Microsoft Developer Certifications: What's Your Path?

Monday Mar 31st 2003 by Steve Rowe
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Learn if a Microsoft certification might be good for you. Learn if the Microsoft's MCAD, MCSD, MCDBA, and MCT certifications should be in your future.

In this set of articles, we have been exploring the IT certifications offered by Microsoft. In our last article, we discussed the MCP, MCSA, and MCSE certifications. You learned how many exams each certification requires and the types of topics you may test yourself on (click here for the previous article). In this article, we will cover Microsoft's MCAD, MCSD, MCDBA, and MCT certifications. As you can tell from these two articles, Microsoft has a lot to offer in the certification realm! They even have a full Microsoft Office certification track. We don't talk about it in our articles because we are focusing on IT-level certifications only; they may interest you as well.

MCAD and MCSD

If you prefer software development to networking, the Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) and the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certifications may interest you. These are the premier developer certifications that Microsoft offers for their programming languages, solution architectures, and frameworks. According to www.mcpmag.com, the number of people certified with the MCSD credential is near 40,000. As of January 2003, nearly 1,300 people have pursued and passed the brand new MCAD certification.

The MCAD and MCSD curricula and exams have not reached the popularity of the MCSA and MCSE tracks. Often, experience and a verifiable portfolio of work is more important to developers in the market than certifications, but these certifications do hold valuable benefits for the knowledge level and skill set of a developer who uses Microsoft development technologies. Aptly stated by well-known development author Mike Gunderloy, "The best reason for going after the MCAD/MCSD on the .NET track is that studying for the three core exams will force you to become familiar with the breadth of features that the .NET Framework (and, to a lesser extent, the VB .NET and C# languages) has to offer. When you're moving into a new development environment that's as flexible as .NET, it's easy to get lost. If you haven't taken the time to survey the Framework, you'll constantly run up against questions such as "how can I read data from a network port?" or "can I intercept data from a Web Service before it goes to the client?" and not have a clue where to turn for the answers. An even more insidious problem is that you can develop a sort of tunnel vision. This can happen, for example, if you're a Visual Basic 6 developer making the transition to Visual Basic .NET by converting existing projects. You'll only be exposed to the classes that the upgrade wizard uses, rather than to the full breadth of capabilities of .NET, and so tend to do things in old, inefficient ways. Sure, anyone can sit down and try to read the enormous help file that Microsoft provides for the .NET Framework, but studying for the exams will give you a structured way to go through the main points." As Mike states, studying these curricula and passing the exams greatly expands your arsenal of tools and methodologies you can use in your development career.

The MCAD certification will only test you on .NET languages and frameworks. Whereas, the MCSD certification can be achieved by passing Visual Studio 6 technologies exams or by passing exams on .NET technologies. No upgrade exam exists for those holding an MCSD in Visual Studio 6 technologies to move to an MCSD with .NET. The breadth of changes in functionalities between Visual Studio 6 and Visual Studio .NET will require candidates to take a new set of exams.

Let's inspect each of these certifications in more detail.

MCAD

The MCAD is a relatively new certification for developers. Much like the MCSA, this certification is seen as a mid-level certification between the MCP level and the more premier MCSD certification. (To see more on the MCP, see the first article, located here.) This certification will best fit individuals who develop, build, implement, and manage applications on more of a department level. The types of applications you will develop and support are likely to be Windows and Web applications. If you are new to the development world, it is recommended that you have at least a year's worth of experience developing Windows and/or Web applications. Be sure you have a solid grasp on fundamental Visual Basic .NET or Visual C# .NET before moving into an MCAD track. Having the fundamentals under control will greatly help you study and pass the exams.

