Certified Mail

Certified Mail: April 2002

Pass/Fail causes a storm; XML; Exchange and Active Directory; salary survey unrealistic?

Microsoft has decided to move to a pass/fail scoring system, as reported on our Web site (see "Microsoft Moves to Pass/Fail Scoring System" in News). No longer will scores be given; just a pass/fail bar. We've been deluged with feedback from readers. Here's a sample:

New Pass/Fail System Gets an “F” from Readers

I don’t have a major problem with Microsoft’s new pass/fail system (which no longer gives test scores, but only a pass or fail mark) for exams, but an indication of where I need to focus for my next try would be a big help if I’ve failed an exam. If Microsoft doesn’t want to release a score by section, then perhaps an indication red-yellow-green by section would help (heck, it would help even if you passed) to let you know where you need to brush up. Especially when you’ve just missed by a bit.

I recall one exam where I thought I’d done well on the performance tuning section, but the section scores indicated otherwise. Even though I passed, I went back and reviewed those topics again and corrected some misapprehensions I’d had.
—Douglas Kelly
Sacramento, California

I understand that Microsoft is trying to stop students flaunting a high score to prospective employers, and the score may or may not have been deserved. But most mature IT/HR departments will judge both on experience and test score. If Microsoft still wants to not publish the score for this reason, then let it say “Pass” for successes—but give real score feedback for those who failed! I firmly believe that test-takers won’t retake an exam if they don’t know how close to passing they really were.

I’ve been in education for more years than I care to admit. I have many certifications, including MCSE, MCT and MCDBA, and I know Microsoft is making one huge mistake with this strategy. It was bad enough to be ridiculed by exam 70-240 with its low pass rate and no score; now Microsoft is doing it to every exam. Give me a break.
—Carl Gill
Orlando, Florida
carl.gill@ icn.siemens.com

Please do me a favor and pass along a big sarcastic “Thanks” to Microsoft for imposing the new pass/fail scoring system. Sure, “that’s all that matters at the end of the day,” but I think a score encourages individuals to put more time into studying the materials and lets them gain more from the lessons.

When it comes down to a pass/fail, I know I’m going to pass—that’s easy. But I spend time studying to make sure my grade is the highest in the class. At NOVA University in south Florida, our instructor has challenged us to be the best and posts passing test scores on the school’s bulletin board. Passing the test is the main objective, but it’s the score that really gets people fired up to excel. I guess Microsoft is content with mediocrity, so from here on out I’ll only be looking to pass.
—Daniel Petershagen
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

I thought it stunk when I sat through four hours of the 70-240 exam and then received a “failed” grade. Up until the last button was pushed, I thought I was going to pass. Now, I don’t even know what areas to study harder.
—Roy B. Carter
Anamosa, Iowa

You can read more comments on this topic, plus more reader letters at the end of this column.

Can Exchange 2000 Run Without Active Directory?
We currently have five servers (two domain controllers); all are light-to-medium in terms of applications running on them. I run the department and have always been conservative on decisions like making the transition from NT to Win2K.

We want Exchange 2000, but realized it requires Win2K. My worry is that—because we don’t know Win2K and haven’t played with it either—we’d put it in and get stuck. Can we have Exchange 2000 on a Win2K server without Active Directory installed?
—Ricardo Martin
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Sorry, you have to have AD to have Exchange 2000. Exchange 2000 relies on AD as its directory (unlike Exchange 5.5, which uses its own directory.)

Why not go for a small test lab? (You can obtain trial versions of Win2K and Exchange 2000 from Microsoft.) This way you and your staff can learn about both in a non-threatening and stress-free environment before taking the plunge.
—Roberta Bragg

Will XML Kill Visual InterDev?
The future belongs to XML. Because Visual InterDev is based on HTML, will it become obsolete? If your answer is “Yes”, what will happen for MCP+Site Building; does Microsoft have an alternative course and exam for it?
—Ali Zinalpour

Visual InterDev will remain useful for what it is—a good development environment for HTML and ASP pages—but it’s reached the end of its product life. Microsoft chose not to include a new version of VID in the new Visual Studio .NET package; as far as I know, there are no plans for an independent upgrade to this product.

As far as certifications go, I don’t believe Microsoft is planning to keep the MCP+SB credential as a future growth path. If you look at the numbers on Page 14, you’ll see that this just hasn’t been a popular certification.

If you’re interested in Web development, my recommendation would be that you start using Visual Studio .NET (which has excellent tools for ASP.NET and other XML development) and read news about the new .NET-related certifications in the News archive or at http://www.mcpmag.com/news/article.asp?EditorialsID=461.
—Mike Gunderloy

Microsoft Puts the Squeeze on Publishers
Dian Schaffhauser’s “Academic Training Revamped” column in the February 2002 issue, regarding the IT Academy initiative from Microsoft, was lacking one critical element. Under this program, Microsoft will require that participating institutions use either the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) or the Academic Learning Series (ALS) from Microsoft.

