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.
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.
While the MCSE is hardly the IT equivalent of a high school diploma, the fact that many employers consider it a base requirement for network professionals shows both its weakness and strength. Past exam cheating and the fact that so many people have the certification have cut the MCSE's value, yet a demonstrated proficiency in Microsoft networking systems is still in demand.
For some network engineers, career direction and current responsibilities may affect whether the certification upgrade is worth the effort. When asked if he plans to pursue the Windows 2000 track for his MCSE, Gleed said, I don't think the MCSE certification will help me much at this point in my career. I'm currently designing network infrastructures, and the only server consideration I'm concerned about is making sure the network is properly designed to allow access to the server.
Another perspective comes from Scott Davies, network support analyst for CompHealth, Inc. in Murray, Utah. "When I'm asked whether or not I will update my expiring MCSE certification, I have mixed emotions. I wonder how much value the certification adds to my resume or job position, he says, so I will wait until the very end of validity and evaluate where I am in my current position and what area I am going to be specializing in. If I feel the certification will add something to my skill set or job position, then yes I will update it. If not, then I don't see the point.
CompHealth is already running Windows 2000, according to its manager of technical services, Terry Evans. When asked about the significance of the 2000 MCSE certification, Evans said, If someone already has the Windows NT 4.0 MCSE, I'm not too concerned about them having the 2000 certification before I hire them. However, like many companies, CompHealth encourages employees to advance their certifications.
Market Valuation, Market Validation
Thus far, the demand for a Windows 2000 MCSE seems to be a little light in some areas. David Johnston is the account director for Volt Technical Services, a division of New York-based Volt Information Sciences, Inc. When asked about the demand for Windows 2000 MCSEs, Johnston said, I have not--yet--had a customer specify that they require a Windows 2000 MCSE.
On the other hand, the market value for a Windows 2000 MCSE on the national level seems to be growing. This means that managers may need to pay higher salaries in order to attract and retain Windows 2000 MCSEs. A search for Windows 2000 MCSE at EarthWeb's job site, www.dice.com, resulted in more than 350 job listings. Similarly, a search for MCSE alone resulted in over 1,800 result hits. For those Windows 2000 MCSE postings listing a pay rate, the range was from about $40,000 per year to as high as $140 per hour for a one-month position working on Windows 2000 and clustering.
According to Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine's salary survey in the August 2000 issue, wages are higher for those pursuing the Windows 2000 MCSE than for those working with NT 4.0. However, as the certification was relatively new in April when the survey was taken, Microsoft Certified Professional Magazinecautioned that the results are not necessarily representative. The survey next year is expected to provide a clearer picture of this trend.
Just as Microsoft isn't the only company selling a network operating system, it isn't the only company offering professional certification for its products. Provo, Utah-based Novell Inc. also has certification for its network operating system. In fact, the Novell CNE certification program was launched four years before Microsoft's MCSE program.
Novell required its Certified Novell Engineers (CNEs) to upgrade from the NetWare 4.x CNE certification to NetWare 5 by August 31, 2000. Unlike Microsoft's policy, those who didn't update their certification were not decertified. They were merely deprived of any associated benefits associated with the CNE. The benefits include such things as automatic notification of patches, priority status in Novell's Technical Support Queue, and a six-month subscription to Novell's online lab.
The approach of allowing CNEs to retain their existing certification seems to make a great deal of sense. The install base of Netware 4.x is still huge, and those networks still need competent administrators. Similarly, there is a colossal number of Windows NT 4.0 servers that may be used for some time to come. According to Gleed, It would make sense for Microsoft to permit administrators to specialize by product with the MCSE certifications and allow a Windows NT 4.0 MCSE and Windows 2000 MCSE.
It is interesting to compare the certification requirements for updating the CNE. Unlike Microsoft, Novell's Continuing Certification Requirement (CCR) consisted of only one exam, not four to seven exams. Obviously, the reduced requirements would reduce the time and money spent retraining employees. While one exam may be quicker and less expensive, IT managers may realize additional benefits as properly trained employees produce greater results with Windows 2000 than they might have otherwise. On the other hand, MCSEs who have passed all the core NT 4.0 exams have a one-shot chance at taking a single upgrade exam at no charge.
