. Ongoing work is and will be done to continually improve the MCM. Early achievers will be key to that. I'd be willing to bet the first rev is focused (just like everything else) to the core Portal, Collab, Search and WCM foci of SharePoint - and that's leaving a lot of stuff out. but the point is it is not some static thing. The certification will be improved and refined and the bar to success will be kept high. Just as it should be. Also in the future, it is likely the MCM training will be offered outside the United States.

OK, so who are the instructors and who wrote the material?
The best in the business that's who. I'm a pretty skeptical guy when it comes to this type of thing, but I have no reservations whatsoever in stating that the individuals involved are the best in their respective practice fields. I know or have worked with many of them, they are not just really smart they have real down to the metal practical experience with making it happen for real customers. These are not powerpoint jockeys or professional trainers.

The world needs the Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint
My (and many other peoples) key complaint about the fantastic technology that is SharePoint is the drastically poor state of field readiness and skills in the market place. Alongside the very poor maturity across the industry in terms of the space of business solutions, this is the key deployment blocker. Ask any CIO/CTO. The MCM is a critical piece of the puzzle to improve the current state of practice discipline by an order of magnitude.

I congratulate the teams and individuals responsible for pushing through the MCM both on the Product Management side and in terms of the creation and delivery of the course in difficult times.

I look forward to undertaking the certification in February next year (at which point you can all laugh at me for failing). If you feel you have what it takes I encourage you to review the materials below.