Retiring the MCM/MCSM/MCA Certifications – Thoughts On Why Microsoft Would Do This

By | August 31, 2013

First up, full disclosure – I have no qualifications of any merit. I’m smart (if I do say so myself) but I just don’t have an interest in certifications. I don’t even have a college degree. Despite not being qualified, I’m living the dream, I’ve been reasonably successful in my endeavors – I have a great family, great friends and a pretty awesome professional life, I guess I am living proof that qualifications or certifications are not a requirement to succeed.

Desire, passion and a little bit of luck are all it takes to make a success of your life, oh a and a song in your head, joy in your heart and a spring in your step.

But seriously.

There is uproar about the imminent retiring by Microsoft of the Microsoft Certified Master, Solutions Master and Architect (MCM, MCSM and MCA) programs.

Microsoft are citing “changing requirements and evolving needs” for the decision to cancel the programmes.


Perhaps the MCM, MCSM and MCA programs are not attended enough to be sustainable (they’re expensive after all), so Microsoft is well within its rights to offload them. As a shareholder, I support this – effective, sustainable and profitable are the qualities I look for as an investor and Microsoft are shaking things about across the entire organisation.

Microsoft is a company run by the numbers; Sales, Revenues, Earnings. Simple.

A quick look at the figures (for SharePoint) show us that around 50% of MCM/MCSM/MCAs are Microsoft employees which means it’s probably costing Microsoft a bloody fortune to maintain the program. Even at $20k or so to take the MCM/MCSM piece, the cost of bringing in the instructors, facilities, etc. the program is surely hemorrhaging cash. This issue is probably also why Microsoft can’t lower the cost (which most people see as the barrier to entry) as they’ll be burning even more cash to support a lower price point.

I feel for the folks that have either as individuals or through their employers invested heavily in these qualifications, I guess the saving grace is that Microsoft is granting perpetual, non-expiring usage rights of the qualification to those who have done it. A small victory.

Is there a lesson here? Proprietary qualifications are only of value until the point the vendor/creator pulls the plug. Perhaps more technical folks should look to Masters Degrees or PhDs in the future? – vendor and technology agnostic and yours to keep once you have them. (Thanks to @symon_garfield for his original point about MBAs).

Regardless of Microsofts decision, I still salute the MCMs, MCSMs and MCAs of our world, you’re all wizards to me.

more to follow…


I’m responding to some vitriolic comments I have received about this post – I am in no way suggesting the programs are of limited value or that I support what Microsoft are doing from the recipient side (i.e. candidate or certified) of this equation. My support of Microsoft above is in the context of being a shareholder – I want them to protect and improve my investment and with that sometimes comes unpopular decisions.

My postulation of the program costing money is speculative – business don’t make decisions based on them wanting to be mean or dastardly, they tend to based in strategic or financial logic. Microsoft is looking to save money, FACT and Microsoft is re-engineering its organisation in a new direction (the Cloud) FACT. Tweets such as this one from Joseph Sack the former head of the SQL MCM program further suggest that the program was not turning a profit which, although not what people want to hear does make it a target for removal during organisational change.

Again – I’m not suggesting that the MCM, MCSM or MCA programs are anything other than awesome, I’m just trying to provide some perspective. Perhaps the original post title was poorly chosen, so I have changed it.

15 thoughts on “Retiring the MCM/MCSM/MCA Certifications – Thoughts On Why Microsoft Would Do This

  1. Pingback: MCM certs gone: Microsoft’s “cloud” reality distortion field in full force | Jeremy Thake's musings

  2. Tom Resing

    There’s another lesson beyond the lifespan of the value of a commercial cert.
    Watch out for Microsoft! They’re changing course in a bigger way than we’ve ever seen before. It’s not just the MCM. Ballmer. The reorg. All just after the Surface write-down.
    I’ve heard it said before that Microsoft had turned into a huge ship that can’t change course quickly. What happens when they try to prove it wrong? We’ll all have to wait and see, I think.

  3. spence

    your arguments are invalid and don’t reflect the true commercials of the programs nor the statistics. or the reason for doing it in the first plac. did you just pull these numbers out of your arse? I and many others find this post highly offensive. the good news is you don’t have any credibility so it’s not really much of a thing

    1. sebmatthews Post author

      Spence, I welcome your input but taking a swipe at me or my credibility is a teensy bit unnecessary. I think perhaps you are missing the point of my post – it’s not a statement of negativity about the programs it’s trying to understand and speculate the rational of the decision from the Microsoft perspective.

