Application Lifecycle Management: A Catch-All Cert for the Fearless Developer
Application development can be an easy field to get lost in. In many cases, everyday work keeps a developer up-to-date — and this, combined with the high demand for developers, can lead the unwary coder into a false sense of security, or onto a professional plateau.
It's important to remember that there is still climbing to be done. As more and more people enter the IT field, and as the IT field continues to expand, the day may soon come where it's not enough to be just a developer. Specialization is a great way to increase both your job security and your earning potential without sacrificing the field you love.
Take, for example, lifecycle management. Microsoft's specialized cert for this field, MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management, recently found itself recognized in CIO.com's Certification Hot List for 2015 as one of the certs that is most likely to net you higher pay, due to its high rate of growth in the field. This is a great specialization for a developer looking for the next rung on the ladder of success, although certifications in the specialty are, as of yet, a bit scarce.
Put simply, lifecycle management is the art of overseeing a product from its inception through development, deployment, updates, and finally retirement. Lifecycle management should never be put simply, of course — that downplays the difficulty and reward of the practice. It's not merely a matter of good development, where the product is built elegantly, nor is it confined to blueprinting, where the plans are laid out and set in motion like a wind-up toy.
A good lifecycle manager receives feedback and adjusts course accordingly in every phase of a product's realization — indeed, often multiple times or even constantly. A lifecycle manager is a gentleman soldier, equally able to survey the battlefield from the heights of market research and to get dirty in the development trenches.
It should come as no surprise, then, that lifecycle management is a highly-requested skill among employers, and is only growing in popularity. But while everybody may agree that they need lifecycle managers, they have a much harder time deciding what that actually means. The explanation given above is as accurate as any — the devil is in the details.
What does it mean to be a lifecycle manager? Are you primarily a developer? A development management pro? A market researcher? A businessman? Or perhaps it's all about quality assurance? Faced with such questions, employers gleefully answer "yes." You must be at least a dabbler in all of the above. It should not be forgotten, however, that, above all, this is a development position. When all is said and done, you're still expected to know how to hack together a good script.
If you're interested in Application Lifecycle Management, then Microsoft's cert is really the best place to start (assuming, of course, that you're already an able developer). You'll need to understand Microsoft Visual Studios, as much of the cert is based around your ability with the program. There are technically no pre-requisites, although there are elective courses one can use to prepare. Microsoft also provides online study aids. The certification process itself consists of three exams: 496, 497 and 498.
Another great certification to consider is PMI's durable Project Management Professional, recognized in Global Knowledge's rundown of Top Paying Certifications for 2013 (note also that Microsoft's MCSD made that list as well). This certification focuses more on the management side than the development side, evaluating you more for your ability to oversee a team than a specific application. The prerequisites for this one are a bit more strenuous than with the MCSD, but if you have an associate's or bachelor's degree and experience in project management, this is probably a good one to shoot for.