It’s unanimous. Well, almost. Out of 168 e-mails responding to my column suggesting that a continuing education model might help Microsoft certified professionals, there were a few lone dissenters. Actually, there were two, if you’re counting.
Tony B., who’s earned MCT, MCSE, INET+, and A+ certifications, was one of the dissenters who argued against the need to change the certification process. He wrote that Microsoft is the big dog, the “leader of this pack.” He didn’t stop there. Here are some additional comments that he and other members took time to share.
The minority perspective
According to Tony B., Microsoft is entitled to call the shots. “They are the generals and we [the MCSEs and MCPs] are their respective captains and soldiers in this, the war of the NOSes and network administration,” he said. ”When the generals tell the soldiers to secure a strategic position or master a new weapon that will advance their cause, the soldiers don’t say no; they do it or they get out. If Microsoft wishes to release a new NOS upgrade every 18 months or so, that’s its right. These upgrades make my life as a systems integrator a hell of a lot easier and make business throughout the world more efficient and therefore more profitable, which ultimately becomes higher wages for the rest of us, and [Microsoft] is just keeping up with the rest of the tech industry right? The same applies to the business of certification.”
The second dissenter, Mitch, doesn’t believe there’s enough time to send IT professionals to continuing education courses. He said, “My shop of over 200 cannot afford to have personnel constantly in classes while MS decides either the direction of its OS or [how] to increase income.”
The prevailing opinion
An overwhelming majority of the TechRepublic members responding don’t feel that way.
Thomas, an MCSE, mirrored the comments of 166 other respondents. “To say I strongly endorse continuing education as a means of maintaining MCSE is an understatement.”
Thomas works at a hospital, where “continuing education is a way of life. Do it or lose your certification,” he said. “If you are going to specialize, you will take whatever course you require for your specialization. I think the MCSE is too narrowly defined after you acquire it. If you get your pilot’s license, you don't lose it because you shift airframes; you simply are not ‘type rated.’”
Many TechRepublic members that responded feel Microsoft is moving too quickly with its NOS deployments.
Too much too soon
James, a CNE and MCSE, works in a mixed Novell and Microsoft shop. “We are quite happy with Windows NT 4.0 right now. We have begun looking at upgrading to ISA Server 2000 and Exchange 2000, but those rollouts will take at least an entire year to finish.”
Jamie, who’s earned A+, MCP+I, MCSE, CCNA, and Compaq ASE certifications, shared similar sentiments, decrying the fast pace of OS rollouts. “Win2K was barely lukewarm when [Microsoft] decided to pump [out] yet another OS.”
This view was shared by others, including Wayne G., who’s earned MCSE, MCP+I, CNA, and A+ certifications.
“I worked hard to get the MCSE for NT 4.0, and I am frustrated at having to start over again for Windows 2000. I can't help feel that as soon as I complete that, I will have to do it again for XP.”
Other members indicated that the fast pace of OS introductions is proving discouraging. More importantly, such feelings aren’t limited to just systems administrators and support technicians. Michael, an IT manager who’s earned MCNE and MCSE accreditation, said, “I certainly do not want to spend my time on Win2K exams when XP certification path is looming around the corner.”
Continuing ed is the answer
Almost everyone agreed that continuing education is an opportunity worth considering. Here’s a sampling of some opinions on the subject.
CNE and MCP Ken said, “A continuing education model would absolutely work. I hope Microsoft gives it serious consideration.”
“Continuing ed is a terrific idea that is long overdue,” said Dianne. “I have an MCSE, which I obtained with my own money. I cannot afford to start all over, and the payoff in salary sure doesn't keep pace.”
Carole said she’s been an IT professional for a decade. “But before that I was an emergency medical technician,” she says. “That career involved a period of initial training and certification, followed by annual Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Is it fair to compare information technology with emergency medicine? I think so. Both are highly specialized fields that those outside the profession do not understand and cannot gauge very well. Both require long hours and commitment, and hands-on experience to do the job right.”
