Embryogenesis in plants is a unique process in the sense that it can be initiated from a wide range of cells other than the zygote. Upon stress, microspores or young pollen grains can be switched from their normal pollen development towards an embryogenic pathway, a process called androgenesis. Androgenesis represents an important tool for research in plant genetics and breeding, since androgenic embryos can germinate into completely homozygous, double haploid plants. From a developmental point of view, androgenesis is a rewarding system for understanding the process of embryo formation from single, haploid microspores. Androgenic development can be divided into three main characteristic phases: acquisition of embryogenic potential, initiation of cell divisions, and pattern formation. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the main cellular and molecular events that characterize these three commitment phases. Molecular approaches such as differential screening and cDNA array have been successfully employed in the characterization of the spatiotemporal changes in gene expression during androgenesis. These results suggest that the activation of key regulators of embryogenesis, such as the BABY BOOM transcription factor, is preceded by the stress-induced reprogramming of cellular metabolism. Reprogramming of cellular metabolism includes the repression of gene expression related to starch biosynthesis and the induction of proteolytic genes (e.g. components of the 26S proteasome, metalloprotease, cysteine, and aspartic proteases) and stress-related proteins (e.g. GST, HSP, BI-1, ADH). The combination of cell tracking systems with biochemical markers has allowed the key switches in the developmental pathway of microspores to be determined, as well as programmed cell death to be identified as a feature of successful androgenic embryo development. The mechanisms of androgenesis induction and embryo formation are discussed, in relation to other biological systems, in special zygotic and somatic embryogenesis.