Microsoft has put out the call for IT pros who have experience with the Windows 7 beta operating system. Here is your chance to get a free certification and maybe change how the industry recognizes support techs while you are at it.
Microsoft has announced a first-come-first-served beta test period for a new certification exam covering its next OS version: Exam 71-680: Technical Specialist: Windows 7, Configuring. The Configuration exams are always a core component for the Microsoft certifications that cover client-side or "desktop" maintenance and installation of the MS operating systems.
The open availability of this beta exam is a departure from past procedure, and it offers a great opportunity for IT pros who are considering pursuing certification. During previous exam revisions, beta testing opportunities were available by invitation only. Now, anyone who is interested can register to take the prerelease version of the exam.
Why take a beta exam? It is a chance to influence the development of the Microsoft certification ecosystem. Having high-quality exams is probably the best way to make sure that certifications "mean something" and hold value in the job market, and a rigorous beta test with knowledgeable IT pros will provide an accurate scoring sample. Microsoft's learning team can then make sure the final exam truly tests for competency.
There are more than just the altruistic reasons for participating in the exam beta, however. After the results of the beta have been tabulated and normalized, if you've received a passing score then you'll be officially credited as a Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist, and it won't have cost you a single red cent. Participation in the beta exam is free of charge, and if you pass, you'll get full-fledged credit for your accomplishment.
But if you haven't downloaded and explored the Windows 7 beta, you shouldn't sign up just to get a free certification. Since the new OS isn't out yet, test preparation materials are few and far between, and Microsoft has pulled the Windows 7 beta download for right now. It's really important that the results from the exam beta test represent the best effort of IT pros who are actually familiar with the software. If the pool of examinees is dominated by knuckleheads who've never laid hands on Windows 7, then the final certification test won't be as good as it should be.
There has been a lot of debate over the value of certification in our industry, and there will continue to be disagreement. I believe that if certifications are to be meaningful, they should assess real-world skills and experience. That's part of the reason I want any support pro with Windows 7 experience to consider participating in the beta. Microsoft has made some changes to their certification track in the last couple of years, supposedly in an attempt to better represent the actual roles that techs inhabit in the workplace. The Windows 7: Configuring exam being evaluated should be of interest to support techs because it could end up influencing a new class of Microsoft certification, the forthcoming Desktop Administrator credential:
Desktop Administrators (DAs) are IT Professionals who are responsible for provisioning desktop PCs and deploying service packs and updates to these PCs. They are also responsible for setting the strategic direction for the desktop operating system and applications. DAs work with other lines of businesses in their company and are responsible for addressing high-end desktop infrastructure needs. DAs are Tier 3 level support and mostly handle escalations related to system and large site issues.
Finally there are plans to recognize the responsibilities that many IT pros have in their companies by establishing a tier between Support Tech and Systems Engineer. That's why I'm encouraging you to get involved. Even if you're not that interested in certifications, this exam could be a first step toward getting the industry to acknowledge a role that many of us have long filled.