An Introduction to the Latest Microsoft Certifications

Martin DelRe is a portfolio manager with Microsoft Learning. DelRe pulls together the full certification and training program for Windows Server 2012, Windows 8, and Windows Client. He also develops certification exams and the associated content, including instructor-led training, books, training kits, and on-line learning. DelRe works with various teams to manage the certification programs for the solutions related to products, tools, and cloud services.

We spent some time chatting with him about the new Microsoft certifications, paths, and exams.

Global Knowledge (GK): What can we expect to see out of the MCSA Windows Server 2012 certification moving forward?

DelRe (DR): There’s a core foundation certification for the professional audience, which is MCSA, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. The important thing to know about the Windows Server 2012 MCSA is that it’s the foundation credential for any IT professional MCSE certification. The MCSA certification as a path to Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), which we hope students will move up the stack from MCSA to MCSE, but not everybody will make it in a timely way. Some students will get stopped at the MCSA, and we expect those to be very high volume certifications. But there is the new MCSE certification framework that is being rolled out. It’s more solution-oriented, scenario-focused, and more independent of tools. This certification  framework crosses over different software products, just like the way you’d use it in the field. The important thing to note about the Windows Server 2012 MCSA is that is the foundation credential for ANY IT Professional MCSE certification. Not only for Windows Server 2012 MCSE’s but also the MCSE’s for anything IT Pro related, including  Microsoft Exchange server, private cloud, Sharepoint, Lync, etc.  Any certification that’s IT Pro focused will build off of Microsoft Windows Server 2012 MCSA.

GK: I like to think of the MCSA as the gateway certification to Microsoft.

DR: Yes, that’s a good way to think about it. So, if you are certified on Windows Server 2008, you can take one upgrade exam with a corresponding course. You’ll notice, for example, an upgrade exam is exam 70-417 and the corresponding course number is 20417. The last three digits of the corresponding MOC course  is the same as the exam number.

The philosophy of our new certification program is that we want to make it more challenging so that if somebody gets that credential, they can really perform well on the job, and it means more to a hiring manager.

GK: What’s the overlap between the Windows Server 2012, 410, 411, and 412 courses and exams?

DR: There really isn’t much overlap. You will build on the skills you develop in each course. 410 is really about installing and configuring Windows Server and getting the major Windows Server roles going and 411 builds on that. The same is true for 412, although in 412 you will see more unique features, such as federation and some things that are not covered in 411. But it’s all building on the same skill sets and should be taught in that order. They do build and they do get more advanced as you move across through each course/exam.

GK: If a person was to take these three courses back-to-back, one week after another after another, they seem like they interoperate fairly well then.

DR: Yes, they’re designed to be able to do that – take them as you can. They wouldn’t see a lot of overlap at all, just that they’re building their solution skill set as they go.

GK: Upgrading your skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 is basically three courses condensed into one. How do you manage to do that? How do you explain the differences between this one single upgrade course relative to those three courses you would take individually?

DR: Exam 417 and the corresponding MOC course 20417 is an upgrade exam, therefore it takes skills from the other three (410, 411, and 412). It’s going to assume that you already have the skills that were covered in Windows Server 2008, and it’s only going to teach and test you on the skills that are new between Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012. It’s the delta skills  and  a true upgrade exam and a true upgrade course, skipping over a lot of the foundation skills in 410, 411, and 412 because you already have a qualifying credential. You wouldn’t want to have a new person go right into 417. They’re going to have a very difficult time.

GK: With Windows 8 coming out, when should we expect the rest of the exam requirements for MCSA  Windows 8, and also will there be an upgrade path from MCITP to that?

DR: Yes, there will be. First of all there’s a Windows 8 MCSA, but currently there is not an MCSE built on top of the Windows 8 client at this time  because the client skill set is a little different. There will be two exams and two courses – 687 and 688 – and then there will be an upgrade path. 688 is the course and exam on managing and maintaining Windows 8  and is solutions-focused, so  it’s not just limited to Windows 8 and includes skills related to the management tools for Windows 8. If you’re certified in Windows 7 as a Desktop Administrator, Enterprise Desktop Administrator, or Enterprise Desktop Support Technician you will qualify for an upgrade exam and the corresponding course. The upgrade exam is 689 and the corresponding course is 20689.

The key thing is that the Windows Server 2012 path, has a couple of MCSEs built on top of it –six MCSEs built on top of the Windows Server MCSA. On top of Windows Server MCSA, there’s a server infrastructure MCSE, exams 413 and 414. That’s really going to be the most popular track and is almost equivalent to the Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Administrator track. There’s also a desktop infrastructure MCSE with two exams that will build on top of the server MCSA.  So why do we have a desktop MCSE built on the server MCSA? Because those are the skills that are involved. If you’re going to implement desktop and device infrastructure, you’re going to be using Windows server for things like virtual desktop infrastructure, application virtualization deploy and managing them using server tools, System Center Configuration manager, Virtualization management tools and MDOP tools.

