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Cert Group Q&A: Making Progress on Program Improvements

Microsoft's certification group faces its fans and critics, offering insights into the latest program changes.

(San Diego, Calif.) The Microsoft Training and Certification group is getting the message about certifications. Credentials are good, but without experience to back it up, it's like a Mercedes without an engine: It may look nice, but won't get you very far.

During a panel discussion at MCP Magazine's TechMentor conference, Ken Rosen, product manager for Microsoft's MCSE and MCSA programs, said "We can't emphasize enough that you get hands-on experience" and use certifications to supplement the experience, not the other way around.

The Training and Certification group is actually now part of the broader Microsoft Learning group, which consists of the Training and Certification group, MS Press and TechNet. After a brief overview of the new training and certification options (including new Exchange and updated security specializations announced in the last two days; click here and here to read them), the five-member panel took audience questions.

In response to a question about whether Microsoft is working to make employers aware of the value of certification for their IT employees, Eckhart Boehme, Product Manager for the MCDBA program, said that Microsoft is currently researching the performance of MCPs vs. non-MCPs on IT staffs. He also pointed to one study that showed that employees who hold the MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator) and MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) credentials come in No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of return on investment for employers.

One attendee wondered why MCTs (Microsoft Certified Trainers) aren't required to pass an exam for a class they're teaching. So, for instance, an MCSE who's never taken a test on Microsoft SQL Server could still teach SQL classes. "I've got a problem with that," the questioner asked, to cheers.

"I agree with you," Rosen answered. "I'd want to know what credentials they have" too, he said. He added, though, that some courses don't always have a corresponding exam or one-to-one mapping of the material and a test. He also pointed out that MCTs are required to hold a premier title, either an MCSE, MCSD or MCDBA, and to periodically update that credential. He suggested that prospective students ask to see a trainer's credentials and check out their background to make sure they're qualified. A trainer for New Horizons, one of the world's largest training companies, supported Rosen's position, stating that for "a lot of the classes I teach, there's no exams for it."

Another questioner took an informal poll of the people in attendance and asked if they would be willing to take some sort of lab practical in order to add value to their credential. Most hands went up in answer to the question, and the follow-up about whether they'd be willing to pay more for that kind of test.

David Lowe, Product Manager for messaging (Exchange) and security, said Microsoft "has been investing in ways to improve the quality of certification exams," and said the tests have become more skills-focused and less knowledge-focused. "We've implemented much more real-world questions" and new exam items that are "less of the 'pick one option from four'" types.

Several speakers said that Microsoft continues to look at ways to innovate on tests and make them more of a measure of technical skill, but that there were no imminent announcements on possible lab components of tests.

A number of questions were directed at ways to demonstrate currency in the field. One questioner pointed to way doctors must accumulate a certain number of continuing education credits and asked if Microsoft had considered something similar. The panel didn't indicate any plans to implement a system like that. It would be too hard for Microsoft to verify that type of information, Rosen mentioned.

Panelists included Rosen, Lowe, Boehme, Andy Ruth, product planner for the MCSA program, and Nigel Euling, product manager for the Microsoft Skills Assessment program.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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