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Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Print | posted on Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:23 PM

At the end of last month, James Petrosky the acting Program Manager of the SharePoint Certified Master program introduced the first SharePoint MCMs over on the Master Blog, which was reposted by Dave Pae over on the SharePoint Team Blog. Since then the MCM has come up in a number of conversations on various blogs, in their comments and elsewhere. It is apparent from these that there remains some unfortunate misconceptions about the MCM and this post is an attempt to address them.

For whatever reason many assumptions about the program have been made, which are just plain wrong. I guess me and a bunch of other people who have blogged about MCM haven’t been particularly articulate, or perhaps people just don’t want to read and digest, so here goes…

1. The MCM is a 100% technical certification.
This should really be obvious from the name. The Microsoft Certified Master is all about technical competence. 100% about technical competence. 0% about anything else. The key word is not ‘Master’, but ‘Certified’. The MCM has absolutely nothing to do with giving people a distinction. You are either good enough technically to be an MCM, or you are not. That’s it. Simple.


2. The MCM for SharePoint 2007 is a quality certification.
It ain’t no badge. I just got thru doing it. It’s hard. It’s fair. You have to know an enormous amount of stuff, and you must be experienced in deploying SharePoint. Wannabes have no chance, no matter how good their intentions. So many people have dismissed the certification, and this is a joke. Again, the key is Certification, you are validated that you really know your stuff by the best in the business. Not people that talk a good game, but those that actually do it for real in the real world. You must know what you are doing. You cannot pass by virtue of your employer, personal relationships or anything else not related to your competence with the product. You are either good enough, or not. And that goes both for getting in the program as well as for actually achieving the certification.


3. There is no relationship with the MVP program or any other community initiative
Microsoft sponsored or otherwise. MCM is a certification, MVP is an award for community contribution. Once again I have to state that MVP does not mean technical competence. Sure a lot, if not most, of the SharePoint MVPs happen to be technically excellent, but MVP is just a award Microsoft gives to show appreciation for community efforts. Of course there are significant benefits to being one, and many choose to use it as a commercial lever. MCM is not about having a badge for people who can’t be an MVP for whatever reason. MCM is a certification, not a badge.

Of course both programs have their place both in terms of community and in terms of addressing the real problem of SharePoint skills in the field. However the bottom line is that SharePoint is still new, and it takes time for field readiness to be achieved. It’s really a little annoying that this misconception even exists – it doesn’t with respect to the SQL and Exchange MCM programs. Why? Because those communities are much more mature.

Another point here is it is entirely reasonable that the majority of MCMs will probably not be active in the community. Why? Well because they spend their time actually deploying big ass SharePoint, as opposed to talking about doing it on the Interweb, or at large events. Many MCMs will be names you’ve never heard of, and that’s a good thing.

4. Let’s get it straight. MCM is not just for Microsoft people.
This is the one which is being totally misunderstood. I’m gonna lay out the facts, nice and simple. I’m gonna give you real numbers.

So far there have been two SharePoint MCM “rotations”, alpha and beta. The RTM rotation takes place in June.

The alpha delivery was for Microsoft employees only. It would be pretty stupid to have the first rotation offered externally to paying customers! Imagine the abuse they would get! It’s about making sure the thing is decent, and nothing is perfect first time.

  • The alpha delivery had 12 attendees
  • 3 alpha students passed on the first attempt
  • 5 alpha students (so far) passed following retakes

The beta delivery was for Microsoft people AND “Partners” (Microspeak for non MS employees)

  • The beta delivery had 16 attendees
  • The beta delivery had 9 MS employees
  • The beta delivery had 7 non-MS employees
  • 6 beta students passed on the first attempt
  • 4 beta students who just so happened to be MS employees passed on the first attempt
  • 2 beta students who just so happened to be non-MS employees passed on the first attempt
  • [UPDATE 11/06/09] 2 beta students passed following retakes

It’s that straightforward. MCM has nothing whatsoever to do with recognizing people for anything other than their technical competence with SharePoint. Being a MS employee has zero relevance whatsoever. Going forward you can expect to see the numbers become even more “balanced” but the bottom line is why does anyone care? Being good enough is the only thing that matters for MCM, where you work is completely irrelevant.

[UPDATE, thanks to Mike Walsh] It’s worth noting that the details listed on the SharePoint Team Blog are a combination of those who passed over the course of the two rotations, alpha and beta.


5. Being a softie has zero relevance to selection
Another key misconception is that it is “easier” to be allowed to attend, selected (and pass) if you are a MS employee. Actually the opposite is true. Vast majority of the MS people going through the program are from the field, either MCS or PFEs. I know all about working in the field for Microsoft. It’s about one thing, utilization. Just like any other Professional Services organization. You think it’s easy for these people to get their manager to allow them to have three weeks of zero utilization and associated expenses? Maybe you’ve heard about the two rounds of layoffs recently? Come on. Think about it. It isn't easy. It’s easier for the likes of me to be able to sit this sort of qualification.

