Microsoft Certification—They Write the Rules
Microsoft’s decision to retire MCSE certifications based on Windows NT 4.0 exams caught most of us off guard, and for good reason. If, like me, you expected Microsoft to follow earlier examples and wait to retire the NT 4.0 exams until after the arrival of Windows 2000's (Win2K's) successor (Windows 200X?), the announced retirement was a rude awakening. Microsoft has taken a lot of heat from some of us, including Keith Weiskamp, CEO of the Coriolis Group (publishers of the Exam Cram Guides). Weiskamp’s open letter to Bill Gates and Microsoft is noteworthy in that it actually elicited a response from Microsoft.

Reading Microsoft's reply will bring you to the inescapable conclusion that despite the overwhelming opinion of certification customers, the NT-based exams’ retirement dates and the ultimate retirement date for MCSE certification based on those exams are final. Resigning myself to Microsoft's inflexibility, I, like many of you, have grudgingly decided to learn Win2K.

I tell my students that it's better to make a series of small changes—one at a time, in fact—when altering a network configuration so that the network has time to adjust. I also mention that it’s smart to try to anticipate outcomes before making any changes. I didn't invent this approach, but perhaps Microsoft did—its Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) recommends just such precautions. So why didn't Microsoft follow its own advice when it made changes to its certification program?

Microsoft likes to characterize its marketing efforts as branding, but an outcome of such efforts is that it has branded itself—with an A for arrogance. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the misfortune to deal with this arrogance first hand.

Last month, I started the process of obtaining academic approval to teach the first two courses (Courses 2151 and 2152) in Microsoft’s Win2K certification track. Sierra College intends to charge $33 per course, so I’m more than confident that I can fill classrooms with willing students. However, to teach courses at a Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP) location, instructors have had to successfully complete the related certification exams. Because the Win2K certification exams aren't yet available, I figured that I, as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), could teach the courses if I passed the appropriate Microsoft Trainer exam (76-203). Unfortunately, logic doesn’t always apply when it comes to Microsoft’s rules.

According to Microsoft AATP support, in addition to taking and passing the 76-203 exam, I need to obtain a waiver from Microsoft to teach the Win2K classes at an AATP. (However, I'm qualified to teach the courses at a Certified Technical Education Center—CTEC.) So I requested the waiver—Microsoft said no.

After I received the denial, I called Microsoft AATP support and explained the situation to a support person. The support person told me that a waiver wasn’t necessary and that I could teach at an AATP as long as I passed the appropriate trainer exam. I requested written confirmation and was assured that it would be forthcoming. Unfortunately, the written confirmation I requested didn’t address my situation, and simply reiterated that "to teach Windows 2000 courses at an AATP, you only need to become a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) in any course you wish to teach."

One of my flaws is that I have no tolerance for the runaround. Figuring that it was time to call out the big guns, I decided that my next communication with the AATP support team would be a little more descriptive (i.e., not as nice). A couple of years ago at a conference in San Jose, Steve Ballmer made the mistake of giving me his email address, telling me that I should let him know if I ever had a problem, so I copied him on my final email.

I doubt that Ballmer had anything to do with changing Microsoft’s mind (he’s apparently busy trying to defuse the effects of a Federal Court ruling), but I might have won this battle and actually got more than I asked for. In fact, I think Microsoft actually apologized to me. The correspondence read, "…due to the timing of Windows 2000 product and exams, we have put in some new guidelines in place. You are able to teach Windows 2000 based on your qualifications. Both passing the MCT Windows 2000 exam as well as your status of MCSE on Windows NT 4.0 will allow you to teach Windows 2000 as an AATP and APDC. For those instructors who are not MCT certified on Windows 2000, but have passed the corresponding Windows NT 4.0 exam, we are providing a grace period until October 31, 2000 to pass the public exams on Windows 2000."

It’s nice to win on occasion, but I’m not sure why Microsoft’s new guidelines went beyond what I requested. I’m certainly not averse to taking the trainer exam. I’m reasonably sure that most AATP instructors would be agreeable to being held to the same testing requirement of their counterparts teaching at CTECs. After all, a mutual goal of AATP members and Microsoft should be to provide quality instruction for students. Come to think of it, perhaps we’re being held to a higher standard—we must be MCSEs to avoid having to take the trainer exam. MCTs teaching at CTECs are not required to be MCSEs until the end of this year.

Certification Junkies Rejoice
If you’re a certification junkie, you should check out the BrainBench Web site \[www.brainbench.com\]. The site gives you the opportunity to pursue over 50 IT-related certifications, including non-Microsoft certifications. Examples of Microsoft-related certifications include

  • Active Server Pages Programmer
  • MS SQL Server 7 Programmer
  • MS Access Programmer
  • MS SQL Server DBA
  • Visual C++ Programmer
  • Windows NT Administrator
  • Windows NT Workstation Administrator
  • Windows 95 Administrator
  • Windows 98 Administrator

I took two of the Microsoft-related exams, and I can tell you that some of the questions are truly challenging. But the good news is that you can take as many certification exams as you want for free during the first 30 days of your BrainBench membership. For those of you studying Win2K, I recommend taking the two Windows 2000 Readiness Exams. These exams, which Microsoft codeveloped and cosponsored, test your knowledge of Windows 2000 Server (Win2K Server) and Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro).

Other certification exams relate to a variety of products, including Novell NetWare, DB2, Java, Linux, Lotus Notes, and UNIX. If you’re concerned about losing your MCSE status because of Microsoft’s decision to retire the NT 3.51 and NT 4.0 certifications, join me and my fellow BrainBench Certified Windows NT Administrators (BBCWNTAs) in making this program an MCSE replacement—I have it on good authority that BrainBench has no plans to retire its NT-related certifications.