If Cars Were Like Windows…

New frontiers for certification

Auntie had just penned the title of this month’s column when a telltale whiff of aftershave came wafting over her left shoulder. It was shortly followed by dear Fabio’s voice. “You’re not going to do that old schtick about cars getting 500 miles per gallon but blowing up every 50 miles, are you? Well of inspiration run dry?”

Au contraire, dear Fabio. I thought I’d focus on the certification angle. Let’s look forward a few years to the time when a cash-flush Microsoft buys one of the big three automakers. The effects would ripple through both organizations, and soon enough, we’d have Microsoft Certified Auto Repair Administrators. Imagine, then, that you take your new 2007 Screamo into a Microsoft Authorized Service Center to have a suspicious noise diagnosed…

MCARA Technician: Well, I have to say, it’s a puzzler.

Customer: But wait—the certificate on the wall says you passed the Screamo certification.

Tech: Ah…yes. But that was two years ago, on the 2005 Screamo. Microsoft’s rules say that I don’t have to actually recertify on every new model year.

Customer: Wouldn’t it be better for your customers if you did? Aren’t you planning to take the 2007 Screamo exam?

Tech (hurriedly): Sure I am! But it’s only been eight months since the model came out. The exams aren’t ready yet.

Customer (sighing): Well, let’s get back to my car. Your advertising says you have full support of Microsoft to help your customers. Just what good does that do me if you can’t tell me what the noise is?

Tech: And I do have all the support resources I could possibly need. Look, right here: It’s the Microsoft Driver’s Network DVD set, packed full of helpful articles and troubleshooting tips. And here, see inside the glove box on your car…here’s the event log. It says you’re having 800740d6 errors.

Customer: Well, what does that mean?

Tech (looking sheepish): Um, well…I searched MSDN, and there aren’t actually any Knowledge Base articles that refer to that number.

Customer (exasperated): So what good is your MCARA if you can’t fix my problem?

Tech (draws self up to full height): Why, lots of good! I can show you how to put the key in the ignition and start the car. I can integrate the car with a roof luggage rack or a small trailer. I can demonstrate how to change the seat covers. I can…

Customer (interrupting): Why can’t you figure out where that noise is coming from?

Tech: Well, there aren’t any funny noise objectives on the exam. So I didn’t have to study that part of the product.

Customer (fuming): I give up. Is there anyone else here who knows more about the Screamo than you do?

Tech: You could talk to my boss. He’s a Microsoft Certified Auto Repair Engineer, so he knows way more than I do.

Customer: Great! Where is he?

Tech: He’s at a Microsoft partner event, learning about the 2009 Screamo. He’ll be back Tuesday, I think.

Fade out, to the sounds of the customer’s head banging on the counter…

Now, some people would say that this little scenario isn’t so different from visiting an automotive dealer today. Others might point out that operating systems are much more complex than internal combustion engines, so it just stands to reason that we can’t know everything about them. But still others will wonder why anyone would accept such a half-hearted certification as proof of anything and will devise schemes to tell the paper MCARAs from those who actually grew up taking cars apart.

As for your dear Auntie, she smells Parmesan and basil mixing with the aftershave scent. The thought of fresh pesto on anything is enough to get me to leave this keyboard for a bit, and to be glad that the leasing agency takes care of the motor coach around here.

Where are the 500 mpg cars, anyhow? Are comparisons with real-world customer service unfair to MCSEs?

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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