A Microsoft certification can be a valuable asset to your IT career.Microsoft, a world leader in consumer electronics and software, is also a world leader in the global IT market. Microsoft products are widely used across a wide variety of business sectors like investment banking, information technology, travel, construction and many more. Major Microsoft products are household names including Windows, SQL Database server, Azure, enterprise voice Lync and Skype server.

Over the years, Microsoft’s reputation for quality has made it the technical standard for industry, government and end-users. And today, almost all hardware and software companies design their products to be compatible with Microsoft Windows. Such is the presence and staying power of Microsoft in the IT industry.

Such widespread use of the company’s technology necessitates the need for professionals trained and skilled in Microsoft applications. To that end, the company offers certifications for a wide range of products and technologies. Categories for certification include server solutions such as Skype for business, desktop solutions such as Windows OS, Office 365, as well as SQL server and developer solutions like Visual studio.

Microsoft certification programs have a well-deserved reputation for preparing individuals to meet any IT challenges that may arise. Microsoft certifications are organized and segregated systematically across various levels.

Microsoft certifications are designed with a hierarchy across five levels:

  • Associate — Known as Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), this is an introductory certification level covering fundamental concepts. The MTA certification is offered in three IT tracks — Infrastructure, database and developer.
  • Specialist/Office Specialist This certification level targets specialization in a particular technology. The office specialist (MOS) covers tracks for Microsoft Office 2007, 2010, and 2013. The Microsoft Specialist covers Windows 7, Windows 10, Visual studio, Azure, virtualization, projects and Data platform, and so forth.
  • Solutions Associate — The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, or MCSA, is a professional level certification that helps establish a career in IT. MCSA is offered in numerous tracks such as Windows Server 2012 and 2008, Windows 8 and 10, SQL server 2014 and 2012/2008, Office 365 and Azure.
  • Solutions Expert Regarded as the cream of the crop, Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts (MCSE), are amongst the highest paid Microsoft professionals. The MSCE is, as the name suggests, for experts and is mainly leveraged by solution architects and technical leaders. It covers almost all the major tracks such as server infrastructure, private cloud, enterprise devices and Apps, Data platform, business intelligence, messaging & Communication and SharePoint solutions.
  • Solutions Developer By taking the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certification exams, application programmers and developers can show their skill and knowledge of various platforms such as Windows store app, web and SharePoint applications, Azure solutions, application lifecycle management and universal windows platform.

Qualifying for any of these exams, other than MTA or MOS, will earn you formal status as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).

Now that we have developed an understanding of the Microsoft certification schema, let’s take a look at six of the preferred Microsoft certifications for Indian IT professionals.

MCSE: Communication — This is Microsoft’s widely accepted certification for their brand of VoIP or enterprise voice. Many organizations have Skype as their IM and telephony solution. As Microsoft works on establishing itself as a larger player in the world of IP telephony and collaboration suite of products, an expert level certification in communications becomes even more vital to add to your profile. MCSE Communication covers office 365 and Skype for business solutions and is commonly used by the Telecom and Unified communications administrators.

MCSA: Windows Server 2012 — Used in most organizations as jump servers for remote desktop applications, Active Directory and for hosting SQL and Web servers, Windows Server 2012 is an increasingly indispensable asset of any IT infrastructure. Although only an associate-level certification, this credential can really help Windows administrators establish themselves in an organization. It mainly covers the installation, administration and configuration of Windows 2012 servers.

MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect: Cloud computing and managed services are the trend these days and that’s what this certification is all about. This developer certification is considered as a major milestone not only because it generates a lot of business, but also because it’s a tough nut to crack. It covers architecture, and the development and implementation of the Microsoft Azure solutions.

MCSE: Private Cloud: This certification has a lot to offer. It’s a blend of hybrid cloud solutions and virtualization that also covers Windows 2012 server administration. Certified individuals are trained to manage, implement, and monitor private cloud infrastructures using Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager. This certification is primarily for system administrators, cloud engineers and network managers.

A Microsoft certification can be a valuable asset to your IT career.MCSA: SQL Server: It’s difficult to find an organization that does not use the SQL server database in some way, shape or form. Many application servers use SQL server as their preferred database solution such as Microsoft Skype for business solutions, Cisco Contact center solutions, and so forth. MCSA in SQL is a gateway to an IT position for aspiring database administrators and is vital for the ones looking to build a career in this domain. It mainly covers implementation and administration of SQL 2012/2014 servers.

MCSE: Messaging: Who does not know about Microsoft outlook these days? Although the actual back-end server that hosts all the emails and functions as an email server is the Microsoft exchange server or even Office 365 now a days, Messaging seems to be the client-preferred software for checking emails. Microsoft Email solutions are used across the globe by all major organizations. MCSE is for the messaging architects and administrators. It covers installation, administration and support of Microsoft exchange 2013 and O365.

Tricks of the trade

Selecting the correct certification exam for your career and the proper training track is halfway to your goal. But how you prepare is just as important. Your emphasis should not just be on the theory, but also include hands-on lab work. Labs are expensive, however, so the trick is to build a virtual lab on your laptop or system.

Microsoft offers much of its software in evaluation versions. Additionally, there are a number of freeware virtual-machine work station software packages as well. Any of them can be used to build a lab saving you from having to purchase expensive full-fledged server hardware.

Each of the Microsoft certifications described above are in demand in Indi. They bring value to the employer via an individual who is trained and skilled in the ever-so useful, and increasingly ubiquitous, software of Microsoft.