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Becoming a certified Microsoft developer: The lowdown on the MCAD and MCSD

What you need to know before you take the MCAD or MCSD exams

With over 42,000 certified individuals for the MCSD and a healthy "add rate" of about 500 new MCADs a month since that program was introduced mid-September 2002, Microsoft's developer certification programs are definitely worth considering for those interested in programming in the Windows environment. In part one of this article, I provide an overview of these programs and their requirements. In part two, I review key topics and discuss tricks and resources you can use to help you prepare for these exams.

The Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) is Microsoft's base-level developer certification. Obtaining this credential requires passing three exams, including two core exams and an elective (details are available at the MCAD requirements page). Topics covered include:

  • Web or Windows application development (choose one exam from four possible exams)
  • XML Web Services and Server Components (choose one exam from two possible exams)
  • Elective exam (choose one exam from seven possible exams)
Individuals who pursue this program are primarily those who write code or develop programs for use at departmental levels, or who work primarily as coders who create individual software components for incorporation into larger-scale applications.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) is Microsoft's senior-level developer certification. Along with basic programming language and development skills, the credential stresses enterprise-level software architecture, design and maintenance skills for distributed, enterprise-level applications and services. Obtaining this credential requires passing five exams, including four core exams and an elective (details are available at the MCSD requirements page). Topics covered include:

  • Web application development (choose one exam from two possible exams)
  • Windows application development (choose one exam from two possible exams)
  • XML Services and Server Components (choose one exam from two possible exams)
  • Solution Architecture (exam 70-300 "Analyzing Requirements and Defining Microsoft .NET Solution Architectures" is required)
  • Elective exam (choose one exam from three possible server platforms: SQL Server, BizTalk Server or Commerce Server)
Every exam that counts toward the MCAD also counts toward the MCSD, so individuals can pursue the MCAD with assurance that their work also counts toward the more senior level credential. In fact, this assurance should last as long as MCADs can complete their MCSDs before program requirements change. This probably won't occur until 2006, according to recent reports about Microsoft's next-generation developer platform, part of the "Blackcomb" server environment. Because both credentials were introduced or upgraded recently, and are closely tied to the April 24, 2003 release of Windows Server 2003 and the new .NET Framework, Visual Studio and other components, these credentials stand at the beginning of their lifecycles.

The overlap between the two programs is so substantial in fact, that requirements for MCSD may be explained as a logical extension of those for MCAD, as follows:

  • Where MCAD lumps Web and Windows application development into a single core category from which candidates must pass two exams, MCSD breaks these into two distinct categories and requires one exam from each.
  • The XML Services and Server Components categories are identical for both certifications.
  • BackOffice component electives are identical, so any such exam taken for MCAD counts toward MCSD.
  • MCSD introduces the 70-300 Architecture exam, which stresses in-depth knowledge of Microsoft development tools, APIs and environments to better prepare candidates for large-scale distributed applications or services design, implementation and maintenance work.
Thus, the MCAD is a terrific stepping-stone for individuals who ultimately wish to obtain the more prestigious and senior-level MCSD, but is also a great "coder certification" in its own right.

Click here to continue to part two.

Ed Tittel is the VP of the Content Services division of iLearning, Inc. (a CapStar company). Based in Austin, TX, Ed's company specializes in Web markup languages, Java programming, and IT certification topics. Ed is also series editor for Que Certification's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide books.

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