Eddy, a team leader who’s earned MCSE certifications in both the Windows NT and Windows 2000 tracks, echoed the comments of several other respondents. “I think a continued education program would be a great idea. It would be interesting to see what options Microsoft could come up with to ‘target’ the continued education based on your career objectives.”
Many MCTs feel the same way. John, an MCSE (Win2K and WinNT), MCT, and CCNA, provided one example.
“I agree wholeheartedly that Microsoft must take a serious look at ways to make the certification process more in line with the real world of IT. I make my living as an MCT and spend an enormous amount of time studying. While this works out quite nicely for me, I have many friends in the industry who hold an MCSE on NT who aren't anywhere close to becoming recertified on Win2K.” He added, “They just don't have time.”
One systems administrator supported the notion of a continuing education tack and also suggested that attendance and participation at Microsoft events would probably improve if such an approach were taken.
Eric, who’s earned MCSE and A+ accreditation, said his employer sends him to Microsoft seminars, conferences, and lectures. “I am continuing my education and keeping my skill set sharp, and I agree that these should count toward maintaining my certification more than taking a series of tests that just make my eyes hurt.”
But how would that help increase attendance at Microsoft events?
“Microsoft would benefit from allowing/requiring continuing education for numerous reasons. First, it would not be alienating so many of its own front line support people who worked hard to get their certifications. Second, the attendance at its seminars would increase, and the attention level would surely go up if there was going to be a test at the end of the day.”
Skills and experience
Many TechRepublic members who responded complained that the skills they’ve learned in the past really haven’t changed all that much.
Cory, another MCSE, said, “Updating my MCSE isn't going to ‘prove’ my skills to myself or my company because they're already proven. Not to mention the time involved in upgrading the cert and then the possibility of needing to completely upgrade it again in a year or two when Microsoft decides to retire Win2K exams. I'm seriously debating not pursuing the upgrade to my certification, not because I want to but because I must. And the loss of my certification isn't going to indicate that someone who shouldn't be an MCSE has finally gotten off the bandwagon. It will more likely indicate that those who Microsoft wants to be MCSEs will just plainly give up on the whole certification idea.”
Rui, an MCSE and CCNA, had another spin on why the idea of continuing education has merit. “The fact that it requires less time to be prepared to maintain a certification [is] the most important thing Microsoft could hope for. And here's why: The more time we have away from books/braindumps/Transcenders, the more time we have available to work with the OS, learn how to properly use it, [and] learn how to make a customer happy with Microsoft's application/OS.”
I also heard the academic analogy, which makes as much or more sense than any other claim.
Steven, a network systems administrator and MCSE, said, “In terms of cost, I found the [MCSE] education comparable to a university degree. When you obtain a university degree, do you have to get another degree because a new way of executing your subject matter is in vogue? I think not.”
Stan, also an MCSE, agreed. “College degrees don't expire; why does Microsoft think its programs do? NT 4.0 is not going to change. So why am I no longer certified in NT 4.0 at the end of 2001?”
Don’t tell network engineer Tom B. that those with computer science degrees are as qualified as a recently certified IT professional. An IT degree doesn’t guarantee expertise in today’s environment.
Tom, who has earned A+, Network+, MCP+I, MCSE, MCSE+I, MCT, CCNA, and CCDA certifications, said, “I totally agree with your points. I have seen a lot of the older generation of IT workers come through counting on a computer science degree they received in 1978 when there were no laptops or PCs! Hello?”
Another MCSE, Traci, summed up the thoughts of many. “I earned my MCSE a year ago and I, too, am faced with the dilemma of whether or not to get my [Windows] 2000 certification. Once you learn the basics, those don't change no matter what OS you may be working with.”
What do you think about MCSE continuing ed?
If you are a Windows NT MCSE, are you planning to upgrade to Windows 2000? Why or why not? We look forward to your input. Please post your comments below.