Test Tales

The Trials and Tribulations of Taking a Microsoft Beta Exam

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Test Tales

The Trials and Tribulations of Taking a Microsoft Beta Exam

 

By Rob Walling

 

I recently received an e-mail announcing a new Microsoft beta exam, 70-528: Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 - Web-based Client Development. Upon learning that the exam was limited to a small group of developers worldwide, and wanting to do my part to give feedback on the certification process, I promptly booked an evening time slot at my local testing facility.

 

As the day approached I made numerous attempts to carve out some study time. Although I d read a dozen articles on ASP.NET 2.0 and worked with it for a few hours here and there, I felt far from a master of the subject. To my dismay, the only preparation I was able to scrape together was three hours of review the night before the test. The day of the exam, as I marched up the stairs of the testing facility, my mind was filled with images of the four-hour purgatory I was about to experience.

 

Why Certify?

Before I explore the details of the exam, I want to answer the most frequently asked certification question: Is it worth it? This question is the source of an ongoing debate among developers, recruiters, and hiring managers. The difficulty is that people want a definitive answer that covers all scenarios and that answer simply doesn t exist.

 

To begin to determine whether it s worth it to you, think about the following questions:

  • Why do you want to get certified? Some people do it for an increase in salary, others as a personal challenge; both are perfectly valid reasons.
  • Where are you in your career path? An abundance of experience or education can help overshadow the absence of certification, but the combination of all three is very hard to find.
  • How long will it take? Some people pass exams after six hours of study time, while others require 30-40 hours of study time.

 

According to a 2005 survey by Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, the top four reasons for certification are: as a personal goal, to distinguish your skills from others, to obtain a better job, or to obtain a promotion or raise. Almost half of the survey respondents indicated their certification made a difference in their salary, and the same number indicated that obtaining a certification improved or enhanced their chances of finding or keeping a job. You can read more about the survey results at http://www.mcpmag.com/salarysurveys/.

 

Certification demonstrates your interest in the field and shows you have the motivation to study and pass the required tests. Although more than 1.7 million people worldwide have achieved some sort of Microsoft certification, less than 16,000 have become Microsoft Certified Solution Developers for .NET (MCSD.NET). If you re an experienced developer, you should be able to pass all five MCSD.NET exams in a few months. At a cost of around $875 ($125 each, plus one $50 book per test), that s a bargain for the opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competition.

 

However, certification is far from a magical solution. Because hiring managers realize certifications can be earned rather quickly, it s generally accepted that experience is the most important asset for a developer, with education and certification following. However, this doesn t negate the fact that certification stands a good chance of increasing your salary, improving your hiring potential, earning you the respect of your colleagues, and differentiating you from the competition.

 

If the lapel pin, MCSD logo for your business cards, and free magazine subscription aren t enough, the certificate signed by Bill Gates may just push you over the edge.

 

Certification Details

On October 25, 2005 Microsoft announced a new generation of certifications for Visual Studio 2005/.NET 2.0. The exams will be available in early- to mid-2006, so Microsoft is encouraging developers to continue pursuing the Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) track until new exams are available.

 

The tables in Figures 1 and 2 provide a brief overview of Microsoft s certification requirements. For more detailed information about obtaining your certification, visit Microsoft s certification Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/default.asp. For Visual Studio.NET (.NET Framework 1.0 and 1.1), Microsoft offers three tiers of developer certification; each one builds on the previous tier (see Figure 1). For Visual Studio 2005 (.NET Framework 2.0), Microsoft offers three tiers of developer certifications (see Figure 2). As with VS.NET, each one builds on the previous tier.

 

Certification

Number of Exams

Exam Specifics

Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)

1

An MCP can be earned for nearly any Microsoft technology, including Web Applications, Windows Applications, SQL Server, etc.

Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) for .NET

3

The MCAD.NET requires one exam for Web or Windows applications, one for XML Web services, and an elective.

Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) for .NET

5

The MCSD.NET requires all three MCAD.NET exams, plus the one exam you didn t take (either Web or Windows applications), and the Microsoft Certified Solution Architect exam.

Figure 1: Visual Studio.NET certifications.

 

Certification

Number of Exams

Exam Specifics

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS)

2

  • There are three developer tracks: Web applications, Windows applications, and Distributed applications.
  • All require the Application Development Foundation exam, plus one exam specific to the track.

