Thanks to communications earlier this month with Larry Kaye, Senior Business Strategy Manager for Microsoft Learning, I already knew some changes were coming for Microsoft certifications. With the introduction of Windows Server 2016 and a slew of related platforms at the Ignite conference in Atlanta this week, I thought we’d see new exam introductions and some shuffling around of exam requirements and language to reflect same. I even thought we’d see some reworking of cert content to reflect a more cloud- and services-focused strategy in keeping with Microsoft’s current business vision. I didn’t take things anywhere near far enough, as a quick look at the infographic Microsoft released to reflect its new cert program layout will demonstrate.

First and foremost, Microsoft has rearchitected its offerings so that all of them lead to one of five destinations. These are tied to the company’s so-called “Centers of Excellence” (an interesting term that’s ultimately tied to, of all things, U.S. Government initiatives on information security, which have used this terminology for going on a decade now). The Born to Learn blog post that lays out this new vision describes those centers of excellence as “industry-recognized areas of competence” that provide “flexibility to showcase your specific skills on Microsoft products and services.”

As the infographic shows, there are five new expert certifications, of which four are MCSE, and the fifth, MCSD. The afore-linked blog post explains these items as followed (quoted verbatim):

The first four elements in the preceding list now lead off the sizable list (12 items) on the MCSE home page, while the fifth one does likewise on the MCSD home page as well (itself now showing six items in total). Here’s one shocking item of big news: all of the certs that do not appear in the infographic will be retiring on March 31, 2017. After that, only the certifications shown will remain available from Microsoft. That means if you’ve got anything else currently underway or in serious consideration for pursuit, you will have to complete that credential on or before the end of Q1 2017 to see those plans or activities come to fruition. In other words: if this means you, it’s time to get moving!

Microsoft was entirely correct to use the term “streamline” in its explanation of the program changes (the title of the blog post is “Microsoft Streamlines Technical Certifications”). What had been a collection of 13 certifications is now being reduced to only 5, with 8 former MCSE items dropping to 4, and 5 former MCSD items dropping to 1. The key to shoe changes are in the combination of a series of lead-in MCSE credentials (of which one is now required to earn any new MCSE or MCSD) and the ability to choose a single elective exam to focus the expert level credential in on some particular aspect of the “Center of Excellence” to which one’s new MCSE or MCSD applies.

There are nine electives for the MCSD: App Builder, along with the interesting observation that “This MCSD certification can be re-earned every calendar year by passing an additional elective exam” at the bottom of its web page. Though the number of electives for the MSCE items varies by area (all appear in parentheses to the right of the cert name in the list above), the same observation holds true for all new-style expert credentials from Microsoft.

Closer examination of the individual credentials also shows that the new architecture is still in the process of unfolding. All of the expert level certs have at least one exam that shows as “Not yet available” on the cert’s home page (some show this for as many as four entries). Another interesting fact; “The resulting MCSE or MCSD certification will be added to your transcript and will never expire.” Apparently, the ability to re-earn the credential by passing a different elective in a subsequent year is intended to show “your investment in continuing education on the technology” that the expert credential covers. This process replaces the previous recertification requirement to take recertify exam every two (MCSD) or three (MCSE) years to keep one’s certification current or active.

From the present date through the end of 2016, individuals who hold a current MCSD or MCSE will earn a corresponding new credential for 2016 without having to take any additional exams. Going forward, those with inactive MCSE or MCSD can either take a recert exam or a new elective exam associated with the corresponding Center of Excellence to earn a new certification. Over time all of the retiring MCSE and MCSD credentials will move to the Legacy section of their holders’ Microsoft Learning transcripts following “retirement of the corresponding technologies.”