Certified Mail

Pricing Politics; Saying Goodbye

Price Hiking

I read Em C. Pea’s “Call Me Certifiable” June column, “The Pricing Problem,” and I’ve thought for a long time that certification is mostly worthless just because it’s easy to become a paper MCP. I know several people who read books for long periods and then passed exams without actually touching a computer running the software. Actually being graded on the ability to get a job done would be a huge step forward. It would be even better to get away from some of those vague exam answers, such as: “This is an excellent solution”; “This solution appears to work, but doesn’t”; “This solution is a complete waste of time and was thrown in by a bored writer.”
—Pete Schott, MCSE
Dallas, Texas

Put that bottle back in the cupboard and have a nice cup of tea! What the increased certification fees will accomplish is to add to Bill’s bottom line. If the fees were increased to $300 or $500, it would only make Bill smile wider.
As long as the demand is high for current exams, there is no incentive for Microsoft to produce more challenging exams. Until there is a third-party offering certifications on Microsoft topics that are acknowledged as a better measure of competency, there will be no motivation for Microsoft to change. Why should they consider changing when it has no competition? The current certification process is a cash cow for Microsoft.
—Bruce Staehle, MCP, A+, Server+
Danielson, Connecticut

Other professions requiring certification—medical, dental, legal—have a much better model for managing members: continuing education. I can’t imagine how the system would bog down if doctors, dentists and nurses were required to pass their board exams or lawyers were required to pass the bar exam every two to three years (even though you could argue that these fields are changing almost as fast as the technology arena). This would certainly have a detrimental effect on the health care and legal systems.

Instead, the AMA, ADA and ABA require post-certification continuing education and proficiency.

While this system has its flaws, it allows members to concentrate on professional tasks rather than being turned into professional exam takers.

I’ve provided feedback to Microsoft on this issue, most recently at June’s TechEd conference, and they seem receptive, but I’m hoping that we’ll get more support among the MCP community and show Microsoft that there’s interest in adopting this approach to keeping certifications current.
—Mark Schoenbaum, MCSE
San Francisco, California

Microsoft could spend a little more of its own money to create the bigger question pools you suggested or use the legal fees from chasing the braindumpers, rather than transfer the cost to me, the test taker. They can afford it more than I can.
—Ethan Roberts, MCSD, Linux+, i-Net+
Watertown, Wisconsin

Do you honestly believe that any part of the profits generated from price increases on certification exams will end up anywhere other than Uncle Bill’s pockets? What color is the sky on your planet?
—Michael E. Tibbs, Jr., MCP, A+
Indianapolis, Indiana

Outstanding! Certifications that represent our true worth...now there’s a novel idea!
—Dan Tuten, MCSE, MCSA
Deerfield, Illinois

Charging $300 to $500 for exams for large companies like General Motors, AT&T, Ford and other Fortune 500 firms is fine, but for independents the price is prohibitive. If too many people memorize exam questions, I suggest making the tests harder, not more expensive. The people who can afford the cram courses and boot camps can afford $300 to $500 exams, anyway.
—Michael P. Antonovich, MCSD
Orlando, Florida

You mention that Microsoft should charge more in order to increase the exam question pool and the quality of exams. Why should the cost of doing this be passed onto exam candidates? Microsoft shouldn’t look at this expense as a cost, but as an investment. The greatest benefit would be increasing the quality of the certification exams—the industry would treat the certification with more respect. This would in turn attract more candidates to the certification, leading to more expertise in Microsoft products and increased market penetration and, hence, increased revenue. It makes no sense to me to have candidates pay for something that’s ultimately going to benefit Microsoft.
—Ravi Sabharanjak, MCSE, MCP+I
Fremont, California

I’m in the process of trying to educate new students in a community college environment. Many of them show up at our doorstep because they’re the under-represented, both socially and economically. A $300 or $500 exam price would put most of them out of the running for certification.

