Microsoft commanded the certification spotlight in 2001

While 2001 saw several important developments in IT certification, one company stole the spotlight. Erik Eckel reviews the top three announcements that not only made waves this year, but that are sure to affect IT certification well into the future.

IT certification news made considerable waves in 2001. Three developments, including a stunning reversal in policy, stand out as the biggest certification stories of the year. But don’t think the impact of these stories is finished. The ramifications will be felt for years to come.

No more Microsoft retirements
By my reckoning, the most important certification story of the year is Microsoft’s reversal of its exam retirement policy for Windows NT 4 MCSEs. In October 2001, Microsoft surprised hundreds of thousands of certified IT professionals with the news that Microsoft certifications would no longer retire.

As I wrote in a column following the announcement, discontinuing exams instead of retiring them means IT professionals will retain their certification titles. Once you become an MCP or MCSE, you’ll always be an MCP or MCSE.

As a result of the change, Microsoft’s certification program is sure to see a rejuvenation. Scores of IT professionals, discouraged by the quick pace of new platform rollouts, no longer need to worry that their hard-earned Microsoft certifications will pass by the wayside shortly after completion.

Other important news regarding MCSEs hit earlier in the year.

Study says employers value MCSEs more than college grads
Placing second in 2001 was news of a survey revealing employers felt employees with MCSEs were more successful than employees with four-year college degrees. The study, titled “The Impact of Technology Training Programs, Case Study: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer Training," was conducted by the nonprofit think tank Alexis de Tocqueville Institution.

Technically, the results were released in December 2000—but most of us didn’t learn about them until 2001. The results are intriguing, although, as I wrote in an April article, I wouldn’t recommend building your career on an MCSE certification alone. Still, it’s interesting to note the recognition and importance MCSE certification now enjoys.

Rounding out the top three certification events of the year, a new cert targeted at network administrators has complicated the Microsoft credential mix.

MCSA: The next big thing
Some predictions are easier to make than others. When Microsoft revamped its certification program and introduced a new, four-exam certification targeted at network administrators, I had no doubts proclaiming the MCSA the next big thing.

The demand for network administrators is expected to grow despite a weakened economy. Companies, organizations, and enterprises of all sizes need and require network systems expertise at a rubber-meets-the-road level, which is where net admins most often come into play. The MCSE track grew under Windows 2000 to include design exams, which turned away many network administrators. Systems design simply wasn’t in the cards for many IT professionals.

Reducing certification requirements to four exams that focus on the day-in and day-out responsibilities that administrators fulfill boosts the likelihood that the MCSA program will take off. I stand by my prediction that MCSAs will outnumber MCSEs within two years. And that’s not a bad thing. Allowing network administrators to focus on the skills and expertise they wield every day is a much better solution than asking them to learn skill sets they’ll rarely, if ever, apply.

Eckel's take
Sure, Red Hat’s certified engineer program gained ground in 2001. Cisco's program continues to grow as well. And Intel made IT news when it gave up on its certification effort.

Nevertheless, the biggest certification headlines of the year belonged to Microsoft. Of course, these three announcements aren’t big just because they emanated from Redmond. They’re also important because they are going to change the way IT professionals pursue IT certifications for the next several years.

Let’s hope that if any certification surprises are in store for us in 2002, they yield the same rewards that this year’s surprises did.

What do you think was the most important certification development?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.


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