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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.