Whither go Microsoft certification future?

Microsoft's certification requirements can be arduous or easy. Read this article on certification requirements and commentary on the results of the SearchWinIT.com survey.

As something of a "cert guy," I've had my wagon hitched to the Microsoft star for years. With Longhorn on its way,

Windows 2000 retiring, and Windows 2003 starting to build up steam, more and more IT professionals are renewing old interests in Microsoft certifications, or pondering their plans for future credentials.

Recently, SearchWin2000.com ran a poll to gauge member views on the value of Microsoft certification and has been collecting letters that sound off on this subject. The intent is to gauge perceived value of and interest in Microsoft certifications, and to discover what issues readers find pressing (or depressing), relevant, or important as Microsoft prepares to launch a new set of programs.

Coupled with my own recent research, this provides an interesting focus for this month's tip. If a new game is to be played, let's make sure those who make the rules know what the players are thinking, and what kinds of options they're pondering.

On the survey side of this topic, the following multiple choice question was posed to SearchWin2000.com members (percentages following each question represent pool results as of 8/23/2005):

Microsoft says it is retooling its certifications. What's your biggest gripe about the current certification program?

A. Not enough credit for "real world" experience (38%)
B. It's too easy (4%)
C. It's too hard (4%)
D. It doesn't translate to higher pay (33%)
E. I'm happy with the current system (19%)

These results are interesting. Though the Windows Server 2003 exams are noticeably more difficult and do more than any earlier MCP exams to test real-world skills and knowledge, the biggest group of respondents take issue with how well they credit real-world experience. Perhaps the upcoming Microsoft Certified Architect, which adds "time in service" documentation to other requirements, will address this. It's also interesting that as many respondents find the exams too hard rather than too easy. Failure of certification to translate into higher pay is a familiar lament, and could be accompanied by: "It doesn't provide the kind of job or promotion opportunities I expected." People recently certified are likely to bask in their laurels (if not sit on them) and be happy with the status quo.

The sound-offs for this survey are where things get exciting. Opinions fall all over the place, from bad to good, and from positive to negative evaluations of future offerings and prospects.

Among the points you'll find discussed, the most interesting items are:

  • Outright admiration or respect for quality, coverage, and difficulty level of the Windows Server 2003 MCP exams (one writer said the 2003 MCSE was harder than a CCIE!). This includes several assertions that these exams represent real-world situations and problems, and do test for real-world skills and knowledge.
  • Guesses that the Microsoft Certified Architect credential will be difficult and demanding.
  • Assertions that credentials without consulting or job experience to match never translate into higher pay for cert holders, or improved ROI for employers.
  • Wry observations that a new certification program could spawn another glut of "paper tigers" (individuals with credentials, but no experience), but that recertifying still has merit.
  • Fears that peer review in the Microsoft Certified Architect program will foster an "old boy's club" that favors in-group members and proteges over talented independents.
  • Pleas to find ways to assign and retain value for certification, so those who hold them get something back for their time, money and effort (a constant refrain in the 10-plus years I've followed this market).
  • Frustration that years of on-the-job experience and major outlays for training and testing don't always lead to certification (either soon enough, or not at all).
  • Valid and disturbing questions about certification as a means of stimulating training activity and outlays, rather than promoting real knowledge or skills.
  • Assertions that real certification requires checking a candidate's ability to think, solve problems, and communicate at many levels also tend toward a positive take on the Architect program.
  • A suggestion that all vendors that offer certifications are questionable, and would be better replaced with licensing boards and product and vendor-neutral training.

    By no coincidence, I see in Microsoft's plans—which stress job roles and related skills, as well as more balanced coverage of MS and third-party tools and technologies—as in keeping with what members are bemoaning, observing, or requesting. With this outlook in mind, it will be interesting to see how upcoming MS certifications deliver on their promises, and respond to these suggestions and requests.

    Ed Tittel is the Series Editor for Exam Cram 2, and a contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. He also follows certification topics for InformIT.com, and has written numerous books on MS certifications. E-mail Ed at etittel@techtarget.com.

    This was first published in August 2005

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