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) for Web or Windows Applications

3

  • There are three developer tracks: Web applications, Windows applications, and Distributed applications. Web and Windows require three exams, Distributed applications requires five (see below).
  • To become an MCPD for Web applications you must pass the required MCTS exams, plus Designing and Developing Web Applications. Likewise with Windows applications.
  • You can upgrade to this certification from the MCAD.NET by passing one exam.

MCPD: Enterprise Applications Developer

5

  • To become an MCPD for Enterprise Application, you must pass all of the MCTS exams (a total of four), plus Designing and Developing Enterprise Applications.
  • You can upgrade to this certification from the MCSD.NET by passing two exams.

Figure 2: Visual Studio 2005 certifications.

 

At the time of this writing, exams cost $125 each, are primarily multiple choice, and run approximately two hours. Training courses are available for VS.NET exams, and will be available for VS 2005 exams beginning mid-2006. If you re a professional developer, I recommend saving yourself a few thousand dollars by purchasing certification prep books and studying on your own. Plan to spend between six and 30 hours preparing for each exam, depending on your familiarity with the topic and your skill at taking standardized tests. Microsoft provides a list of training courses and books on the requirements page for each certification. I ve found the Microsoft Press exam prep guides to be well-written, and they include the absolutely necessary sample tests on their accompanying CDs.

 

Because Visual Studio.NET will be around for several years, obtaining your VS.NET certification now and upgrading to VS 2005 is likely the optimal approach. However, if you re lucky enough to work with VS 2005 right away, then by all means take that plunge. The only drawback is you have to wait until mid-2006 to complete your certification.

 

There is an additional developer-related certification called the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA). To obtain an MCA, a candidate must have at least 10 years of experience in the IT field, and at least three years of verifiable experience as a practicing architect. The process consists of an initial screening, submission of an architectural portfolio, and an in-person presentation of one of his or her architectural solutions to a Review Board. For more information about becoming a Microsoft Certified Architect, visit http://www.microsoft.com/architecture/default.aspx?pid=share.certification.

 

Back to Our Story

Being accustomed to two-hour exams, I was wary of the four-hour duration listed on my confirmation sheet. When I arrived at the testing center I was relieved to find out they allotted 25 minutes at the beginning and end of the test for administrative issues, such as reading the exam licensing agreement and making comments. Because it was a beta exam, they encouraged us to make comments about any questions we thought were too difficult or confusing; I wound up commenting on a half-dozen questions.

 

The exam consisted of 71 questions; the time allotted was three hours and 10 minutes. This is considerably longer than the other Microsoft tests I ve taken, but it s because it was a beta exam, which means they include a good chunk of new questions they re taking out for a test drive. I was halfway done after the first hour, and finished by the 90 minute mark. So the grueling four hours I imagined quickly turned into a more palatable hour and a half.

 

I was surprised by the abundance of questions covering XML and custom controls; each of those areas received more than 10% of the total questions. Half of the exam was on 2.0 concepts, such as personalization, themes, pre-compilation, Web parts, master pages, login controls, and the new options for deployment. The largest 2.0 areas were personalization and deployment options, each receiving almost 10% of the total questions.

 

Surprisingly, there was only one question using the new answer interface I had heard about, where I was asked to build a class definition by dragging and dropping several pre-written code snippets. It was a fun question, if only for the novelty (and because I m pretty sure I got it right).

 

The Payoff

I won t receive my results for three months, but my gut feeling is that I did well. Having passed the five VS.NET exams necessary to obtain my MCSD.NET helped me, as the ability to take these tests improves with repetition. Lucky for me the questions touched on the specific areas described in Microsoft s exam preparation guide located at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/exams/70-528.asp, so I was able to make good use of my two-three hours of study time by concentrating on the areas where I lacked experience.

 

Although I won t receive certification credit if I pass the exam, I should receive a voucher to take the real exam in early 2006. Besides, how could I turn down a chance to improve the certification process? And maybe, just maybe, I ll receive another signed certificate from Bill G. himself.

 

Rob Walling is a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer for .NET with six years of experience. He blogs about the human side of software development at http://www.softwarebyrob.com and authors technical articles for a number of .NET-related Web sites and publications. You can contact him at mailto:[email protected].

 

 

 

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