It’s not often you receive a gift like this. Lost in the commotion surrounding Microsoft’s announcement that it would no longer retire certifications was yet another critical change in Redmond’s certification policy. MCSE candidates can now fulfill their elective requirements by substituting several formerly retired elective exams.

The benefits
The ramifications are significant. If you are a Windows NT 4.0 MCSE who has passed the Win2K Accelerated exam, you may be able to earn a Win2K MCSE by passing just one design exam. If, in the past, you’ve passed one of the nine elective exams that were retired but now count (see list below), you need to pass only five exams for a Win2K MCSE versus the seven that were the rule until a few weeks ago.

Which nine formerly retired electives can now be used to fulfill Win2K MCSE elective requirements? The following, while no longer available, can still be used as Windows 2000 MCSE electives:

  • 70-013—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft SNA Server 3.0
  • 70-018—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Systems Management Server 1.2
  • 70-026—System Administration for Microsoft SQL Server 6.5
  • 70-027—Implementing a Database Design on Microsoft SQL Server 6.5
  • 70-059—Internetworking with Microsoft TCP/IP on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0
  • 70-076—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Exchange Server 5
  • 70-087—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0
  • 70-078—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Proxy Server 1.0
  • 70-079—Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 by Using the Internet Explorer Administration Kit

The logic
Obviously, permitting formerly retired electives to count toward current certification is an important policy change. After I discussed the decision with Microsoft director of certification skills and assessment Anne Marie McSweeney, though, the decision made sense.

“The thinking behind this was that it’s about customer satisfaction,” McSweeney said. “There are tradeoffs…we’re certainly trading off a complexity of the program in order to meet a variety of customer needs.”

Immediately, questions arise as to how the formerly retired exams were selected for eligibility. Or why can’t a candidate count the NT Server 4.0 exam as a Win2K elective?

“NT 4.0 core exams never counted as elective exams. For ease of simplicity, electives still count as electives, and core will count as core. We’ve versioned around core requirements so the version really reflects what the core requirements of that credential are.”

Will MCSA candidates benefit from the change? The short answer is no. McSweeney noted that discontinued electives won’t count toward MCSA certification. Instead, she said, a targeted subset of electives was selected that is relevant to the new certification.

“The discontinued exams don’t count, but the new NT 4.0 exam (70-244, Supporting and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Network) we released at the beginning of this year does.”

However, those IT professionals who have passed the Win2K Accelerated exam will receive credit toward an MCSA. The Accelerated exam, once nothing but a bridge to a Win2K MCSE, can now be used to knock out an MCSA core or elective requirement too.

Good forever
What will happen if you choose to take advantage of Microsoft’s generosity and use now-eligible Windows NT 4.0 electives to knock out Win2K MCSE electives? Will you get bitten later when a now-allowed elective is discontinued?

The short answer, again, is no. These elective exams are already discontinued. The policy change is, in fact, permanent. As a Microsoft Certified Professional, you no longer need to worry about the retirement of exams and certifications.

“With this new policy, basically we’re eradicating the word retire from our vocabulary. Once an exam counts, it always counts.

Of course, exams will be discontinued, which means you won’t be able to take them anymore. But if you’ve used an exam to earn certification, you won’t have to worry… once we said it counted, it always counts,” McSweeney said.

Eckel’s take
There’s no doubt that the tech bubble has burst. Hanging out with the dog at work, sustaining 80-hour workweeks, buying stock at ridiculous price-vs.-earnings ratios, and other fads from the late 1990s are over.

Microsoft has responded to this shift in the industry by updating its certification platform. The certification guidelines Redmond had in place in the late ‘90s made sense. They don’t anymore, and I believe that’s why we’ve seen such substantial changes.

It’s time to get back to business. Microsoft’s program revisions make it easier for IT professionals to motivate themselves and to justify the time and expense they invest in accreditations such as the MCSE and MCSA.

If you’d been thinking the certification treadmill was moving too fast and that you’d had enough, it’s time to take another look. The pace is much more reasonable now, and unlike the proverbial hamster on a wheel, the cert treadmill can take you where you want to go.

How do you feel about these changes?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.