The Squeaky Wheel Finally Gets the Grease

Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) received some good news on October 11: Microsoft has decided against expiring the Windows NT 4.0-based MCSE certification credentials. Before this announcement, many of us had been facing a tight deadline. If we didn't take the Windows 2000 exams by December 31, 2001, all the work we had done to earn the certifications would have become nullified at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

Microsoft has finally listened to its customers' assertions that NT 4.0 remains a presence in corporate America and will continue to play a role for the foreseeable future. Companies that had been waiting for Windows 2000 Service Pack 2 (SP2) are starting to upgrade, but for large organizations, that process can take years. Demand for NT 4.0 support staff will live on even as IT managers plot the upgrade path, and companies will need a way to distinguish between MCSEs who know NT 4.0 and those who know Win2K. Windows XP's release could delay upgrades even further as companies evaluate the costs of the new licensing models and ponder activation-code issues. The result is that NT 4.0 will be around for a while longer, and corporate America wants certified professionals to manage its NT 4.0 machines.

The good news for those of you who hold current MCSE, MCDBA, MCP + Internet, MCSE + Internet, or MCP + Site Building certifications is that you now have more options. If, for example, you've taken the NT 4.0 core exams and lack electives, you can pass any currently available elective exam to finish up the MCSE certification. However, Microsoft intends to retire some of the NT 4.0 MCSE elective exams at the end of the year, so you should plan to take those exams soon.

Microsoft's announcement doesn't absolve all of us from study, however. Companies that want to participate in the Microsoft Certified Partner program for 2002 still need a certain number of Win2K-certified MCSEs or MCDBAs on staff, so your employer might want to see you upgrade your certifications quickly. (Companies that have MCSDs instead of MCSEs or MCDBAs are safe for now.) Also, you still need to upgrade your certifications to Win2K if you're a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) and an MCSE, but you have until May 1, 2002, to do so. Finally, if you want to use Exam 70-240: Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 to cover the Win2K MCSE core exam requirement, you must take that exam by December 31.

See the Microsoft Web site to read the announcement, which also includes information about the new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification. The MCSA demonstrates skills that lie between those that the MCP and MCSE certifications demonstrate, and it might be the perfect certification for those who support desktops and servers but don't design or manage network infrastructure. Exam 70-218: Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment, which Microsoft has promised for January 2002, could become another important exam. However, we'll have to wait to find out exactly what Exam 70-218 covers. If you've taken the CompTIA A+ and Network+ or Server+ exams, you can receive credit toward your MCSA certification. Microsoft will post more information about that credit in January 2002.

The October 11 announcement will lead to significant changes in the Microsoft certification program. We'll have to wait and see just how the different scenarios work out, but the exciting news for those of us who hold NT 4.0 certifications is that Microsoft has finally realized that it's unfair to strip us of the rewards for our hard work. My certifications have appeared on my business card for more than 6 years, and I'm very happy to learn that I won't have to remove them on January 1.

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