Certified Mail

Certified Mail: March 2003

.NET track changes trigger waves of response; how paper MCSEs are a benefit to IT; and more reasons to like Microsoft.

Chill, People

Regarding the news in the January issue about Microsoft’s change in plans for the .NET tracks: I recently completed a master’s degree in business/information systems that San Francisco State University will never retire or revoke.
—Leslie Asher, M.S., MCSE, CNE
Walnut Creek, California

In response to Dian Schaffhauser’s editorial, "Chill, People," I disagree with Microsoft going in the direction Cisco has. Achieving an MCSE, CCIE or any other certification takes work for the majority of the IT community. A company that requires you to update certifications every few years is asking a lot. These companies should remember that certifications cost a lot. As a consultant, I don’t get paid for being certified. Certifications are important for junior IT personnel—achieving a level of certification early on in a career shows a degree of drive and interest. I think that after around five or more years of experience, having the certification isn’t quite as important. In fact, I ask myself when I see a résumé with five years of experience and all kinds of certifications, has this person really done all this? Or has this person spent the majority of his or her time studying and learning the textbook answers rather than actually solving real-world problems?
—Tim Lago, MCSE
Royal Oak, Michigan

With reference to Cisco’s CCIE cert (one with unquestionably high value), perhaps Microsoft could use an “extreme” certification, one almost as difficult to obtain and keep, such as the CCIE. I don’t believe such a certification would diminish the value of the MCSE any more than the CCIE diminishes the value of the CCNP, a strong certification in its own right. On the contrary, I think it could only help Microsoft’s certification reputation like the CCIE helps the reputation of all Cisco certifications. And like the CCIE, there could be more than one area of this Microsoft super-cert, such as specialties dealing with integration of different product categories.
—John Harrell, MCP+I, MCSE
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I’ve never understood why Microsoft would toy with such a sensitive area, especially when people pour their hearts and souls into passing the exams. I’ve always argued that there should be an MSCE certification per platform. It would keep things simple and stop all the confusion. I teach at my local community college, where students are very hesitant to pursue the MSCE certification, fearing that it’ll change when they’re halfway through the coursework.
—Matt Lesak, CCNA, CCAI
Wickliffe, Ohio

New product, new certification. Makes sense. Vendors use certifications to promote products. You can basically expect this anytime a new product nears release. If you didn’t see this coming, news of personnel changes in the training and certification department should be a clue. You might also start eyeballing any grandfathered exams that make up your current certification level, if you’re looking to keep your certifications up-to-date.
—Jeff Black, MCSE
Phoenix, Arizona

My reaction is conditioned by the remark: “[Windows 2000] has a long and healthy future on servers for years to come.” If I understand it correctly, the five-year lifecycle Microsoft is now on for OS support means that Win2K support will be withdrawn in less than two years—hardly what I would call a long and healthy future. As a network administrator, I’d be powerfully interested in Linux and willing to undergo the pains of conversion.

In a five-year cycle, it takes about two years to get everyone up and conversant on how the OS works, another two years of working out the bugs and laying down appropriate SOPs, tuning the OS for best network performance and similar practical issues. Then you get one year of relatively untroubled administration and have to start over again. This is definitely not appealing, and I can see why small shops with working NT networks, for example, would want to stick with them.
—John Howard Oxley, MCSE, CCNA
Atlanta, Georgia

MCPs who can’t handle retaking exams to keep current should have their titles pulled. One of Microsoft’s new requirements is that each MCT must take a certain number of exams each year to maintain their MCT—in other words, they have to keep current with technology. I don’t include on my résumé or in my signature line the titles that I haven’t kept up, because my knowledge in those fields isn’t up-to-date. Novell did it for years and no one complained—CNE-3, CNE-4 and so on. I don’t see the big deal, except that Microsoft is trying to straddle the fence and please everyone, which will never happen. In my opinion, Redmond needs to qualify the titles to make it clear which OS a person has knowledge in.
—Edward K. Kurmann, MCSE, MCDBA, MCT
Pensacola, Florida