GK: Some differentiation points on MCSA Windows 8. First of all, there are only two exams which is a bit different because most MCSA’s have three exams,  and then the upgrade path shifts over to the MCSA Windows Server 2012 and MCSE Desktop infrastructure path.

DR: If you’re a desktop support technician, you don’t really work in the data center on servers very often. Unless you want to upgrade your skills to pursue  a job like that, you’re probably not going to pursue the Server track and the Desktop Infrastucture MCSE . You’ll probably just stay focused on the Windows 8 MCSA because that’s all about configuring, managing, and maintaining Windows 8. The emphasis is really on the client, so the MSCA: Windows 8 is the right path for IT Pros who want to stay focused on desktop admin/support.But if your job is more focused on  either working on servers to implement Enterprise desktop and device solutions using a lot of server infrastructure skills, or you’re a desktop support technician who  wants to upgrade your skills and career opportunities in that direction, then you’ll probably pursue the Windows Server 2012 MCSA track and continue on to the MSCE Desktop Infrastructure  track. Or you might want to upgrade to your skills to focus more purely on Server Infrastructure, in which case you’d take the MCSE: Server Infrastructure track.

GK:  Obviously with Windows 8 the big buzz has been around the Metro-style apps and the Aero interface. And there’s no start button?

DR: Yeah, where’s the start button? Instead there’s a whole start screen that provides a more customizable view. Moreover, you can move back and forth between the traditional interface and the new, modern UI, what used to be called the Metro interface,  and its live  tiles. We noticed in our beta group it took a little while for them to get used to it. What we learned from that is that somebody coming into a course should already be familiar with the new modern user interface or the instructor should take them through a little demo. There will be some online demos by the time Windows 8 launches on October 26,  but they’ll either want to take those before attending the course. or the instructor will want to make sure they’re familiar with the new UI at the outset of the course. It really just takes a few minutes to ramp up on the new UI, but it’s optimal for them to be accustomed to it so they can focus on learning the IT Pro skills covered in the course.

GK: Everyone’s excited about the MCSA and the MCSE, and they’re also hoping that Microsoft sticks with them. From your perspective, what has the response been from the Microsoft community on these revised certifications?

DR: It’s very positive for a couple of reasons. One is when we were developing the new certification structure, we didn’t have the branding set, so we actually involved a lot learning partners, Microsoft certified trainers, and customers. We got a lot of feedback when doing that, and the message that came back was just very overwhelmingly clear at the TechEd conference, “It’s just simple, right”?” They kind of know what an MCSA is, although the acronyms don’t exactly mean the same thing. They also like the fact that when there’s an exam, there’s a course number that corresponds to it. It’s just simple and easy to understand. Moreover, there’s a lot of brand equity in MCSE and MCSA. It means something to the people pursuing those certifications and the associated courseware, and it means something to their hiring managers.

GK: Microsoft MTA certification, is there any integration points between that track and the newer tracks that you have coming out before the MCSA and MCSE?

DR: The MTA tracks are really just more basic. We start with the Technology Associate credentials and associated training for the academic community. You’ll see a lot of either high school students or community college career-changers taking those because they’re just very basic. You should be pretty good with computers, but you don’t need any IT experience for MTA. You could just start from scratch and work through that path. It’s a good foundation for career changers and students before they pursue the professional skillset in MCSA. The typical person already working in IT should already have that foundation understanding so could jump right into MCSA.

Related Courses
Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 (M20410)
Administering Windows Server 2012 (M20411)
Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services (M20412)
Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 (M20417)

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  1. Doug Bassett Reply

    Very illuminating discussion. Thank you so much. I get questions and comments from students about the confusion on the tracks and this will really help them, and me, navigating though this exciting time.

    I am grateful for the return of MCSA and MCSE. They really are different from back in the old days when I started as an MCSE with NT. This is a good thing and I am happy to see that Microsoft continues to listen to the industry and focuses their program to what people need.

    I am excited about the new technology and the changes to the industry. Microsoft has been, and continues to be, a leader. Clear communication to the community is key and this will really help bring focus to what is needed now, and in the future.

    Well done!

  2. Ron Wen Reply

    Doug, glad you enjoyed the interview and yes, Microsoft is embarking on a very exciting and evolutionary year of product releases! I go back to the old Windows MCSE NT days and it’s good to see it back. Microsoft Learning has put a lot of thought into this transition and changes in certification but of course it’s not a 100% clean.

    So definitely come back to see what’s bubbling up on our Microsoft blog, I plan on having more information and stories coming out as we move into 2013!