Remembering the MCSE+I, Microsoft's Terminal Certification

  • Through the 1990s, Microsoft established their MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) program which culminated in the MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer). On the fourth run of the MCSE program MS hit their stride and had a huge number of people taking their certification exams and they became the leader in the industry. Their certs were extremely well known, covered a broad array of topics, were very difficult, and were rapidly becoming a necessity for working in IT.

    During the NT4 era, around 1998, Microsoft expanded the program to add the MCP+I (which would later become the MCSA) as a stepping stone between the relatively easy MCP base line and the extremely difficult MCSE. They also added the incredibly exclusive MCSE+I that would exist only for this one iteration of the MS certification path before being retired as just impossibly hard and time consuming to acquire.

    For those unfamiliar with the MCP / MCSE path in the 1990s, Microsoft had a large array of individual certifications in things like desktop administration, Exchange administration, SQL Server administration, Windows Server, Windows Server in the Enterprise, Proxy server, etc. Any one of these certs would score you a base line MCP ranking. Getting the MCP was pretty easy and acquired very, very broadly.

    The MCSE, which had existed for a while by this time as well, required five relatively specific MCPs plus a non-MCP test simply called Networking Essentials. These six tests included a couple quite easy tests, two moderate ones, and two quite advanced ones making it very uncommon to achieve.

    Because the MCSE was so hard. The four example MCP+I was added. These mid-level certifications were added both to make a mid-way point for people trying to get from the entry level MCP to the advanced MCSE, and also because during this era we had moved from a LAN-focused networking phase to an Internet focused one and so new MCP certs focused on Internet and web technologies were required for any +I certification path. This allowed Microsoft to add "steps" to their MCSE program, while also pushing their "connected to the Internet" agenda.

    The MCSE+I was then added. Like the MCP+I, the MCSE+I was less flexible than the MCSE and required a focus on more modern and stronger networking skills. While the MCSE was obtainable without having obtained an MCP+I, the MCSE+I required that you acquire the MCP+I as well as an MCSE on your way to getting the MCSE+I. The MCP required just one test, the MCP+I required four relatively difficult exams, the MCSE was six relatively flexible examples, and finally the MCSE+I required nine very specific and very difficult exams.

    Between the high number of independent exams and the rigidity and difficulty level of the required exams the MCSE+I was short lived. It exists only for a few years at the end of the 1990s and by the 2000 exam, the first when Active Directory was introduced, the MCSE+I was retired as being too hard. Only a handful of people ever obtained it. With the certs having been around for about twenty three years now, and having been in the industry since that time and in some very broad contexts such as high volume consulting, conference speaking, academia, and online peer communities like this one, I've met a total of only one MCSE+I in all these years!

    In its era, the MCP was considered analogous to an associates degree (in a trade cert context.) The MCP+I/MCSE to a bachelour. The MCSE to a Masters (it's competitive certs of the era literally used "Master" in their title). And the MCSE+I to a terminal doctoral trade degree.

    In all the years since, the Microsoft cert program never offered a terminal level trade cert again, but the MCSE became the most iconic certificate in the industry having dominated the industry for a quarter century.