Recently, at the Microsoft Office 365 Ignite for Partners event in Redmond, I had the good fortune to attend a session with the Microsoft Learning team behind the exams IT Pros take for certifications. I was excited to see how they would revamp the Office 365 exams to include the new wave 15 and Office 2013 content. I was less than thrilled by the changes they announced though.
What I found out was… the new exams and certifications would roll up Office 365 in to the core exams for the various Office 365 component products.
I’m not a fan. The component product exams are designed for a much broader audience than Office 365. The old Office 365 exams, 70-321 and 70-323, counted toward the MCP and MCTS certs – enabling IT Pros to certify as MCITP for Office 365. The certification demonstrated specific qualifications around Office 365. The tests were hard, but that was okay. If you make a test too easy, people who don’t know their stuff will take it and appear qualified where they are not. The test probably should have been tweaked some and had some questionable items fixed however.
For more on 70-321 and 70-323, see my post last July on Office 365 Certification, Study Guide, and the Small Business Competency.
Now, Office 365 qualifications have been rolled in to the component exams for Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. Microsoft considers “cloud” just one integrated facet of these products’ software+services strategy. The problem here is that in the cloud computing IT world of the future, the broader Exchange, SharePoint and Lync on-premises certifications include much that is not relevant to the cloud. And “cloud” IT Pros are being forced to learn on-premises technologies they will never use in order to certify they are experts in, well, “cloud”.
For instance consider Exchange 2013’s 70-341 (Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013) exam. The exam covers transport, the mailbox role, client access and Exchange infrastructure. Some of transport is relevant to Office 365, in client access much of the mailbox role is not, CAS is important but DAGs are not, a good chunk of infrastructure is just not required at all. On the whole I would say that 25-50% of the exam is relevant to Office 365 migrations and ongoing administration. The remainder is only important if you have a legacy infrastructure to design and support. You still have to add 70-342 as well to be certified in anything that looks like a current Office 365 certification. The closest you can get now is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Messaging.
You could say that including cloud in the Exchange exam makes for a more comprehensive certification and more well-rounded IT Pros. My opinion, however, is that there should be Office 365-specific exams that call out the portions of Exchange that are relevant. Shouldn’t Microsoft have a “cloud-specific” certification?
So, what is the purpose of certification anyway? Companies use certifications to understand the qualifications of candidates for employment. If I have an Office 365 deployment (SMB, midmarket, or enterprise) with little on-premises infrastructure… maybe a simple hybrid Exchange configuration to support legacy applications and devices… I don’t need to know about Database Availability Groups (DAGs) and how to support multi-site transport scenarios. I need to know PowerShell, basic Exchange administration and about how to manage Office 365 through the web portal. The 74-324 test Administering Office 365 for Small Businesses covers those topics but doesn’t count toward any certification… so how does an employer know you are “certified on Office 365”?
Some companies want to know if a candidate is qualified to perform Office 365 migrations. That requires the skills in 74-324 but also more Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and Active Directory experience. Right now, the only way to demonstrate that expertise is to take several certifications covering a much broader than necessary technical field. You may need 25% of the SharePoint tests, 60% of Exchange, and 15% of Lync to perform migrations. Testing on the rest is a waste of time.
In addition, Microsoft now requires competencies for the Silver and Gold partner programs. To get your Office 365 Deployment Partner designation your company needs the Silver Messaging competency plus the Exchange 2013 70-341 and 70-342 (Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013) tests. Office 365 migration experts won’t ever need much of what’s in those tests. Why require it? It’s a burden on Partners and a waste of time.
I won’t go further in to competencies and cloud programs in depth in this article. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe the requirements make a lot of sense. Why would a partner that concentrates on Office 365 migrations certify employees in technologies required only for large enterprise on-premises infrastructure deployments? I think the exam and learning people need to get together with the partner group and revisit what is required for Office 365 and design appropriate tests and curriculum to support just Office 365.
This means that Office 365 exams should be cross-product and function related. There should be an Office 365 Administration course that covers cloud-relevant content for Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. There should be another exam on Office 365 Migration that covers Exchange hybrid, Active Directory (DirSync), identity (ADFS), mailbox migrations and SharePoint content migration. Those tests would be truly useful to organizations and IT Pros that wanted to prove specific expertise in Office 365.
What are your thoughts on Office 365 certs versus integrated cloud in the separate product exams? Give your opinions in the comments below.
70-321 has no prep materials from MeasureUp or SelfTest yet.
70-323 has an e-learning course listed, 10954AE, although there appears to be no way to access the materials. When I search on the Microsoft Online Training page I receive links back to the tests, not to any course, and the site appears broken (maybe I should try again later) because every time I try to search the course catalog I get an error page instead.
There are also no classroom or Microsoft Press books yet for either one. For future updates on prep materials see 70-321 Prep Materials and 70-323 Prep Materials. See my earlier article Office 365 Exams & Certifications in April! for more on the first two Office 365 exams, 70-321 and 70-323.
Small Business Competency
Microsoft did announce that 70-321 and 70-323 would count toward the Small Business Competency for Partners.
You can learn more about the requirements for Silver at Earn the Silver Small Business competency.
You can learn more about the upgrade to Gold at Earn the Gold Small Business competency.
Note that other competencies seem to require more MCPs to pass tests than does the Small Business Competency it seems. That makes sense I guess because many partner organizations that serve Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) are themselves small.
How To Certify
Well, two of the tests are available but the study materials are scant. There are some third-party books available for Office 365 but if you search Amazon.com for either 70-321 or 70-323 you get a list of O-rings. The Amazon books I found on Office 365 are general books on the subject mostly and do not seem to prepare you specifically for an exam.
I guess if you’re comfortable with the component products and have studied the materials that are available on the Office 365 Wiki and the Office 365 Deployment Guide you should be able to take the tests with hands-on experience. I’ve heard some people say the tests were easy and some say they took multiple times to pass. I haven’t tried yet but am planning to soon. I’ll post an update when I do.