As Charles Dickens put it so well in A Tale of Two Cities, where certification was concerned, 2004 "...was the...
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best of times, it was the worst of times." And 2005 looks to hold more of the same mixed blessings, given likely changes to the developer certs in the wake of new VS.NET, programming language, and API releases, but not much new on the operating system side of the house on which to test MCPs.
From a jobs and pay perspective, salary and job surveys were more or less unanimous in finding only slight improvements in job opportunities and compensation. That is, when things didn't seem absolutely flat for certified Microsoft professionals in 2004. And unless the economy makes some giant leap forward in 2005, I'm afraid that's about all aspiring and certified Microsoft professionals can anticipate looking ahead.
From a numbers perspective, Microsoft's programs showed slowing growth trends across the board for established certifications like MCSA, MCSE, MCDBA, MCAD, and MCSD. The new MSDST got off to a slower-than-expected start, with less than 2,000 individuals earning that credential as of the last statistics reported from Microsoft on September 9, 2004. (I'm checking regularly for the next numbers update, and plan to report on emerging trends and totals as soon as a new set of counts becomes available.)
For the first time in many years, I found myself stressing soft skills to IT professionals looking for some kind of edge in the job or promotion hunt. I also found myself forced to report that MS certifications by themselves no longer provide much of a guarantee of job placements or promotions, either. In fact, one's ability to relate certifications, problems solved, project completed, and general skills and knowledge to specific job needs and requirements is probably more important to finding a first (or next) job, or earning a raise or promotion than most forms of "alphabet soup" nowadays, including Microsoft certs across the board.
Here again, 2005 doesn't appear to offer much relief from this situation, so savvy IT professionals must concentrate on understanding job (or promotion/raise) requirements, and explaining how what they know, what they can do, and the skills they possess qualify them for their next career moves. More than the number or type of certifications one holds, the ability to present oneself in a positive light, and to demonstrate value and relevance to organizational needs rule supreme.
As you weigh earning new certs, whether from MS or some other sponsor, or consider updating existing certs (likewise), it's important to weigh the benefits such credentials deliver versus the time, money, and energy required to obtain them. If you can make them pay, by all means go for it; if not, better to wait and see how the economy fares the calendar ticks its way deeper into 2005.
If you have questions or concerns about MS certification, or suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Tittel is a long-time certification follower. He's series editor for Exam Cram 2, a popular assembly of cert prep books from Que Publishing, and a contributing editor for Certification Magazine. He also covers certification topics for InformIT.com, and numerous other TechTarget Web sites.