The Ongoing Evolution of Microsoft Certification
The name of the organization has changed, along with almost everything else about it: What was once Microsoft Learning is now Microsoft Learn. I've been thinking a lot about Microsoft certification lately for any number of reasons. Let me enumerate them.
Reason one: In speaking with a content manager at LinkedIn Learning (itself a part of Microsoft) earlier this week, we commiserated on how difficult it is to fit Windows 10 topics into the general collection of Microsoft certifications nowadays.
Reason two: The July 22 issue of GoCertify's Certification Watch (Vol. 23, No. 29) opens with a story titled "Microsoft Announces Trio of New Certifications."
And finally, reason number three: Earlier this week, Microsoft announced hybrid cloud capabilities as part of what it calls "the next generation of Azure Stack HCI." The upshot of this announcement is that organizations can run Azure Stack HCI on their own equipment on-premises, and it will integrate seamlessly with Azure Stack HCI in the cloud, with all instances visible and manageable through the same Azure Arc management console and environment.
If ever there was a topic that called out for a role-based certification, "Azure Stack HCI administrator" sounds like a pretty strong (if not inevitable) candidate for such treatment.
The Speeding Pace of Change and Turnover
Maybe the reason why Microsoft Learning has changed to Microsoft Learn is because you can get through the name, and onto the substance, just that little bit faster. That's important, because the Microsoft training and certification roster is turning over and changing faster all the time.
The same LinkedIn content manager I mentioned in the preceding section also told me that keeping up with the program and its rate of change poses real challenges. She said that printed media just doesn't make sense for this kind of content anymore because of the long lead times involved in conventional, paper-based publishing (for books, especially, which routinely take at least 6 months or longer to hit the streets after the writing is finished).
Alas, this means that, too often, books are already out of date by the time they come off the presses, ready to be shipped to bookstores (or to buyers and readers).
If you look at how Microsoft Learn is building and structuring its own materials, then you'll see the following influences at work. First, a profound preference for short pieces of content (generally designed to be consumed in 15 to 30 minute chunks of time).
Second, a tendency to mix formats to include video, text (reading material), hands-on labs and interactions, and questions or problem-solving assignments designed to check on comprehension and mastery. It's almost impossible, in fact, to rely solely on reading to get through cert prep and training any more.
Third, courses and more comprehensive coverage of topics — a certification prep sequence, let's say — result from a combination of underlying building blocks based on piling up the aforementioned short blocks of content.
Fourth, practice tests and actual certification exams focus much more (almost entirely, in fact) on hands-on situations, problem-solving skills, and cumulative scenarios where earlier sequences of questions and activities (setting up network addressing schemes and services, for example) feed into later, more complex issues and troubleshooting (dealing with network security through MAC address enrollment and checking techniques). Performance based testing has become the rule, rather than a noteworthy exception, across the Microsoft certification board.
The Growing Importance of Azure and its Follow-ons
I mentioned Microsoft's July 21 Azure Stack HCI announcement in this story because I see such technology announcements driving the way Microsoft structures and delivers its role-based certifications going forward. Given the capability of installing and running Azure Stack HCI technology on-premises, Microsoft already knows that somebody in IT will have to shoulder this responsibility.
Given the importance of Azure to Microsoft's current revenues and future directions, the company will be sure to provide people tasked to fill the role of on-site Azure Stack HCI administrator with the training, technology exposure, hands-on experience, and information about typical troubleshooting scenarios they're likely to encounter in working with the tools and technologies involved.
More than simply seeking financial and technical success, Microsoft knows it needs to get people ready to do the job because such preparation also lowers the burden on Microsoft's Technical Support organization, and produces more and better business outcomes. Ultimately, it also plays into the company's competitive advantage in the crowded and clamorous markets for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and cloud computing.
Azure faces many formidable competitors including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and offerings from the likes of IBM, Oracle, and Alibaba, to name just a few more of the hundreds of companies vying for cloud computing money and mind-share. Every little bit of synergy helps, including encouraging customers to simplify hybrid cloud conundrums with an "Azure everywhere" approach.
I'm starting to understand that just about everything at Microsoft — which also advertised for a Cloud PC Project Manager 2 position in late June — is hooking into Azure in some way, shape or form (if it's not already so connected). Count on Azure-related certifications to keep gaining value and import, then, as the company pivots ever further into the cloud. I'm tempted to invoke Buzz Lightyear and add "To infinity, and beyond!" in this context.
Buckle up, Microsofties: Things are bound to get interesting — and cloudy — as the mother ship keeps speeding up and proliferating into all corners of IT.