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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

On the Demise of the MCM Certification

Recently, Microsoft decided to retire some expert-level certifications. Among them, the highest SQL Server certification: the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM).

There are several good posts on the topic, most notably:

Most indications point to economic drivers for the decision. The number of people who had achieved this level of certification was lower than anticipated.

I don’t think Microsoft counted the total cost of this decision (if economics was the true driver for the decision). In fact, I think they got the economics wrong. Why? Having a difficult-to-achieve certification increases the value of the certification by simple supply and demand. The existence of MCM’s was therefore valuable – if only as a goal to achieve. Scarcity was part of the value.

What value do MCM’s bring to Microsoft? They bring assurance to the customer base that there are skilled folks in the marketplace – professionals that can solve the problems they may encounter as their data scales and their needs evolve. More than certified individuals. Certified Masters. Does one have to be an MCM to solve customer issues? No. But there was that extra measure of assurance informed by the fact that some had achieved success on that lab portion of the exam; that they had successfully worked out enough tricky SQL Server issues – in a controlled test environment – that they could be awarded the title MCM.

If Microsoft was expecting to make money off of administering exams or training or anything (other than selling software or software services) then this goal was misplaced, in my opinion.

Certification is not a profit center. Certification is insurance.

One doesn’t purchase insurance to earn money; the primary driver for purchasing insurance is “in case something bad happens.”  For a large sector of technology purchasers, I believe no new MCMs means less insurance. Microsoft claims they are going to replace the MCM with something “better” – does this mean something that more adequately meets their economic goals? What about the goals of the customers?

Finally, killing the MCM program has created justified fear in the SQL Server Community. If Microsoft will kill the flagship certification, are any certifications safe from future elimination?


Published Monday, September 23, 2013 11:40 AM by andyleonard

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K. Brian Kelley said:

The MCSE used to be its flagship certification. It was killed off. The new MCSE is not the same as the old. Same letters, different meaning. So we can safely conclude that no certification is safe.

September 23, 2013 12:47 PM

Jason Horner said:

Great Post Andy, maybe MSL should hire more chicken farmers:)

I love this quote "Finally, killing the MCM program has created justified fear in the SQL Server Community."

Fear is most definitely an EMP(Expensive Management Practice).

September 23, 2013 3:38 PM

AaronBertrand said:

Wasn't the architect certification higher than master?

September 23, 2013 9:16 PM

andyleonard said:

Good question, Aaron,

  I am not sure.


September 23, 2013 9:22 PM

Vishal said:

I like "Certification is not a profit center. Certification is insurance."

This is really true !

September 26, 2013 2:57 AM

Wayne said:

Yes, MCA > MCM

September 27, 2013 1:20 PM

Lee Everest said:

I'm either way on this - didn't have one but was looking to get one at some point. Who else has the cert, for the most part, besides 1) someone who works for a VAR, 2) a Microsoft employee? Seems to me the ones most pissed off about the decision are the ones who look to maintain or boost their consulting efforts\credibility.

I'd venture to guess that 98% of the SQL Server professionals in the world did not perceive it a necessity to have one in order to make a living, and therefore didn't place much emphasis on obtaining one.

Everything is a profit center at Microsoft, don't kid yourself.

September 28, 2013 8:15 AM

Pat B said:

I agree that certifications should be viewed as insurance and not a profit center, but it appears that Microsoft may view them as a profit center.  My guess is that's why Microsoft is discontinuing the MCM and plans to replace it with another.  They want the certification minded developers always chasing the carrot.

October 4, 2013 10:14 AM

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