As for selection… To get selected you must meet the pre-requisites and pass a selection interview by the MCM people. Again, where you work for has zero relevance. Sure, if you work at MS, and are good enough there’s a reasonable chance you will either be known or be “recommended” but that’s it. Microsoft has like 70,000 employees, it ain’t no golf club.

And being a MS employee won’t help your chances much in terms of success either. There is an urban myth that if you work for MCS you have “access” to secret MS only mojo that makes you loads better. Absolute 100% total hogwash. Take it from me, I know this is not the case. Of course being an employee gives you access to some things, and tools or what not, but those won’t really help in terms of MCM success.

[UPDATE] Being a Microsoft employee undoubtedly has significant benefits, after all you work for the company that makes the software you are being tested on. However the reality of MCM is that it doesn’t help *that* much. Again, either you are good enough to be pass or you are not.


Hopefully the five points above will help address misconceptions about the SharePoint MCM. I’ve no doubt whatsoever some still won’t “get it” or believe the facts detailed. The bottom line is that time will prove the value and real story of the SharePoint MCM just as it has for the other MCM programs.



# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


As an MS employee I can verify the above as a true description of my personal selection experience. There was no easy way in for me, I had to follow the same process as everyone else and submit the same paperwork, references and sample documentation to prove my experience and competence.

If anything I would say being a softie makes the expectations so much harder to live up to and looking at the names of people who needed to retake to pass I can assure anyone this is no fairground ride for internal or external people.

Great post by the way

5/7/2009 4:35 PM | Neil Hodgkinson

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

I am not an MCM, but I have taken MS exams and if MCM is similar unique collection of MS exams - I can imagine that by taking it you will acquire similar benefits and technical knowledge validation.

5/7/2009 5:57 PM | Yaroslav Pentsarskyy

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

I am "almost" an MCM (need to retake 1 written in June) and in reference to the post above, I can tell you that MCM exams can't be compared other MS exams. They are on a whole other level of "hard" and yet still very fair. Anyone who passes all 3 written exams and the mission impossible Qual Lab can walk the walk. Bottom line.

Great post Spence. Very black and white.

5/7/2009 7:17 PM | Russ Houberg

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Right to the point Spence!

5/7/2009 7:18 PM | Ali

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

So, with SP 2010 coming out in a few months, how is this worth $18K? Unless Microsoft is paying your way,...

5/7/2009 7:19 PM | Joe

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


It's easily worth it. Vast majority of the fundamentals will remain constant. And besides the day of RTM is not a cut off point for 2007.

5/7/2009 7:24 PM | Spence

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Nice post Spence, congrats again !

5/7/2009 9:12 PM | Christian Hougardy

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Hi All,

My name is Per and I'm responsible for all of the MCM and MCA certifications at Microsoft. I wanted to chime in on Joe's (great) question.

A couple of things to keep in mind re: why do 2007 now with 2010 coming soon?:

1. Just to be accurate: we've been running a 30% discount for some time, so the price is really $12,950. Still not pocket change.

2. Take a look at my post regarding upgrades here: blogs.technet.com/.../...-talk-upgrades_2100_.aspx . It details the various options of upgrading from one version to the next. Short story: it doesn't necessarily mean one has to go through the entire training again (maybe it's just a test, maybe it's 3-5 days of training and tests...it all depends on the product and the difference in the versions) and, we'll make sure to reward those people that have invested in Master in the past when it comes time to pay for the upgrade path (read - provide a discount).

3. Also mentioned in my post is the following fact that's worth considering (heavily, IMO): once we start offering 2010 based rotations, we will never, ever offer another 2007 based rotation again. By taking advantage of one of the remaining 2007 sessions, you have the opportunity of becoming certified on 2007 (a version that many of our customers will still need expertise on for years to come), AND attain the 2010 version via our upgrade offering which will be substantially less than the cost of the 3 week program.

So, you can potentially become a Master on 2007 and 2010 if you attend now. If you wait until the 2010 session, you'll never be able to gain a 2007 Master cert. I think customers will feel best when they have a Master certified on both working for them.

BTW - we don't stop 2007 deliveries when 2010 comes around for any reason other than we just don't have the bandwidth to deliver both versions simultaneously.

Thanks..let me know if you have any other questions.

5/7/2009 10:21 PM | Per Farny

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

I don't care how you spin this, the program is still outrageous. First I have to pay (with the discount) $13,000 just to show up. I'm lucky, I live in the Seattle area so no travel or living expenses. Secondly, I have to have my employer give me 3 weeks off of work. The comment above was "Another point here is it is entirely reasonable that the majority of MCMs will probably not be active in the community. Why? Well because they spend their time actually deploying big ass SharePoint, as opposed to talking about doing it on the Interweb, or at large events." So who the hell has time to spend 3 weeks away from these projects. Come on. Who do you guys really think are going to pay for this thing? I don't think the complaints have been that this program is only for Microsoft employees, the complaints have been that Microsoft can "afford" to send their own employees to this. I don't think your going to find to many takers in this economy. But I could be wrong I guess. I'm just going to continue letting my resume speak for itself.

5/7/2009 11:37 PM | Robert

# A big ask in terms of money

Hi Spence,

Congratulations on the MCM! And thanks for sharing your experience, on your previous post.

