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Microsoft's new certification titles—a step in the right direction?

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 titles?

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 tests now?"

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 should be.

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 dian.schaffhauser@mcpmag.com.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Oct 9, 2001 BB Manchester, England

I think that Windows 2000 MCSE needs to include more about networking peripherals, how about comptia's Network+ being included as a core exam? Also how about letting you keep the MCSE title for 4 years after you have passed it, a policy Cisco adopt?

Tue, Sep 18, 2001 robb Anonymous

Glad to see you Americans aren't letting these terrorists get you down. I'm sure you'll rebuild bigger and better. Good luck.

Tue, Sep 18, 2001 robb scotland

I agree with Greg and JJ. Having different names for each MCSE would also indicate the length of experience. When XP takes over there will probably still be more NT4 systems around than Win2K. I bet loads of people are swerving W2K and hanging on for XP

Tue, Sep 18, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous


Fri, Sep 14, 2001 JJ Can

Well, I agree with Greg. I would be interesting to have a difference between MCSE's of NT 4 and 2000. For my part I think that with the MCSE course should include basic programming for scripting and other little things like that. Also it would interresting to have more training on networking periphials ( the win2k track cut back a lot on that side).

Tue, Sep 4, 2001 Greg Anonymous

I, like many other MCSE's certified on the NT 4.0 track are not "unwilling to keep up to date with this dynamic profession" as others have stated. I'm in the process of upgrading my certification right now, but I may end up getting this "junior administrator" certification instead simply because I feel it too costly to upgrade to something that will be invalid before my baby hits kindergarten. I also don't agree with retiring the MCSE I received for NT4, since NT is NOT dead. Even if it were, I would be happier certified in an unsupported OS than being certified in nothing. What if Microsoft decided to rename the existing NT4 MCSE's as MCSE4? All of us updating would have two certs instead of one... and everyone would know the difference between the two.

Mon, Sep 3, 2001 Anonymous Australia

I agree on ongoing learning - but you build and acknowledge what is already there - no throw it away totally and start again. There should be a reasonable convcersion path for existing MCSE qualifications...

Mon, Sep 3, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Microsoft is attempting to create another profit center via testing fees, cousreware & certifications. It's obvious it will never end. I paid dearly for my MCSE+I & MCT once. To have them invalidate my certification is reason enough to tell them to kiss off. As far as I'm concerned I can stay up to date without taking their damned tests.

Thu, Aug 30, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

another cert to be retired. I am all for continued education and am certified in several other professional organizations. All require some amount of continued education. None have ever terminated my certification and required a complete retake of all new courses.

Wed, Aug 29, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous


Wed, Aug 29, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Again I hear the howl of the negative minds. If you are unwilling to keep up to date with this dynamic profession go into the trades, maybe brick laying blocks and cement don't change much!

Wed, Aug 29, 2001 Anonymous Washington, DC

Microsoft still doesn't get it. Those who worked to obtain MCSE certification shouldn't just lose it because Microsoft decides they want everyone to use Win2K. Once XP is released, are they going to instantly make all the Win2K tests invalid??

There is some difference between the NT 4.0 and 2K, but not so much that the certification is no longer valid. Further, there will continue to be a significant number of NT 4.0 networks for the forseeable future, thus the current MCSE should still be valid. Novell didn't simply tell everyone that they weren't certified any more when they released new versions of Netware!

Microsoft, are you listening??

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