Microsoft Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

Microsoft Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths
By , Mary Kyle

Microsoft offers certifications on server, desktop, application, database and developer platforms. This certification guide will help you get started with Microsoft's MTA, MCSA, MCSE, MCSD, Specialist credentials as well as MCT and MCE certs.


Microsoft is best known for its Windows operating systems and Office software, but it has a much broader product portfolio that includes online services (Bing, MSN, advertising), gaming (Xbox 360), hardware (tablets, PCs, keyboards, and mice) and more. The company also has a robust certification program that churns out qualified administrators and technicians to support its system and application products.

Achieving IT certifications through the Microsoft Certification Program shows a person's competence in a specific Microsoft technology, and it can result in all kinds of work-related and personal benefits. For example, studies show that IT certifications increase the chances of landing a job (or getting a promotion), and 86 percent of hiring managers say IT certs are a medium or high priority.

Microsoft Certification Program Overview

The Microsoft Certification Program is divided into five main categories:

  • Server: Windows Server, Exchange Server, Lync (now focused on Office 365 and Skype), SharePoint and Microsoft Azure certifications
  • Desktop: Windows, devices certifications
  • Applications: Office, Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics certifications
  • Database: SQL Server certifications
  • Developer: Visual Studio, SharePoint, Applications and Microsoft Azure certifications

Certifications within the Microsoft Certification Program include the following credentials:

  • Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Microsoft Solutions Developer (MCSD)
  • Microsoft Specialist
  • Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS)

After you pass your first qualifying Microsoft certification exam, you are deemed a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and given access to a benefits and exams dashboard, which provides certificates and transcripts, downloadable certification logos, promotional offers and lots more. You also get the MCP designation on your Microsoft transcript. It's important to understand that only the MCSA, MCSE, MCSE and Specialist certifications are qualifying MCP certs. Neither MTA nor MOS certifications qualify for MCP status, and none of the exams are prerequisites for MCSA, MCSE, MCSD or Specialist certifications.

Note: You might also see Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications when perusing the Microsoft Certifications website. MCTS certs primarily deal with older editions of Windows Server, Windows clients, Exchange Server and related platforms, and many are retired or will be retired by July 2016.

MCP exams cost $150 USD, and MTA exams cost $115 (for individuals) or $69 (for academic students) unless noted otherwise in this article. In cases where a certification requires multiple exams, you can often purchase the vouchers as a discounted package.

In addition to the certifications outlined above, Microsoft offers its MCT: Microsoft Certified Trainer and MCE: Microsoft Certified Educator credentials to those who are interested in teaching others about Microsoft technologies and products.

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Microsoft Server Certifications

A Microsoft Server certification is ideal for the IT professional who designs, deploys, configures and/or manages a Windows Server environment, which may include various desktops and devices. Folks who achieve this type of certification work as systems administrators, systems analysts and the like.

The Microsoft Server certification track includes MTA, MCSA and MCSE credentials. Within the MTA Servertrack there is one certification -- namely, IT Infrastructure. To obtain it, a candidate needs to pass one of five exams:

  • Windows Server Administration Fundamentals (98-365)
  • Networking Fundamentals (98-366)
  • Security Fundamentals (98-367)
  • Mobility and Device Fundamentals (98-368)
  • Cloud Fundamentals (98-369

The MCSAServer track includes Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 and Linux on Azure certs. Both of the Windows Server tracks require three exams each. Only two exams are required for the Linux on Azure certification.

The MCSEServer track includes Server Infrastructure, Desktop Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Messaging, Communication and SharePoint. The Server Infrastructure, Desktop Infrastructure and Private Cloud solution tracks require the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 as a prerequisite, while the Messaging, Communication and SharePoint solution tracks require the MCSA: Office 365 credential. In addition to the MCSA, candidates must also pass two additional exams to earn an MCSE Server credential.

Note: The MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure credential is slated to retire sometime in 2016. Candidates should check with Microsoft for updates to the retirement schedule.

The three exams required for the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 certification are:

  • Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 (70-410)
  • Administering Windows Server 2012 (70-411)
  • Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services (70-412)

The MCSA: Office 365 credential requires two exams:

  • Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements (70-346)
  • Enabling Office 365 Services (70-347)

Once you become an MCSA, you can take two additional exams specific to the MCSE Server path of your choice, as detailed in Table 1.