Per, if an MCM is going to get updated as quick as the MCSE's and such, then the money involved is a big ask. Imagine forking out the cash every 4-5 years just to stay current.....that’s harsh! My thoughts anyway.

5/8/2009 1:45 AM | Harish Mathanan

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Cheers Spence for putting that right.

5/8/2009 10:40 AM | AlistairL

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


Many thanks for your comment.

There absolutely *have* been people complianing it's just for MS people, that's one of the reasons I posted in the first place.

However you do have a fair point yourself, i.e. MS can "afford" to send thier own employees to this. Of course this is true to a degree. But only to a degree. I know of many MS people who have not been allowed, the reality of consulting is as harsh at Microsoft as it is everywhere else. I'm *not* saying they don't have a foot up, but it's being overplayed massively.

As for who will pay for this, well the likes of me and the other external people who were on r2, and all of the externals that will be on r3. There are way more applicants than there are spots. There are plenty of takers, and the value of MCM is well understood by partners. Having said that of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with just getting on with projects and in no way do you need to be an MCM to prove you are exceptional with SharePoint!


5/8/2009 12:59 PM | harbars

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


Many thanks for your comment.

Yes, it's certainly a significant capital cost investment. No two ways about it.

It's one that is easily worth it IMO however. And beleive me, if I didn't think so I would be shouting it loud and clear :) Consider the capital cost of a CISSP or similar, then MCM doesn't seem so 'expensive'.

Of course it is an individual consideration, for me it's worth it, but that might not be the case for everyone. I would urge everyone to also take into the account the potential "pay off" factor in their considerations.


5/8/2009 1:06 PM | harbars

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Robert / Harish:

It is a sizable cash outlay, no doubt about it. Don't forget that 'upgrading' the cert does not mean another $12,950...it may mean $1500 (if it's just a lab test), it may mean up to $5k (if 5 days training is required)...although I won't make any promises, I don't see higher costs than this in the future (one caveat: if the vNext is SO different from current that we require a full 3 weeks and all the tests, the plan is to offer it to existing MCM's for 50% off). And yes, I know there is opportunity cost which can be significant...just didn't want there to be the perception it's full price to get the next version of the cert.

Though not cheap, winning one engagement because of having the cert can recoop your costs for you. We've seen that happen already.

We've discussed with leaders @ the big consulting companies: if you work for one of them, you can get the gig because you work for a known name...if you work for Per's Consulting Services, you won't even get a seat at the table. Now, if you can mention that Per's Consulting Services has 1 or more Certified Masters on staff - you'll get a seat at the table, maybe even get the gig. We've seen partners already win engagements against Microsoft Consulting Services because they could put an MCM on it!

Big picture - it's still early for widespread adoption like this, but it's happening, and as long as we keep the quality bar where it is (we will), it'll continue to happen, people will see that MCM's are truly the best of the best, customers will request more and more to have an MCM working on their projects and the ROI will become even clearer.

FYI - for the programs that are already RTM in market (Directory, Exchange, SQL) non-MSFT attendees have made up 65% of the last 2 rotations we've run for each this year.

Thanks for the discussion!

5/8/2009 4:59 PM | Per Farny

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

Re: "We've seen partners already win engagements against Microsoft Consulting Services because they could put an MCM on it!"

There are so many reasons why a partner can win against Microsoft Consulting Services that unless a customer has actually said that X got the job because of the MCM title, then nothing has been proved.

Like any other organisations Microsoft Consulting Services has very good, good, and not so good people in its ranks (and even very good people who are relatively new to a product), so another reason could well be the quality of the people Microsoft Consulting Services put up for this job.

Admittedly the difference would have to be great because among many companies there seems to be the impression that Microsoft Computing Services (always) = the greatest possible level of expertise. I remember saying that a SharePoint v2 site structure was terrible (not in Finland - take your pick as to where else it might have been, Per) and the response by return was (infering I must be wrong) "we had two MCS people advising us". I noted internally at the time that the person wasn't prepared to give me any names so it was impossible to check out the backgrounds of those two MCS people ...

But the point remains that while the MCM might well have helped a lot in getting the order for the partner, unless the customer specifically said that was the only reason it got the contract, you, Per, shouldn't be jumping to the conclusion that this contract went the partners way ONLY because of that. They may well have got it anyway.

5/9/2009 2:46 PM | Mike Walsh

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


The partner told me that having an MCM was the specific reason why the customer chose them. Otherwise, I would not have mentioned it.


5/12/2009 7:35 PM | Per Farny

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007

I have spent the last 3 years working on MOSS2007 but have no Sharepoint 2003 experience. Your pre-requisite FOREVER exclude people like me to become a MCM! Given that 2003 is becoming less and less relevant, can you relax the pre-requisite so that people with 3 years+ of MOSS 2007 can become a candidate for MCM?

11/17/2009 5:26 PM | Frank Chiang

# re: Reality check: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007


Here's a quick look into what it's like to attend the MCM - from my perspective 20 months ago. If you are ready, I say, "Go for it!"




11/22/2010 8:05 PM | RobSilver

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