Another Round in the Vendor Certification Debate

I'm devoting the commentary for this issue of Windows Client UPDATE to the topic that has attracted the most hate mail of my career: vendor certifications. Anyone who has read my work is likely aware of my disdain for many vendor certification programs. I come by my scorn honestly, having drawn it from experience both as an IT manager who has been responsible for hiring IT staff and as an industry observer who has looked at all sorts of certification programs over the past 20 years. Along with the hostile mail I've received about my negative position on certifications, I've received an even higher volume of mail agreeing with me. The sheer volume of mail that the topic generates always surprises me.

You're probably wondering what's prompting me to once again pry open this can of worms, especially in the venue of Windows Client UPDATE. This time, the catalyst is Microsoft's latest certification program, the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST). I've never taken the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification to task, although I'm always amused by the reaction when I mention that the requirement for achieving that level of professional certification is passing one exam. Microsoft's Web site for the MCDST certification ( http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcdst ) points out that anyone who passes either of the two exams required for the MCDST (i.e., Exam 70-271: Supporting Users and Troubleshooting Microsoft Windows Desktop Operating Systems and Exam 70-272: Supporting Users and Troubleshooting Applications on a Microsoft Windows Desktop Operating System Platform) also achieves the MCP. I'm sure I'll soon be seeing business cards listing the titles MCP and MCDST.

What really set me off was Microsoft's description of the new certification. After stating that the certification "proves that you have the skills to successfully support end users and to successfully troubleshoot desktop environments" running Windows, the certification requirements page goes on to announce, "An MCDST candidate should have six months of experience working with a desktop operating system." Six months' experience with a Windows desktop OS? With that statement, the company prequalifies just about every one of the tens of millions of users who sit in front of a Windows-based computer every day. This sweeping pronouncement includes users of Windows XP Home Edition, which the MCDST Web site mentions specifically.

When I checked the Web site earlier this week, the two exams that make up the certification were listed as "in development." I'm fairly certain that my daughter's elementary school honors class would not only be qualified to take the exams but also would perform rather well on them. Part of the class's program for the past few years has been to support younger students in the school computer labs, which use Windows desktop OSs.

A lot of topflight IT professionals who have earned their spurs the hard way have gone back to school for the Microsoft certifications only because the certifications have become expected for a Windows IT professional. However, the further dilution of the certification universe with titles that bear no fundamental relationship to the skills required by the business computing world does a disservice to the IT community in general. So feel free to open fire--I'm ready for a deluge of feedback about the certification situation.

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