How to become a Microsoft Certified Expert, Part 1

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Let's be honest here, Microsoft certification doesn't have the best reputation in the industry. It used to be very easy to acquire. You used to be able to buy a copy of the test exam and study it ahead of time! Plus, for most people, the certifications weren't worth much. In fact, most people I know that got their certifications said the same thing, “We're maintaining or getting our certifications simply because we need it as a company for our partner status.”

This was pretty much what I used to think about Microsoft certifications. Fast-forward to today, and I find that things have now changed dramatically.

I figured out things were different this past year when I had to upgrade a few of my certifications (yes, because of the partner status), so I only started this task because I had to. I remembered those exams from the 2008 server versions quite clearly, so I figured I didn't need to study at all. I don't want to brag, but I've work a lot with Windows Server and Hyper-V, so I figured I could just pass the exams based on my current knowledge. I could not have been more wrong.

Today, those certifications aren't so easy. Instead, becoming Microsoft Certified Expert now requires some real studying to pass the tests. Some of the tests are rather difficult, even if you’re working with the solutions on a daily basis. I’ve now changed how I feel about taking exams. When I take an exam today, I actually take the time to study and to try out different things included in the solution. In fact, when I studied for the latest Windows Server 2012 R2 exam, I discovered some hidden gems that I now use on a daily basis.

If you prefer to just download a test exam and study the questions out of your head, then stop reading here. Yes, copies of the exam still exist (whether it is for Microsoft or other vendors), and you could probably get away with it if you wanted to. But if you want to get some real value for yourself and improve your skills (and probably even make your work life easier), then continue reading and I'll explain how to best prepare for an exam.

That's a good question, and unfortunately it isn't that easy to figure it out when you read through the website.

If you're running Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you can download the certification and training guide and use it to find the track you need.

MCSE Certification
MCSE Certification.

Since I am particularly interested in getting my server certification, I will choose to go to Server in the tool and figure out what I need. There are a few tracks you can choose from:

  • MTA: The basic certification, which you can achieve by simply getting certified in one of the four exams listed.
  • MCSA Windows Server 2012: A track that requires you to take a few exams. One optional MTA exam (from the above four listed exams), and then three more.
  • MCSA Windows Server 2012 Upgrade Path: This is where you can find out if you are able to upgrade your current certification to the newer version.
  • MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Server Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Private Cloud
  • MCSE: Communications
  • MCSE: Messaging
  • MCSE: SharePoint

Quite a few tracks here, and virtually impossible to get them all, so you will need to make choices, possibly in conjunction with the day-to-day work that you do, or in agreement with your business.

I chose to go for the MCSE Server Infrastructure certification. This means that I needed to go through a few steps and meet these requirements:

  • MCSA Windows Server 2012
  • Exam 70-413
  • Exam 70-414

Sounds easy, but of course to get the MCSA Windows Server 2012, there are also these requirements:

  • MTA (optional)
  • Exam 70-410
  • Exam 70-411
  • Exam 70-412

And then, finally, because the MTA certification was optional and I wanted to try it as well, I needed to choose one from the following four exams:

  • Exam 98-349
  • Exam 98-365
  • Exam 98-366
  • Exam 98-367

Suddenly, this track is requiring A LOT of work and it isn't so easy!

If you have ever taken ONE Microsoft exam in your career, you already have an MCP ID, a username (Microsoft account) and a password to log into that site and plan your certification track.

All you need to do is visit this site, mcp.microsoft.com, where you will be able to find your certifications and transcript so you can start planning your exams.

NOTE: If it's been a while since you earned your last certification, it's possible that may you have forgotten your ID and password. Luckily, you can easily call the support team in your country and get things sorted out. It could take a few days, but at least you can't ever lose your certifications.

The certification planner on the site is a great tool. You can view your Active Due Now, In Progress, Inactive and Active certifications.

The In Progress section is interesting because it gives me in a single glance at how far along I am on earning certain certifications.

Certification in progress
Certification planner. In Progress.

As you can see in this screenshot, I'm close to some MS certifications. Remember, I am interested in the MCSE: Server Infrastructure certification, so I see that I already have one out of three requirements completed.

Certification planner
Certification planner.

Now I know I need to take Exam 413 and Exam 414 to fulfill my certification.

Before taking a certification and becoming a Microsoft Certified Expert, it is important to make sure you actually understand which certification you need and what requirements are involved. Work together with your company to identify what you'd like to achieve and what you need to get there. The certification, training guide and the MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) website should give you all the information you need to understand this process.

I briefly discussed how Microsoft exams aren't as easy as they used to be. They have become more difficult to achieve, and more importantly, it is now much more interesting to study for an exam and then use those learned skills in your day-to-day business.

In part 2 of this blog, I'll continue my example and figure out what kind of information Microsoft offers to prepare for the exam. In part 3, I'll go a bit further and talk about what else is needed to be successful.

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About the author
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Mike Resseler is a Product Strategy Specialist for Veeam. Mike is focused on technologies around Hyper-V and System Center. With years of experience in the field he presents on many occasions on large events such as MMS, TechEd and TechDays. Mike has been an awarded the MVP for System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management since 2010. His major hobby is discussing and developing solid Disaster Recovery scenarios. Additionally, he has enterprise-class experience in Private Cloud architecture, deployment with marked focus on protection from the bottom to the top. He holds certifications in many Microsoft Technologies such as MCITP.
Follow Mike on @MikeResseler or @Veeam and on Google+.