I’m an assistant professor in a large community college, which is currently an AATP. We use a variety of texts from multiple publishers. We reviewed the MOC and ALS and chose not to use it because we felt other products were better choices. All of those products carried the Microsoft Approved Study Guide stamp. Under this program, if we participate, we will have to use the MOC or the ALS products from Microsoft.

It certainly seems that Microsoft is trying to squeeze other publishers out of this market and capture it for its exclusive benefit. Our college may or may not choose to participate as an IT Academy, but we certainly aren’t pleased with the loss of academic freedom to choose the materials we think best meet the needs of our students.
—Robert Sherman
Dayton, Ohio

Presentation Counts
I’d like to thank Greg Neilson and Steve Crandall for their December 2001 “Professionally Speaking” column, “Taking Control.” I’ve harangued my techie and non-techie friends for many years to learn to present themselves properly and be a consummate professional first and a specialist in whatever it is they specialize in second. One of my acquaintances holds a communications degree and decided to focus on marketing, but never marketed himself! Mind you, I’m not some dime-store manager that decided to get into network engineering. I started as a clerk in the government and couldn’t afford college so I learned on my own, took an entry-level job and then proceeded to devour anything I could read or tinker with about five years ago. I think that’s the point you two were making, and I wish more people understood that this isn’t some fairy-tale land of money and blinking lights.
—Kevin L. Shaw

MOC Mistake
This is in response to “What Difference Does the MOC Make?” in the January 2002 issue. The reader stated, “If the MOC isn’t used, a student can become an MCT, but not be Microsoft-approved to teach any of the MCSE classes.” This statement is incorrect. One of the requirements, according to Microsoft’s Web site, is that the student wishing to become a MCT must “attend a classroom presentation of a Microsoft course taught by an MCT at a Microsoft CTEC. This course must be at least three days in length, and you must attend this course within 12 months prior to your application to the MCT program. You will submit the course completion certificate with your application. The course completion certificate must include the course name, the course number, and the date you attended the course.”

As such, if the boot camp is not using MOC, then the student will still have to sit through an official MOC course at a CTEC.
—Scott Dowell
Sacramento, California

More Pass/Fail Comments...
Wow, that stinks. I've been certified since 1996 and relied on sectional scoring to identify where I was weak, even when I passed an exam, as the job is so much more than what is on the exam.
—Marty Barron
Jacksonville, Florida

This is a joke. If you're unfortunate enough to fail a Microsoft exam, chances are that you'll study and take the test again. Because the section-by-section scores have already been removed, you have almost no information on which areas need improvement. Now, with the removal of the final score, you won't know if you were very close to passing or way off base. Many of the new tests are more than 2.5 hours long; after that much time is put into a test, you deserve to know how you did.

There has always been skepticism in the IT and trainer community about Microsoft tests, and I feel this will increase anti-Microsoft sentiment. These tests are already tough enough-not even knowing how close you came to passing can be very frustrating.
—Omar Droubi
Oakland, California

I'm an IT specialist with an organization in Uganda. I finally decided to get certified, and I think the new pass/fail system will be good. But I think the programs like Transcender should stick with breaking down the scores, so that we can know the areas of weakness and improve.
—Emmanuel Acuc

I finished the MCSE track on Windows 2000 in April 2001. If there were one thing I had to point to and say, "This is what I dislike about Microsoft certifications," it would be the lack of feedback on weak and strong areas in my own knowledge. Also, as part of my job, I've been teaching people who, for various reasons, had to re-educate themselves. When you try to teach people, it's essential that you know "the truth, and nothing but the Microsoft truth."

If Microsoft truly is interested in achieving a certification system that assures instructors and teachers know their curriculum, it must implement some system that at the least gives proper feedback. A pure pass/fail system has decreased the value of a Microsoft certification tenfold!
—Borge A. Kristoffersen

The lack of section scores in the new test results is really a shame, as it doesn't help to understand areas of weakness. I think this is another attempt to generate higher testing revenues by keeping it all mysterious, so you never really know where you stand. Too bad.
—Dan O.

I think this is just another example of how Microsoft is becoming too conceited in its certification process. Not only does this really discourage me from taking any more tests from this company, it really begs the question: "What are they really testing you on?"

Having taken the 70-240 and failed, along with many other NT 4.0 MCSEs in the world, I was very upset to see that after four hours, all I got was a Pass/Failand a very snide comment on the print out that "...no score would adequately determine your overall performance." What is Microsoft thinking? Some sort of score would have at least shown me what I was really struggling with and what concepts I really understood. Therefore, I could study more effectively for the next four exams that I'd have to pay for.

I think this is a very bad move for Microsoft. I don't know who it has talked to on this subject (other than a handful of people who "beta test"), but I'd venture to say that if the company asked actual people in the industry, it would get a very different answer.

This all stems from the greed in this company. Not only are they saying, "Take our OS and like it," but now, "You will certify how we want you to become certified." I, for one, will be focusing on other certifications that are starting to have more weight in the IT field, such as Cisco (for which I have already obtained the CCNA).
—Jeffrey Sheridan

I could agree that, for the test, the pass/fail is all that matters. But as a competent, responsible, technical-level coordinator, it matters a lot.