Table 1: MCSE Server Track Certifications and Exams

MCSE CertificationExams
MCSE: Server Infrastructure• Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure (70-413)
• Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure (70-414)
MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure• Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure (70-415)
• Implementing Desktop Application Environments (70-416)
MCSE: Private Cloud• Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (70-246)
• Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (70-247)
MCSE: Enterprise Devices and Apps• Deploying Windows Desktops and Enterprise Applications (70-695)
• Administering System Center Confirmation Manager and Intune (70-696)
MCSE: Data Platform• Developing SQL Server Databases (70-464)
• Designing Solutions for SQL Server (70-465)
MCSE: Business Intelligence• Implementing Data Models and Reports with Microsoft SQL Server (70-466)
• Designing Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server (70-467)
MCSE: Messaging• Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (70-341)
• Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (70-342)
MCSE: Communication• Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015 (70-333)
• Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (70-334
MCSE: SharePoint• Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (70-331)
• Advanced Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (70-332)


Microsoft Desktop Certifications

A Microsoft Desktop certification is designed for those who deploy, configure and/or manage a Windows desktop environment and related devices, whether on-premises or in the cloud. IT professionals with this type of certification usually fill positions such as help desk technicians, support personnel and systems administrators, to name a few.

The Microsoft Desktop certification path includes Microsoft Specialist, MTA and MCSA certifications. The Microsoft Specialist in Windows 10 requires passing one exam (Configuring Windows Devices, 70-697). A Microsoft Specialist in Windows 7 is also available; however, given the fact that other Windows 7 credentials are being retired, candidates should concentrate on Windows 10.

The MTA Desktop certification path has one cert -- IT Infrastructure -- just like the MTA Server track mentioned previously. The MTA IT Infrastructure track is earned by passing one of five exams on Windows Server administration, networking, security, mobility and device fundamentals, or cloud.

MCSA Desktop certifications include credentials for Windows 10 and Windows 8. MCSA: Windows 10 requires one exam -- Configuring Windows Devices (70-697). The Windows 8 exams focus on configuring the Windows 8.1 operating system (exam 70-687) and management and maintenance (exam 70-688). Because the MCSA: Windows 8 credential retires in July 2016, it's best to pursue the MCSA: Windows 10.

The lone MCSE Desktop certification is the MCSE: Enterprise Devices and Apps, which requires the MCSA: Windows 8 (which retires in July 2016) plus two exams: Deploying Windows Desktops and Enterprise Applications (70-695) and Administering System Center Configuration Manager and Intune (70-696). Because the MCSA: Windows 8 certification retires in July 2016, the requirements for this credential will be updated before then, and will most likely point to the MCSA: Windows 10. As we write this story, however, no official word has come out as to what it might be called or when it might be available.

Microsoft Database Certifications

Database design, creation and maintenance is particularly important to organizations today, considering that data storage is key to most business computing, and nearly every website is supported by one or more databases running in the background. A database administrator is in charge of all kinds of database-related functions, from development, to storage and retrieval, troubleshooting and security.

Microsoft's Database certification path includes the MTA, MCSA and MCSE. The MTA Databasetrack requires one exam: Database Fundamentals (98-364).

There's also only one cert in the MCSA Database track -- the MCSA: SQL Server 2012, which requires these exams:

  • Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (70-461)
  • Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases (70-462)
  • Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (70-463)

The MCSE Databasetrack offers two certs: the MCSE: Data Platform and MCSE: Business Intelligence. Each requires five exams; the three MCSA exams listed previously in this section and the MCSE-specific exams listed in Table 2.

Table 2: MCSE Database Certifications and Exams

MCSE CertificationExams
MCSE: Data Platform• Developing Microsoft SQL Server Databases (70-464)
• Designing Database Solutions for SQL Server (70-465)
MCSE: Business Intelligence• Implementing Data Models and Reports with Microsoft SQL Server (70-466)
• Designing Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server (70-467)

Microsoft Developer Certifications

Microsoft Developer certifications aim at application and mobile app developers who use programming languages and source code to create software. A developer may work independently or, more often, with a team, to develop, prototype, deploy, test and modify applications for computers and many types of electronic devices. The Microsoft Developer certification path includes MTA and MCSD certifications.

The MTA Developercertification recognizes individuals who are entry-level software developers. The cert requires candidates to pass one of the following exams:

  • Software Development Fundamentals (98-361)
  • HTML5 App Development Fundamentals (98-375)
  • Software Testing Fundamentals (98-379)

The MCSD Developer track has six certifications to choose from: Windows Store Apps (HTML5 and C#, three exams each), Web Applications (three exams), SharePoint Applications (four exams), Application Lifecycle Management (three exams) and Azure Solutions Architect (three exams). The details are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3: MCSD Developer Certifications and Exams