To get the MCAD credential, you will be required to pass three exams. This is composed of two core exams and one elective. The primary programming languages that one can center on with the MCAD is Visual Basic .NET and Visual C# .NET. XML is also tested on for the creation of Web Services and server components within the .NET Framework. Let's look at the exam categories in more depth:

  • Core Exams: You will need to pass one exam on either Web application development or Windows application development. Next, you need to pass one exam Web Services and Server Components exam. You will complete these exams by using a language of your choice from either Visual Basic .NET or Visual C# .NET. If you want to test in the language you did not do your core testing in, see the Electives bullet next.
  • Elective Exams: After passing the two required core exams, you will need to pass one elective exam. Topics you can choose include designing and implementing solutions based on SQL ServerTM 2000 Enterprise Edition, BizTalk Server© 2000 Enterprise Edition, or Commerce Server 2000. If you wish to not test on one of the Microsoft Enterprise Servers, you can take a Web or Windows Application development exam in the language opposite of the language you used to pass your core exams. For example, if you used VB .NET to pass the core, you can take either the Web application or Windows application exam using Visual C# .NET.

As with all Microsoft exams, be sure to visit Microsoft's certification site for the most up-to-date information on all the exams available. To find the most current information for the MCAD, try this site.

MCSD

As mentioned earlier, the MCSD certification is the premier Microsoft developer certification. MCSD candidates will be expected to demonstrate abilities in developing and maintaining departmental level applications, as an MCAD is expected to do, but the MCSD is expected to broaden their skill set into analyzing, planning, and designing enterprise-level solutions. The MCSD is to also have an expert-level familiarity with Microsoft development tools, platforms, languages, and technologies to analyze, plan, and design solutions. The MCSD candidate is recommended to have at least two years of experience developing and maintaining solutions and applications. This experience should also equate to having the skill set of an MCAD. If you are working toward the MCSD on .NET technologies, you will achieve the MCAD status along the way because the MCAD's required exams are a direct sub-set of the MCSD's required exams.

MCSD on Visual Studio 6 Technologies

As you have learned, you can achieve the MCSD credential on either .NET technologies or Visual Studio 6 technologies (sometimes referred to as an MCSD on Windows 2000). To achieve an MCSD on Visual Studio 6 technologies you will have to pass three core exams and one elective. The language choices in this version of the MCSD will center on Visual Basic 6, FoxPro, and Visual C++ 6. The following list breaks down the topics you will encounter in the core section of this exam track.

  • Desktop Applications Development Exam: You will be required to pass one exam from this category that deals with Designing and Implementing Desktop Applications with a Microsoft language. Again, you can complete this exam with VB 6, FoxPro, or VC++ 6 for a language choice.
  • Distributed Applications Development Exam: You will be required to pass one exam from this category as well. These exams center on Designing and Implementing Distributed Applications with one of three Microsoft languages discussed earlier. This exam will assess your ability to create applications that will possibly reside on multiple servers and be accessible via avenues such as the Internet, rather than applications that will be only designed for desktop-level use.
  • Solution Architecture Exam: To obtain the MCSD on Visual Studio 6 certification, you must pass the solution architectures exam. This is commonly known as Exam 70-100: Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solution Architectures. This exam will require you to be able to analyze business requirements, current business IT infrastructures, and so forth, and design a solution that meets the needs of the business based on Microsoft development technologies. This exam is at the heart of what an MCSD is expected to be able to do.

There are several electives available for this exam. Generally, the electives exams center their focus around designing and implementing solutions with servers and languages. You may want to test on creating solutions for SQL Server, Exchange Server, or other Enterprise Servers. You also may take a core exam as an elective, as long as you did not use that exam to satisfy your core requirements.

MCSD for .NET Technologies

The MCSD for .NET Technologies is the newest form of the MCSD certification. As one would expect, the strong push Microsoft is making for their .NET platform and technologies has resulted in a full curriculum and certification exam list to back up this technology. Many of the exams you will encounter in this MCSD track are the same as you encounter with the MCAD track. As mentioned earlier, the MCAD is a direct subset of exams for the MCSD on .NET Technologies. Developers who are looking to analyze, plan, and design enterprise-level solutions with .NET development technologies should migrate toward this path. It is recommended that the candidate have two years of relevant development experience and have a solid grasp on the fundamentals of Visual Basic .NET and/or Visual C# .NET.

