My name is Sergey Bereznikov. I belong to the generation of IT enthusiasts who got to learn a computer not with games, but with software development. In the 1990s, I became the first certified developer (MCSD) in St. Petersburg and the seventh in Russia. And Digital Design, a company I am still working in as a Software Developer Master, became an official Microsoft partner. I passed about 70 exams, and the company has been a Microsoft gold partner since 2000 and has implemented many projects using its advanced technologies.
It was always easy for me to study, and after graduating from the railway engineering school with a gold medal, I was admitted with bypass exams to the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the university now called the Petersburg State University of Railways of Emperor Alexander I.
I was a first-year student when I saw a computer for the first time and began to study programming using Pascal language. After a year and half, Andrey Fedorov, our professor (and now the Chairman of Board of Directors at Digital Design group of companies) invited me to join a young company. It was 1993.
Why a company needs certification
A certification is a universal way to confirm your competencies in certain areas, primarily for customers. It helps to be on the cutting edge of technology and to use it in real projects.
Moreover, a company should understand that many certificates and mastered areas show the level of the company and its ambitious plans to work with advanced technologies and invest resources in employees.
For employees, a certification is an indicator that the company is interested in their development by providing them with an opportunity to study and take exams, in addition to their main job. And company management understands that employees are ready to use new technologies.
The Partnership Program provides many benefits to partner companies, such as standard and cloud licenses for internal use. The more employees are certified, the more competencies the company has. The more competencies it has, the more licenses for software and services are provided.
So, thanks to these benefits, we managed to deploy Microsoft Teams in 2019 and provide licenses to the entire Digital Design group of companies. It helped us to switch to remote work seamlessly. I’ve had all the main Azure and Microsoft 365 certifications back then, and it helped to set up the cloud infrastructure as quickly as possible.
Microsoft partnership: how it started
Microsoft partnership program emerged in the early 90s, when the company made steps to expand to the Russian market. Digital Design employees took part in many different conferences and in 1995 they learned that Microsoft does not produce only operating systems, but also excellent products for development.
At that time, we’ve been using Borland C++, but we found Microsoft products for development to be more attractive, and during a couple of months we rebuilt all our solutions using Visual C ++ with the MFC library.
Over time, we learned the advantages of partnership: getting all the latest versions of Microsoft software on CD and promoting through catalogs and publications. After all, there was no fast and accessible Internet at that time.
To get the partner status, it required us to have several certified developers and engineers in staff, so in September 1996 we took exams. It was a big problem to find the information and even lists of subjects to get ready.
Over a week I passed 4 exams with no special preparation, and we became a Microsoft partner and achieved the highest level at that time – a Solutions Provider. And in 1997 we kept working on it to confirm the status.
There were a few certified specialists in the world and according to Microsoft employees I appeared to be the first certified developer (MCSD) in St. Petersburg and the seventh in Russia. At that moment I became the main contact person for everything regarding the Microsoft partnership program in our company, and this is still who I am now.
We also participate in various international competitions. For example, we became the first Russian company to be the finalist of the Microsoft Certified Solution Provider Partner of the Year Award for having the best knowledge management solution — Business Intelligence. It helps to run a company using the operational and comprehensive analysis of financial information, identifying trends and making forecasts.
Microsoft Gold Partner
By 2000, most of Digital Design technical specialists were already certified by Microsoft. According to Microsoft, Digital Design employed the biggest number of certified specialists in Russia at that time. The company experts also represented Microsoft at conferences when their own experts and evangelists could not be there.
As a Gold partner, we opened a certified training center, and since 2001 I have become a certified trainer (to maintain the status, it was necessary to have at least two trainers in staff). And, of course, to keep training, it was necessary to pass new exams on a regular basis. This continued until 2018, when Microsoft released a new role-based line of exams focused primarily on cloud technologies and Azure.
A year or two earlier, there appeared beta exams. Their point is that before they are launched to the public, Microsoft arranges a beta period, when a limited number of people (300 people who managed to apply) are given the opportunity to take it for free or with a substantial discount.
Therefore, we had to monitor special blogs and communities to be the first to know about the start of beta programs. The advantage is that you don’t really lose anything in case of failure, but it takes a couple of months to confirm the results, process the answers of all participants, consider their comments, make changes and launch the official exam.
Ten days later Microsoft recalculates all points considering the edits and provides the final result of your beta exam. I was so hyped up about it that it made me to broaden my interests to administration, security, databases, machine learning, AI.
I passed the most of recent exams in this format. It was a unique opportunity to be among the first in the world to learn advanced technologies. And the process of preparation was a good reason to study an interesting topic. It was that time when people started publishing their certifications actively in social media, and at some point, I realized that perhaps I’ve had more certificates than anybody.
The most Microsoft Certified Professional in the world?
Since 1996 I have passed about 70 exams. At the moment I have 26 of the most recent role-based and specialty Microsoft certificates of the Associate and Expert levels, they are listed on Credly.com, where experts get badges from Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco and other vendors for their achievements.
The website is public, but users can limit access to certain information or just keep their profile hidden from everyone. So, according to monitoring social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others, I can assume with a 99% probability that no one in the world has more certifications now. I will be incredibly happy if I am mistaken and pleased to face a challenge from an unknown opponent. The leading collectors I know have 19-20 badges so far.
How the process has changed over the years
Over the recent two years Microsoft Learn has released a huge number of free training modules available to everyone, and the quality of the materials has substantially improved. For the recent ten exams I have used these training modules available, though before there was only standard documentation or paid tests, courses and books.
The rules of examination are also changing. For example, from the beginning of this year, it is no longer required to retake outdated exams. The validity of the high category exam (Expert, Associate) used to be 2 years, and now from July it will be 1 year, and Microsoft is also introducing a new procedure for renewing certificates. Now it will be enough to pass a small test for 25 questions at a convenient time within six months before the exam expires.
How I engage people in the certification process
The Digital Design employees have competencies in 10 areas now, and as technology is developing it is easier to engage people. Earlier, we had to look for potentially interested people and made them aware of the opportunities by mailing lists. Now we use a special channel in Teams to promote new opportunities and advise everyone interested on the procedure and details of certification.
Over the years of this activity, we can say that this is a long-established culture in our company, and all employees know that they can simply talk to me for any questions on partnership and certification.