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Microsoft's new certification titles—a step in the right direction?

How are we to take the pending certification titles recently announced by Microsoft? What we know at the time of this writing is this: One, for network or systems administrators, will require fewer than the seven MCSE exams and will include new components specific to that type of job but no design problems. The other, for programmers, will do away with the design aspects of the credential and focus on coding.

Does that make these junior certs--steps on your way to the premium titles?

Anne Marie McSweeney, director of the certification program, would wince to hear that analogy. She likens the distinction to the difference between doctors and nurses. Both have their licensing requirements, but nursing isn't necessarily a form of doctor-in-training. "They have technical skills sets that are a baseline they share with doctors; but they certainly have a lot of soft skills that doctors don't have," she says. "Are there some things that the system administrator would need to know that the design engineer wouldn't need to know on a day-to-day basis? Is there something they need to demonstrate in that realm that we don't have in the existing tests now?"

So the question comes up: Does this mean Microsoft is actually lowering the bar? After all the years of cranking up the number of exams required for a premium title, the difficulty and complexity of the questions, the level of experience expected, could Microsoft be re-examining that direction?

I can think of several reasons why this might be happening. First, although McSweeney's been part of the certification group for many years, she's relatively new to the director role. Donna Senko, the previous director, has moved into a different position at the company. New bosses are bound to have new ideas about how the program should be run—and what its goals should be.

Second, the program's still in turmoil. Microsoft says the count of people taking Windows 2000 exams is tracking along with—even exceeding—the count of people who took Windows NT 4.0 tests at this point in the technology adoption cycle. Yet, NT was the predominant server OS for four years; Win2K only has a couple of years before Windows .NET Server appears. That will compress the adoption cycle—even chop it and send it in a slightly new direction. Microsoft has emphasized that candidates will be able to mix and match tests to achieve their titles; but the fact is that choice always confuses the consumer and paralyzes the decision-making process.

Without backing away from the hardcore nature of its premium titles, especially the MCSE, Microsoft can introduce these new certs as appeasement to all of those highly competent admins who feel left out of program and embittered at this moment in its history.

What do you think? Is it a step in the right direction? Tell me at [email protected].

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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