To achieve the MCSD for .NET Technologies, you are required to pass four core exams and one elective. As you can see, Microsoft is requiring an extra exam for the core set in this MCSD version. The following list will give you some further insights into the topics covered in the core exam section:

  • Web Application Development Exams: You will be required to pass one exam that demonstrates your ability to develop and implement Web applications using the tools in Visual Studio .NET and your choice of language—either Visual Basic .NET or Visual C# .NET.
  • Windows Application Development Exams: You will be required to pass one exam that demonstrates your ability to develop and implement Windows applications using the tools in Visual Studio .NET and your choice of language—either Visual Basic .NET or Visual C# .NET.
  • XML Web Services and Server Components Development Exams: You will be required to pass one exam that demonstrates your ability to develop and implement XML Web Services and Server Components using Visual Studio .NET tools and your choice of programming language.
  • Solutions Architecture Exam: This core exam is a separating exam between the MCAD certification and the full MCSD certification. This is known as the 70-300 "Analyzing Requirements and Defining Microsoft .NET Solution Architectures" exam. The knowledge gained from this exam helps you learn to analyze, plan, and develop solutions based on business requirements. No matter what language track you are using, you will be required to pass this exam to obtain the MCSD credential.

The elective exam choices are given as an opportunity to broaden your development knowledge with a specific Microsoft server product. Options include exams on designing and deploying solutions on SQL ServerTM 2000, Enterprise Edition, BizTalk© Server 2000, Enterprise Edition, or Commerce Server 2000. Knowing how to develop with Microsoft's Enterprise Server lineup will be critical for the MCSD candidate because it is likely you will encounter one or more of these products in a business you are analyzing and designing solutions for. Keep an open mind about always studying and working with the different server products as a means of professional development and growth.

As with all the other certifications we discuss, be sure to check the Microsoft Web site for current news, exams, tracks, and exam numbering. For the MCSD track, be sure to periodically check the MCSD site for current news and policies.

MCDBA

The Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) certification was created in response to the growing role of and demand for qualified database administrators and developers who use Microsoft's SQL Server database. This certification came into its own as the sales of SQL Server 7.0 began to climb and Microsoft realized the need for qualified administrators and developers to effectively use this product. Currently, www.mcpmag.com lists upwards to 95,000 people certified with the MCDBA credential. You will also note that this certification invites those who wish to be network and server administrators as well as people who want to stay closer to the development side of IT. While pursuing this certification you will find, particularly in the elective exams, that you can hone your skills one way or another.

Overall, the MCDBA is expected to be able to design physical databases, manage databases, monitor database performance, install and configure the SQL Server product, construct logical data models, and work with the T-SQL language. T-SQL is the flavor of SQL that is more native to the SQL Server product. An MCDBA who works closer to the development side of IT will also be able to develop software solutions based on SQL Server or be able to make enterprise solutions or Web Services that include SQL Server capabilities in some form.

To achieve the MCDBA status, you must pass a total of four exams. You will be required to pass three exams from the core set of exams and one from the elective exams. The following list will highlight the topics that you can select from the core set of exams:

  • SQL Server Administration Exam: You will need to pass one exam on administering SQL Server. Topics will include installation, configuration, administration, and management. You have the option to take the exam for SQL Server 7.0 or for SQL Server 2000, Enterprise Edition at this time.
  • SQL Server Design Exam: You will be required to pass one exam that tests your knowledge on designing databases based on business needs, then your ability to implement that design into a real database infrastructure. This exam set also allows you to select between testing for SQL Server 7.0 or 2000, Enterprise Edition.
  • Networking Systems Exam: The third core exam requires you to pass one exam dealing with a network server operating system. This gives the MCDBA fundamental knowledge of the network infrastructure that their SQL Server infrastructure may well be part of. At this time, you can take an exam on installing, configuring, and administering a Windows 2000 Server or you will soon be able to test on Windows Server 2003. If the MCDBA interests you and you would like to pursue this with Windows Server 2003, stay close to Microsoft's MCDBA Web site to find out when this option opens to you.

The electives section for this certification has a plethora of options. As noted earlier, the elective exams for the MCDBA allow the candidate some flexibility in which area, administration and/or development, of IT they wish to work in. While perusing the objectives list, you will note you can take exams on developing with Visual Studio 6 technologies or .NET development technologies. Also, you can take exams on Windows 2000 networking topics if network and database administration is your area of interest.

