Like death and taxes, .NET is one of those inevitable facts of life for anyone who earns a living writing code. The real questions have become not whether you will embrace .NET but how much and when.

To answer these questions, you have to look at what your peers are doing, the attitude of employers toward .NET, and your own career goals.

All of these issues will directly influence whether you want to invest the time and money in one of Microsoft’s .NET certifications: the new Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) or the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD).

Who’s getting certified in .NET?
Programmers as a group don’t embrace certification, said Dian Schaffhauser, editorial director for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, a monthly independent magazine published by 101communications LLC.

Programmers who pursue certs usually do so because their company requires a certain number of credential holders, or because the certification lends some credibility to other work the programmer may be doing, such as writing or teaching, she said.

Schaffhauser said Microsoft is fairly aggressive about protecting the number of certs that are awarded. “But we do know that all MCADs—about a thousand (certified this year)—are on .NET,” she said. “In the last year, Microsoft added about 11,000 MCSDs to its ranks. But none of the new MCSDs are on .NET because the core exam just came out of beta.”

Schaffhauser also noted that Microsoft added about 108,000 Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) last year.

“I’ll bet a good number of those—several thousand—may be people who have tackled one or several of the new .NET developer exams. Since Microsoft doesn’t break out that number for us, we’ll never know,” she said.

If it’s good for my company, is it good for me?
According to Cushing Anderson, program director for Learning Service Research with IDC, people who already have jobs should be thinking about whether their company is going toward the use of .NET. If so, and they pursue .NET certification, they will be well ahead of the curve. If the company is not heading in the .NET direction, however, .NET certification might not be such a good idea.

“Not only are you going to spend a lot of time on it, but you’re probably not going to use it, which isn’t helpful in the end,” he said. You probably won’t use it until you change jobs or your company comes around.

If you already have a good understanding and a lot of .NET development experience, a .NET certification probably won’t gain you much of anything, said Ed Tittel, contributing editor of Certification Magazine.

“The value of .NET certification is inversely proportional to how much [programmers] already know about the .NET environment. If they’re pretty much up to speed and knowledgeable on it, certification is probably not going to make that much difference, especially if they’re already employed and working in the area,” he said.

Riding the crest of demand
Programmers have to ask themselves a set of questions when considering .NET certification, said John R. Rymer, research vice president with Giga Information Group. He said that if you’re a Microsoft skilled professional, you will have to certify in .NET, and the sooner you do it, the better.

“.NET is heating up now. Microsoft is creating a lot of demand,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason not to do this. I think if you wait, you’re going to be sorry you did.”

Rymer believes that this is a good time to pursue .NET certification because of rising demand for the technology and the limited number of skilled developers.

“There’s that period when the skills are in demand and are scarce when rates go up. I think we’re at the beginning of it.”

Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine’s Schaffhauser agrees and said developers shouldn’t wait too long to at least start looking at .NET.

“My advice: Get your hands on the tools and start using their new features and functionality. Don’t wait to begin your training,” she said. “.NET certification may take you a couple of years to achieve. But in the process, you’ll be honing your skills and preparing yourself for whatever comes next at your company. If that day looks like it may never arrive at your company, you’ll be prepared to look elsewhere for your next job.”

Five questions to ask yourself about .NET certification
What are my peers doing?
You need to determine what other programmers are doing, especially in your own development shop. You may want to consider .NET certification if you find that other developers in your company are getting certified and, without it, you might be left behind.

Is my company planning to use .NET in the next six to 12 months?
If the answer is yes, .NET certification may provide a structured way to learn the technology as well as to demonstrate your newly acquired skills to your current employer.

If the answer is no, .NET certification will require personal time outside of work as well as limit any on-the-job experience with the technology. In addition, to fully utilize your new .NET certification, you will likely be required to seek employment elsewhere. Although employers don’t dictate what an employee does on personal time, they might not be so supportive of employees learning new technologies that will ultimately lead them elsewhere.

Will a .NET cert benefit me?
The answer could be yes if the certification provides career momentum in terms of a raise or promotion. The answer could be no if you’re already developing with .NET and are expected to demonstrate a high level of the technology without the cert.

What are my personal goals?
.NET certification may be for you if you value outside validation of your skills regardless of your current job. Yes, some developers enjoy learning new technologies and taking the required tests. Furthermore, your own goals may include the addition of the .NET skill set so that you can look for work with another employer.

When will .NET skills be valuable in the marketplace?
Riding the crest of new technology acceptance can be unpredictable. .NET certification may be for you if you’re willing to garner the skills now in anticipation of future increased demand. As that demand begins to outweigh resources, money will be good for .NET developers already trained. This will eventually taper off as new .NET developers begin to acquire .NET skills, but that high demand could be a year or two away.

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