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

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Jan 5, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

What I resent is the implication that there is a hierarchy of certifications and that people who support users (and perhaps have a MCDST) are somehow worth less than people who are called Administrators or Engineers. I have no Microsoft certifications but I have worked extensively in the IT field. I have built configured and administered networks. I have provided user support, training, and troubleshooting. I have installed and configured hardware and software of all kinds. I have done it all from soup to nuts. I just happen to LIKE working with users! I'm good at it. Why do we have to assume that someone in the IT field should start out doing support (a mere "technician") and then work up to getting an MCSA and then an MCSE. Those are separate career fields for people with different interests and personalities. I can't understand why my skills and interests are seen as less important than those of an administrator or an engineer. I know some very intelligent engineers who can't do what I do because they don't have the people skills that I have. They get the higher salaries and greater recognition because it is assumed that they have climbed higher on the totem pole than I have. Microsoft's MCDST simply reinforces that stereotype.

Sun, Dec 21, 2003 Ron Milwaukee

Bill, I agree with you it's just that we have let this country down. It took many lives and hard work to build it. How watching out for each other and making sure we had a way to feed our own. Today the greed of the corporate has destroyed that. They have taken away the faith that this country would aways be strong and dependable. I have seen family's lose their house, 401k and all their savings, after years of hard work. this is not right. to send jobs and security overseas just to make a 40% profit, and not care if their neighbors are feed or not just to make a name. For years company's made a 3-10% profit and all of us were working, had health care and would know we would be able to retire. They didn't go broke.Think about it if the baby boomer's lose everything so can you ! I watched as my retirement went from $240,000 to less than $500 in 2 years can you afford that to happen to you. If we can't trust our employers. Who can you trust? Congress? they have undermined this country for greed more than most .
Don't get me wrong Greed can be a good thing. But not at the cost of peoples health and living. to work hard should have some rewards but not to take everything away from you. This is the second year I have to say no presents for Xmas and I'm not talking about expensive gifts. God help us all.

Tue, Dec 16, 2003 Bill Michigan

Ron, I agree... but sadly it takes money to make money, even if it takes money we dont have. Its very exclusionist, in the same way college is.
People spend a fortune to go to school and then spend the next 15 years trying to pay off the student loans they took out to allow them to get the job they are working and struggling to make ends meet to pay for the very education that put them in that position.
In the end it is just a stepping stone.
People should view the MCDST as an entry level cert to get a foot in the door of IT. Viewing it as a be-all-end-all cert is foolish.
It is an educational tool for help desk persons, or a way to show potential employers that you have ENTRY LEVEL skills in IT and are capable of learning and progressing in the IT field.
To think that MCDST or ANY cert is your ticket to a great job is foolish. Everyone has to pay their dues, and the dues are sometimes certifications fees AND time put in on an entry level position...

Sat, Dec 13, 2003 Ron Milwaukee

In case your wondering why most do not get certs, They're expensive! as in setting up your own network and creating apps ?? where do you get the money to do this - No job- no monies, there fore no network, no programs no practice. So how do you get the experience?? Hey it only costs $280 for the Helpdesk cert , Lets see I can make 8-10 dollars an hour , pay for the rent gas, electric, Now I have to find a way to pay for food clothes , schooling doctors , insurance, taxes, Oh the heck with it I'll spend all my money on Microsoft certs and build a network and buy some applications , build a web site, get a T3 line. just so I can show some 20 something HR person I'm eligible to have a interview. makes a lot of sense!! oh ya don't forget this will only be a temporary job so I'll have to save more money for job hunting

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Anonymous Arizona

The bottom line is this: if you are not currently in the IT field you will need to get creative in showing prospective employers what you can do...Kevin from Dallas said it the best...if you can not perform when asked don't expect to get the job...if your going into a Networking field somewhere practice...set up a network and do everything you can think of some examples are -'Troubleshooting Network login issues', what about ip conflicts, network backups, implement some kind of addition to your network to practice expanding a company...just some ideas...but what about if your a programmer...create a web site...create various apps that can be accessed via the internet...utilize your knowledge and practice to improve your creative.....the main point is dont sit there and expect that you will get all of these job offers when you receive your cert! I am going after my cert. Probably the toughest cert there is for MS, or at least 1 of the toughest. I intend to create various apps that real world companys use...mainly for data retrieval...but if you show the employer that you are a value will not matter if you have 25 years experience or no experience at all. The only difference is what you will be paid. I think everyone can agree that there are plenty of people with or without certs that are useless and have years of experience but they rate the big salaries right because of that. No GOOD people are hard to find and GOOD employers know this....certs are good to get in the door...after that its up to you!

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Iceman Toronto, Ont.

Here in Canada our government has given away our country in the resource, military and IT genres (thank you very much Free Trade). With the rapid depletion of IT jobs to Spain, Yugoslavia and India it's no wonder there is a backlash to this supposed "certification". Paper certs mean nothing compared to real-world experience!

