In "The Soul of Windows Revisited," September 2003, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 39749, I describe Microsoft's attempts to reach out to the Windows IT community. First, I discuss Microsoft's new advertising that speaks to both IT and business professionals. Second, I describe Microsoft's efforts to establish an IT professional organization that would foster Windows community development through in-person events at the regional level. I applaud Microsoft's efforts on both accounts.

As a result of that column, I received a flood of email messages from MCSEs who complained that Microsoft has abandoned them as a group. From 1997 to 2000, the technology and Windows NT markets expanded rapidly. Any person with a reasonable technical background could get an MCSE certification and demand a $14,000 annual salary increase (on average). The MCSE gold rush was rampant, and the payoff was almost immediate. But shortly after the tech bubble burst in 2001, many MCSEs found themselves out of work and others took salary cuts to stay employed. Such is life.

However, if higher salaries are no longer the reward for getting an MCSE certification, then what's the incentive? Many MCSEs told me that they want Microsoft to recognize their efforts in getting their certifications and keeping them current. Specifically, these MCSEs would like to receive a TechNet subscription, which includes a monthly CD-ROM and access to subscriber-only resources on the TechNet Web site. In addition, they would like to receive discounts on support calls to Microsoft. Currently, Microsoft provides many of these benefits to Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), individuals who have been recognized for making substantial contributions to the Microsoft-related product communities. Microsoft recently recognized me as the first MVP in the storage-related product area, and I can verify that Microsoft rewards MVPs with some of these items.

Several of my friends have spent a lot of time and money earning their MCSE certifications. They believe—and I agree—that they're making a solid contribution to the Windows IT community by staying current on their certifications. They say that a TechNet subscription would be a great asset in their ongoing training and certification efforts. The annual cost of a single-user TechNet Plus subscription, which includes beta software and membership in a private TechNet newsgroup, is $529. I realize that the TechNet group isn't running a charity, but I think investing in MCSEs who have invested in Microsoft is a fair trade. I'm advocating that Microsoft provide TechNet subscriptions only to individuals who have current MCSE certifications, not to people who have let their certifications fall behind.

By the time you read this article, I hope the tech market will be completely out of its slump and that companies will have started to hire MCSEs again in earnest. But even if the industry is still lagging, I believe we need to again encourage investment in the Windows IT community. I want to be able to wholeheartedly recommend the Windows IT community as a great place to build an IT career and to say that Microsoft will reward the investment of time and money.