Editor's Desk

Lab Experiments

What credentials could offer in the future.

I’m writing this column specifically because I want feedback from you. The topic I’m about to present turned out to be a discussion point several times during the latest TechMentor conference in San Diego, and I’d like to see whether there was something in the hotel water or whether it really does hold merit in the real world, which is where you reside.

First, Contributing Editor Bill Boswell laid out his fairly concise theory about how to add a board certification component to Microsoft’s credential. More on that shortly.

Second, Senior Editor Keith Ward asked an audience of delegates whether they wanted a practicum-style exam (about three-quarters said yes) and whether they’d pay extra to be able to take one (about half said yes). Then he asked a panel of Microsoft product managers whether Microsoft was working on such a program. The short answer was no (for fairly sound reasons).

Third, Contributing Editor Don Jones pulled people together for an informal discussion about the “perfect” certification program. During the talk, people said they’d like a way to set themselves and the people they manage above the norm of the typical IT professional. In case you didn’t know, Don runs Braincore.net, a company that has developed testing technology that enables exams to go beyond standard simulations. For example, to prove you can rename a domain, his software lets you use netdom to do it.

So here’s Bill’s idea, based on his experience—believe it or not—as a board-certified nuclear power plant operator. Require the MCSE as the baseline. Require a multi-hour troubleshooting test akin to what Cisco offers with its CCIE titles. (That would be easy enough to do using virtual machine software, such as Don’s, in which an entire network could be contained in a single box.) Then there’s the oral part of the credential. The candidate must face a panel of experts and answer their questions on systems engineer-style topics. Not only would this provide proof of your understanding of the issues involved in the work, but it would demonstrate your ability to explain advanced concepts and processes to your colleagues.

As a third hurdle, the credential might require the candidate to write a paper, in the style of SANS with its GIAC credential, in which the candidate has to explain a particularly snarly technical issue faced on the job. This would be evaluated by somebody who already has the new higher-level credential.

Tough? You bet. Doable. I think so. Pricey? The cost would have to cover the expense. Of value to the world at large? Hiring managers don’t always have time to stay up on the latest nuances of a vendor’s programs. But when somebody can say, “I’m board-certified,” it sounds to me like it carries the weight of authority.

About the Author

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


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