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Anonymous Boston

Comments from a Senior Desktop Technician with 8 years of experience: "garbage!" You've just shot desktop personnel while giving status to helpdesk personnel.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Kevin Dallas

I'm an IT Director that has been in the field for 14 years. I cut my teeth through a Temp agency doing moves, adds & changes at a 2000 person campus area network. This was the finest boot camp that I could have ever asked for. Afterwards, I moved on gaining several MS certs (NT 4 track). The last position I posted (used an online service and local paper) for hire I received over 600 resumes in less than a week. I did give the cert holders a chance at first, but found that not one paper MCSE - with no experience - could troubleshoot a network login issue. So yes there is definitely a balance. If you can demonstrate a skill set in conjunction with your certs, then you have a shot.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Eric New Jersey

I agree with the previous post from Gord. Many organizations consider Desktop Support as being "level two". It is not entry level. This cert is definitely aimed at the Help Desk. Most people on the Desktop team have several years of experience and need to have the knowledge more along the lines of an MCSA.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I feel through my 28 years in the business, I've seen it all come and go, the certifications are good, but nothing beats on hands experiences. As many of our dealings are beyond the software, but details that are integrated onto a platform.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 bruno sydney

I have been in the it industry for 15 yrs.
I have my MCP win2k. My current job is unpacking PC and move data back.
Here in australia MCSE means more than experience gained. I have no hope in passing the exams. If I did I would a computer science degree

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Jerry Utah

What I see here is that MS finally realized that they have been missing out on the cash cow CompTIA has had for years. I haven't seen the test, but from what I have read it is very similar to the Aplus Certification. I bought the Aplus prep book, read the introduction and went and Aced the test. Now the test has been revamped and costs 256 to take. So you have a choice: CompTIA or Microsoft.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 mick brooks UK

Re: Experience versus Certification debate.

People without qualifications have been rubbishing the value of such credentials for decades. I constantly hear the refrain that "you can't get into IT without experience". In fact, EVERYONE gets into IT without experience. In the same way that employers know that certification doesn't mean you can do it in the real world - they know that there are people on their payroll with years of experience under their belts who are totally useless. I've even written glowing references for employees just to get rid of them!! Certifications might get you to the interview - after that, as loads of people on this forum have commented, it's down to you. Communication skills, customer facing skills etc etc... The profile most employers look for is almost identical to the profile of sales staff (plus, of course, techie skills).

If you're looking to get into IT, certification is a good place to start. It at least confirms that you haven't spent the last 2 years watching afternoon television. In fact, that's probably all it says - but it's a start!

And...good luck.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Anonymous Dept of Justice

There persists this misunderstanding about IT certs. Perhaps everyone needs to take a step back and look at the underlying issues regarding them. There are three topics on point here: Knowledge, Skills, and Experience. While it is true that anyone can pick up a book and study it to pass a cert, that shouldn't be discarded as a bad or insignificant thing since that is one of the ways knowledge is gained, as well as being the least expensive method. The manipulation of that knowledge (applying what you've learned or "hands-on")develops skills (the practical application of your knowledge.) Using those skills in the "real-world" IT environment garners experience. It is that simple. That said I am very interested in the individual who comes to me with at least one cert on their resume, as long as any and all certs balance out when matched against their experience level (i.e. years in the industry, education, etc.). Even if the candidate has no real world experience at least I know that having that level of knowledge about OS's, hardware, policies, etc. should make that person alot easier to train; they should grasp things much quicker than someone who is totally raw. Perhaps we should get off of Microsoft and look at what really matters to an IT staffer: What an individual brings to the table.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Ron Milwaukee

In the IT field for 12 yrs I have found having the experience is of no value too. As now they want you to be an MCSE, engineer, programmer, developer also know all programs, be a AS400 expert, and mainframe, pay you 12-14 dollars an hr with no benefits give you 89 days to do the job and still expect you to pay enormous amounts for schooling and certs. Me I gave it up for a $14 hr job with benefits to do surveys at least I know I will have a paycheck for a couple of years. IT go ahead and give all the jobs to India lets see who buys your products in a couple of years and see if you are still in business.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Curtis CA

For Anon- NJ...try charity work...volunteer to provide network support for a charity and have the business manger document the time you spent and the type of network you're supporting. Take and pass your exams; do a bit of background checking on the company that you want to hire you and focus the technical discussion (once you are pass the recruiter) on methods that can be used to facilitate network support in their environment. Make it clear why they need you...not easy...but it can open the door to a new position.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Anonymous NJ

Certifications only get your foot in door for the interview, and after wasting my time in interview they say we are looking for someone who has more experience. I worked at Helpdesk position for over 2 years, and I am trying to move to a desktop support position, and interview after interview it the same thing. We need someone with more hands-on experience. How am I suppose to get more hands-on experience if no one will hire you, to get that experience? Did they ever hear of on the job training??