With the demand for qualified database professionals, this certification offers you considerable professional growth. As you have seen, the MCDBA offers many points of flexibility and plenty of opportunities to experience how SQL Server relates to and works with other Microsoft networking and development technologies. If this certification interests you, be sure to periodically check out the MCDBA site for news, information, and exam names, numbers, and expectations.

MCT

The Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification is the last IT certification we will discuss. This certification was intentionally left until last because one of the major criteria for this certification is to hold one of the "premier" Microsoft certifications before you can achieve MCT status. Basically, you must hold at least an MCSE on Windows 2000, MCSD on Visual Studio 6 or .NET, or MCDBA before you can pursue the MCT.

This certification is for those premier certification holders who want to train others in Microsoft IT technologies or for someone in which training others will be a part of their overall job description. Getting the MCT certification allows you to be able to teach elements of the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) or Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) in Microsoft-approved Training Locations. You will also have access to a private MCT site where you can download course materials and curriculum materials. Typical holders of the MCT credential will teach MOC courses in Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers, also known as CTEC's (pronounced see-techs). You will also be able to deliver instruction for Microsoft Partners and for Microsoft IT Academy Programs.

The MCT is regarded highly within Microsoft certification channels because obtaining this certification requires much from the candidate in order to gain. According to www.mcpmag.com, approximately only 10,000 individuals hold this certification. Also, it is important to note that another MCT program requirement is that you must renew this certification on an annual basis. The MCT "year" runs from October to September.

The following list provides you with the requirements to achieve the MCT certification:

  • Acquire a Premiere MCP Certification: As mentioned earlier, you must hold at least an MCSE 2000, MCSD on Visual Studio 6 or .NET Technologies, or an MCDBA.
  • Attend a Microsoft Course at a Microsoft CTEC: This requires the MCT candidate to attend a Microsoft technical education class that is at least three days in length and attendance is made within 12 months of submitting your MCT application. This is a critical element because you will experience class flow, instructional design and ideas, typical student questions, lab exercises, and interaction skills. It is recommended that you find an MCT who has two years of experience teaching Microsoft technologies.
  • Demonstrate Instructional Presentation Skills: This requirement asks you to provide evidence of instructional skills. In other words, you have proven your ability to teach and effectively interact with technical students. Several ways exist for you to prove this. First, you can obtain the CTT+ certification from CompTIA (see www.comptia.org for details), you can attend a Microsoft training workshop, or provide a technical training credential you may have earned from Caldera, Cisco, Citrix, Novell, or Oracle.
  • Fill Out the MCT Application: This step can be completed at https://partnering.one.microsoft.com/mcp. This is a secured Web site. To access this site, you must be a certified professional and have a Microsoft Passport.

If your year has come to an end and you need to complete a renewal application for your MCT status, the following list gives you what you need to have (as reported by Microsoft's MCT site):

  • Maintain a premier MCP certification
  • Deliver at least two Microsoft training courses
  • Earn 15 Technical Continuing Education Credits (CEC's)
  • Earn 5 Instructional Continuing Education Credits (CEC's)

To stay current on MCT news and events and to stay informed on MCT requirements and renewal policies, visit the MCT site.

Conclusions

In this edition of our look at Microsoft certifications, you have covered requirements and information for the MCAD, MCSD, MCDBA, and MCT certifications. As you probably have guessed, much goes into achieving a Microsoft certification. Yet, with Microsoft's dominance in the IT marketplace, you will do well for yourself to pursue one or more Microsoft certifications to have and maintain IT skills that will be desirable.

As always, if you decide to go for a Microsoft certification, determine your goals, assess your preferred learning styles, and figure your financing budget as you seek out training and educational materials. In all, look for training guides and cram guides that offer you thorough content and plenty of hands-on experiences. Microsoft's exams tend to have case study and scenario-based questions that require more from the candidate than simple recall and recognition of information. Also, seek out solid practice exam engines that are close to the real exam in terms of testing environment and question content. You would be best served to find practice exams that are harder than the real exam to better prepare yourself for the exam. Finally, exam tracks, numbers, and contents can and do change. Be sure that you periodically check the Web site for your particular certification or check out Microsoft's certification home page at TRAINCERT for current news, policies, and information.

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