The evolution of Microsoft certification

In this article you will learn a bit of history concerning Microsoft certification. If you were ever confused as to which acronym corresponds to which Microsoft cert, then this essay is for you!
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Many newcomers to information technology want to earn one or more Microsoft certifications in order to demonstrate their competency and get a leg up on their first or next professional position. Over the past 10 years or so we have observed a significant revision in the number of and nomenclature used in Microsoft IT pro cert titles.

This “alphabet soup” of acronyms can be mighty confusing not only for newbies but also for seasoned vets who desire certification.

First-generation Microsoft certifications ^

Until fairly recently, the golden credential for Windows systems administrators was the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) title. This credential carried a lot of weight in the IT marketplace, and folks spent quite a bit of money and effort to attain it.

The way Microsoft certs used to work is that once you passed an exam in a particular technology, you became a Microsoft Certified Professional, or MCP. Therefore, you could become an MCP in:

  • Windows XP
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Exchange Server 2003

and so forth. For higher-level Windows Server 2003 admin titles, we had the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and the aforementioned MCSE. However, Microsoft felt the MCP title alone was too monolithic. In other words, it was cumbersome and difficult for an IT professional to differentiate his or her skill set by presenting a bunch of non-interlocking MCP titles.

For a while Microsoft experimented with MCSE specializations, but this idea never really took off.

Second-generation Microsoft certifications ^

After the release of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft fundamentally shifted the playing field with regard to their Windows certification portfolio. The way it works now is that you become a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) in each Microsoft technology for which you pass the corresponding certification exam.

What’s cool about this schema is that Microsoft has tailored the logos to accommodate multiple certs (see screenshot for an illustration).


MCTS certification logo

Thus, we can more granularly define our Microsoft technology skill sets on our business cards, on our resumes, and during job interviews.

With regard to higher-level Windows certifications, the MCSE has been supplanted by the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) credential. Confusingly, there are actually two MCITP titles for Windows Server 2008 administration:

  • MCITP: Server Administrator
  • MCITP: Enterprise Administrator

In my opinion, this dual MCITP nonsense represents nothing more than an additional revenue stream for Microsoft. For my money, I would suggest that you earn the MCITP: Server Administrator title and be done with it (the only reason I earned both MCITP titles myself is because I am a “completest”).

Market impact of the MCITP ^

The MCITP program is a few years old now, but in my experience the market penetration of this title is moving s-l-o-w-l-y. For instance, run a quick job search at and see how many references to MCSE still exist.

It will likely take a few more years before HR professionals and IT hiring managers make the paradigm shift in understanding from MCP and MCSE to MCTS and MCITP. Be patient!

Recertification advice ^

According to the Microsoft Learning Web site, IT pro certifications are retired when one or both of the following is true:

  • The technology has reached the end of mainstream support
  • Two newer versions of the technology exist in the market

For instance, when Windows Server 2008 was released, Microsoft shortly thereafter announced the retirement of Windows Server 2000 certification and promoted certification upgrade paths to Windows Server 2008 MCITP.

Thus, you should not (and I repeat should NOT) pursue the MCSE in Windows Server 2003, but instead you should have your sights set squarely on Windows Server 2008 credentialing.

When Microsoft releases Windows Server 8, this will formally mark the death knell of the Windows Server 2003 portfolio. As with all things related to technology, you are either ahead of the curve or way behind it.

Conclusion ^

I hope that you found this article helpful. Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments portion of this post. I am particularly interested in hearing your experiences with Microsoft certification and your future plans in this regard.

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  1. Anonymous 9 years ago

    IMHO, because of "It will likely take a few more years before HR professionals and IT hiring managers make the paradigm shift in understanding from MCP and MCSE to MCTS and MCITP.", it is still a good idea for people to consider trying to earn MCSE while they still can.


  2. Mohamed Roushdy 9 years ago

    I've one MCP, and i've earned MCITP:server admin, i think it's quite enough for me right now. But i think MCSE was more detailed in server and system administration than MCITP series.


  3. Karl Schantz 5 years ago

    I originally started out as an MSCE and MCSA in Windows 2000. I upgraded both of these to Windows Server 2003 and later earned the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator. I can't say that these certifications helped me get the job I have, but the material I used to study has helped me immensely in my job because I am not a "test taker". Of course I have used study guides to prepare for the format of the test questions. Most of us know that you will not pass the test from experience or by using those huge text books you can buy on Amazon. The difference is that I work with the products, and if I read an example question that I don't understand the answer to, I research the question so I actually understand it. As far as the MCITP: Server Administrator, of course it isn't as technical as the MCSE, because it was the equivalent of the MCSA. If you wanted to be the equivalent of the MCSE, you would have had to earn the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator. I doubt I will go after any more Microsoft certifications. It takes too much effort to obtain the higher level certs that require 5 or more exams, and by the time you earn one, you could be more than halfway to the end of the life cycle of the product.


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