  4. spence

    do some basic research. the programs were making money not “haemorrhaging”, your numbers on MSFTs are laughably way off the reality, and your statement about popularity is in another universe to the reality. my comments have nothing to do with negativity or positivity about the programs.

    you have absolutely zero exposure to any of the key aspects around this program yet feel in a position to make posulations – that’s why you lack credibility. especially when it would have been so easy to actually do some research, or perhaps speak to someone who actually knows about the programs.

    If the programs were losing money, weren’t popular and were only delivered to 70% FTEs then dumping them would be a good idea. The trouble is none of those three things are true, and Microsoft’s relationship with “cloud” has nothing to do with the decision. But hey it’s the free internet, you can say what you want, but know this, a great many involved in the programs and those who got certified find this material downright offensive and insulting.

    1. sebmatthews Post author

      Hey Spence
      Again, I appreciate your comments – I’m a believer in the freedom of the internet so I have to live and die by that sword.

      Looking at your statement about things being true or not:
      Losing money – I’m just speculating, in fact wildly speculating, you’re bang on there – but I’ve been open about that in the post.
      Popularity – this is a semantic point, I’ve updated to more clearly make my point of what I was trying to say. Again speculation, but I agree with you that the word “popularity” was out of place.
      70% – I’ve updated the quoted stat based on a more accurate count of the published Microsoft data, I whizzed through it earlier and counted poorly (I’m not educated after all). I’ll gladly take the lashes for that.

      My final point is that this post is me exercising my right to freely speak about subjects I feel connected to. You’re correct that I have no link in any context to the programs but you speak as if “only those in the private club can comment” which is both absurd and elitist.
      This decision by Microsoft changes the landscape for the delivery of Microsoft technologies and although I am not connected to the certification programs I am connected to the delivery of Microsoft technologies, so surely I am perfectly within my rights to pass comment?

      Again, for the record, I am not commenting on the ethos or value of the programs. I am well aware that many people (yourself included) have literally shed blood, sweat and tears to earn these certifications and that many Microsoft clients around the world have benefited from the additional level of expertise that holders of the advanced certifications bring to the table. I’m just trying to think it out from the perspective of why Microsoft have made this decision.

  5. Holyfire

    hey, i feel sorry to you as you are a ms stakeholder. you should consider selling your stock to prevent more lose, because ms has lost his credibility to tech community again and no one will trust them and adopt their technology anymore. also this decision of killing the certificate reflects the bad communication and pr of the company one more time. ms has no change no matter how they change their org. really, time to review your investment strategy.

    1. sebmatthews Post author

      Thanks for the investment advice!
      Always appreciated.

    1. sebmatthews Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Radi.
      If I have offended anybody within the program, I can assure you that this was not my intention, I’m just trying to view the landscape from another perspective. As somebody with no vested interest of any kind in the program I am just trying to make some sense of things without the emotional attachment those who have been through the program have.
      If you don’t believe I have the right to do so (perhaps as I don’t hold an advanced certification?) then we’ll have to agree to disagree. I understand and admire the passion that all members of the program have but you can’t let that passion get in the way of healthy debate and freedom of expression.
      All the Best

  6. Pingback: Thoughts on the Discontinuation of the Microsoft Masters Program by Microsoft Learning » Marc D Anderson's Blog

  7. Bojan Nenadic


    In the interest of matched disclosure: I hold MCM (eventually changed to MCSM) and MCA on Exchange 2010.

    I will respond only to the notion that Microsoft has succeeded in its fiduciary responsibility to you, the stakeholder, by what you believe is an exercise in cutting costs. Let’s assume (and I genuinely broadly agree) that the direct profit and loss statement of the program is one of a red bottom line. And let’s put a figure to it:
    + 200 attendee/annum:
    50% MS FTEs: $10,000 = $1m
    50% External: $20,000 = $2m
    – Cost of program per attendee
    $20,000 (assumes MS had no desire to profit originally) = $4m
    Annual loss = $1m
    MS operating income for last year was $27,161m. Adjusting for above, your dividend will be approximately 0.0037% higher now that the program is gone. Assuming you received $100,000 from your MS dividends last year, your increase due to MCM retirement next year would be approximately £3.68. It’s something, but we have to agree that it’s far from an actual financial benefit.

    Now, let’s zoom out of the program and examine indirect costs and benefits.

    Apart from any other impact, the 500 of us that are in the program are, together with MVPs, the most trusted MS technologies professionals globally. Our opinions are valued and our recommendations are usually followed. If focused on Microsoft technologies, it is sensible to assume that our recommendations to customers are those that maximise use of MS products.

    But, what if we don’t have anything connecting us to MS? Well, then our skills will be broadened and our recommendations for use of MS products will compete with any number of other factors:
    – Exchange v. Google
    – SQL v. Oracle
    – Lync v. Jabber
    etc. etc.

