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Microsoft certification 2003: A look back and a look ahead

The year's big stories in Microsoft certification and what to expect in years to come.

With 2003 coming to a close and a new year in the offing, I pause to reflect on the year's big stories in Microsoft certification and to ponder what to expect in years to come. Overall, I'm seeing signs that Microsoft wants to improve its certification offerings by soliciting and acting on input from customers (those who hire certified professionals) and technical professionals (those who get certified).

Here's a recap of the year's major certification events:

New Windows 2003 Server exams
Though a few exams have yet to go public, we now know what core exams look like and what most of the required or elective elements will be for MCSA and MCSE. Exams are more scenario and case driven with less emphasis on memorization. They focus on problem solving and analysis of typical real-world situations.

A simple, rational upgrade for MCSAs and MCSEs from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003
In my humble opinion, Microsoft has finally gotten this right! There will be one exam (70-292) for MCSAs and two exams for MCSEs (70-292 and 70-296), both of which are regular MCP exams with no one-year term limit. This makes it reasonable and easy for candidates to finish Windows 2000 credentials and then follow a short, sweet path to Windows Server 2003 certification.

Security and messaging specializations
MCSAs and MCSEs can specialize on either topic for Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 by sticking to a restricted list of exams and taking one more exam than for the normal credential in the security track. The jury's still out on how specialization plays with Microsoft professionals, but these programs appear sound, well-designed and cover their subjects reasonably well.

Major reorganization
Now named Microsoft Learning, Microsoft's training and certification organization, MS Press, and MS TechNet subscriptions are all of a single organization. Under the leadership of former Novell and CompTIA exec, Lutz Ziob, the former Microsoft training and certification group has opened up to the public and press more than it has in the past; they appear genuinely interested in listening to and learning from outside input. I see evidence of a friendlier, more service-oriented mind-set and am hopeful this trend will continue.

The Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST)
This new credential rolled out in mid-October with much fanfare. It offers a two-exam cert for those who support Windows XP desktops and is designed to be a good place for MCPs to start growing into job role credentials. It remains to be seen if the MCDST becomes the big hit Microsoft would like it to be.

As for the future, my three wishes for 2004 are:

  1. That Microsoft announce a quick and rational upgrade path so MCSAs and MCSEs who've specialized in messaging or security for Windows 2000 can easily upgrade their credentials for Windows Server 2003.
  2. That Microsoft starts mapping its interesting and informative skills assessments to actual exams. Currently, the assessments are topical and MS leaves mapping up to test-takers.
  3. That Microsoft pronounce on the lifetime of Windows 2000-based credentials now that Longhorn (future Windows desktop) and Blackcomb (future Windows server platform) appear slated for 2006 and 2007, respectively.

If you have other wishes, questions, or concerns about MS certification, please e-mail me at Happy holidays, everybody!

Ed Tittel is the creator of the Exam Cram series of IT certification books. Ed edits this series as Exam Cram 2 for Que Publishing, along with their Training Guide series of certification study guides. He's also a contributing editor for Certification magazine, and writes regularly on certification topics for various TechTarget Web sites, too.

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