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Microsoft first introduced certification over 15 years ago. Over the intervening period the details and even the emphasis has changed to make the exams and the preparation more relevant and realistic and today's set of certifications is more comprehensive than ever with certification paths for business workers, IT professionals, technology trainers and developers.
The latest generation of professional certifications have been designed to be more specific and are more closely tied to job roles and thus cover a narrower and more focused area of expertise. One advantage of this is the relatively small number of exams to be passed to be gain a recognised qualification that highlights your skills and knowledge.
Climbing the ladder
As far developers are concerned there are now three rungs on the ladder to becoming a Microsoft Certified Professional Developer but you don't have to start at the bottom - if you already have the requisite experience you can take the MCPD exams without already having obtained Microsoft Certification Technology Specialist at the previous level.
The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is the newest certification and is aimed at high school and college students who are taking the first step towards a career. As an entry-level certification it does not need any prior experience and there is only one exam to pass to earn MTA certification. On the other hand the road map for developers indicates that if you are thinking of progressing to the next level of certification then taking two exams - Software Development Fundamentals followed by either the Windows or Web Fundamentals - is good preparation for the next rung.
Roadmap for a career as a developer
Follow the links to find out the skills being measured:
Exam 98-361: Software Development Fundamentals
Exam 98-362: Windows Development Fundamentals
Exam 98-363: Web Development Fundamentals
Because these exams are still under development there are as yet no preparation tools and resources, but Practice Tests, books, e-learning and classroom training will become available in due course
Choices at the next step
The next rung on the ladder is to become a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), which also confers the benefit of access to exclusive Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) resources and benefits, including opportunities to connect with a vast, global network of MCPs. The MCTS certifications are designed to demonstrate expertise in core areas of Microsoft technology and products.
Developers can use them to show depth of knowledge in one specific technology or earn multiple MCTS certifications to show breadth across different products, or use the MCTS to as a stepping stone to the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) certification.
In the roadmap shown above the next step is to the MCTS exams for .NET 4 and Visual Studio 2010. These exams have been published but the training courses, books and practice tests are still in development. You can however find a full set of Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist exams and resources for Visual Studio 2005 and 2008.The complication, however, is that the certifications for each version of .NET is slightly different.