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Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away: Certification renewals to be free ... but annual

'Rigorous' exam first, then take a freebie assessment once a year from home

Microsoft is updating its certification system to one that requires an annual renewal as it eyes the rapidly changing tech landscape.

Following its move from product-focused exams in favour of something more role-based, the company has turned its gaze on how renewals work. Rather than swotting up for one big exam once every two years, from June 2021 the role-based and speciality certifications will only last for a year before a renewal assessment is required.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the renewal assessment is free and can be taken online. Each renewal assessment is also accompanied by a selection of training modules, also free of charge.

The first of the freebie renewal assessments kicks off in February 2021 and they can be taken anytime within six months of certification expiry. Role-based and speciality certifications due to expire in the 1 Jan – 30 June 2021 timeframe will be extended for six months to give holders a bit more time to renew once the assessments turn up.

The rejig is a recognition that change is continuing to move at a rapid pace; Azure sprouted over 1,000 new capabilities in the last year alone, according to Microsoft. The change "is intended to enable you to focus on keeping current with technology, while also reducing the stress, complexity, and cost of keeping your certification active."

"The shift to a one-year certification validity aligns to how quickly cloud technology changes; renewing certifications on an annual basis validates skills and ability to perform in job roles [that] are relevant in the market."

It's all a far cry from the good old days, where one could take a bunch of Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exams in order to pop a coveted Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) or Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification onto one's CV.

Certifications from the last iteration of the system (before the transition to the role-based system) didn't expire as such, although a certification could be re-earned every year via an additional elective.

Microsoft has since shifted from a straight product-focused qualification to role-based certification with a focus primarily on its cloudier services: Azure and Microsoft 365.

It's a reflection of how quickly cloud tech is changing. Most of the community reaction seems positive, with many pleased to sit for a renewal assessment rather than a full-on exam, although more than one has wondered aloud if it will have a "noticeable impact" on Microsoft's certification revenue.

It is not known what anti-fraud measures are in place to protect the integrity of the assessments, which are supposed to be "completed online on your own time" any time within six months before your cert expires. We've asked Microsoft for more information. ®

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