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Anyone who's been following the evolution of credentials from both third-party sponsors (CompTIA, NASPE and NARTE, ) and technology vendors (Cisco, Novell, IBM, and Microsoft) can't help but be struck by some of the dramatic changes that have occurred.
There are changes away from general concepts, terminology and basic tools and technologies to more specifics topics drawn from the same general categories but more closely aligned with tasks. There has also been a change from a concentration on mastery of components and capabilities to a more task-oriented, problem-solving focus. This includes testing to make sure that certification candidates have the right kinds of job skills, knowledge, and experience.
Yes, folks, we're talking about more job-based (or, if you prefer, job-role) certification credentials. It seems that simply teaching people general terms and principles, along with a scattering of best practices, hasn't proved adequate to prepare IT professionals for nitty-gritty day-to-day tasks.
Borrowing a page from Cisco
Cisco was the first to recognize these trends and the company continues to respond to them wisely. The company was the first to introduce a professional level to their credentialing programs, which now includes several subject matter specialties such as switching and routing, voice and real-time data service, network design and deployment, and security. The entry level Cisco Certified Network Associate stresses basic terms and concepts and lays a solid foundation for more advanced networking fundamentals. Finally, the Cisco Specialist program, which today embraces 26 individual credentials, permits individuals to prepare themselves for specific job roles and/or products and platforms. Over the years, the Cisco certification population has sky-rocketed and is regarded as one of the best IT certification programs in the industry.
I don't mean to imply that Microsoft is taking a page from Cisco's book. But, as the company gears up to release new versions of SQL Server, Visual Studio.NET, and the .NET Framework, officials are also gearing up to unveil new developer and database certs. The new format will eventually be applied to Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) around the time of the Vista release in 2006 and Longhorn server in 2007.
For now, Microsoft is replacing its current database (MCDBA) and developer (MCAD/MCSD) credentials with a three-tiered set of offerings for each technology/platform focus area:
Technology specialist certs will apply to specific platforms and toolsets: SQL Server 2005, .NET for Windows applications, .NET for Web applications, and .NET for distributed applications. (The latter three already reflect minor focus areas in MCAD and MCSD). Earning one of these means passing one or two exams, and involves a tight, specific focus on core technologies and related skills.
Professional certs open up differently for different platforms. On the SQL Server side, candidates can shoot for credentials such as Enterprise Database Developer, Database Developer, and Business Intelligence Developer. On the Visual Studio side of things, there will be Web Developer, Windows Developer, and Enterprise Application Developer credentials. These will require three or more exams. Though they appear to involve about the same amount of effort as MCAD or MCSD, they are intended to stress and validate specific skill sets.
The already introduced (March 2005) Microsoft Certified Architect program forms a capstone to this sequence, with separate credentials for those who build things (or run projects that do likewise) and for those who implement and maintain IT infrastructures (or run projects that ditto).
This is something of a sea-change for Microsoft. The question remains whether this new approach will work better than the company's more encyclopedic view of platforms, tools, and technologies. Right now, my answer is "maybe yes, maybe no."
Ed Tittel is the Series Editor for 'Exam Cram 2', and a contributing editor and columnist for 'Certification Magazine'. He also follows certification topics for InformIT.com, and has written numerous books on MS certifications. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.