Just when you thought you’d figured out your Microsoft certification strategy, Redmond has announced that it’s readying two new accreditations. But that’s good news. While details remain to be finalized, it appears that the two new certifications are just what harried IT professionals need in today’s turbulent technology environment.

I’m not surprised by the announcement. In fact, I think it’s just in time. If Brian Livingston’s July 30, 2001, Window Manager column is any indication, Microsoft would probably be best served to inject some new energy into its certification program, and quick.

In case you missed it, Livingston said that the number of Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs upgrading to the Windows 2000 track “appears to be embarrassingly low.”

He also quoted Anne Marie McSweeney, Microsoft’s director of certification skills and assessment, as saying that “only 13 percent of MCPs have attained Windows 2000 certification so far.”

Just five months remain for the certified Windows NT 4.0 masses to re-up. Thus, it’s easy to see why Microsoft would want to bridge the certification gap, one that appears to be widening more quickly than an offensive lineman’s waistline in the off season. The two new certification tracks could be just the ticket.

One for admins and one for developers
So what, exactly, does Microsoft have in mind? One of the new tracks will be targeted at system administrators, technical support staff, and Web administrators. The other track will be aimed at developers. The administrator track will apparently have some overlap with the MCSE track but will not contain the design component. Rather, it will focus on the skills for managing and supporting Windows networks. It sounds like this will involve fewer exams.

The new developer track appears to be aimed more at programmers who develop components such as macros and data objects, rather than developers who build full-blown software applications, which the MCSD certification is geared toward.

As of this writing, the new certifications are unnamed. Microsoft says the new programs will be available in early 2002. The company is conducting research, which, once complete, will help shape the new tracks’ final details.

Eckel’s take
For administrators, the new admin track could bridge the large knowledge chasm that currently exists between MCP and MCSE certification. While MCP accreditation usually demonstrates expertise with a single platform, MCSE status generally indicates familiarity with a wide range of IT systems. A less demanding, more real-world focused accreditation is needed, and hopefully the new admin certification can fill this void.

It’s become quite clear (your e-mails and comments are unanimous) that IT professionals don’t have the time or training budgets to prepare for seven exams every two or three years. Even if one of the new certification tracks’ exams is an accelerated test counting for multiple new tests, seven is too many. This is especially true if you’ve proven your command of the basics on the last platform by earning a certification requiring multiple tests. As a result, I believe it’s likely that these new certifications, if rolled out correctly, will prove more popular than the current MCSE track.

Should an accelerated migration exam be offered under the new tracks, it must do two things:

  1. Provide, at a minimum, MCP status to candidates who pass it
  2. Offer the ability to take it again if you fail

By building a three-exam track around real-world, day-to-day IT operations, and by offering a single exam for those IT professionals who earned the certification on the last OS iteration, Microsoft could hit another home run.

If Microsoft botches the new migration exam by letting candidates sit for it just once, or if it requires exams that don’t track to other certifications, then it will have simply thrown another low-and-outside curveball that IT professionals won’t be crazy enough to swing at. Here’s hoping Redmond throws this pitch right down the middle.

Will you wait for the new tracks before upgrading your certification?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.