Welcome to the World of Alphabet Soup

You’ve undoubtedly noticed the strings of initials that many people append to their names when posting to public newsgroups or sending letters to technical magazines. For example, here’s mine:

Kalen Delaney, MCP, MCSE, MCT, MVP, CTT

Have you wondered what all the letters mean? (In my case, they don’t allude to my university degrees, which were long ago lost with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.) Are you interested in acquiring some of your own?

In this new biweekly newsletter from the publishers of Windows 2000 Magazine and SQL Server Magazine, I'll tell you about new Microsoft training and certification options, programs, benefits, tools, and sometimes even freebies. I’ll even include some technical details about the kind of questions to expect if you’re ever tempted to take a certification exam.

Here are some questions to start with. If you can answer all of them, you’ve clearly done your basic homework and have probably decided to pursue Microsoft certification.

  1. Which of my certifications required that I do more than simply pass exams?
  2. Which of the certifications is not awarded by Microsoft?
  3. Which of the certifications is not really a certification at all?

Answer to question 1: The Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification required more than just passing exams, and it's the one that means the most to me. In fact, my day job is training, and I’m required to keep my MCT certification current to teach at Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers (CTECs). Years ago, when I was awarded my MCT certification, I had to attend, as a student, any class that I hoped to teach, in addition to passing one or more exams. To keep my certification current, I'm responsible for keeping up to date about any new requirements Microsoft has imposed on MCTs. As of January 2001, MCTs need to have one of the other "premium" certifications: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), or Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA). So, I must continually inform myself about the requirements for those certifications. However, Microsoft has relaxed other requirements for the MCT somewhat, and trainers no longer have to attend every class they wish to teach. Many of my students are pursuing certification of one kind or another and frequently look to me as the fountain of wisdom for all things certifiable—at least, Microsoft certifiable. Two weeks ago, a couple of students were trying to figure out the fewest number of exams they could take to earn all three premium certifications (several exams can count for more than one certification concurrently). I can make that another quiz question: What do you think the minimum is? Hint: There is one exam that could qualify for all three certifications—MCSE, MCSD and MCDBA—and it's the exam with the same name as the course I taught that week.

That last sentence is a bit convoluted because I had to avoid saying that the exam was about the course. Microsoft clearly states that the exams are not exams about the courses, and frequently the names of courses and the names of exams don‘t match. If you look at some of the exam preparation guidelines on Microsoft’s Training and Certification Web site, you’ll see that many exams cover information presented in several different courses, and, in fact, you can find material on an exam that you haven't encountered in ANY course. You're expected to have some real experience, after all. But it turns out that the three exams about SQL Server, which is what I teach, just happen to have almost exactly the same names as the SQL Server courses—which is why I repeatedly tell my students in no uncertain terms that the Microsoft exams are not exams about the courses. I tell them that I won't be teaching them everything that will show up on the exam. I also remind them that they don’t need to get all of the questions right to pass an exam, and that I'll cover more than 70 percent of the topics that the exam will cover. So, if they learn absolutely everything in the course material and listen closely to everything I tell them, they have a very good chance of passing the exam. I feel that anyone who can understand and remember everything that they hear about during an incredibly intense 5-day course deserves to pass.

In upcoming columns, I'll answer the remaining two questions that I posed earlier.

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