.NET Certification: The Next Generation
By Jonathan Goodyear
Back in June of 2002 I wrote an article entitled .NET Certification Blues. In that article I itemized the problems I saw with the .NET certification process, as well as outlined some ideas for a better way of doing things. I won't go into the details here, but to summarize, I was upset that existing MCSDs were not consulted in any way regarding the creation of the .NET certification exams, resulting in exams that were very basic and far too easy to pass. I disapproved of the way in which the exams stressed language homogeneity, and I thought that premium certifications should have been created for specializations such as ASP.NET developers or Mobile Application developers, instead of lumping them in with vastly different application development platforms in unrelated groups.
Unfortunately, my pleas came to the table too late in the game for anything substantial to be done about them. The .NET certification exams were already out in beta, so the cost of changing tracks would have been substantial. This time around, I'm getting an earlier start. Microsoft has just recently released Beta 1 of Visual Studio 2005 (formerly codenamed Whidbey), and I have reliable word from folks inside Microsoft that plans for the .NET Framework 2.0 certification track are still in their infancy. In addition, Microsoft has made it known that they are very interested in the opinions of the developer community (more on that in a bit). A welcome change in attitude, indeed.
I still hold fast to the suggested changes I mentioned in my previous article, but since I have been given a couple of years to stew on the issue, I would like to add a couple more items to the list. First, I think that it might be beneficial to outsource some of the certification process to a third-party company. Microsoft has already done this with the client reference validation part of the new Microsoft Certified Partner program. I think that the exams would be less susceptible to internal bias with regard to subject matter, and more in line with actual developer usage patterns. There would also be less incentive to make the exams too easy in order to artificially boost MCP numbers. The quality and status of the MCP designation would definitely improve dramatically.
Second, I think Microsoft needs to offer a series of top-end .NET certifications (one for each specialization track). To obtain these certifications, you would need to pass either an in-person or phone-based interview by Microsoft (or a third-party, if they went that route). More than one person would interview the certification candidate, all of whom would then vote on whether the candidate successfully passed. Obviously, not very many of these certifications would be handed out, and the process would be somewhat subjective in nature. However, it would virtually eliminate non-qualified developers from scamming the system with exam-cram books and boot camps.
There would probably need to be an annual quota, similar to how the Certified Actuary system works in the USA. In addition, there would need to be a premium charge applied to such testing to cover the obviously higher cost of human intervention in the process - probably in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, which is similar to the cost of taking the Bar Exam. Of course, the price would have to be adjusted to account for differences in the cost of living for various international markets. The higher exam price and stringent process would be meant to deter all but the most serious contenders. This would be a true career investment.
I think Microsoft is doing the right thing by opening their minds to suggestions from the developer community regarding .NET certifications. Our job is to make sure that our opinions are heard. Microsoft urged a friend of mine, Tobin Titus, to start compiling comments and suggestions in a centralized manner to give the developer community a more unified voice on the topic of certifications. Tobin responded by setting up the Microsoft Certification Track Discussion Forum (http://microsoft.titus.to/Forums). I encourage each of you to join me and sign up for the forum (appropriately created using the ASP.NET Community Server :: Forums engine) and contribute to the collective consciousness. With all of our input, we can help shape the new .NET certifications into the envy of the industry, and restore the respect associated with the letters MCP.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSoft (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. He's a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) and author of Debugging ASP.NET (New Riders). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto:[email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.