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Microsoft Certified Master: SharePoint

There has been a bit of discussion in the public blogs about the new Microsoft Certified Master program for SharePoint. Folks I respect, like Joel Oleson have said, in effect, I can’t do this because it requires that I think both from the perspective of a developer and an IT Pro. I’ve spent my whole career as an IT Pro. (Joel – Please forgive me for paraphrasing so bluntly.) He graciously complements me as someone who could possibly achieve this certification because I can do both sides. As a point of fact, I tend to drift towards the development but I can absolutely talk about load balancers, link aggregation control protocol, VLANs, core switch bandwidth, etc. Frankly I know I’m in the minority about the ability to do this — my clients remind me of it all the time.

So I’ve seen a ton of email traffic beyond what’s public in blogs and here’s what I can confidently say about the Master program — it will set you apart.

I’ve got a ton of paper certifications behind my name from CompTIA, Microsoft, and even some expired Novell certifications. I rarely write them down any longer. In fact, the seven CompTIA certifications I have are all listed as “etc” in my signature. I’ve been involved in just about every aspect of the exam development and certification process. (I suppose I’ve never proctored exams so not everything.) I’ve written exam questions. I’ve written books about exams. I’ve written articles about exams. And one thing I’ve come to realize is that I’m really good at “gaming” the questions. What I mean by that is that I use the question itself to lead me to the answer. While smart people on the exam development teams try to prevent this from happening, I can tell you that I do it on every test I take — certification or not. (What’s really fun is gaming a personality test.) So I know that you can have people who don’t know the technology who can get these certifications. (I’m not saying I don’t know them — just that I can clearly see how one could pass without knowing the requisite knowledge.)

Here’s the thing. A certification is SIMPLE thing. It’s a STANDARD, a bar which the candidate has to get over. Some could argue that the computer based exams set the bar too low. (I’ve got a book on psychometrics you can read if you believe this is the true problem — I don’t need it any longer. It cured my insomnia.) The trick with computer based exams is they are designed for VOLUME. They’re designed to provide a MINIMUM standard that people should meet. They’ve never been designed with the idea of having only a few people pass them. I was once told that each computer based certification exam could cost more than $200,000 to develop. Ouch. I hope they get a lot of people to take it.

Several years ago when Cisco released the CCIE program there were a bunch of folks who didn’t believe the costs for those exams were worth it. However, the market has proven out that this was a good thing — for Cisco and for the participants in the program. Having a CCIE really does distinguish you in that field. It’s not as prestigious as it once was, but it still carries a ton of respect.

Help Your SharePoint User

What does all of this have to do with the MCM program? Well, first, having a high bar — having a bar that provides a real hurdle for most folks has value. Sure there won’t be tons of them in the market — but there aren’t tons of Microsoft SharePoint Rangers either — you know when you get one that you’ve managed to get the right person to help you solve your issues. Having a high bar with a practical test is worth it in and of itself. That being said, that isn’t all the program is about. The much discussed fee has been a big sticking point for people but let’s look at what it really is. It’s three weeks of training.

However, it’s three weeks of training by the folks who know that topic best. You’re not going to an Microsoft Training Center that trains on Word one day and SharePoint the next — or even the SharePoint training companies that I respect that teach on Development, Administration, Branding, etc. You’re talking about the guy (or gal) that knows the topic the best. If you take the $18,500 and break it down into three weeks of training it’s $6K/week — I’m not saying that’s cheap but I’m also not saying it’s really too bad either. You’ll spend ~$3K/week for a decent training class. For me, it’s a solid deal. It’s the best you can get…

Why should someone get it? That’s one of the most frequent questions that I’ve seen in private threads. The obvious answer is so that you can make more money — make more than your investment back. Of course, for some this won’t work and others it will. My perspective is a bit different. The reason to get it as an individual is to distinguish yourself. I wrote an article “Standing Out from the Crowd” for Developer.com. This would definitely qualify, but it’s more than just finding a better job, or the next job. It’s also about doing something that you can be proud of.

One of the things that I’m the proudest of, with the exception of my family, is my pilot’s license. I earned it about seven years ago. I don’t fly much right now because I’m busy working, raising a son, and loving my wife, however, it’s still something that I can say I did. It’s not practical at all — for me. However, I know it’s something that I learned to do that relatively few people on the earth have done. Similarly I’ve met people who have learned to Scuba dive who have a similar feeling. I’m saying that there’s a certain sense of pride in knowing that you can do something. I think the MCM may be that for some people.

Another common question is why should an employer send their employee? There are a few hidden questions here but let’s start with the fact that having an MCM will distinguish your entire organization. If you’re a Microsoft Gold partner you’ve probably got competitors in your space who are also Microsoft Gold partners. How do you distinguish against them? The other hidden item is a fear that if you invest in an employee they’ll leave to go get more money, etc. Well, the fear is valid, however, there are ways of mitigating it. How? How about writing the training as a loan to the employee that’s 0% that you pay back for them in the form of a bonus for a certain amount for every month that they work for you after they come back from receiving the certification? Of course the loan becomes payable immediately if they leave.

Beyond that, you’ll select the people you send very carefully. If you send someone it’s unlikely they’ll leave unless you do something truly boneheaded. Why? Because in the end analysis we don’t work for money. We work because we like and respect the people we work with. Sure we have to cover the money thing first but most people (particularly looking at this as an option) make enough for a basic needs. At this point we want to work for people we like and respect. An employer that makes this sort of investment in someone has to endear some level of gratitude. I’ve not seen recent statistics about people leaving after they have achieved a certification but it used to be that it didn’t happen as much as employers feared.

So with my position firmly in the camp of “MCM is good” one might reasonably expect that I’ll be the first to sign up and go for it. Ultimately the money doesn’t bother me and I’m quite ready to have something else that I can say I’m very proud of. I know that I’d learn a ton from people who are at the top of their game. However, in all honestly, I’m not ready at this point to spend three weeks away from my family. (I didn’t say friends because I honestly have quite a few friends in Redmond — so I wouldn’t miss time with friends.)

So it’s probably not right for me — but it may be right for you.

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