Microsoft Certified Master Exchange Server –2 years later…

All the way back in May 2009 I had just completed my Exchange 2007 Microsoft Certified Master rotation in Redmond, on my return I decided that I would write up my experience… it was actually quite emotional re-reading this post, many of the people I went through this experience with are now good friends, which is one thing I didn't expect when I turned up at building 40 in 2009…

The reason for this post is that we have had a few new starters into the MCS UC and Messaging team recently and all except one (who is already MCM) they all want to go through the Microsoft Certified Master program.  This has given me cause to reflect on the program itself and what it has meant to me over the last two years… firstly to assess if it was worthwhile me attending and secondly to help me figure out if its necessarily right for everyone…

What has happened to me in the two years since passing Microsoft Certified Master?

Well, I have certainly been involved in some things that I don't think that I would have been without being a part of the MCM Exchange community.  From a community perspective I was able to write the Jetstress Field Guide, which was only really opened up to me by having a number of storage performance cases in the UK escalated and as the only Exchange Server 2010 MCM in MCS UK at the time I was the person tasked with sorting them out… working through these cases I was able to work with the MCM Exchange community and the Exchange product group and eventually the field guide was born…  likewise working with Ross Smith IV on the database copy distribution section of his Mailbox Role Calculator mostly came about from discussions within the MCM community (of which Ross is a long standing member). 

In addition to the community work I have been involved with some of the largest and most interesting Exchange challenges in MCS UK – it is a common practice now for our more demanding enterprise customers to request a “Ranger/MCM” for their projects.  Being a part of such a community helps to keep you in demand… which is always good in consulting!

I also attended the Exchange Server 2010 MCM upgrade back in June 2010 – this was an experience I will never forget and made the main rotation seem quite relaxed in comparison.. essentially the upgrade rotation ran through the full 2010 rotation materials and exams, but condensed it into 5 days rather than the usual 15…  by the end of it we were all like zombies!

Recently I also went through the MCM Office 365 training… despite working with Office 365 since the very early CTP days almost 12 months ago, this 5 day training course in Redmond was extremely rewarding.  It was run at the usual very high MCM level and the class only consisted of other Exchange MCM’s.  Access to this kind of training is invaluable – it simply does not exist anywhere else in the world…

Was Microsoft Certified Master worth it?

When I think about the cost of the program its obviously expensive, both in terms of the outright cost and in terms of your own emotional and personal commitment.  At the time I went through MCM in 2009 it was provided free for internal candidates, this is no longer the case and we have to generate a business case for attending the rotation, additionally I think that many people do not realise just how much personal commitment is required to be successful with this qualification.  Simply having some Exchange experience and attending the course is unlikely to result in a happy ending… strangely most of the criticism that I see aimed at the MCM program seems to suggest that you are buying a qualification… I can assure you that this is most certainly not the case and I know of a number of candidates that attended an MCM rotation and are still working on passing the exams months later…

So… given the expense and commitment required is it worth attending?  I think the answer here depends on how you view your career.  For me it was definitely worthwhile, I wanted to step up from the background and establish myself as a technology leader.  Passing MCM definitely provides a level of kudos with your colleagues and customers that very few other qualifications can match.  Sure, it was tough to convince my management to pay for me to attend (lost revenue, flights + expenses, etc.) and it was even tougher to actually pass, but I think it has repaid me hundreds of times over by making it possible for me to engage on larger, more complex projects because I was now seen as a more established consultant due to having the MCM badge.  On the other hand, if you are not aspiring to take on larger, more complex projects and engage with your community peers at a worldwide level, then I would question if MCM is the right path to take.  Fundamentally you need to ask yourself why you want to join the MCM community and how much effort are you prepared to put in to join?

Microsoft Certified Master Preparation

One of the common questions I am asked is how to best prepare for an Microsoft Certified Master rotation?  On the surface this seems like a sensible question, but the problem is that the answer is often different for each person.

For sure the most difficult aspect of the Exchange MCM is the practical lab at the end of the course – sure, some people find this easier than the exam process, but for the majority it seems to be the hardest part.  So, I would say that not only do you need to know the technology, you need to be competent at hands on configuration and troubleshooting…  you also need to be able to do it quickly, very quickly!.

One bit of advice I do give is that before you attempt a rotation you should be in a position to be able to talk about almost any area of Exchange confidently, in front of your peers and be able to demonstrate your understanding practically.   For example, could you explain how cross forest availability works and the requirements to your colleagues right now?  and then actually configure it in less than an hour?  Take this and apply it to pretty much any area of Exchange and when you get to a topic that you think you couldn't do it, that's something you need to learn before turning up in rainy Redmond…


On balance I think that attending the Microsoft Certified Master program was the right thing for me to do.  It was an extremely demanding, but rewarding experience and the returns it has provided me in terms of career growth have been immense.  So, on that basis I would say that if you were looking to move up to the next level in your career and were prepared to put the effort in, then MCM is a great way to go.  However, it is not necessarily right for everyone… I tend to view MCM as the PhD of the Exchange Server world… and just as in every other field, not everyone needs to hold a Doctorate in their area of expertise to be successful…

  • Microsoft Certified Master – An Insiders View
  • Bojan’s journey to MCM2011-08-18_1312

And of course keep up to date on the MCM program by following the Master blog.

Comments (4)
  1. Gulab says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have a question on preparation on MCM, how and from where I should start preparing my self?

    Can you give few LAB scenario.

    Thanks Neil,

  2. Nuno Mota says:

    Hi Neil,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with everyone!

    I’ve wanted to take the Exchange MCM for a long time now, but I need more experience and the price is prohibited to pay from my own pocket…

    Like you, I want to stand up from the crowd, establish myself as a technology leader, be able to help more people and increase my knowledge about Exchange.

    Although the new certification path for this might be a good solution for some people, I think going to Redmond and receive the training in person is a rewarding and incredible experience (from all the innumerous posts I’ve read).

    I just need to keep working with Exchange and accumulate enough money…   🙁

    Thank you once again for your post!

  3. Chris Rhodes says:

    Great post Neil.

    One day…?

  4. MCM O365 Training says:

    I travel to Redmond tomorrow to attend the MCM O365 Training, I've heard good things.  Most of my customers don't find the cloud right for them, but a few are making the switch, and I suspect more will follow.

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