The Pain of Exams
Compared to the technology that's being tested, test center technology can seem outright medieval.
Despite appearances, Auntie has been known to relax from time to time.
For example, she does like to go out to the Renaissance Faire re-enactments,
mingle with the other peasants and eat half-burnt food with fingers and
a sharp knife. But this occasional fascination with things medieval stops
at the door to her office. Well, most of the time. It was one of those
other times that provoked this particular column.
You see, I recently had the experience of taking one of the Microsoft
certification exams. It's hardly the first time that I'd stayed up all
night studying, making sure I was up on the latest and greatest. Then
came the morning and the drive to the testing center, followed by digging
up the requisite two forms of ID that didn't make me look too bad, and
signing that charming agreement. Speaking of which, when was it that they
added the paragraph about not assaulting the testing center workers? Are
you people really that brutal over this stuff?
Of course, the veneer that I was working with the latest and greatest
peeled right off when I settled down next to the PII-233 with the shrieking
hard drive and waited for the exam to load. And waited, and waited ...
until the screen popped up a message. The exact message took up half a
screen, but the gist of it was, "This exam will only be available
after June 16. Today is June 16. Please reschedule after June 16. If today
is on or after June 16, ask the testing center to call technical support."
Of course, that's an insane error message on the face of it. And never
mind the fact that someone from the testing company scheduled me for that
date over the phone (I long ago gave up on the Web registration interface,
since I got tired of agonizing waits for it to crash entirely). What followed
was a 45-minute exercise in tedium. First the nice people at the testing
center had to call technical support and read them the entire error message,
s-l-o-w-l-y, so they could write it down word for word. (What, they don't
know what error messages are in their own software?) Then there were a
few things to try. Then there was more time on hold. Then there was a
wait for a callback, during which time the nice testing center person
confided to Auntie, "We're thinking of no longer offering the Microsoft
exams. This sort of thing happens far too often."
Eventually, the testing company's software was convinced that today was
indeed today, a new exam was downloaded, and a rather aggravated Auntie
sat down to start answering questions. As a customer service experience,
it ranked right up there with having Bengal tigers set upon one for asking
an impertinent question.
After a decade-plus of dealing with Microsoft and their exam subcontractors,
I could multiply this story many fold. But why should I bother? I'm sure
you readers could (and probably will) send in plenty of exam horror stories
of your own.
The real question on Auntie's mind this month is: Why do we put up with
this nonsense? Or, not to put too fine a point on it, why does Microsoft
put up with it? Perhaps when Microsoft was just experimenting with certification,
it made sense to hire an outside contractor with an existing national
network of test centers to work with. But now, Microsoft has committed
to this path for the long run. Why don't they roll out their own testing
rooms, since they have offices all over the world? Why don't they put
together a database that can accurately track a few million certified
professionals? Why don't they upgrade the testing software to run on a
reasonably modern operating system, so the exams could actually simulate
the material we're being tested on? Is anyone in Redmond listening?
As for me, I'm going to go see if Fabio wants to go to the Ren Faire
tomorrow. If I'm going to be stuck with obsolete, poorly working technology,
I might as well have fun about it.
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.