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Making Sense of the Alphabet Soup of Microsoft Certifications

MCSE. MCP. MCTA. MCTS. MCITP. MOUSE. Which of these isn’t a Microsoft certification may be easy to detect, but with twelve different certification levels, Microsoft has created an otherwise confusing alphabet soup that requires some sorting out. In this article, Brien Posey sorts out the many acronyms that identify the various certification levels from Microsoft.

It always amazes me to stop and think about just how much the Microsoft certification program has evolved over the years. When I first got involved with Microsoft certifications back in the 1990s, the certification program was rather simplistic. Passing an exam earned you a MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) certification. In fact, the first Microsoft certification that I ever earned was MCP Windows 95.

Back then, once you passed six qualifying MCP exams, Microsoft bestowed upon you the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification.

As you can see, things started out simply. There were really only two main types of certifications (although there might have also been developer-oriented certifications). As such, when you told someone what certifications you held, there was absolutely no ambiguity about what those certifications entailed.

Today things aren’t nearly as cut and dry as they once were. Microsoft offers numerous certifications. When you stop and look at all of the abbreviations for the various certifications, they begin to look sort of like alphabet soup. That being the case, I will try to shed some light on the certification process by discussing what certifications Microsoft presently offers and what each certification consists of.

Microsoft Certification Tracks

In order to make sense of the vast array of certifications that Microsoft offers, you have to understand the concept of certification tracks. Certification tracks are essentially a certification path that is based on career and certification goals. Each certification track consists of multiple levels and there are one or more exams within each level of the certification track.

Microsoft promotes three main certification tracks, although there are other certifications that do not fit into any of these tracks.

Microsoft Certifications

The first certification track doesn’t really have a name aside from Microsoft Certifications. This certification track applies to IT professionals and developers alike. It consists of three levels: Associate, Expert, and Master.

The Associate level consists of Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications. MCTS exams are entry level certification exams.

The middle level of the Microsoft Certification track is the Expert level. As the name implies, exams in the Expert level are much more difficult than Associate level exams. For IT Professionals, passing an expert level exam usually yields a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification. However, in some cases, multiple expert level exams must be passed in order to earn a certification.

There is a separate Expert level for developers. Developers who pass an expert level exam typically receive the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) certification. Again, however, there may be instances in which earning an MCPD certification requires passing multiple Expert level exams.

The top tier of the Microsoft Certification track for both IT professionals and developers is the Master level. Microsoft has differing requirements for achieving a master level certification, based on the technology. In some cases, for instance, Microsoft requires Master candidates to spend several weeks in Redmond undergoing extensive training. Earning a Master certification typically does not involve passing another exam, but rather facing an inquisition from a panel of experts.

Microsoft Cloud Built Certifications

Microsoft’s second certification track is called Microsoft Cloud-Built Certifications. Like the Microsoft Certifications track, the Microsoft Cloud-Based Certifications track consists of an Associate, Expert, and Master level.

The Associate level consists of a series of Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) exams. In spite of the name, these exams are largely systems administrator exams but are focused on architecting solutions to business problems based on Microsoft technologies.

The Microsoft Cloud-Built Certification’s Expert level consists of separate paths for developers and for IT professionals. The Expert-level certification for IT professionals is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification. This is different from the MCSE certifications Microsoft has offered in the past in that today’s MCSE tends to focus on specific technologies (cloud, in this case).

For developers the Expert-level certification is called Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer. This certification is essentially a high-level development certification designed to demonstrate the ability to develop applications for the cloud while adhering to Microsoft’s stated best practices.

The Master level certification in the Microsoft Cloud-Built Certifications track is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master. This level of the certification track tends to focus less on the specifics of Microsoft products and more on how various products can work together to form a comprehensive business solution.

The Microsoft Office Certification Track

Microsoft also has a certification track based around Microsoft Office. Like the other certification tracks, the Microsoft Office Certification Track consists of three levels.

The base level is referred to as the Specialist. Microsoft Office Specialists certifications are designed to prove familiarity and basic proficiency with products such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

The next level of the Microsoft Office Certification Track is the Expert level. Those candidates who pass Expert-level exams earn the Microsoft Office Specialist Expert certification. This is an intermediate certification that is designed to prove that the candidate knows how to use the more advanced Microsoft Office features.

The top tier of the Microsoft Office Certification track is the Master level. Completing this level means earning the Microsoft Office Specialist Master certification. In order to earn this certification, candidates must pass several Microsoft Office Expert level exams.

Microsoft Certified Technology Associate

The Microsoft Certified Technology Associate (MCTA) program is designed for students. The exams are less rigorous than MCTS exams and are designed to give students a basis from which to build their professional education.

Microsoft Certified Trainer

The Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) program is intended for those who wish to teach Microsoft authorized certification courses. Qualifying for this certification primarily involves demonstrating to Microsoft your public speaking skills and your ability to present technical material. It is worth noting, however, that MCTs are only authorized to teach certification classes for exams which they themselves have passed. Therefore, MCTs must earn additional certifications if they want to put their MCT certification to work.

Microsoft Certified Architect

The Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) program is Microsoft’s highest level certification and is not available for all Microsoft technologies. Before a candidate can become a Microsoft Certified Architect, they must be a Microsoft Certified Master.

An Alphabet Soup Summary

Because Microsoft uses so many acronyms for their certifications, I wanted to conclude this article by providing you with a list of the various acronyms that Microsoft uses and what those acronyms mean.


Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert


Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate


Microsoft Certified IT Professional


Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist


Microsoft Technology Associate


Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer


Microsoft Certified Professional Developer


Microsoft Certified Solutions Master


Microsoft Certified Master


Microsoft Certified Architect


Microsoft Office Specialist


Microsoft Certified Trainer


As you can see, Microsoft offers a very diverse certification program. One of the first steps in earning a Microsoft certification is to choose the certification or certification track that is best for you and then begin reviewing the requirements for your chosen certification or certification track.

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