MCAD and MCSD: A Certified Advantage

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The historic economic boom that powered the U.S. economy for much of the 1990s—the longest and largest sustained expansion in U.S. history—was clearly driven by business investments in Internet and enterprise computer technologies.

It’s no surprise, then, that the subsequent economic bust has been felt by programmers and solution architects. Today there are more developers competing for fewer positions, creating a shift in the supply-to-demand ratio. One look at the help-wanted section of your local Sunday newspaper bears this out.

Just under two years ago, a major metropolitan Sunday newspaper on the East Coast was advertising so many new computer tech positions that the editors gave them their own help-wanted section. Fast-forward to a recent Sunday in November. Enterprise IT jobs were relegated to the end of the paper’s careers listings, consuming a mere 1.5 columns, barely 10 jobs in all.

But while developers are having difficulty finding work, hiring managers and human resources professionals are becoming more discerning as they navigate the labor pool of technical professionals. Not only are hiring managers more selective in whom they decide to interview, but the interview process itself has become more competitive and demands differentiation.

More than ever, hiring managers are relying on certification credentials to determine the qualified developers from the mass of resumes and employment applications they receive. Likewise, IT managers are turning to certification when eyeing candidates for promotion and other advancement (such as salary increases or choice project assignments). This is good news for professional developers who want to pull ahead of the pack, increase their job options and accelerate their career advancement. Without question, getting certified and keeping certifications current is the best way for professional developers to prove they have the skills and knowledge that choosy employers demand.

The Microsoft .NET Platform
Business organizations across the country and around the world are embracing the Microsoft .NET Platform to meet a variety of application requirements: native Windows programs; Web applications; Internet- and intranet-based systems; mobile, Pocket PC and Tablet PC solutions; legacy preservation or enterprise application integration using XML Web services; and more.

With the progression to .NET technology, Microsoft is introducing two new certification programs. One targets the .NET application developer and is available now. The other, beginning in early 2003, will support the growing legion of .NET solutions architects.

Choose Your Certification
Here’s what you need to know about both of these important new certification programs and how to choose which track is right for you, your colleagues, your IT development team members and your company.

Microsoft offers seven credentialing tracks, all built around job roles. On the IT professional side, there are the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) tracks. There’s also the MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator) for database professionals.

For developers, Microsoft now offers two certification programs: the MCAD (Microsoft Certified Application Developer) for front-line enterprise programmers, which debuted in September. Coming this year is the new MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) for .NET track. While both paths are squarely grounded in Microsoft .NET, covering the platform, the framework, the tools, XML Web services and the developer’s choice of language (Visual Basic or C#) end to end, they differ in certain key aspects.

The MCAD is for the person who does the day-to-day development, deployment and maintenance of enterprise- or departmental-level applications. The MCSD also covers those skill sets but is targeted at the person charged with doing the analysis, design and architecture of Microsoft .NET applications.

Assuming an average project development team size of from six to 10 people, most organizations will find one or two to serve as lead developers and architects, with the rest coding, testing and maintaining the application. The lead developers should be pursuing their MCSD, while the rest of the programming team should pursue their MCAD.

Certification Requirements
The first thing to understand about these new tracks is that developers pursuing the MCSD are, by default, going to become an MCAD along the way. That’s because the MCSD embodies a superset of skills from the MCAD program. Developers who gain their MCSD also will be awarded an MCAD certificate.

Whether choosing the MCAD or MCSD path, the developer must first decide on a programming language to work in, Visual Basic or C#. That done, developers will have to choose a methodology for front-end development, either Web applications or native Windows applications. That choice sets the course for which front-end exam a developer will take.

The second exam covers the middle-tier and Web services, which target building, consuming and reusing XML Web services and server components. Again, programmers can choose to work in Visual Basic or C# on the middle tier. Since Microsoft .NET supports 100 percent language interoperability, programmers can choose the language they know best.

Next, developers have to pick an elective, such as designing and implementing databases with Microsoft SQL Server, designing and implementing solutions with BizTalk server, designing and implementing solutions with Commerce Server or either the Web application exam if the Windows-based applications exam has been selected as a core exam or vice versa.

When the candidate passes all three exams (two required, one elective), the MCAD certificate is awarded. Those who wish to go on and attain an MCSD will have to pass two additional (and tough) exams. First, MCSD candidates must pass the remaining front-end exam they did not choose initially, either Web applications or native Windows apps. Then they must pass the final exam, #70-300, which covers analyzing requirements and defining Microsoft .NET solution architectures. It’s not a cakewalk. Indeed, Microsoft set the bar fairly high for this final test, to clearly distinguish the solution developer from the application developer.

In a nutshell, there are three exams for MCAD and five for MCSD. The core difference is that to gain their MCSD, developers have to prove their skills for both Web and Windows development as well as analysis, design and architecture of Microsoft .NET applications.

Prepare Now
Even though the MCSD exam is not yet available, interested developers should begin preparing now. The majority of the course path is already established with the MCAD, and training resources for the remaining MCSD exams are already available at www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcsd/requirementsdotnet.asp.

Lead enterprise developers should start building the skills and experience they’re going to need to acquire an MCSD. Other developers should consider which certification is appropriate for their job and whether they want to move beyond coding to the level of MCSD. Of course, not everyone wants to or should tackle an MCSD; however, Microsoft is doing all it can to provide lead developers and architects with the tools to pursue that certification.

Likewise, it’s important that application developers make sure they’ve chosen the right credential. Doing so will provide the most value to both the candidate and his employer, in two ways. First, the right credential gives employees a way to demonstrate to management that they’re primed and ready to take on Microsoft .NET applications. Second, it gives hiring managers an easy way to identify professionals who are preparing

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