I think Microsoft is going in the right direction with the certification track. It’s important to identify who’s an MCSE on NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 for companies that deploy the product or otherwise earn revenue out of deploying or supporting it. It may not be as important for a person working in a company that’s not thinking of moving from NT 4.0. In that situation, one should rather think about changing jobs—you don’t want to be working with legacy technology and accumulating skills that may not be as useful when it’s time to move on. Compared to Cisco’s CCIE program, what’s lacking with Microsoft tests and premier certifications like MCSE is an actual hands-on lab or realistic simulation.
—Bharat Suneja, MCT
Dublin, California

The flaw in the process is that those with certifications in other professions must get continuing education credits. Even if there was this type of requirement in IT (say, 60 hours of certified training per year), it’s a far cry from sitting in a class for seven days studying for multiple exams. As an MCSE, I find continuing my tech education valuable. But if I don’t perform large-enterprise services, it seems like a waste to study .NET, Exchange and so on at the exam level.
—Albert L. Tousignant, MCSE
Foxboro, Massachusetts

I just finished reading the January editorial. As an MCSE on NT and Win2K, I think separate tracks are a good thing. It lends structure to the program.
—Brian Richards, MCSE+I, MCSA
Washington, D.C.

As an MCT, I have sympathy for the cause Microsoft is trying to advance concerning the validity of its certifications. The test-prep vendors have severely reduced the effectiveness of most exams. Those of us holding experience with the products and fitting the profile of the intended exam audience suffer because of it. Any worthwhile IT hiring manager knows he or she must wade through a number of “paper” candidates to get to the qualified applicants.

I found a small company that needed my (limited at the time) skill set. The company grew rapidly, and I barely had time to catch my breath, but I loved it. I received hands-on experience with most components of network infrastructure and operating systems. I didn’t get my certs until I gained experience, and I’m 17-0 on my exams. If the recent IT recession has weeded out the people just in it for the money and perks, fine. To the ones who simply love what they do, keep the faith. I believe the pendulum will swing back in our favor very soon.
—William “Butch” Waller, MCSE, MCT
Colorado Springs, Colorado

I think what Microsoft did makes sense. The question now is, will it retire the MCSE for NT 4.0 certification like Novell has done with the older CNE certifications? For example, if you’re a CNE on NetWare 3.x only, you can’t call yourself a CNE anymore. Cisco is also doing similar things. If Microsoft is gutsy, it’ll phase out the MCSE for NT 4.0 certification, which it originally planned to do. That would mean another reversal, but Microsoft screwed up originally when it was forced to backtrack because people were taking longer to certify on Win2K than expected. Otherwise, it dilutes the value of an MCSE on Win2K or Windows 2003.
—Tom Kustner, MCSE, CNE
Glendale, Wisconsin

I'm new to the IT industry, but I understand why professionals are concerned about the value of their certs. I've enjoyed computers since my first Commodore 64. I started toward the MCSE with an A+ class. However, as I take and fail (but eventually pass) these tests, I've realized this might not be the best course for me. By performing general consulting/networking for small businesses (2 to 25 people), I can make great money and still do what I enjoy. I'll continue to pursue the MCSE for the knowledge that I gain from the study and practice.
—Jason Everett, MCP, A+, Net+
Seattle, Washington

Is it reasonable to have these new products, such as Windows 2003 Server, coming out so frequently and then suddenly come up with a new exam? We run businesses. Do we make our clients bleed to be cutting edge? You don't keep clients that way. We have to evaluate products, which can take months after product release, yet it seems a server product doesn't last past about two years. Once .NET is released, we won't be hearing much about Windows 2000 Server, as it doesn't make money for MS.

