Microsoft's new certification titles—a step in the right direction?
- By Dian Schaffhauser
How are we to take the pending certification titles recently announced
by Microsoft? What we know at the time of this writing is this: One, for
network or systems administrators, will require fewer than the seven MCSE
exams and will include new components specific to that type of job but
no design problems. The other, for programmers, will do away with the
design aspects of the credential and focus on coding.
Does that make these junior certs--steps on your way to the premium
Anne Marie McSweeney, director of the certification program, would wince
to hear that analogy. She likens the distinction to the difference between
doctors and nurses. Both have their licensing requirements, but nursing
isn't necessarily a form of doctor-in-training. "They have technical skills
sets that are a baseline they share with doctors; but they certainly have
a lot of soft skills that doctors don't have," she says. "Are there some
things that the system administrator would need to know that the design
engineer wouldn't need to know on a day-to-day basis? Is there something
they need to demonstrate in that realm that we don't have in the existing
So the question comes up: Does this mean Microsoft is actually lowering
the bar? After all the years of cranking up the number of exams required
for a premium title, the difficulty and complexity of the questions, the
level of experience expected, could Microsoft be re-examining that direction?
I can think of several reasons why this might be happening. First, although
McSweeney's been part of the certification group for many years, she's
relatively new to the director role. Donna Senko, the previous director,
has moved into a different position at the company. New bosses are bound
to have new ideas about how the program should be run—and what its goals
Second, the program's still in turmoil. Microsoft says the count of people
taking Windows 2000 exams is tracking along with—even exceeding—the count
of people who took Windows NT 4.0 tests at this point in the technology
adoption cycle. Yet, NT was the predominant server OS for four years;
Win2K only has a couple of years before Windows .NET Server appears. That
will compress the adoption cycle—even chop it and send it in a slightly
new direction. Microsoft has emphasized that candidates will be able to
mix and match tests to achieve their titles; but the fact is that choice
always confuses the consumer and paralyzes the decision-making process.
Without backing away from the hardcore nature of its premium titles,
especially the MCSE, Microsoft can introduce these new certs as appeasement
to all of those highly competent admins who feel left out of program and
embittered at this moment in its history.
What do you think? Is it a step in the right direction? Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.