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Microsoft Exec Addresses Certification Topics

Instead of a ticket on the gravy train, Microsoft certification has become more of a step up the corporate ladder.

(New Orleans, Louisiana) Instead of a ticket on the gravy train, Microsoft certification has become more of a step up the corporate ladder.

That was the message from Lutz Ziob, general manager for training and certification at Microsoft. Ziob, speaking at the MCP TechMentor conference in New Orleans on Thursday, April 10, said "If you're looking at Microsoft certification as a way to earn more money, you're likely to be disappointed." If, however, you want to use it as a "personal tool for career advancement,” Ziob said, it can help.

Ziob, who came to Microsoft last July from a similar position at the certification company CompTIA, believes another value of certification is that it helps credential holders not just today, but down the road. Part of this is due to what he called JTA, or "job task analysis."

"JTA,” according to Ziob, "is one of most undervalued, misunderstood tools" Microsoft uses to develop certifications. He described it as an "elaborate way to understand what future job you're being prepared for." Microsoft gleans its JTA from surveys, like the one for Windows Server 2003. Ziob said the company surveyed about 2,500 IT workers from 102 countries, and identified 238 job tasks from within the "JTA matrix." That matrix, he explained, details extremely specific information about job roles and how they differ for various title holders.

Ziob said that having identified those roles, the next step is to prepare exams and certifications that closely match them. "There's a very clear difference in job roles between [MC]SAs and [MC]SEs. Microsoft understands what you really need to know. The real skill is to boil it down to something that takes as little time as possible" to study for and achieve the credential, Ziob said.

That efficiency was also built into the upgrade paths from Windows 2000 to Windows 2003, Ziob stated. He also admitted that the last certification upgrade path, from Windows NT 4.0 to Win2K, was clumsily handled and frustrated many MCSEs. "We've built the easiest upgrade path [this time], and done a much better job than last time around."

As previously reported by MCP Magazine, the MCSA upgrade path from Win2K to Windows 2003 consists of one exam. "One standard exam, and it's mapped very clearly. We've condensed it into a two-day course, to upgrade yourself to the next level," Ziob said. The MCSE path is two tests, which can be prepared for from two courses over five days. "That's as condensed and efficient as we could make it," Ziob commented.

He also plugged Microsoft's new Skills Assessment program, which is a free series of tests he called an "objective measurement of your readiness to implement a technology solution." Each 30-question test gives exam-takers feedback on areas of strength and weakness, as well as a prescriptive learning path to shore up weak areas.

There are currently six assessments available, all of which focus on Windows 2003. Ziob said Microsoft will "shortly launch another eight,” encompassing the areas of .NET architecture and security, among others. He also cautioned that it's not a "certification practice test. It doesn’t prep you for certification."

Turning to a sore spot among many MCPs, Ziob used an analogy to address the issue of the growing perception among some that certifications are becoming less relevant in job hiring and career advancement. "Can you imagine being a lawyer and have somebody ask 'Have you passed the bar exam or do you only have experience?' " he said, emphasizing that Microsoft's research continues to show the value of certification to employers.

He also gave advice for those certified on NT 4.0 or not certified, and trying to decide what to do about the new certification path. "If you're already in the path [toward Win2K certification], don't stop now. If you haven't started yet, it probably makes sense to wait until the new tests come out." The Windows 2003 tests are likely to start being released in August.

The MCP TechMentor conference was held April 8-12 in New Orleans.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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