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Setting a career path via Windows 7 certification

Beth Schultz

When IT training firm Global Knowledge hosts its first Windows 7 certification boot camp this month, it'll do so to capacity booking.

"This is almost unheard of for a first boot camp rollout," said Craig Brown, chief technical architect for Microsoft products at Global Knowledge.

In the case of this particular boot camp, a dozen or so professionals in the Washington, D.C., area will be preparing themselves for the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows 7, Configuration certification.

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While Global Knowledge generally caters to corporate clients and their IT staff training needs, this D.C. center tends to draw individuals signing up for the boot camp under their own auspices, Brown said. This session will comprise students from both groups, he added.

Ready for Windows 7

Brown and other IT training experts attribute the interest in Windows 7 certification to two factors. First, the market is more than ready to move beyond Windows XP but wants an alternative to the ill-received Vista.

"We're eight years beyond the XP release used in most corporate environments today and about three years beyond useful life of any kind of hardware running it. Windows 7 has to pick up the slack," said Terry Smith, senior technical trainer at New Horizons Worldwide Inc., an IT training firm.

And, second, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, the dismal economy is spurring the willingness to spend on training at the individual level.

"The general state of the economy being down has actually pumped up the interest in certifications across the board," Brown said. Whether you love or hate certification, "it does provide a foot in the door at many organizations, and so for someone who is job seeking, it's a good checkmark on the resume to have."

Smith agreed. "Just like anybody else, we thought we'd see a pretty significant drop off as the corporate training budget often is one of the first things to go when cuts are needed," he said. "But it appears corporate America has found the way to prove skills through certification. There are too many creative resume writers."

Cyclical spending and Software Assurance

At Global Knowledge, not only is that initial Windows 7 certification boot camp filled but so too are the first round of classes teaching basic Windows 7 skills, Brown said. Part of this uptick is attributable to cyclical spending at the corporate level, with companies looking to maximize their IT training spend before the fiscal year closes, he said.

It's also partly because companies are looking to cash out on Microsoft software assurance training vouchers they've received as part of their enterprise licensing agreements. In the past, most of these vouchers have gone unused, but Microsoft recently has made a big push to make sure people are aware of this program and are opting to take advantage before the vouchers expire, Brown explained.

In the Dallas area, President Obama's stimulus dollars are helping to fuel the training business, Smith said. With funding available to them under the Workforce Investment Act, "we've gotten a lot of displaced people coming to us to update their skills so they can fill IT jobs," he said.

Building a career

Training and certification today is all about the career path, said Bill Wall, director of certification and career excellence for Microsoft Learning. Wall has since left the company.

"If you think about how individuals can differentiate themselves from their peers, the best way to do it is to take some good training and have those skills validated by certification," Wall said.

"We see the trend increasing that individuals are making the decision that what is best for their careers is to be certified," he added. "Demand for certification is growing because people see it as a way to start a career, change a role or become indispensable to their employers."

As part of a new career push, Microsoft has divvied up IT professionals by role and outlines the recommended training and certification necessary should an individual want to move into that position or become indispensable at it. "We've taken certification and presented it in the context of why it's important to a person," Wall said.

Plus, Microsoft is offering training and certification discounts of up to 25% for people working their way along a career path, he added.

Windows 7 certification, of course, provides the opportunity for IT professionals to show they're keeping skills current. Microsoft has a variety of Windows 7-related certifications available or planned, including three each for the MCTS and the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) levels:

  • MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration (Exam 70-680). This is the only exam currently available, and the one for which Global Knowledge is running that initial boot camp. The other exams will roll into the market over the next couple of months, said Jim Clark, senior certification manager with Microsoft Learning.
  • MCTS: Windows 7, Deploying (Exam 70-681)
  • MCTS: Windows 7, Pre-Installing for OEMs (Exam 70-683)
  • MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician (Exam 70-685)
  • MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator (Exam 70-686)
  • MCITP: Windows 7, Upgrading to Windows 7 MCITP Enterprise Desktop Support Technician (Exam 70-682). Although enterprise desktop support technicians aren't new to the IT fold, this is the first time that Microsoft has delineated this job role in a certification, Clark said.

Testing will be par for the course for anybody already familiar with the certification process, the Microsoft and third-party testers agree.

"As far as what they're covering, the Windows 7 certification tests are not any different. There are sections on installation, migration, basic features and how to accomplish basic tasks associated with it, for example. There's nothing out of the ordinary," said Brown, who has taken all the Windows 7 certification exams in beta mode.

Microsoft has yet to determine which pieces of the Windows 7 certification process will rely on performance-based testing. But, rest assured, Wall said, lab experience will play a part.

"If you have to take four exams to become certified, one of the exams along the path will be lab-based," he said. "It's the gatekeeper. It adds a lot of credential, and differentiates job candidates."

Beth Schultz is a freelance IT writer in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.


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