I’ve never seen any large company plow money back to make things better; they reinvest to make more money . Do you really believe the more a person pays for an exam, the better the technician he’ll be? That’s as ridiculous as saying you need two years of experience working with Microsoft programs before you can test. Nobody testing today has two years on Windows Server 2003. Maybe there’s another motive of economic discrimination. Those trying to work up the economic ladder because they weren’t born with the means probably aren’t pretty enough to be part of the Microsoft world. As an instructor in a state college and a Microsoft IT Academy, I couldn’t put this barrier in front of my students. It’s a good wake-up call, though. As a community college member, maybe I should start some grassroots resistance to this form of corporate greed.
—Everett Feight, MCP
Beaufort, South Carolina

I’d propose that the first exam be higher priced, so all the advantages you mention would be present; but once an exam is passed, the test taker should get discounts on subsequent exams, so certification doesn’t grow so expensive as to be unaffordable to experienced professionals who have the skill but not the position to pay for it. Once someone fails an exam, he or she should lose discounts, so the “paper MCPs” and the “try and try until you pass” MCPs pay more for the certifications.
—Bruno Guardia, MCSE
Mexico City, Mexico

I agree, not about raising the prices, but about introducing a true hands-on, lab-proctored exam for the premier Microsoft credentials. The MCSE+ idea sounds kind of nice, but I’m sure the marketing people at Microsoft will come up with some ideas themselves.

That would be of tremendous worth to me. As a seasoned IT professional with years of experience, I just hate it when people think or say, “paper MCSE.” I’ve never heard of a “paper CCIE.” Everybody knows there’s no cheating, brain-dumping or exam-taking expertise that will earn you the much coveted and respected CCIE credential. The only way is to pass the very tough and long hands-on lab, which, incidentally, costs you an arm and a leg.

Currently, using only Microsoft credentials, there’s no way for me to distinguish myself from a so-called “paper-MCSE.”

So, to the Microsoft Training and Certification group: Please introduce very tough, very thorough, outcome-based, hands-on exams! Why not equal or better the standard set by Cisco’s CCIE lab, and put Microsoft certifications at the top of the certification food chain in terms of credibility?
—Henko TerBlanche, MCSE+I, MCSA
New York, New York

At $500 for an exam, I’d want to be really certain that I’d pass the first time. I don’t have deep pockets that would allow me to take several shots at an exam—even if my company paid for them. Given the investment in hardware, software, resource kits and exam prep materials, pricing exams too high would discourage many from taking the risk.

If you raise the exam price too high, what is accomplished—fewer certified professionals? Is that what Microsoft wants?
—Rich Schmidt, MCSE
San Francisco, California

I think you’ve forgotten a few things about raising exam prices. It appears that you’re cutting out an entire class of people that can neither sit on their keisters and work on tans or drink expensive drinks. Many of us can’t afford a trip to the local pool, much less your wonderful spa. It sounds like you’re trying to make this an exclusive club.

When I got my certification, I had barely enough for books, and the test price was almost out of reach. My family sacrificed a lot of for me to have the money for tests. If I could barely afford that, why would I try to take a test at five times the price? You must be very well off. Or, maybe you only care about going to more spa retreats. Or, possibly, you’re just out of your mind. There are many times I lay awake at night and worry about how Bill Gates and Microsoft are going to make it. If only they could make more money... Get real!
—Joe Cook, MCSE, A+
Charleston, West Virginia

I oppose your idea. Microsoft could put more money into certification if it wanted. After all, an MCP is a walking free ad. From an economics viewpoint, one could raise prices high enough—$500 per exam is $,3500 minimum to become an MCSE—to chase off paper MCSEs. But as an IT trainer, I know that exams over $100 have already chased away a lot of folks.
—Dwight Watt, MCSE, MCSA, CCP, CCNA
Swainsboro, Georgia

Thanks for all of the, um, interesting mail (you do know that my bonus plan is based on the number of angry e-mails I generate, right?). I’m not going to open this one over here that’s ticking, though. All levity aside, Auntie was happy to see that, while many writers objected to the means I proposed, very few had any problem with the end. I’m glad so many readers feel there’s a place for more challenging exams in the Microsoft universe, even if most of you would prefer to see Uncle Bill pay for them instead of shelling out more money yourselves.
—Em C. Pea

A Farewell to Pro Speak

Has “Professionally Speaking” been discontinued? It’s the best article in the magazine every month.
—Tim Caylor, MCDBA
Nashville, Tennessee

We discontinued that column for many reasons. The authors were having a tough time coming up with original topics to discuss, and readers weren’t providing enough publishable questions. However, we’re using the space devoted to that in the past to new endeavors, including “Tips & Tricks,” a new column by Don Jones, which you’ll find this month on page 61. Also, we have additional ideas in the works that we’ll introduce in future issues of the magazine. So we hope you’ll stay tuned, Tim.

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