As current electives go under the ax, MCSEs can only guess how relevant their certs may be in a year's time.

Accelerated Demise

As current electives go under the ax, MCSEs can only guess how relevant their certs may be in a year's time.

For most of the IT world, Microsoft’s announcement that it will finally ship Windows 2000 on February 17 has been welcome news. At last! A multi-dimensional directory structure, transitive trusts, better security, new user controls, and on and on—along with plenty of work for skilled professionals guiding implementations of the new OS.

But for MCPs the release is proving to be a double-edged sword. That’s because the certification and skills assessment group seems to be retiring current exams and pushing its 200,000 or so MCSEs worldwide toward Windows 2000 at an artificially rapid rate.

The announcement in mid-December of the expiration of three more exams by the end of 2000 means that many NT 4.0 MCSEs will now have to take three to four exams to maintain certification. Win2K is new and big, but that new and big? I don’t think so. To add to the sting, two of the exams being retired—TCP/IP and IIS 4.0—are consistently among the most popular exams Microsoft administers. That means that a majority of MCSEs will be affected by the retirements. Are TCP/IP skills no longer relevant in Win2K? Of course not. Is IIS 4.0 fading from the marketplace? Hardly. Making so many MCSEs retake four out of six exams implies that two-thirds of the knowledge tested for under the NT 4.0 MCSE track is no longer valid. That simply isn’t true.

And progressively expiring electives, as Microsoft appears to be doing, makes things even more difficult. In effect, no one knows now which electives will still be live when 2001 rolls around. We can surmise that the SNA 4.0, Exchange 5.5, and SQL 7.0 exams will remain valid, but those are just guesses. The new track is being rolled out in such bits and pieces that I’m not sure what to advise the hundreds of MCPs and MCSEs who are emailing us for advice. Finish the NT 4.0 track? Stick with what your company uses? Almost any strategy is flawed if elective exams that candidates choose to spend time and money on now are suddenly retired.

When Novell recently upgraded its CNEs from NetWare 4.0 to 5.0, it required passage of a single exam. All electives continued to be considered current. More relevant, when it upgraded CNEs from NetWare 3.0 to 4.0, it required a single exam. There’s a parallel there because NetWare 4.0, like Win2K, was the product upgrade that made the leap from a flat file structure like the one NT 4.0 has, to Novell Directory Services.

If Win2K takes off like Microsoft says it will, of course, most of this will be a moot issue. There will be a huge demand for Win2K MCSEs in 2000, and you’ll willingly upgrade because your employer or client needs your skills in the new OS. But what if it doesn’t?

In classical tragedy, the hero falls by the results of his hubris. Microsoft is famous for many things, not the least of which is driving the market forward at its chosen pace. That strategy has worked in the past. Since we’re all so closely partnered with the hero here, let’s hope it continues to work. Send me your thoughts at editor@mcpmag.com.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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