Will new Microsoft certifications be tough enough?

The Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE) credential places an emphasis on hands-on lab work over book smarts, a quality that Microsoft's MCSE and MCSA currently lack, some say.

Microsoft is giving its certification program a total makeover to reverse a perception among IT professionals that the MCSE and MCSA designations are devalued credentials compared

We are back to a period where [a Microsoft certification is] good to have but not required.


John McGlinchey, IT consultant

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with good old-fashioned experience.

Whether its new program wins over more than just the Microsoft partner community -- vendors, consultants and integrators -- remains to be seen, however.

Many IT professionals still do not equate increased productivity with the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certifications. For that reason, Microsoft will have to design a certification that is truly on an expert level, in the vein of Cisco Systems Inc.'s Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE).

"Roughly 10 years ago there was a frenzy over certification, where you had to have it," said John McGlinchey, a consultant at a major New York-based pharmaceutical company. "We are back to a period where it's good to have but not required."

McGlinchey said Cisco's CCIE is unusual in that if you've got one, it brings a good job and a lot of money. "It's an expert level that you just can't fake," said McGlinchey, who has an MCSE for NT, Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 and is also a Microsoft Certified Trainer.

Real-world experience valued

Experience also rules over certification with Joe Garrett, an IT manager at Marvin F. Poer & Co., a Dallas-based tax consulting company. "I wouldn't overshadow someone

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with an MCSE who went to school and held a job in IT for six months over someone that had 10 years of experience," he said.

The challenge for many IT executives is that as technology platforms run through their lifecycles, professionals need to be recertified, which adds up in costs for training and exams.

To incorporate a real-world component into its exams, Microsoft has added simulations. Experts say those will need to stack up to Cisco's CCIE, which really puts engineers through their paces. The exam content is very much production oriented, with thorough lab scenarios, said Dan Aguilera, chief technical officer at GlobalNet Training Solutions Inc., a Dallas-based training and consulting firm.

Microsoft's changing technologies pose a challenge

The CCIE credential is a combination of tests that build on one another, so if someone has a CCIE, he or she can usually work through and resolve all network issues. Microsoft has a tougher job, since its operating system and related software continually change. With Cisco, most protocols are proprietary, which means they can remain constant. In cases where there are changes, they are generally just enhancements.

The new Microsoft exams coming out in support of the SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 launches in November target specific functions. For example, there are three tracks for database administrators and six tracks for developers. Microsoft will also be revamping its IT professional exams as Longhorn gets closer, said Al Valvano, lead product manager in Microsoft's Learning division.

Aguilera said Microsoft now has more scenario simulation than in the past, although it's application specific. He thinks that a well-rounded employee is more valuable than one, for example, who knows SQL Server 2005 but can't help out with Exchange Server should a problem occur. In such cases, Microsoft's drive to be more specific "could backfire," he said.

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