Certification: Yes….No….Maybe!

I read an interesting article by Paul Randal the other day on whether certification was worth it (How valuable are certifications) and it got me thinking about whether Microsoft was serious about certification or does the program exist purely to “keep people happy” (and to drive sales of MOC).

Over the years Microsoft has been criticised for taking far too long to release certifications relevant to current technologies and for not doing enough to stamp out cheating (which devalues certification).  Microsoft has also come under fire for releasing certifications but not releasing relevant study material (Self-paced Training Kits, e-Learning and classroom training etc.).  Unfortunately these “issues” have further contributed to the belief that certification is a waste of time.  Well, it appears times are changing.

Relevant and Up-to-Date Certifications

Microsoft Learning has listened to suggestions from certification candidates and is addressing the need for relevant and up-to-date certifications by ensuring it offers both training and certifications to enable IT Pros and Developers to develop and validate their skill.  One example of this effort is the recently announced Private Cloud Certification (Beta in April 2012) and the upcoming Private Cloud Jump Start course.  Another example is the recently announced SQL Server 2012 certifications (Beta in March 2012) and the SQL Server 2012 Developer Training Kit BOM.  For me though, the most exciting aspect of Microsoft’s change in direction is recertification.

Recertification is Microsoft’s way of ensuring that certifications remain meaningful and valuable, and that a person continues to demonstrate competence in a given technology even as the technology changes through service packs, revisions, and new product version releases.

Recertification is currently required for MCPD: Windows Azure Developer and MCPD: Windows Phone Developer certifications (every two years) and for Professional-level SQL Server 2012 certifications (every three years).  Hopefully Microsoft will make recertification a requirement for all technologies.  

Exam Security

This is a difficult area to address and unfortunately cheating will exist as long as certification exists.  That said, Microsoft has implemented a number of strategies to combat cheating and has even gone as far as publishing real-life stories of piracy and cheating.  Exam security is not limited to cracking down on brain-dumps, theft or impersonation though.  Take the MCM program for example.

A few years ago Microsoft released the MCM program which in my opinion addresses some of the criticism it received for not stamping out cheating (and the devaluation of certifications) as these certifications can’t be gained through study alone (thus ruling out the use of brain-bumps) as they contain a practical (lab) component. Significant security measures have also been implemented to ensure the integrity of the MCM is maintained and that people sitting exams are who they say they are.

As with recertification, I hope Microsoft extends lab based exams to all certifications and also implements the same MCM security related measures for all exams and certification candidates.

Need to report suspected cheating or piracy?  Visit the Microsoft Certification Exam Policies site or send an email to TCTips@microsoft.com

Conclusion

I’ve always been passionate about certification and at times have been frustrated with the “perception” that certification is a waste of time because they become out-dated and that anyone can pass a certification exam by downloading a dump. 

Microsoft appears to be listening to suggestions and heading in the right direction with some of the initiatives they’ve implemented and I hope they continue to refine and release additional initiatives/incentives to ensure certifications retain their relevancy.

Have questions about Training and Certification?  Pop by the Training and Certification and Born to Learn forums where dedicated members will gladly point you in the right direction.,

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About Mr. Wharty's Ramblings
Jeff holds a Master’s Degree in Systems Development (.NET Stream) and a Master’s Degree in Database Design and Management (SQL Server). Jeff is also a MCT specialising in SQL Server technologies and holds MCPD, MCITP, MCDBA and MCSD certifications.

3 Responses to Certification: Yes….No….Maybe!

  1. Innocent Gumbo says:

    Thankss Jeff for highlighting the issues that I was thinking about for the past decade. Stamping out the cheating. I am also a person who did not want to do certifications because those who had certifications performed way behind my level. But now I realised Microsoft is aware of these issues and will find ways to deal with this issue. I got cerified as a Developer in 2006 and MCDBA in 2007. By then the dumps were not that prominant as we are coming from poor countries where the internet is for the elite. But when I migrated to another country where resources are plenty I was shocked. I did not know that some people could just pass the exam without the knowledge of the subject matter.

    Thanks Jeff, also one day I cam across the ITMasters programme offered by Charles Sturt and I saw you on the graduates’ list and that also inspired me. When I opened this page I said wow, that man again Jeff. You inspired us and I enrolled for Masters in Database Design and Management and completed this last January after a gruelling 2 years.

    Thanks Jeff on personal terms for inspiring us who come from poor countries somewhere there in Africa.

  2. David Chen says:

    Jeff,

    I took the 71-462 beta today and I have to say the exam was definitely worth it for several reasons: 1. I was able to test my old skills and found I remember some and forgot some even though I was MCDBA for sql2k and sql2k5. 2, In failing to answer some specific questions, I learned there are new sql server features that I am not aware of and googled for them. So I actually learned something by just taking the exam. 3. Since I only work with SQL Server about 20% of the time on the job, this forces me to study the new features in Denali.(And thank you for providing the links to the Virtual Labs, they are great!) I also have a different take on the often debated topic of whether a certification is worth it. I think product certifications are great but they should never be used as the only criteria to filter job candidates. Some people complain they do not test real world experiences, but real world experiences cannot be tested in an exam. I don’t think even a ccie lab test can replace real world project experiences. Product certifications are meant to test the skill level on the candidates knowledge on the product, such as available features and when/how to apply those to specific scenarios. Product certification could help aspired people get into the industry with some basic foundation to gain experiences on, while helping experienced professionals learn the new features of the specific products. I’m a consultant and I have a number of certifications from Microsoft, SAP, and VMWare. None of my customers ask about my certification. But those exams really forced myself to learn a lot while preparing for them. For the purpose that I meantioned above, I think the efforts to earn product certifications are really worth it if you intend to use those products on the job. They are actually more valuable than the certifications themselves. Of course, for someone new to the industry, the certifications are probably much more valuable than to a veteran.

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