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An Interview with Microsoft's Donna Senko on the New Windows 2000 Track

<i>MCP Magazine</i>'s editors talk to Microsoft's Director of Certification and Skills Assessment about the retirement of the NT 4.0 exams and the fate of the MCP+Internet title, among other topics.

Shortly after Microsoft announced its new Windows 2000 certification track for the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer title (you can read the announcement at http://www.mcpmag.com/mcpnews_con.asp?url=990920 and on the Microsoft MCP Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/mcp), editors Linda Briggs and Dian Schaffhauser spoke with Donna Senko, Director of Certification and Skills Assessment at Microsoft. Among the topics: the eventual retirement of the Windows NT 4.0 exams, the fate of the MCP+Internet title, and how Microsoft will order its exam development priorities in coming months.

MCP Magazine: What order do you expect we'll see the new exams arrive in? When do you think we'll see the first betas?
Donna Senko: What we're going to focus on initially is the four core exams. We'll be developing them in a block. They'll have the highest priority: Windows 2000 Professional, Server, Network Infrastructure, and Directory Services Infrastructure. Those will be our top priorities.

Does Microsoft expect a drop in number of MCSEs as people are decertified?
Actually, the number of [Windows NT] 3.51 certifications is fairly low. Most people have moved to NT 4.0 at this point. We don't expect a lot of people to be decertified. There's always a transition period regarding how quickly individuals move ahead.

What will happen to the MCP+Internet title? It sounds like it sort of fades away.
We are not going to be developing a Windows 2000 MCP+Internet certification. Some of that skill set is being absorbed into the new [Windows 2000 MCSE] certification. It was a very popular title because of the timing, when the Internet was becoming big. Now more and more Internet capabilities are being included in the core product.

If you're an MCSE in the Win2K track, there's an assumption that you have the Internet skills currently tested for in the MCP+Internet exams?
That's right.

What about the MCSE+Internet title?
We're still evaluating that; there are a number of different options. At this point we have not made any firm decisions. Do we look at a higher level certification? It's unclear at this point. It was more important for us to firm up the MCSE-to raise the bar and ensure that this was our premier certification.

What's the thought in not including the Networking Essentials exam as part of the new track? I took a NetEssentials class once, and it was the most grueling three days I've ever spent.
It's more or less absorbed into the new requirements. It no longer made sense to have this one standalone exam, [or at least] in that area. It's not that we're changing directions as much as we're evolving.

Can you expand on the mention in the track description about Microsoft eventually accepting "third-party interoperability" certifications? What's that mean?
We recognize the need for interoperability and it's our preference to partner with somebody who is creating that type of certification. We are speaking to a couple of different parties, though we're not ready to announce that yet. One example: Unix to NT interoperability.

Any deadlines on announcing a third-party certification?
We don't have anything firm at this point.

Assuming there was an exam around that knowledge, where would it fit into the track?
It would be one of the electives. Certainly we wouldn't build that into the requirements, because not everyone would be doing that.

At our TechMentor conference in San Francisco, when the topic turned to retirement of the NT 4.0 exams, the audience responded with a resounding, "No!" What's the thought behind retiring the NT 4.0 exams at the end of next year?
We've done a lot of thinking about the retirement dates. You get caught in two different directions. Ultimately, we want to push people to support the new technology. At the same time we recognize that people need to continue supporting the older technology. It's been overdue for us to retire the [NT] 3.51 track. So we're trying to take a long-term approach to move people in the direction of the new certification. We took [the conference response] very close to heart. [When to retire the 4.0 exams] was an issue we were grappling with at the time, and we took that input into consideration.

What if adoption of Win2K isn't as rapid as this timetable suggests?
I'm going to assume that this won't be the case and that we're going to be incredibly successful with this new technology.

Why not just retire NT 3.51 and 4.0 at the same time?
We looked at that as an option. What we want people to do now is move to NT 4.0; we don't want them to wait. So it made sense to make that certification [NT 4.0] exist for a bit longer.
Also, we'll have the upgrade exam. We're excited about that. It's the first time we've done that. We want people to move forward with the technology and not sit and wait.
It's all a balancing act.

How many people are certified on NT 3.51?
I don't really know that number. It's very clear that people have moved to 4.0.

What might happen to the number of MCSEs at the end of next year, when the 4.0 exams are retired?
I don't expect that to drop because we have the upgrade path. On top of that, we have a large training initiative geared toward MCSEs.

