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The Value of the New Desktop Cert

MCDST: Another valuable way to validate your skills for a job, or more meaningless certification alphabet soup from Microsoft?

Another valuable way to validate your skills for a job, or more meaningless certification alphabet soup from Microsoft? It depends on whom you ask about the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) credential.

As first reported by Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine last July (see "Desktop Cert on the Way?" in the News archive), the MCDST is aimed at the help-desk worker in a Windows XP environment. It'll require two tests—Exam 70-271: Supporting Users and Troubleshooting a Windows XP Operating System, and Exam 70-272, Supporting Users and Troubleshooting Desktop Applications on a Windows XP Operating System. That's two fewer than the MCSA, five fewer than the MCSE, and one more than the MCP.

Bill Heise, Help Desk Manager for the Kentucky Educational Technology System, says of the new designation, "I think it's great."

Heise, a 25-year IT veteran, oversees a staff of nine help-desk technicians for a user base of 700,000. They support a diverse environment that includes Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Macintosh and Novell. He thinks the certification's a good way to establish a baseline competency.

"I put certification under the term 'training,'" Heise said. "Training has to be the cornerstone of any IT organization, especially the help desk. The value added for certification, you can't put a figure on it. It helps us go with a standardized approach to quickly help customers."

At the other end of the spectrum is Jeremy Licata, an MCP and CNA from Sykesville, Maryland. He said "This new desktop certification is a $250 [money] grab that circumvents, rather than reinforces, the need to have real world experience—almost a negation of the entire concept of making the tests harder to restore credibility. "Now, the Microsoft Training Web site touts this new desktop cert as "Start Your IT Career"; almost like the MCP is no longer enough to start with."

Then there's this, from an IT consultant in Las Vegas, Nevada: "I think it's great to have an entry-level credential…Why wouldn't newer professionals in the field deserve a cert of their own? As they gain experience and get promoted, they can earn their MCSA and then MCSE. Makes perfect sense. This isn't supposed to be a specialization for MCSEs. It's a complete credential so that individuals working at a help desk can demonstrate and be certified in their own unique skill set."

Heise also warns, though, that help desk work isn't just about being able to solve technical issues. When he's considering a new hire for his help desk, "I put more weight on people skills, listening skills, oral skills, how do they handle themselves in a pressure environment? Then I add onto that the techie skills."

Having the credential wouldn't be a benefit for someone Licata was considering, though. "An applicant with the MCDST cert would actually be less attractive to me. Entry-level is still entry-level... all the cert would tell me is that somebody paid some money, bought some books, spent some time (ostensibly on their home computer) and passed two tests with the expectation of getting into the "high-paying" field IT.

"Through the certification, I'll know that they know how to use the control panel, msconfig, ipconfig, and all sorts of little tools that Microsoft or third parties provide; however, it will tell me nothing about their troubleshooting methodologies, their reaction to pressure, their customer service skills, or any of the other skills that I have found necessary for successfully supporting user desktops," Licata added.
Beta testing for both exams happened in November. Learn more about the new credential at http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcdst.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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