Cisco Systems Inc. revamped its Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification this year. The different CCNP certifications are termed versions 1.0 and 2.0. CCNPs certified with either version are permitted to retain their certification. However, Cisco does require recertification after three years.
Which Tests Are Involved?
Unlike Novell, which requires only one test to upgrade the CNE certification, Microsoft requires candidates to pass multiple exams. Employees currently pursuing the MCSE may want to finish their MCSE prior to December 31, 2000, before the requirements change for the 2000 MCSE. This will allow them to capitalize on their current investment, although recertification will still be required by the end of 2001. Also, for those who are still completing the Windows 4.0 certification, it may be wise to choose elective exams that will carry over to the Windows 2000 certification.
Microsoft requires new MCSE candidates to pass five core exams and two elective exams to achieve certification. Four of the mandatory exams cover installing, configuring, and administering Windows 2000 Professional and Server. The remaining mandatory exam covers deploying and administering Windows 2000 Network and Directory Services (see Clearing the Win 2000 Certification Hurdle at the end of this article).
Microsoft provides a complete list of elective exams, including tests such as Systems Management Server 4.0, SQL Server 7.0 or 2000, Site Server 3.0, and Exchange 2000 Server. MCSE candidates can select preferred elective exams according to their experience or level of interest. To see the complete list, go to Electives for Windows 2000, NT 4.0 and 3.51 Tracks.
For existing MCSEs and MCSE candidates, there is some good news! For those who have already passed the three required Windows NT 4.0 exams, only one test is required instead of the four mandatory core exams in the first list. This Accelerated Exam is free to all qualified candidates. There is one caveat, however. This exam can be taken only once. If it isn't passed, the other four exams covered by the Accelerated Exam are then required to gain a Windows 2000 MCSE.
IT managers may wonder why so many exams are required. According to Martin Grasdal, project manager for Cramsession/Brainbuzz, a certification resource site, the answer is simple: "The number and the range of exams mirror the scalability and complexity of the product. And anyone who claims to have expertise and experience with Windows 2000 has to know how it is configured or managed for very small networks and very large networks alike."
Anne Marie McSweeney, MCP program strategy manager for Microsoft, says the challenging design of the Windows 2000 certification track reflects the need to prepare for developing and managing future networks. She adds that Microsoft took a scientific approach in identifying core competencies for Windows 2000 certification via an extensive job-task analysis conducted by Southern Illinois University, with participation from more than 2,800 information technology professionals in more than 85 countries.
Updating, or initially earning, the Windows 2000 MCSE is a challenging prospect. IT managers can help their staffs determine a Windows 2000 certification strategy that will best meet the needs of their employees and their companies. Certification may prove to be essential for countless numbers of people who wish to work with Microsoft network operating systems. //
Michael Ashton (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Microsoft Certified Professional+Internet, Cisco Certified Network Professional, Certified Novell Engineer) is a technology solutions consultant for Sprint e-Solutions in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
|Clearing the Win 2000 Certification Hurdle|
|For candidates who have not already passed Windows NT 4.0 exams, all 4 of the following core exams are required:||OR||Candidates who have passed 3 Windows NT 4.0 exams (Exams 70-067, 70-068, and 70-073) instead of the 4 core exams at left may take the following:|
|Exam 70-210: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Professional||Exam 70-240: Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft® Windows NT® 4.0. (This accelerated, intensive exam, which will be available June 30, 2000, through December 31, 2001, covers the core competencies of exams 70-210, 70-215, 70-216, and 70-217.)|
|Exam 70-215: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Server|
|Exam 70-216: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Network Infrastructure|
|Exam 70-217: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure|
|PLUS - All Candidates - 1 of the Following Core Exams Required:|
|*Exam 70-219: Designing a Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure|
|*Exam 70-220: Designing Security for a Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Network|
|*Exam 70-221: Designing a Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Network Infrastructure|
| Elective Exams (Choose 2)
Candidates are required to pass any two elective exams. (Selected third-party certifications that focus on interoperability will be accepted as an alternative to one elective exam. Please watch for more information on the third-party certifications that will be acceptable.)
|*Core exams that can also be used as elective exams may only be counted once toward a certification. In other words, if a candidate receives credit for an exam as a core in one track, the candidate will not receive credit for that same exam as an elective in the same track.
Source: Microsoft Corp.