Count Down Begins for Win 2000 Certification

Microsoft is retiring its NT MCSE exams on New Years Eve. The question for IT managers and network engineers is, are you ready for Windows 2000 certification?


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For almost a year now, Microsoft has been preparing certified NT network engineers for the inevitable. Windows 2000, not NT, is the company's premiere network operating system for the immediate future. Because of this fact, certification requirements for the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) officially change at the end of the year. What this means precisely is that Microsoft will retire the Windows NT 4.0 certification track effective December 31, 2000. Prospective MCSEs who haven't passed all of the requirements by that date will need to begin again with the Windows 2000 track. And Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs who don't update their certification to Windows 2000 by December 31, 2001, will have their MCSE certification revoked.

Matthew Gleed, design engineer, thinks it would make sense to have specialized MCSE certifications.

These deadlines present some significant challenges for IT managers. Chief among them is allocating time and training resources to meet each of these deadlines. It's an area of concern for managers who wish to keep IT staff training and certifications up-to-date. Instructor-led training is one popular option to accomplish this. But the IT manager must give careful consideration when scheduling training time away from the office, and an adequate training budget must be in place to cover the costs. Inexpensive options include third party training, self-study programs, or computer-based training (CBT). No matter which route is taken, a great deal of company time, personal investment, and managerial support may be required as employees prepare for the exams.

One good reason for IT managers to be on top of Windows 2000 certification issues is the amount of training time that may be required. William Litster, president and chief operating officer of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc. in San Diego, Phoenix, and Riverside, cautions, The Windows 2000 curriculum and related exams are much more difficult than previous versions were. Microsoft insists that MCSEs have a much greater foundational knowledge than was previously expected. To compensate, our instructors are trying to cover foundational material, even though it's not part of the official Microsoft curriculum. We also recommend that all new candidates take additional foundational courses prior to starting the MCSE 2000 track.

While instructor-led options are of primary benefit to new candidates for the MCSE certificate, such training may also help strengthen weak fundamentals among NT 4.0 MCSEs. With the introduction of Active Directory and other advancements in Windows 2000, most IT shops will need to have qualified engineers to fully support the network and correctly implement the new features. Given the increased difficulty of the Windows 2000 MCSE, IT managers should have much greater confidence in the abilities of staff members holding the revised MCSE.

According to Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, there are over a million Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs). An MCP is someone who has passed at least one required test. This is the first step in becoming an MCSE. For the over 312,000 who are already certified as MCSEs, recertifying as a Windows 2000 MCSE is still an arduous undertaking. The difficulty of the new certification impacts both IT managers and the MCSEs needing to upgrade their NT certification. MCSEs have already overcome some fairly significant challenges to obtain their MCSE the first time. With the mandatory recertification, many MCSEs, and their managers, are questioning the value of doing it all again.

The Problem of the Paper MCSE

At one time, individuals entering the IT field would start out on the networking track by taking MCSE training. While it wasn't easy, it was still common for those entering networking to specialize in Microsoft operating systems.

Numerous salary guides and commercials advertising lucrative wages encouraged IT workers to pursue a Microsoft MCSE certificate. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to earn certification in the hopes of earning the high wages publicized by these programs. Granted, many people saw significant pay increases after successful completion of the MCSE, but the supply and demand curve changed dramatically due to an overabundance of MCSEs. As a result, the value of the MCSE became diluted, which affected the wages paid and the respect for individuals holding it.

The inadequate training many MCSEs received has exacerbated the devaluation. For instance, some companies developed nonapproved training curriculums that promised to allow the candidate to pass the MCSE in an amazingly short period of time. Such so-called diploma mills typically provided inadequate technical training for MCSE standards.

Many self-study certification programs also emphasized preparing for the exams rather than teaching Windows technology. In the end, MCSEs who prepared this way were successful in passing the exams but were often unprepared to perform the work required of an NT network engineer. Thus, IT managers were presented with the challenge of determining which job candidates were qualified, even though all of them may have held the MCSE.

Furthermore, brain dumps of test questions became easily available via e-mail and on the Web. Although it's a dishonest, risky practice, some test takers prepared for the exam with actual test questions, which were commonly dumped or posted on the Internet. Such practices compounded the problem of poorly qualified MCSEs.

Thus, Paper MCSEs were born. These are individuals who passed the tests but had little Windows NT knowledge or experience. Mind you, this certainly wasn't true for the majority of MCSEs. Many of them studied diligently for the exams and spent countless hours with Microsoft products attempting to gain meaningful experience to back up the certifications.

Is Upgrading Worth It?

Because the certification is relatively new and NT 4.0 MCSEs have another year to gain Windows 2000 certification, IT managers have a small but growing pool of Windows 2000 MCSEs to choose from. MCSEs who fail to recertify will be decertified following the last day of 2001. As the supply and demand curve shifts next year, managers will likely pay higher wages for certified MCSEs.

At the time that Matthew Gleed earned his MCSE on the Windows NT 4.0 track in September 1999, he was running his own consulting company in the Las Vegas area. Now, Gleed is a regional design engineer with SBC DataComm in McLean, Va., designing infrastructure backbones for client companies. When asked about the benefits of the MCSE certification, Gleed said, I don't know if many people are hired now based solely upon having an MCSE. It's now considered to be more of a minimum requirement to be considered for a job.

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