Microsoft Certified Master program – Is This The Answer to Certification Woes?

In the past few years, many people – myself included – have expressed a desire to see the quality of the Microsoft certification program improved.  Even though there have been some positive changes in the MCP program during the past few years, it still lacks the repute (and frankly, market value) many of us hope for.  On that topic, I was interested to read in Greg Low’s blog earlier this week that there is a new Microsoft Certified Master certification program for SQL Server 2008.

According to Greg’s post and the information on the official website, this track is a rigorous 3-week program (that’s three straight calendar weeks, not three work weeks) that blends instruction, labs, and exams to provide a comprehensive evaluation of candidates for the Microsoft Certified Master: SQL Server 2008 certification.

This program is not for the faint of heart or wallet – long days and the extended schedule make a brutal learning schedule, and the $18,500 price tag (plus travel, lodging, etc) set this certification apart for only a select few.  There is a formal application process, and candidates must meet a number of criteria to qualify; a minimum of 5 years experience along with the MCITP admin and developer certifications are the most notable prerequisites.  The application fee alone is $125 and is, of course, nonrefundable.

We asked for a better, more thorough certification process.  Is the Microsoft Certified Master certification the answer?  No, at least not by itself.

Let me first say that this new certification is a great idea.  Those who need or desire to set themselves apart as the top 1% of the top 1% will be well served.  I can think of a few people I know whose knowledge, experience, and occupation would be well suited to justify this kind of investment, but I can count those people on one hand.  Most people can convince their employers, or can justify spending from their own pockets, a few hundred, perhaps even a thousand dollars every few years to maintain current certifications.  However, many employers have to be given the hard sell to send their staff to one week of training at $2-4k per week, never mind the $18k plus expenses (along with three weeks away from work) for this new offering from Redmond.  There are probably a few independent contractors who could cost justify this, but for the other 99.9% of us, it would be impossible to amortize such an investment of time and money, especially considering that we’ll see a new product every three years.

There is still a large underserved population within the SQL Server community who want for more than the off-the-shelf MCTS/MCITP certification offers, but are unable to rationalize spending the kind of time and money required for the new Master certification.  I would like to see something in between these two extremes:  a certification process requiring an application process and certain experience benchmarks, along with more practical examinations and at least one personal interview.  In my mind, this is a process that could be completed in three or four days, administered regionally rather than solely in Redmond, and farmed out if necessary – at least partially – to existing test providers.

I know this would take some time to implement, and even cutting-edge companies such as Microsoft take some time to change direction like this.  The answer may come from a party other than Microsoft – perhaps even PASS as Andy Warren suggested recently.

Comments for or against are welcome…. Let me know what you think.