MCSD CertificationExams
MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using HTML5• Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (70-480)
• Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps Using HTML5 and JavaScript (70-481)
• Advanced Windows Store App Development Using HTML5 and JavaScript (70-482)
MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using C#• Programming in C# (70-483)
• Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps Using C# (70-484)
• Advanced Windows Store App Development Using C# (70-485)
MCSD: Web Applications• Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (70-480)
• Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications (70-486)
• Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services (70-487)
MCSD: SharePoint• Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (70-480)
• Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications (70-486)
• Developing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 Core Solutions (70-488)
• Developing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 Advanced Solutions (70-489)
MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management• Administering Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (70-496)
• Software Testing with Visual Studio (70-497)
• Delivering Continuous Value with Visual Studio Application Lifecycle Management (70-498)
MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect• Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions (70-532)
• Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions (70-533)
• Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions (70-534)


Microsoft Applications Certifications

Certifications in the Microsoft Applications track vary widely, from proving competency in using a single Office product to managing Office 365 services and user login credentials. This track is also fairly large; it includes an MCSA certification as well as the entire Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), MOS Expert and MOS Master offerings.

The MCSA Applicationstrack includes a single cert – the MCSA: Office 365. Two exams are required to obtain the credential: Part 1: Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements (70-346) and Part 2 Enabling Office 365 Services (70-347).

Microsoft offers a MOS Office 2013 certification for each Office application (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, SharePoint and OneNote). Office 2010 and 2007 credentials are still available, but unless you have a specific reason for achieving them, focus on Office 2013.

The MOS 2013 Expert certification identifies individuals with advanced Office skills and requires candidates to pass four exams. The MOS 2013 Master certification is the pinnacle of the MOS Certification Program and requires successful completion of six exams. Table 4 provides exam details.

Table 4: MOS Office 2013 Application Certifications and Exams

MOS 2013 CertificationExams
MOS on Office 2013Pick one exam:
    • Word 2013 (77-418)
    • Excel 2013 (77-420)
    • PowerPoint 2013 (77-422)
    • Outlook 2013 (77-423)
    • Access 2013 (77-424)
    • SharePoint 2013 (77-419)
    • OneNote 2013 (77-421)
MOS Expert on Office 2013Pick one:
    • Microsoft Office Word 2013 Expert (77-425 and 77-426)
    • Microsoft Office Excel 2013 Expert (77-427 and 77-428)
MOS Master on Office 2013Word 2013 – Four exams (three required and one elective):
    • Required exams: Word 2013 Expert Part One (77-425), Word 2013 Expert Part Two (77-426) and Excel 2013 (77-420)
    • Elective exams (chose one): PowerPoint (77-422), Access 2013 (77-424), Outlook 2013 (77-423), SharePoint 2013 (77-419) or OneNote 2013 (77-421)

Excel 2013
–  Four exams (three required and one elective):
    • Required exams: Excel 2013 Expert Part One (77-427), Excel 2013 Expert Part Two (77-428) and Word 2013 (77-418)
    • Elective exams (choose one): PowerPoint (77-422), Access 2013 (77-424), Outlook 2013 (77-423), SharePoint 2013 (77-419) or OneNote 2013 (77-421)

Traditional Office 2013
– Four exams:
    • Word 2013 Expert Part One (77-425), Word 2013 Expert Part 2 (77-426), Excel 2013 Expert Part Two (77-427) and Excel 2013 Expert Part 2 (77-428)

MOS exams cost $96 USD each (single exam only with no retakes; $115 USD exam with retake) and are offered through Certiport.

Microsoft Trainer And Educator Certifications

MCT: Microsoft Certified Trainer

Folks who teach others about Microsoft technologies and products should consider (and are often required to have) the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification. The MCT can be obtained by submitting an application to Microsoft that proves that you hold a current Microsoft certification, one year of instruction experience (supporting reference required), plus verifiable instructional skills in the form of an acceptable instructor certification (such as CompTIA CTT+, Microsoft Certified Trainer Instructional Skills Certification (MCT-ISC) or IAMCT Approved Technical Trainer).

To renew, credential holders must possess at least one current Microsoft credential, meet the minimum instruction requirements of teaching at least one class, and maintain a Metrics that Matter quality score of at least seven. (Check the MCT website for a list of qualifying certifications and instructor certifications.)

As an MCT, you have access to the MCP benefits and exams dashboard, prep kits, the MCT community, Microsoft Online Labs and much more.

MCE: Microsoft Certified Educator

The Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) credential is aimed at educators in academia, such as colleges, universities and training facilities. To become an MCE, you must demonstrate technology literacy through one exam.

The literacy competency is mapped to the UNESCO ITC Competency Framework for Teachers, Technology Literacy and includes education policy, curriculum and assessment, pedagogy, ICT/technology tools, organization and administration, and professional development. The MCE exam is a proctored exam offered through Certiport and costs $75 USD.

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