Have MCSE cert program complaints? Take them to the source

Do you have concerns about changes to the MCSE certification program? So does Chris Tellez, who took an opportunity at TechEd 2000 yesterday to run them by a Redmond certification representative.

For those who have not yet heard, Microsoft has made some pretty radical decisions in regard to its certified professional program. In fact, the company’s even recently updated its Web site to help explain the changes. You can read the page here.

The point of often-heated controversy? The retirement of the Windows NT 4.0 track—which many believe is too early. I took an opportunity to catch up with Microsoft certification representative Dr. Cindy Fitzgerald at TechEd 2000 in Orlando, FL, and run a few thoughts by her.

My opinion
Of course, NT 4.0 is still very widely used, and signs indicate that it will continue to be heavily utilized past the current retirement date of Dec. 31, 2001. Just so that it’s clear, my position is that while Windows 2000 is an incredible operating system, the retirement of the NT 4.0 track at the end of 2001 is premature. The timetable Redmond has provided for studying, gaining experience, and passing exams is impractical, especially considering the already-hectic schedules of most IT professionals.

I am all for keeping up on your skills, and I think that it’s something a good IT professional (certified or not) should do. It’s crucial to always be experimenting and using the latest technology. I think in this case, though, that Microsoft is retiring a certification before its time. That’s my opinion; you, of course, are entitled to your own.

The conversation
Knowing that the certified professional program staff usually has a booth at TechEd, I was ready to go and blast them. I walked up to the booth and started talking to a Redmond representative. I was prepared to rip her head off and vent. This was my time to finally get the message across; this was my time to fight back for my colleagues who share my opinion. She was going to be toast.

As I started talking, I was slowly disarmed, and I started calming down. “No … must fight back … must rage against …” I reminded myself.

What I previously thought would be a heated exchange of words became a very calm and productive conversation. For the first time in months, I felt like someone was actually listening and taking to heart everything I had to say. The Microsoft staffer looked me in the eye and listened to every word I said. Wow!

Just so you know, here are the points I made:
  • While Windows 2000 is a powerful operating system, not everyone has the time, money, or manpower to migrate to it. Many of us work for companies that don’t invest as much as one would like in technology. Seventy-five percent of the machines my company uses are Pentium Pro 200s. We’re gradually replacing them with newer models, but it’s slow going. If you’re a nonprofit organization as we are, it’s even harder.
  • Many of us are a one- or two-person show supporting 100 users or more. We barely have enough time in the day to get through the regular user problems that pop up, let alone plan or prepare for a massive upgrade. Upgrades still happen; the timeline is just longer.
  • Many of us spent a large amount of money upgrading systems to be Y2K-compliant. Management doesn’t feel like spending another large amount of money until it starts seeing a return on the investment it just made.
  • Make the tests harder, but also keep in mind that people have different test-taking skills. Some are better at the questions as they are now; some would perform better with interactive scenarios. Both sets of people know their stuff front and back, but showing they know can be a different story.
  • Start listening to the certified professionals and what they have to say. We’ve all got some great ideas for improving the program and keeping the amount of paper MCPs/MCSEs down. We need to be listened to; otherwise, it doesn’t quite feel like our certification.

My overall message was “We need more time.” We’ll make the move—we just need more time. I was very happy to hear from the Microsoft rep that Redmond will start forming focus groups of certified professionals. The goals are to learn where to take the program, what would be effective to keep certified professionals happy, and how to increase the value of the certification. A focus group was held with both developer and IT folks a day prior to TechEd, and the feedback was good.

The Redmond employee had already heard many of the same points I raised. Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to run these focus groups and get the feedback it needs from the certified community. If you are a certified professional and are interested in the focus groups as well, send an e-mail to and let them know you’ve heard about the proposed focus groups and would like to take part. If you get an e-mail announcing focus groups, by all means, participate! With some cooperation between certified professionals and Microsoft, the program could become the once-proud title it used to be.

Stay tuned
Stay tuned for the next installment of TechEd reports. I’ll highlight the items I’ve learned about Exchange 2000, and I’ll present some tips and hints for getting ready for the new e-mail platform.

Christopher Tellez is a network manager based in southern California. He earned his MCSE in 1997.

Do you agree with Chris Tellez? Share your opinions by posting a comment below or send the editor a note .

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