I'm going to study and get this certification, and hopefully it helps, but I'm not hold my breath.

I am Tired of the same BS from these companies.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 SH NY

Bottom line: All things being equal, a person WITH the cert will have an advantage over a person WITHOUT it. HR dept's are looking for ways to narrow the field of applicants, and MCDST is one of those handy tools. People who are "passed over" will resent it; people who get the interview with appreciate it.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

It is amazing, I've been reading these comments for a really long time and I keep wondering about this catch 22. On one side I of the issue I read certs are a waste of time and money, people really need to have the real world experience on the other side of the issue is the people that has tried to get that real world experience but get turned down because they have no experience and no certs. When the people attempt to do what hey can for themeselves such as buy the books, study the books they have bought (which I should remind you, they have given up their time from fun and family to do studying and still hold some other job), they get smashed by you and bad mouthed for having a cert and no expereince, NOW I ask you all, instead of putting these hard working willing people down, would you be so kind to explane to us how to get that experience, the certifications other than being born with them the way ya'll indicate you have. I have tried since 1990 to get into the IT field. I've gone back to school, I have passed my certs (Aplus, Network plus, MCSA, MCSE) Nest week I'll add security to that. Where is my experience? I'm sorry sir, you just don't have any experience. Did all of you inthe IT world buy enough computers and hardware and software to build a large network and give it to someone and the work for them to get the experience? Please instead of bashing us try to give us some guidence from you wisdom.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Gord Calgary, AB

Wrong name for this cert. If its aimed at the Help Desk, it ought to be called a Help Desk cert. not a Desktop. In every organization that I've seen or worked at, the Desktop people are a different group then the help desk & require more skills.
The name of this cert is a disservice to the Desktop professionals.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Shaun VA

I took a look at the skill sets that the tests are supposed to address. As someone who has three MCP certifications in NT4, and is still considered "just an MCP" when my company does my annual review, I look forward to "a little more" on my next review. I enjoy supporting my users, and since that is "what I do", I don't get a lot of "server time". Aside from working user account and permssions issues in AD, and the occasional IP conflict, I don't come remotely close to having the EXPERIENCE to rate a legitimate MCSA, or MCSE. Could I be a Paper Tiger? You bet! Just as soon as I have time. For now though, I'm glad to see this Cert, which measures and gives creedance to MY skills.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I think microsoft certifications are a waste of time and money. I have practically all of the microsoft certifications and I only make $40,000 a year. Your better off getting real world experience versus pieces of paper from the worst company in the world. Microsoft is a waste of a company, waste of products, and a waste of consumer's money.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Steve Texas

Regarding the side comment from Ron:
The 9 person help desk is the state of Kentucky's Dept of Education helpdesk. All the districts in the state are all part of one large network supported ultimately by this group of 9; the 700,000 includes all the teachers, staff, and students in Kentucky. So, while each district will have their own support and help desk resources, this group of 9 is ultimately responsible for the entire state.

On topic:
I have no problem with this. People shell out a lot more than this to go through little weekend or week long business courses and retain nothing but a certificate. At least here they are measuring actuall knowledge. It is great for newbies, but not at all intended for MCSAs and MCSEs (plus, remember how everyone said that the MCSA was a wasted certificate a few years ago? is amazing that an MCSA would complain about this).

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Big Daddy DFW, TX

What you are all missing here is that the cert is not for YOU. The Cert is NOT FOR an IT Organization or IT consultant. The cert is for the HR guy an MEGA BIG CORP who is looking at a bunch of resumes faxed over trying to decide who to call back, or who to pass on to the hiring manager. The cert is for the moron head hunter who looks for nothing but a pulse before sending someone out for a job.

Thu, Dec 11, 2003 Ron Kansas

This is a side comment, but how in the hell does a helpdesk of 9 people support 700,000 users?? Assuming each user only calls ONCE a YEAR (hah!), that's 1900 calls a day or 210 calls per helpdesk staff a day (or 26 calls an hour, if you want). And that's assuming ONE call per user per year.

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

LOL, You would assume if you know how to setup computers already that you would already have these skills and would not need a cert to prove it. This is just like the MOUS cert... why should I pay Microsoft another few hunded to prove that I specialize in Office? I've been using, installing, configuring Office since version 2.0. Sick of the proliferation of WMC's (Weapons of Mass Certification). MS, Cisco, CompTia... this is getting ridiculous!

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

it is in now way worth 250 bucks. I took these exams without any preparation on the beta period and I thought it was easy.. to easy.. I am an MCSA on the way to MCSE. Despite that - it was too easy. I wouldn't pay 250$ to take these.

Wed, Dec 10, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

The value of the new desktop cert to you = 0.00. The value of the new desktop cert to Microsoft = 250.00 (at least) from everyone dumb enough to further enrich MS. Not one more minute of my time, not one more dime of my money...

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