Death of an MCM

As many of you are well aware, Microsoft Learning (which has nothing to do with the product team or the larger corp Microsoft components so when you tweet about this, tweet @MSLearning instead of @microsoft) has decided to end the Masters programs (MCM, MCA, etc).  Several posts to explain what's going on:


As a top selling author for the Microsoft Learning (MSL) course ware library and a long time MCT, I have always been privy to several details about the underpinnings of MSL.  I remember the day that they approached me about the MCM program (well before it was made public).  They asked me if a "Masters" program would interest me.  I told them no, as I had already built many many days of training for every nook and cranny of SharePoint and I didn't see any value to paying a bunch of money to learn stuff I already knew.  I also had several large project under my belt and my name was already well know, so again, for myself, there was no value add.  However, that being said, there were many people in the world that wanted to be known for their experience and get some kind of recognition for the knowledge and depth they had in SharePoint, yet they were never ones to use twitter, facebook or any other means (like speaking at conferences) to let the world know.  These were also individuals that work on top secret military projects that can't even talk about the work they do even if they wanted too.  These people were also those that would never contribute on the forums or in any other community standpoint, so MVP was also not an option for them.  And hence, the market for the MCM *was* and *is* there.

The program started to much fan fare. MSL put a lot of time and money into the program to make sure the content was top of the line (although it did have mistakes in it every now and then).  That time and money is really what I want to blog about.  For those of you with your MBA, running a business is relatively tough for most.  The final equation is P = R-C  (Profit = Revenue – Costs).  When you look at the cost of building a regular Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) course, the cost is well into the $1M range.  Why?  Because you have to pay for the content (powerpoints, student and instructor manual, labs,  VM images)  to be created by someone.  Not only that, but you have to pay for someone to tech edit it, check the grammar, translate it to the top 5 languages, then transform it into the final output(s), manage the program deployment to partners and support it.  This is for a 5-day course that typically is pretty average in terms of content and as most MCTs will tell you, not very exciting (although I have tried hard over the past few years to get the quality up on the MOC side…just ask Dan Holme and Chris Beckett).  So what does a typical average MOC course bring in?  Well, considering it is run all over the world in 1000s of centers every week at $40+daystudent. I think you can do the math.  Over the lifetime of a MOC course, it will bring in several millions.

So being that a simple 5-day MOC course cost $1M to create and brings in several multiples above that in revenue.  How much do you think a Masters course takes to create and what revenue it generates?  I don't know the exact costs, but I'm sure it is several multiples above a basic MOC course.  Why does it cost so much and can you even measure the costs?  Let's try:

  • Content creation – most of the content must be pulled from product team members.  This is stuff that doesn't have MSDN documentation for and takes the time and resources of internal staff to pull together.  Alot of it is built before MSDN documentation is even available.  Let's say this is 1 person module with a month to build a module.  Billing at $200/hr, 160 hrs is $480K, but then think of the time and effort of the product team to support the content generation, immeasurable in terms of productivity loss and $$$.
  • Instructors – yeah, someone has to pay for Spence, et all to fly over the pond all the time to teach those classes.  As you can imagine, flying in experts to teach the classes costs flight, hotel, their regular rate (remember, these are experts and their billable rate is well over $200/hr).  Let's say each person is $3000 flight, $1500 hotel, $10000 for the week ($14,500). like at least 5 instructors each rotation.
  • Program management – the hidden costs of actually managing the program.  The MSL staff that registers you, keeps track of your progress, assigns you the cert, etc, etc.  2 people to manage?  Each getting paid $100k/yr?  Then the legal aspects of the program, what does that cost?
  • Lab creation and management – the labs have to be built, hosted, managed…that also costs money
  • Translation – zero…they aren't translated

 Let's look at the cost (only the money you pay to MSL) for you to take the course(s):

  • $16,000 ($8000 for MCTs) 

Hmm, how many people take the program each rotation…up to 20.  Rotationsyear…3-4?  How many multiples lower in revenue is that as compared to a MOC course? Do the enrollments even pay for the program???  I'm thinking maybe break even after the first 2-3 rotations.  So then, what would the cost need to be to pay for the program or make it as profitable as the MOC courses?  I'm guessing at least twice as much.  So if they up the cost to $32K to keep the program alive…are you going to take it?  What else could you do with $32K?  Uhh, maybe get your MBA so you can analyze a program that is losing money or its profit to effort ratio is lower than everything else you do?  Yeah, I'm thinking you'll go for the MBA or that CS mastersphd degree over taking a program that you could easily do without and just work hard and study without being spoon fed it. 

So ok, you increase the price.  Now what?  Scale.  There are very few people that can teach the curriculum and answer the tough questions that are asked in the presentations.   I know my blog posts have come up several times in MCM rotations about lots of topics and the answers require tact and research and a strong connection to the product team (props to the people that teach it right now, every one that teaches it are people that I respect their opinion).  So to scale means we need to ensure that people can teach the module and answer these questions.  One answer, let's regurgitate the MCMs and get them to teach…ok…but the main reasons they took it was to do projects and make lots of money (or their employer sent them to get the cert so the employer would make lots of money).  MCM teaching doesn't pay that well, it is just an instructor gig and not as cool as doing real world top-secret projects. And teaching, is oh so very different than consulting.  There are certifications for teaching as it is tough to do, and then throw in people that are taking a program that want to be know it alls…yeah…that is hard.  So, little to no scale.  Hmm…as a business owner and executive, I'm saying "cut it". 

Now multiple all that effort times all the programs they have an MCM for…yikes!  That is a massive set of programs, I can, and other people that own their own businesses, can see how a not so profitable adventure can be reallocated based on budget and resources to more profitable ones.

Now…that all being said.   The best conversations I have ever had have been with MCMs (Miguel, Chris, Shannon, etc).  I'm highly technical.  My pet peeve is people that think they know what they are talking about and have no clue.  I can point out several, but let's skip that.  You have no idea how awesome it is to be able to sit down with someone, explain to them what you just went through and them able to understand every aspect and appreciate it and save it for later.  And similar, for them to be able to tell me stories about this and that, that are just highly technical and worth my time.  I will miss that part of having the technical filter of MCM certification to keep me from having a convo with someone that won't even know what I'm talking about.  And no, MVP is an award not a certification, it is not a validation of your technical prowlness to be able to solve any problem in SharePoint or be able to stand in front of a customer and defend your architecture.  The MCM is a validation that you have been beaten up, scratch, kicked, thrown in the lions pit, and emerged a king (or queen) ready for battle in the field against anything thrown at you. 

In summary, although the lower levels in MSL love and are committed to the program, when you get to the higher levels like director, VP, Sr. VP.  It is always about money and budget.  If you don't get the spin of my blog's title, then you probably haven't read Death of a Salesman, here are some of the better quotes about the illusion of the MCM program in terms of business and success:

So, rest in peace MCM, you were loved by many, hated by few. May you be resurrected again in another life.

With sadness,

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