MCM: Elevating Our Technical Expertise

There are a few things that make Portland unique—our affinity for great food (often food that comes out of a 4’ by 6’ metal food cart), our identity as a lifestyle destination (where else can you ski in the morning and be at the beach in the afternoon?), and just over 1 million distinct individuals all with their own flair and personal style. At Slalom’s Portland office, we are celebrating yet another thing that makes us unique: we now have the privilege of working alongside Microsoft Certified Master Kyle Petersen!  Kyle is one of one of a select few in the US (there are approximately 30) to have earned this certification for Microsoft SharePoint 2010 in the US and is only one of around 80 in the world! Please join me in congratulating Kyle in this momentous achievement and read more about the importance and value his MCM will bring to our clients and to Slalom in my Q&A with Kyle below:

What exactly is a “Microsoft Certified Master’?

The MCM Certification is the highest technical certification that Microsoft offers for some of its key technologies (e.g., Exchange, SQL, Lync, and SharePoint). What really differentiates this certification is the technical breadth, depth and the requirement to truly demonstrate your technical mastery.

With many of the Microsoft Certifications there are lots of people who can buy exam guides, study and pass the exams without ever having actually used the technology or skill.   That is not possible in the MCM program because you have to not only know the answers, but understand the concepts and be able to demonstrate your expertise.

You can learn more about the certification here and here.

What must one achieve in order to be considered a Master?

Assuming you have 3 years of experience with SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010, you will have to:

1. Pass the four basic SharePoint certification exams:

  • Exam 70-573: TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Application Development
  • Exam 70-576: PRO: Designing and Developing Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Applications
  • Exam 70-667: TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuring
  • Exam 70-668: PRO: SharePoint 2010, Administrator

2. Submit an Application to the MCM program containing your Resume and descriptions of the types of projects you have worked on.

3. Pass a phone screen to ensure you are technically ready to enter the program.

4. Complete the pre-reading list to ensure you have the basic fundamentals covered.

5. Complete 3 weeks of in-depth technical training.

6. Pass a 4-hour online knowledge exam.

7. Pass an 8 hour hands-on Qualification Lab that demonstrates your expertise.

Briefly describe your experience in the MCM bootcamp for the 3 weeks prior to the exam.

First off, I don’t think the term “bootcamp” is really applicable. That has a connotation in the development community where you pay to go off and get trained and come out with the guaranteed certification.

The MCM training rotation is much more in depth and broad. Classes typically last 10 hours a day of 400+ level content. While there are lots of PowerPoint slides (over 2,000) the real information is delivered between the bullet points, so you have to stay engaged in the process. Class instructors are a mixture of MCMs, Microsoft Product Team employees, and Microsoft MVPs. They are the best in their fields and help provide amazing context to the subjects.

The training also provides hands-on labs to help solidify the skills that were covered and to help us explore the capabilities of various SharePoint features. Completing these labs is critical to fully understanding the concepts, so the labs consumed every evening and weekend.

So a typical day was get up and head into class. Class went from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with some nights going past 7 p.m. Breaks are brief, and you get a quick lunch at the Microsoft Cafeteria. After class it was back to my apartment for dinner and then spend time working on the labs. Then I would review the training materials and make notes that I could use for studying for my knowledge and qualification exams. Try and get some rest and then repeat. Weekends were a chance to get caught up on labs I had not completed or did not understand well enough yet.

The last 2 days are for the certification tests. First is a 4-hour knowledge exam that is extremely challenging.

On the second day is an 8-hour hands-on qualification exam where we must complete assigned tasks. You have to fully know the subjects covered because there just is not enough time to able to research an answer. That was the fastest 8 hours that ever slipped by because I was so absorbed and focused on trying to get it all completed within the time limit.

The pass rate for these exams is less than 50%. In my rotation there were 14 of us and only 7 passed. However, you are allowed up to three tries to pass the exams, but there are substantial costs involved with each re-take.

How many Masters are there? Why so few?

I think the number-one reason there are so few is because of the cost and time commitment required to complete the certification. While the actual training was only 3 weeks, I spent the prior 3 months going over the pre-reading list and working on labs and examples to be sure I understood the concepts. And for consultants, three weeks of unbillable time can really mess up your overall utilization rate.

The second reason is that it’s really hard. While there are a lot of amazing SharePoint developers, they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure experience to be able to setup a SharePoint farm. And there are a lot of great SharePoint administrators that don’t know how to write a custom web part.  A SharePoint MCM requires end-to-end and top-to-bottom knowledge of the SharePoint product.

You can find the list of all of the MCMs here. I believe there are about 80 MCMs for SharePoint 2010 worldwide and about 30 in the US—including Microsoft employees.

How will this certification ultimately benefit our clients?  

Slalom Portland has, for several years, had a very strong SharePoint team and has helped many clients in the Portland area use SharePoint to run their businesses better. In addition to providing our clients with a level of comfort that Slalom has the most qualified resources possible, the MCM program gives its members information about SharePoint which is not available to the public or even to Microsoft’s highest level partners in other programs. MCMs are provided with this information earlier and more in depth than any other non-Microsoft group and that enables Slalom to make better recommendations to our customers and be more efficient when troubleshooting issues. The MCM community also stays in close touch, jointly contributing on solutions to the toughest SharePoint challenges out there, so any member can raise questions and have the others weigh in. Additionally, MCMs have unprecedented access to the Microsoft product team which goes beyond even Slalom’s access as a nationally managed gold partner.

All of this enables Slalom to provide our clients with the best possible solutions, fully understanding the implications of design decisions. For example: over the past few months our clients have been asking us to design solutions in SharePoint 2010, sometimes highly customized, which will upgrade easily to 2013 or when moving to the cloud. The MCM program gives Slalom one more very powerful tool for making the best design choices and recommendations for our clients on their SharePoint roadmaps.

Why do it? 

When I first heard about the MCM program it was in the context of the 3 weeks of deep technical training. I thrive on the 400-level sessions at SharePoint conferences and thought that having access to 3 weeks of that level of training was an amazing opportunity.

Then I learned about the rest of the program—the prerequisites, the exams, the pass rate—and I was really intimidated and not sure I had the “right stuff.” Portland is a small market and we don’t often get the chance to work on large-scale enterprise solutions, so I felt I just didn’t have the exposure to the breadth of skills.

But ultimately the prize of the deep technical knowledge pushed me to take the chance and apply to the program. Getting training from the people responsible for the product features and the technical subject matter experts is such an amazing experience. It is not for everyone. It is hard, and it will test you. But passing the MCM means I can say “I know SharePoint.”

Congratulations,Kyle! We are proud to work alongside a true Master!


About damiansmithgmpdx
Damian Smith is the General Manager of the Slalom Consulting Portland office. Damian is a business leader and visionary who inspires his teams and clients to set, and achieve, aggressive goals and breakthrough solutions.

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