The value of Microsoft certifications has split opinion for years, and both camps feel very passionate about their side of the argument. In this post I’ll try and look constructively at the value of Microsoft certifications, so you can make the decision for yourself. I’m specifically talking about Microsoft developer certifications here, but the concepts/points could likely be applied to any certifying body.
1. What are the current Microsoft Certification paths (for developers)?
There is a route for just about every job role in the industry, I have to narrow the criteria quite a bit just to stop this post from becoming long and boring. Here is a high level overview; MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) This is a foundation level certification targeting people getting started in their career. There are 3 main routes; IT Infrastructure (up to 4 exams), Database (1 exam) and Developer (8 exams). Reading the overview of each route shows that each exam is meant as an introduction to that particular field. MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer) This is a middle-level (most developers will probably fall into this band) certification with several different routes; Web, Windows Store (JS, CSS, HTML), Windows Store (C’#) and Application Lifecycle Management. MCPD (Microsoft Certified Professional Developer) Now all but defunct (replaced by MCSD). this was a more advanced path, again with several routes available including; Desktop, Windows Phone and Silverlight. The desktop route had a strong focus on WPF, WCF, and Entity Framework, as well as developing applications for the enterprise.
So many paths
The fact that there are so many paths available targeting all developers from novice to seasoned professional forms the basis of the first argument against getting certified. The facts are quite simple. Each exam costs around £99 to sit, and there may be up to 4 exams in any certificate route (usually no less than 2). This price does not include between £20-£40 for an official Microsoft training guide and subscriptions to third party training providers, such as PluralSight, which will set you back another $29 a month. If you opt for classroom training, you could easily be looking at £5000 for a 5 day intensive course with no guarantee that you’ll pass at the end. Microsoft would probably argue that they are trying to provide useful training to developers of all skill levels, and that £99 is cheap compared to something like CISCO CCNA, costing between $150-$295. Conclusion: Microsoft offer exams to make money plain and simple. Whilst not the most expensive, Microsoft and their partners make money from the exam itself, and supporting training material such as books.
2. Will getting certified help me get a job/earn more money?
The answer is not simple, “Yes with an if, no with a but“. According to Mutually Human, employers hire developers based on the following criteria;
When a company is looking to match a candidate to a role, they favour experience and skills over education. Don’t be fooled, Microsoft certifications fall under the education banner, and aren’t necessarily “proof” that you are highly skilled. This is true for all but the most junior positions. Yes, if you are at the very beginning of your career. Having a decent Microsoft certification will give you a good edge over your competition. At worst, it shows that you know how to study training material and that you had the drive and determination to do so. It’s also a couple of extra lines on your CV and a little “something extra” to chat about when you get invited to interview. No, but exams like the ones offered by Microsoft will highlight areas that you are most passionate about. If you can identify where your skills are strongest, you may become a specialist. If your specialist skill is in high demand (a good SQL developer is always a good example) you will certainly be able to demand higher rates if you are a contractor/freelancer/consultant.
3. Is it worth the time/effort?
If you are serious about sitting a Microsoft exam, and I mean without cheating then you will be required to make a significant time investment. If you are already an experienced software developer looking to sit the MCSD Web Applications route, I estimate that it should take about 90 days to complete (30 days per exam [70-480, 70-486, 70-487]). And really that is for developers who have already been actively using/developing code using those technologies on a daily basis for at least a year. If you are not using these technologies regularly, you would have to at least double or triple the amount of time/effort required.
So it is?
Another incredibly tough question to answer. Honestly, it depends. It all depends on your motives. If you want to complete a Microsoft certification because you believe it will get you a promotion or a pay rise FORGET IT. Don’t waste your time because it probably won’t happen. And if you get lucky, you will truly be in the minority. I’m speaking from personal experience because this was my motivation once upon a time. If, say, you are a desktop developer looking to make the transition into web development then ABSOLUTELY. You will gain valuable insight into a wide range of technologies, and gain some hands on experience. The Microsoft exams tend to be at quite a high level, but they will certainly give you a taste for what you can expect from a full time position. And for a couple of hundred quid, you can get a nice shiny certificate to show your current/next employer.
Microsoft offers a wide range of courses, from novice (MTA) to more advanced (MCPD), targeting desktop, mobile, and web developers. Microsoft offers certifications because it generates revenue, not only from the exams but from books and supporting training material. Getting certified likely wont help you get a promotion or a pay rise, but they probably will help you get your foot in the door if you are at a more junior level. Microsoft exams, however, may help you decide on an area on specialise, and specialists usually get paid more money (especially if you’re a contractor/freelancer/consultant). Microsoft exams are a big commitment no matter what level you’re at, so be prepared to have to invest significant amounts of your time into them. I’m 70/30 in favour of sitting Microsoft exams, as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons.
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Written by Jon Preece who lives and works in Manchester, North West England. You should follow him on Twitter.