I assume you read this column and the Training & Certification UPDATE because you're interested in Microsoft certification. I hope you're aware that we aren't the ultimate source for the facts about obtaining and maintaining your certification—the ultimate source is Microsoft's own training and certification Web site, which you should check at least once a week. But we are here to make you aware of additional facts and resources.

In addition to the public Web site, which anyone can get to, several private Web sites might be available after you've earned a certification. You need to create a login ID and password to access these sites, and to do that you must supply the MCP number you were assigned when you first became a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). To access the secured sites, click Certification on the left side of the Training and Services pages, and choose For MCPs Only. Different parts of the secured site are available, depending on the certifications you've achieved.

But even without accessing the secured sites, you can obtain a wealth of information on the public MCP site. Here you can find out which exams are retiring and when and what that means to your current certifications. On the public MCP site, you can also get the details about the special upgrade exam for Windows 2000 that can replace four individual exams, and you can find out about new exams being planned and released.

This week, during my weekly search of the site, I noticed something very different. Microsoft is apparently holding a popularity contest for trainers, called "Spotlight on an MCT." I studied this announcement for a long time, trying to discern this promotion's purpose. Is Microsoft attempting to offer a crumb to the Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) whose business has disappeared now that course-by-course certification isn't required and training centers can hire and pay minimal rates for totally unqualified trainers?

I don't see how this contest can be any indication of who the excellent trainers are. Most Microsoft classes are small, maybe 8 to 14 people each. Hundreds of instructors could each get 20 votes because they taught two classes during the indicated time period. I don't see how someone could have a definite majority with such small numbers of voting students—unless the MCTs also see this offer and "encourage" their students to vote. I contact a lot more people than that through this newsletter, and I notice that no requirement states that the people voting be students of the MCT they are voting for. So, I could tell you about a class that I taught during January (but I won't because I'm only trying to make a point), you could all vote for me, and I would win a picture frame.

I find it interesting that Microsoft announced this contest the same week as the Academy Award nominations. I don't think the vote counters actually verify that the voting members have seen the movies that they vote for. So why should you have to take a class from me to vote for me? In fact, nothing on the site says what the vote is for. Nothing in the official rules gives any criteria for a nomination. All you have to do is say why you're nominating a trainer; you don't have to say why you think this person or this class is good or useful or worth your time and money. And nothing indicates what kind of criteria, other than pure popularity, will determine the winner.

Perhaps this contest serves only to distract us while Microsoft completely redefines what it means to be an MCT. What do you think? Click "Post a comment" to share your thoughts.