Microsoft retires its top-level certifications MCM, MCA and MCSM


-added link to with response of Tim Sneath (  who writes he is “the person ultimately responsible for the decision to retire the Masters program in its current form”

-added a link to an article by Tony Redmond of WindowsITPro

BANG. The message  which Microsoft delivered Friday  August 30 10 PM must have shocked many Microsoft certified man and women. Microsoft will retire its top certification Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, and Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. No more trainings and exams per October 1, 2013.

For those unaware of these certifications: it is the most highest level of certification on Microsoft solutions you can get. It is compareable to the VCDX program at VMware. However I believe becoming Master or Architect is even more difficult. People have to pass a couple of exams, and do a  qualification lab (things are broken and the Master wannabee needs to fix) and attend about 3 weeks of internal trainings at Microsoft (not required but very much needed to pass). Microsoft has Masters on Active Directory, Exchange,  Lync, SQL Server and Sharepoint. The number of Masters on for example Exchange is around 250 worldwide. Michael van Horenbeeck writes about his experience while doing the MCSM:Messaging Certification.

Microsoft explains in this blog the reason for retiring:

We are contacting you to let you know we are making a change to the Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, and Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. As technology changes so do Microsoft certifications and as such, we are continuing to evolve the Microsoft certification program. Microsoft will no longer offer Masters and Architect level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013. The IT industry is changing rapidly and we will continue to evaluate the certification and training needs of the industry to determine if there’s a different certification needed for the pinnacle of our program.

So there is no clear reason given besides ‘the IT industry is changing rapidly’ . Wait a minute, haven’t we heard that before from Redmond? Yes, at the start of July Microsoft announced the retirement of its TechNet subscription; a low cost offering of software to IT-professionals for study and demo purposes.

I can think of two reasons for both retirements:

  1. cust costs and/or earn more money. I believe the TechNet software being available quite cheap made it easy for illegal usage of the Microsoft software. I am note sure about the financial benefits of retiring the top certifcation. To attend the employee of the participant needs to pay a lot of money (travel, hotel, the Microsoft fee for three weeks of training (somewhere around $ 20k), lost of revenue because employee is three weeks on training etc.). It could well be the number of attendees for the Master and Architect training was at such a level Microsoft does not make money.
    Did Microsoft also count the loose of image, bad press, an upset community, conspiracy theories?
  2. Pointing the IT-professional to a direction. Microsoft is changing from a company making products to one delivering services over the internet. Azure is designed, Office 365 as well etc. The demand for smart people in architect roles needed to help organizations design their on-premise infrastructure will decline in the coming years. Although this will take quite some years.

Another possible  reason for retirement of the top-level certification is that HR people do not know this program very well . Lack of request is lack of demand for training is reduced revenue for Microsoft.

The timing of bringing this news out is a bit weird! Microsoft sent out an email message on Friday evening  22:00 Redmond time. One of the members of the MCSM:Messaging and Microsoft employee Neil Johnson (who is also an instructor on the Messaging 3-weeks training in Redmond) then broke the news by writing a blog post about it. On Monday the US is on holiday because of Labor Day. Maybe some complot thinking buy why would Microsoft sent out this sad news just before a three day weekend? To get under the radar, hoping on Tuesday the news will be less noticed?

It becomes even more weird: Microsoft blogged  at August 12 2013 this post titled You asked, and we listened! Increased number of Prometric Test Centers for MCM / MCSM Exams

With the recent de-coupling of training and exams for the other technologies (SQL Server has been de-coupled for some time now) we anticipate a much higher volume of candidates taking the exams.

We realized that the limited number of Prometric Test Centers in the past limited our ability to get the exams to you. We have just completed an exciting expansion of Prometric Test Centers that are eligible to administer our exams. The list now numbers over 500 test centers.


The Microsoft community is very upset. One of the best of many posts  is this one written by Bhargav Shukla, a Microsoft Certified Master on both Exchange 2010 and Lync 2010.

More examples of reactions from the community are here , here , here  and here.

The UC Architects which make a regular podcast about Exchange, Office 365 and other UC topics spent an entire episode on this matter. It was recorded on Sunday September 1 and will be available soon here.

There are many more blogs written.

There is a Microsoft Connect item where the community can discuss here.
Lots of responses already in the Connect forum, one of Tim Sneath (  who writes he is “the person ultimately responsible for the decision to retire the Masters program in its current form”

The truth is, for as successful as the program is for those who are in it, it reaches only a tiny proportion of the overall community. Only a few hundred people have attained the certification in the last few years, far fewer than we would have hoped. We wanted to create a certification that many would aspire to and that would be the ultimate peak of the Microsoft Certified program, but with only ~0.08% of all MCSE-certified individuals being in the program across all programs, it just hasn’t gained the traction we hoped for

It is a long explaination and a must read to understand why Microsoft decided this.

Something is not right: Microsoft communicates first “we anticipate a much higher volume of candidates taking the exams” and three weeks later Tim Sneath writes:”it just hasn’t gained the traction we hoped for”

During Saturday many more people expressed their feelings in blogs.

Tony Redmond of WindowsITPro picked up the story and wrote a long story about this news

Radi Atanassov The fall of the Master
Martin Rinas Retiring the Microsoft Master certifications and training’

The press picked up the story as well:

The Register:  Microsoft cans three ‘pinnacle’ certifications, sparking user fury
ZDnet Microsoft abruptly pulls ‘masters’ certification; hints a replacement may come

There are many questions to be answered. One thing is sure; many very knowledgeable & passionate people are sad.

Bottom line there are only losers in this story:
-those who achieved the Master certification might see a reduced value and recognizition of the certification
-those who prepare for the exams and qual lab scheduled for the next months, taking a lot of hours, see their effort being useless
-the high level of knowledge delivered by Masters will be brought by a non-growing group of people
-Microsoft will have reduced support/evangelism from Masters,

I think this is a penny wise, pound foolish decision.

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