Do you believe too many people are certified, or do you wonder what all the hullabaloo is about, anyway?

What Really Matters

Do you believe too many people are certified, or do you wonder what all the hullabaloo is about, anyway?

Talking about the MCSE program and the perceived value of the title is a minefield. Some complaints have proven to be valid, while others are, shall we say, misguided. Microsoft is clear about for whom the MCSE program was designed: “For network professionals, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) credential. MCSEs are qualified to effectively plan, implement, maintain, and support information systems in a wide range of computing environments using the Microsoft Windows NT Server and the Microsoft BackOffice integrated family of server products.”

What tends to get some MCSEs bent out of shape is that Microsoft makes no measure of the skill set of an individual before that person gets certified. So, it doesn’t matter to the company whether you have 20 years of grueling labor in the trenches or if you’re a parking lot attendant who wants to try a different career. If you have the time, money, and will, you too can get this certification and use it to join the growing legions of IT personnel.

Heated arguments (to be polite) often break out between these two groups: Those with experience in the field who had high hopes for the MCSE designation complain that these inexperienced candidates have devalued their hard work. Employees, it’s claimed, should be able to tell just by looking at your resume that you know what you’re doing—the MCSE should designate a high standard, guaranteed. The newbies wonder what the experienced guys are worried about. There are jobs for everyone. Microsoft laid down the rules; they followed the rules and should be able to enjoy the benefits, period.

So where’s the middle ground?

For the first group, it must be made clear that the MCSE is getting easier to achieve. In the early days of the program it wasn’t a matter of whether or not you managed to achieve some hands-on experience—you positively had to. That’s because there were no study guides for most of the exams, just objectives. So you loaded the product, played with it as much as you could, and took the test.

Microsoft doesn’t publish fail rates on their tests—but I bet the reasons for failures have changed dramatically since the inception of the program. In the early days, even if you had more than a few years of experience on Windows NT Server, you could be blindsided by a question from some dark area that you had yet to master. Not to say that doesn’t happen now, but it’s less likely. There are multiple guides for just about every exam, plus a boatload of Web sites offering tips (and sometimes none-too-subtle hints) on the contents of the exams—so being blindsided is less likely. These days it’s more likely that an inexperienced candidate fails because he or she has underestimated the depth of the questions.

It should also be made clear that Microsoft has never stated that all MCSEs are created equal. It isn’t the business of the certification program to say whether you’re a “good” MCSE or a “not-so-good” MCSE. Microsoft simply lays down the basic requirements needed to be certified and lets you go for it.

The second crowd should understand that the first three words in Microsoft’s MCSE definition are the most important—“For network professionals.” Being a professional means a lot of things to a lot of people, but few would argue that integrity doesn’t play a big part in it. Pretending you know something when you don’t can be hazardous to your job, to the jobs of others, and to the health of the business you’re working for.

No one wants to be a slave to his or her employer, and the way you avoid that is to have complete and utter confidence in your own abilities—be good! If you take the tests at such a pace that you have forgotten everything about a test the day after you passed it, then you should reconsider your program. No one is saying you’re going to remember every nuance of the software at hand, but a general knowledge should certainly be at your fingertips. If it isn’t, you’re likely to be embarrassed or worse—fired from a job when a critical juncture comes to pass and you can’t step up to the plate.

If you’re new to this industry, the marrow of your learning will come after you get your first job—not before.

Regardless of how we achieve our certifications, we’re likely to meet at some point—at conferences, on tech support calls, or amid a network outage. When these instances occur, there won’t be time to ponder how someone got certified—only what we can do for each other today.

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