NT certification is dead. Long live Linux?

Why some fed up MCSEs are letting their certifications lapse or jumping to Linux.

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Since Microsoft announced its intent to revamp the MCSE program for Windows 2000 in early 1999, many MCSEs who certified on various versions of Windows NT have decided to let their certifications lapse rather than upgrade. Some of these current or former MCSEs are pretty angry about the situation. Others are merely resigned or fed up. Many are jumping from Microsoft to Linux.

Without a doubt, a certain amount of anti-Microsoft sentiment is fueling this situation. And, as the poster child of the ABM ('anybody but Microsoft') movement, the Linux operating system seems to be a favored destination for those who are abandoning their Microsoft certifications and opting for an OS whose source code is published openly and freely.

Of the roughly 1,100 e-mails I've received since March of 1999 from MCSEs or MCPs indicating that they intend to let their certifications lapse, more than one-third of them (roughly 400) have gone on to mention plans to get certified in Linux. Because of the timing, more than half of these individuals indicated an interest in RHCE, with the remaining forty or so percent split evenly between the Linux Professional Institute and Sair Linux Level 1 certifications and higher.

Lately this trend has shifted towards the more vendor-neutral LPI and Sair certifications. The split passed fifty-fifty in August of 2000, meaning more than half of my e-mail correspondents who indicated an interest in Linux certification mentioned Sair or LPI rather than the vendor-specific Red Hat certification.

Linux isn't the only destination for disaffected MSCEs either. Other paths lead to Cisco for advanced certifications like CCNP, CCDP, and CCIE as well as toward security-related certifications like CISSP and SANS GIAC, ERP certifications like those for SAP and JD Edwards and so forth.

Richard Johnson, a practicing senior software architect at a Fortune 100 firm, said his decision to walk away from his MCSE was made years ago. "My MCSE number was under 500, but [I] have long since let it expire," Johnson said. "I also held a Compaq ASE and many other certs as well. Unfortunately, none of the vendors offer training very relevant to architecture. Had I not found a good mentor, I would [still] be stuck in the operations career track."

What this tells me is that there is more to this issue than marketplace politics and philosophy. Rather, veteran IT professionals view hands-on oriented certifications like the MCSE as less appealing because they provide no way to "grow up" into more senior, responsible positions within a larger Microsoft certification framework. Although the Elective Core exams (70-219, 220, 221, and 226) open the door to designing topics, they represent only one small step in the direction of a higher-level planner/architect specialization.

That's not all. Based on the many communications that I've received or read, here's a listing of the top 10 reasons (in reverse order) MCSEs are giving for walking away from the Win2k upgrade program:

  • Just finished the NT 4.0 MCSE, don't have time/money/interest in upgrading again so soon.
  • My company won't be upgrading to Windows 2000 until 2002 or later, so I'm not going to rush out and learn something I can't use on the job.
  • Microsoft gave Windows NT 3.51 certified individuals four years after the release of the next version to upgrade, but is giving NT 4.0-certified individuals less than half that time.
  • Microsoft's unwillingness to maintain dual MCSE tracks--one for NT 4.0, the other for Windows 2000--is inherently unfair since most industry studies indicate that NT 4.0 will continue to be used until 2004 or later.
  • The only reason Microsoft is forcing MCSEs to upgrade is to force that community to adopt Windows 2000 technology before it's ready for prime time.
  • The phenomenon of "paper MCSEs" (those who have no experience and get certified simply by studying brain dumps and exam crams) does not relieve employers of the need to interview employees carefully. The issue of the devalued MCSE is bogus.
  • Microsoft is playing games with its certification program to provide the illusion of progress and innovation when it is only now adding services (e.g. Kerberos) that have been part of other operating systems like Unix for years.
  • Microsoft treats certification and MCSEs like cash cows and has decided to milk that community with a new set of time-consuming and expensive requirements.
  • The MCSE is basically irrelevant; it's just a resume filler item. Why bother with an upgrade to a meaningless credential?
  • The notion of protecting exam integrity is a joke; how does an individual obtain the requisite year of hands-on experience with Windows 2000 if his company has no plan to upgrade until later?

For some truly fascinating public reading on this dialog, Certification Insider Press (publisher of Exam Cram) posted an open letter to Bill Gates on the subject of the MCSE upgrade requirements in an Open Forum. The letter prompted an official reply from Donna Senko, Microsoft's director of certification and skills assessment and comments from more than 3,000 users. If you're still curious, it's worth a peek at Microsoft's response.

To me, the notion that Microsoft can appear arbitrary, high-handed, or indifferent to its certified professionals is not news. But it is interesting that so many professionals with an existing investment to protect have decided to seek new credentials elsewhere, or let their MCSEs lapse, rather than play Microsoft's latest certification game.

Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series. He has worked on more than 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell and Sun-related topics. You can contact Ed searchWin2000.com's new interactive feature: Ask the Expert.

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