Will the upgrade exam be your focus after the four core exams?
The upgrade exam will probably hit immediately following [the core exams]. The next new block [to be released] will be the design exams, which are the core electives.

Can you tell us more about the [Accelerated] exam?
It will be very rigorous; we're not lowering the standards. Content will be comparable [to that of the core exams]. We're expecting it to be a hefty exam-we don't know how long at this point. The purpose is to help individuals migrate without a lot of the logistical issues of going back and forth to the testing center and that sort of thing.

Is Exam 70-216 comparable to the new Windows 2000 NT Server in the Enterprise exam?
The skill sets required today, along with the technology (specifically Windows 2000) have evolved since the Windows NT 4.0 track was introduced. During that time, there were separate exams to demonstrate TCP/IP skills and Web hosting skills because these were somewhat "specialized" skills. Now these skills are considered "mainstream"-and we needed to include them in the "core" exams. In addition, the Active Directory is a major component of Windows 2000.
We felt that customers would benefit most from a streamlined exam structure, based on specific job functions. When we looked at the content with these goals in mind, it made the most sense to restructure the core exams (rather than start with the NT 4.0 exam structure).

Is the content of the Networking Essentials exam rolled into other exams now that it will be retired?
Candidates will need the Networking Essential skills (and then some!) in order to pass the other exams. The networking skills required in today's workplace have evolved significantly since the time that Networking Essentials was introduced. For example, now TCP/IP skills are mandatory. Additionally, advancing technology has had an impact on the skills required-Windows 2000 offers many more networking capabilities than Windows NT. The skills covered in Networking Essentials are fundamental skills required to master the skills covered in the Networking Infrastructure exam. In instructional design terms, the Networking Essential skills are "enabling objectives" or "building blocks" for the skills covered in the Networking Infrastructure exam.

Try this analogy: The Networking Essentials exam is analogous to an exam on "division." The Networking Infrastructure exam is analogous to an exam on "fractions." The exam on fractions requires that one performs "division" in order to reach the correct answer. However, one must master more than just division in order to pass the fraction test. For that reason, there's no need to ask simple "division" questions on the "fraction" exam-because division skills are critical, but not in and of themselves sufficient, for mastering fractions.

Please add a little more detail on the differences between Network Design and Network Infrastructure within the Windows 2000 track—what is Microsoft's description of the difference between the skills sets required for one versus the other?
Implementing and administering a Windows 2000 network infrastructure tests the skills required for installing, configuring, managing, monitoring, and troubleshooting:

  • DNS in a Windows 2000 network infrastructure
  • DHCP in a Windows 2000 network infrastructure
  • remote access in a Windows 2000 network infrastructure
  • network protocols (such as TCP/IP)
  • WINS
  • IP routing
  • connection sharing

    What's is behind Microsoft's recommendation that those taking the new track have a year of experience? How will that be publicized? What effect might it have on potential MCSEs?
    We're going to do the same thing we did with the MCSD -- everything goes back to the job task analysis. We began by asking, what are these people doing out there in the job force? There's a higher-level skill set demanded now. People really need hands-on experience to cut the mustard. There's no way for us to control it [the suggestion of a year's experience], but we can set expectations that way. One of our goals is to raise the bar of the MCSE. Recommending a year of experience is the starting point.

    Will [the recommendation] be something people pay attention to?
    You know, I think the new exams are going to do that. In looking at the content of the exams, and the type of testing we're going to be doing-scenario- and simulation-type exams-where we really do weed out people without hands-on experience, I think that'll happen naturally. When people drill down deeper and look at the objectives, they're going to realize that they're going to have to know their stuff and take it seriously.

    The new MCSE track is described as targeting those who support "medium to large-sized enterprises" What's meant by that? And what about small companies, which Microsoft is making a big push to cater to right now?
    [For one thing,] the definition of the size of companies has changed [at Microsoft]. But we're seeing more demand in medium to large enterprises. Quite honestly, when we did the job task analysis, we found that the same job set was needed for small, medium, and large organizations. That was not one of the ways our audience was subdivided.

    In the headline of the announcement, you mention raising certification standards. Can you explain what you mean by that?
    By including analysis, design, and troubleshooting, we have higher expectations of the individual. In addition, we will be using some new testing techniques in which the exams are more hands-on, more performance based. That will help weed out the people who don't have the skill base we're looking for.

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