You've heard of a Microsoft Certified Professional. Perhaps at one time you've even dreamed of being a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). You took one exam after another at a Microsoft testing center to reach this honored and prestigious pinnacle, then battled your way to prove to your employers (or future employers) that you had what it takes to administrate their Microsoft-oriented network.
With the arrival of Windows Server 2008 comes a new lineup of exams -- and the end of a certification era. The MCSE status is no longer found in the lineup of possible acronyms one can add to the end of a name and onto a business card. (So as not to offend any of my fellow certified readers, allow me to put my letters on the table right now: MCSE [NT, 2K, 2K3], MCT, A+, Network+, iNET+, CIW Master, CCNA, CNA, and most recently MCITP: Messaging.)
With the change in the program, there are now exams that provide you with an MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) title, or one tier up, MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) or MCPD (Microsoft Certified Professional Developer). But the ultimate level on the exam pyramid is MSA (Microsoft Architect).
The MCTS certifications each focus on "one key Microsoft product or technology" but not on a particular job role skill, according to Microsoft. There are currently 19 Technology Specialist certification options available, ranging from SQL Server 2005 to Windows Server 2008 Applications Infrastructure Configuration. Earning one typically entails passing one to three exams.
The Professional Series credentials are focused on single-job-role skills, including design, project management, operations management, and planning. Like the MCTS, you'll typically need to pass as many as three exams for one of these Professional credentials; you'll also need one or more pre-requisites from the Technology Series.
At the top of the heap, there's the MCA program. The credential is geared toward IT pros with at least ten years of advanced IT industry experience and three or more years of experience as a practicing architect. The MCA title comes in two flavors: one for technology-based architecture skills, which includes training and certification; and one for broad architecture skills (which entails certification only).
The technology-based MCA program covers one of two technology fields currently: Messaging (Exchange Server) or Database (SQL Server). Earning this credential requires participating in four in-depth training programs, successfully completing weekly written and lab-based exams, and passing a rigorous Review Board interview conducted by Microsoft experts and MCAs.
There's also two sub-categories for the broad-architecture MCA program: Infrastructure or Solutions. MCA: Infrastructure is for admins who focus on areas such as the physical network, security, storage, network operating systems, application platforms, desktop operating systems, messaging, management, or operations. The Solutions credential is for those who concentrate on areas including integration, workflow, and applications.
Attaining the broad MCA certification requires passing a test before a review board conducted by MS pros and MCAs.