I don't mind taking regular exams to keep the mind working, but most of these MS product/exam managers seem to be marketing types that sway to whatever makes Microsoft the most money.
—Ian Brown, MCSE, MCSA, MACS (Member of Australian Computer Society)
Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia

I have to agree with the comments regarding Microsoft's possible future in re-certification. Cisco does have you re-certify every two years, which raises the value of the certification. I feel that Microsoft had initially made the right decision when they chose to retire the NT cert. Truepeople complained. However, people must understand that we are in a field that advances in technology constantly. Granted, I hated taking all of those tests just as much as the next person! It's a shame to me though that the value of the MCSE isn't what it should be. If Microsoft wants to increase the value of the certification line, they should study Cisco's track very closely.
—Ira Bell, MCSE, MCSA, A+, Net+
Ocala, Florida

Taking computers from a hobby, to a job, to a career has been an interesting journey for the relatively short period I've been in IT and not a day goes by where I don't learn something new. Given the speed of change within the industry, I doubt that will differ, so I'm glad that Microsoft continually raises the bar with "ongoing" certification requirements in their own right. Some companies require that you earn continuing education credits or re-certify. Microsoft "requires" you to certify on a new platform if you want to stay current.

I wouldn't want a doctor who still uses leeches to operate on me, or an auto repair mechanic who works on horse and buggies to fix my'95 Jeep, or an accountant that was familiar with the '92 tax code to assist me with my taxes this year. But administrators think that because they eat, sleep and breathe NT4, they can tackle Active Directory under 2000 and the upcoming Windows Server 2003.

While the economy may have slowed, technology changes won't. To be part of the change, part of the future and not the past, one needs to change with it. I do it for a career that I'm happy to be involved in, for a job that pays fairly well for the amount of work I put into it, all for a hobby that I absolutely love and it has returned to me all of the results of all of the efforts I have put into it, in spades.

Sign me up for the upgrade exam to Windows Server 2003. As soon as I've had enough time on it and feel comfortable, I'll take my swing at it, at my own pace and on my own schedule.
—Jason Zandri, MCT, MCSE, MCSA
Wallingford, Connecticut

Paper Products
I keep hearing about paper MCSEs pulling down the value of the certification. I think getting an MCSE is a great way to prove you want a job in IT. I made a career change after working as an illustrator for 30 years. I wanted to break into the IT field, so I quit my job and attended technical school, earning a paper CNE. When I looked for work, I told prospective employers that I didn’t have experience but wanted to get into IT. I’m now responsible for about 75 Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 servers and seven NetWare servers. We just hired one person who has an MCP and a CCNA but no experience. My company looked at the effort he’d put into getting the certifications and decided to take a chance on him. Microsoft, Novell, Cisco and other companies shouldn’t be harsh regarding paper certs; it’s a good way to get into the IT field.
—Larry Motz, MCSE, CNE
Sterling, Virginia

The Good Things
In response to January’s “Call Me Certifiable,” “7 Things to Like About Microsoft,” what I like about Microsoft: You can buy a PC from Dell, HP, Gateway or on any street corner in the world and it’ll run a Windows operating system. This says a lot!
—Tom Tracey, MCSE
Rose Valley, Washington

I’d like to mention that we owe Microsoft a debt of gratitude for bringing simple desktop computing to the masses. Apple history aside, it was Microsoft that made the desktop Windows environment ubiquitous, and from this came a large base of ordinary workers who could operate a computer to do productive work.
—Nick Scavone, MCSE, MCSA, MCP+I
West Palm Beach, Florida

Microsoft training provided me, within six months, a chance to leave a job where I was quite unhappy via a promotion and a challenging new career. It’s been over three years now.
—David Neeley, MCSE, MCP+I
Lutz, Florida

Product Search
I have a question for Roberta Bragg: What do you think about the security product Zone Alarm? Should I use the freeware or the commercial version? Is there any vulnerability?
—Egardo “Gardie” Mauricio, Jr., MCSE
San Mateo, California

I like the fact that Zone Alarm has an application-level firewall, and that I can, therefore control access and exit from the system. As with any product, I’d use the appropriate version: freeware for non-commercial use (i.e., your home computer or in evaluation mode) and pro version for work purposes.
—Roberta Bragg

Patching Problems
I'm a Windows and Unix system administrator 10 years into the IT field. Some systems remain unpatched or aren't patched when a purported fix is available because, in my opinion, the patches that are immediately available introduce new problems into a system. I've been burned many times by this and, if possible, I always apply it to a similar system that isn't as mission critical to test the "fix" out. Where I work, there is a fine line between making a box secure and keeping it easy to access by our users so they can get their work done.
—Mary Cooke, MCSE, CNE 5
New Britain, Connecticut

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