How would I know if my people are weak in some specific area or if my consultants are barely passing the test? I would say scoring is still of interest from a company's perspective. Also, from a hiring perspective, it would be of interest to see that a person with low test results has done something about it.
—Pierre Marklund

I have a real problem with this latest decision. Regarding the quote from Microsoft that giving scores "Introduces a mysterious element and gives odd perceptions ..." Who are these people kidding?

If you don't get an accurate assessment of your strengths, as you would in the different sections of the old scoring system, how are you supposed to determine where you did well and where you did poorly? Many of these exams have overlapping technical sections, and anyone concerned with improving their skills in weak areas are out of luck unless they get the feedback that can help them.

The goal isn't just to pass the examsit's also to learn the technical details so you can apply it to your job.
—Matthew Elm

As a "hard way" MCSE on Win2K attainer, I must state that I'm appalled at Microsoft's decision to further keep examinees in the dark as to how they actually did on an exam. After taking the 70-240 upgrade exam and being told that my score was "Fail," I had no idea whether I had to brush up on 70-210, 70-215, 70-216 or 70-217. Not only did I not know what to brush up on, I didn't know how much to brush up.

People are forking out vast sums of money to attain certification on Microsoft's operating systems exams, and Microsoft appears to be making it more and more costly.
—Dave Hannigan
Manchester, England

I totally disagree with the policy. If providing information on exam scores presents an inaccurate picture, then your scoring procedures need to be explained to allow an accurate interpretation. If I know that if I barely missed passing, I'm more motivated to continue my studies and retake. If I wasn't even close, I'd need to re-examine my study habits and direction.
—Robert Kitsch
St. Louis, Missouri

I just took and failed exam 70-240. That I failed doesn't bother me; I can do the individual tests at my own pace now. What bothers me is the complete lack of feedback. I expected to see a percentage-based result, either on the overall test or the individual sub-categories. All the other Microsoft tests are pass/fail with feedback, why not exam 70-240? Microsoft simply states that "no single score would adequately reflect your overall performance." It would have been nice to see which category I was weak in; that way I could focus on that area. It's tough enough to keep up with the ever-changing technology without having to worry about certifications. Microsoft has to think more of its certified individuals; we not only support, but promote Microsoft products.
—Curtis Payne

Climbing the Ladder into the Clouds
Regarding Dian Schaffhauser's January 2002 column "Heading into the Cloud": While the vision of a World Wide Web service sounds very nice, I'm not yet convinced that it'll be globally accepted by 2005.

I see three dangerously damaged rungs in the ladder to the cloud.

Security in a globally diverse culture is the first dangerous rung of the ladder. In our world of mergers and hostile takeovers, there's little trust.

In our world of terror from within, there's even more reason to be looking over your shoulder as you type. If your passport doesn't include a retinal scan and a link to your biologically implanted ID chip, then there will be little hope of allowing companies to provide a service to share "mission-critical" and "proprietary" information. Then again, I saw an ad where someone just walked out of a store with his order in his coat and the entire transaction was electronic. It might happen.

The rung of payback: Where is the real ROI? Many of us work in and for companies concerned with the profitability of a service. How does calculating the current exchange rate through a service pay off? And why would my company want to give away that service? How do you make money by giving something away? We may be accused of saying "If we make it easier for the world to do business with us, they will!" Wasn't there a movie that said, "If you build it, they will come"? Wrong! The world will come when it hears the sizzle of your burger and the smell of your fries. It will come back when it discovers that you can provide products and services quickly and accurately and that what was promised in the sizzle and smell is real and satisfying.

And finally, capable application designers may be the missing or expensive rung. Being able to listen to the business when it defines its goals is hard enough, usually because it really doesn't define any hard rules. But translating the goals and rules into a service that will be available to anyone, anywhere, in any language, in any locally acceptable presentation, is the key.

This means not just the ability to design a service. It means being able to localize the returned information, as many of the cloud dwellers don't know how to present their own data in a way they understand. A stream of data is useless without understanding; people who can serve up a balanced, nutritious and satisfying meal are few and far between.

In the end, we'll all be standing in the clouds. We'll get there not because we were swept away by a .NET tidal wave, but because we were drawn into thinking about and enjoying a shared version. We'll fix the rungs on our way up the ladder-but it will be more like a decade to really get there.
—Dean E. Brown

Salary Survey Figures Unrealistic
I think that you should have a spot on the Web site for taking a poll on actual salaries from certified and uncertified people and put it in a searchable database format so that people will see that the salary surveys are completely unrealistic! Nobody I know makes that kind of money doing what we do in Chico, California. I think that people would like to see the truth, and they'd be more than willing to tell others what they make. Our MCSE has more than six years of experience and makes $9 per hour; I have more than 12 years experience and make $10 per hour. We get no Christmas bonus or even dental insurance.
—Ryan Stirtz, MCP, A+


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