Renewal Notice

Are you past due?

Auntie was reflecting on her past career as business development manager for a company that made niche Web tools (our biggest seller: Bowser, Internet Explorer retooled for pooches) while paying a few domestic bills the other day. At least, that’s my excuse for being startled when dear Fabio murmured in my ear. “Jumping the gun on that one a bit, aren’t you?” he inquired gently.

Looking down, I noted that I was writing a check for a magazine subscription renewal that wasn’t due until 2008. This is one of those magazines that sends out renewal reminders every month—whether you need to be reminded or not—and, well, they snag the occasional daydreaming writer of opinion columns.

This little playlet got me thinking about Microsoft certifications (as do many things when I’ve got a column to write). Microsoft says that over 1.5 million people have achieved Microsoft certification. That should be no surprise to those of you who read the other pages of this very magazine. The question in Em’s mind is how many of you have come back for those subscription renewals in the form of another round of the same credential.

As you probably know, Microsoft started versioning the MCSE credential with Windows NT 4.0, and now you can be an MCSE on NT 4.0, Windows 2000 or Windows 2003. The MCSD certification is also versioned: You can get it with or without .NET. And in a year or two, I expect MCDBAs will face the equivalent choice, as there will probably be a SQL Server 2005 MCDBA alongside the existing SQL Server 7.0 and 2000 versions. If administrators, developers and DBAs were lemmings, this would be a fabulous thing for Microsoft; they’d rake in the bucks as we dutifully took every new exam.

However, the evidence says that lemminAghood is in relatively short supply out here in the real world. Microsoft doesn’t release a full statistical analysis of its certifications, but you can draw some conclusions from the number of folks with each certification, which they do publish. Only about 60 percent as many people got the Windows 2000 MCSE as the Windows NT 4.0, and so far, the Windows Server 2003 certification has comparatively minuscule numbers (though it’s been out less than a year).

Over in application land, the story appears to be much the same: Around a thousand developers have picked up the original MCSD every month, but in its first year, the MCSD .NET only averaged about 600 developers each month. And some of those are certainly new customers rather than repeats. What’s everyone else waiting for?

If you’ve been around the certification universe for awhile, this isn’t particularly surprising. Repeat sales in certification are far from guaranteed for any vendor. Some folks will inevitably be disappointed when the promised fame and fortune don’t materialize after their first certification. These people are poor prospects for an upgrade. Others will pragmatically decide not to upgrade because, in most cases, it doesn’t matter. When was the last time a prospective employer bothered to check your assertion that you were certified, let alone the version you claimed?

But such pragmatism has its drawbacks. Upgrading to the latest version of any certification has the same benefits we’re always preaching for getting certified in the first place—it validates your skills and forces you to study your subject broadly. So if it was good to certify, it’s good to renew, right? In that case, though, why aren’t more of you doing it? Perhaps it’s true that the effort follows the money—that if you don’t see financial gains, you won’t bother.

Or maybe the newer exams are just too tough. Over the years, it’s gotten harder to get a Microsoft certification—so maybe more of you are still in the pipeline on your way to the next big title. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of increasing age and forgetfulness. On your glorious path to becoming your organization’s go-to systems engineer, you just plain forgot about recertifying. In which case, isn’t it time to register for some exams now…just in case?

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.


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