    Now, let’s ignore any negative impact our lack of MS bias may have on the sales of AD, SQL, SharePoint and Lync and focus solely on Exchange.

    Exchange seats currently account for approximately 500m, of which about 400m on-premise. If we influence only 5% of these (25m) and only in 10% of cases are our recommendations to not go with Exchange on-premise or Office365, the reduction in seats would be about 2.5m Client Access Licences. As these present no cost to MS, the entire 2.5m x $15 (average volume licence) would represent a bottom line reduction. The total of it is $37.5m or 37.5 times the loss generated by the program.

    Although all above figures require a bit more in terms of financial validity, I attempted to be conservative wherever I could. The figures hopefully introduce a more realistic method of analysis that you, the shareholder, would want to make when evaluating loss of, and clear alienation, of a fair-sized group of MS’s product evangelisers.

    Kind regards,

    1. sebmatthews Post author

      Thanks for your comment, it’s both balanced and based in logic and I’m not looking to contend any of the points you have made as they make sense in every way.
      Let’s look though at a couple of elements in a bit more detail.
      My statement about being a shareholder is intended more as a general statement of how I want companies I have invested in to manage their business from a financial perspective, I want them to be examining their businesses root to branch and looking for cost savings wherever they can. The flip to that is your point (which you have made well) about the opportunity (knock-on) cost attached to cancelling the MCM/MCSM/MCA programs potentially being significant which suggests the decision by Microsoft may well be dumb in the grand scheme of things. This is part of the lottery of investments. You win some, you lose some and in some cases you are held to the decision making capabilities of companies that sometimes may be questionable.
      This leads me to my second point.
      Your very valid point about the opportunity cost assumes one key element – that companies look at their businesses as a whole. Unfortunately more often than not, companies don’t look at their business as lines in a single aggregated spreadsheet they look at it as dozens (probably hundreds in the case of Microsoft) of individual spreadsheets. They see loss here and profit there (both in isolation) and loss making units/divisions/products/programs often get canned without consideration of the cost of doing that in the wider frame of the business.
      This is daft. We all know its daft, but it happens.
      Unfortunately, the methods businesses use to make decisions often don’t take into account the feelings of those involved and as has been shown (in the case of the advanced certification program cancellation) that the methods some businesses use to inform those people involved are downright scandalous.
      We know from the recent noise coming out of Redmond that the massively spindly structure of Microsoft as it has become is not easy to manage strategically, tactically or financially; hence the “Microsoft One” vision and re-organisation that is taking place at this time. Whether we like it or not the advanced certification programs have been a casualty of the change on-going at Microsoft and there will be other casualties before long I should imagine. Again, for the record I am not saying I support the cancellation, all I am trying to do is comment on this in a balanced way).
      On a final point, I like your idea of “voting with your feet”. You’re a member of a highly respected community of experts who have achieved the pinnacle of what is technically certifiable within the Microsoft space. Your dedication, experiences, capabilities and knowledge can be applied to other technologies and vendors and perhaps that is a route forward, hitting Microsoft where it would really hurt them, in the sales bottom line by influencing customers into other vendor spaces.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving an excellent comment

  8. Scott

    I’m just happy Microsoft has been changing things for the last 20 years with the lifecycle of their products. If you got an MCSE in 1994, you most likely did NOT know your stuff. My step dad did it in a 40-hour boot camp and subsequently lost all knowledge a few weeks later. MS might have believed their branding was off—just look at how often the name to SharePoint or Windows changed. They might have believed that the exact skill set for what they consider a master is more or less from the current certification, and to keep the name would confuse others. It would be helpful really if people had the year of attainment for each cert appended to the accronym on their business cards. Regardless of our speculation, only upper management within Microsoft and a handful of other would know the real reason, and it could very well be a mistake.

    Personally, I find that the MCSE for SharePoint 2013 is better balanced now than some of the old SharePoint certifications. Now you need to get your MCSA in Server 2012 first. Personally, I love it. I’ve just run into a lot of people who knew 20% of the platform, did a boot camp, got the cert, and never learned the other 80%. I am the only one in my office of SharePoint “experts” to have ever installed SharePoint into production or test even. It gives me a completely different perspective. There are a lot of developers who would never know how to secure their development environment, which is often why their code fails in production. Developers need to know some of the infrustructure just as infrastructure guys need to understand the resources the developers really need.

    Microsoft has a long way to go before they get all of it right, but I’m happy they keep changing it up. It forces us to not be lazy with our skills. If you got your MCM in something now and took a 10-year hiatus to travel the world and speak on the subject of you being a subject-matter expert, at the end of your tour you would be a professional speaker and not much of a master because the tech will change in the meantime. If you want to learn something and never learn more for the rest of your career, learn Unix. Change the world or go home.


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