Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Putting an MCITP in its place

I have noticed that the new raft of credentials from Microsoft don’t necessarily make sense to folks, especially those that are already familiar with the old set of MCSE-type credentials. I mentioned to some friends that I've got the “new MCSE”, a lot of them got it, but it dawned on me that this is, in fact, a field of some confusion. A quick search on Google came up with one fault, and that is how this new credential relates to the ones we (certainly I) already know.

The point of any credential, be it Cisco, VMware, Microsoft or embroidery is to show to an external party that you are qualified in a particular field of endeavour. This was quite plain with Microsoft’s old regime, the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), and the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), as well as the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA). However, as Microsoft branch out into new fields and offer solid, integrated products in fields not entirely related to Windows Server or SQL Server, the approach of cobbling together a new acronym for a new product or role is unwieldy – imagine the Microsoft Certified System Centre Engineer – MCSCE??

So, what is the transition?


The first Microsoft certification I got in 1997 was an MCP: Windows 95. This showed that, according to Microsoft, I was competent in installing, administering and troubleshooting Windows 95. I remember just how proud I was that day.

The problem though is that the term, “Certified Professional”, encompasses both the specific credential and the entire field of Microsoft certified persons, so is not entirely appropriate. “Technology Specialist” on the other hand, clearly shows what the candidate is trying to demonstrate, that he knows his stuff on a particular product. This bit is key, a specialist in SQL Server configuration is not necessarily a specialist in database development or administration, and in larger organisations the roles are very clearly separate. The MCTS credential clearly segregates say, an application server specialist who can administer web applications, from the server network specialist who will hook it up to the various internal and external parties accessing it.


A big failing of the old MCSE credential was the elective system. While Microsoft may introduce the idea in the future, I sincerely hope not as it adds doubt and confusion to the mix.

I hold an MCSE on Windows NT 4 (incorporating the MCP on Windows 95 I mentioned above). It included two “elective” exams from a list of many more, specifically TCP/IP Networking and Exchange Server 5.5. This means I need to explain to anyone asking just what kind of MCSE I’ve achieved. This was partially remedied in the 2003 track to include an MCSE: Messaging credential, but no such moniker exists for a SQL Server specialist.

The phrase “Systems Engineer” was especially limiting, since it implies an ability to design and implement server infrastructure centred on Windows Server. While that is indeed my own focus, it is of little use to someone specialising in monitoring and management systems, or even the venerable desktop support guru. While the DBA and the Desktop Support guy had their own acronym (MCDBA and MCDST respectively), I certainly don’t want to have to memorise the ever-growing list as a hiring or support manager.

By asserting that someone is an IT Professional in a named field, it indicates a proficiency in a technology set rather than one product. It also narrows the competency; while an Enterprise Administrator demonstrates competency in designing and implementing infrastructure from SANs and Terminal Services down to the desktop, the Server Administrator credential is more focused on those with competency in Windows Server itself.

These credentials are not easy to come by, and are especially hard if the individual has no relevant experience in the real world.

While the plethora of MCITP credentials may seem like a dilution of the fairly focused MCSE, it offers the opportunity for many more product specialist to demonstrate their competency in their field, with a credential on a par with the more established Systems Engineer we’ve come to know.


Now we get to the good stuff. The Microsoft Certified Master and Architect credentials are not for the faint of heart or newbies. The intensive certifications are for those with five or more years experience leading complex design, implementation and migration projects and a demonstrated history as a technology leader and expert. Standing up in front of a panel of recognised experts purporting to know your stuff is a daunting proposition, probably even for a few of the members of the very panel you’d be standing before.

For anyone claiming to be hot stuff on the range of Microsoft products, services and solutions, this is where you should be aiming. If you’re already that good, convincing your company to stump up for the three weeks training in Redmond for the MCM should be no effort, and I look forward to getting to that level myself.

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