On the Server Side: Updating Your Microsoft Certification

With Windows 2000's arrival, it's time to update your professional certifications from Microsoft. Ryan looks at the pros and cons.

With the arrival of Windows 2000, it's time to update your professional certifications from Microsoft. The release of Windows 2000 has offered Microsoft an opportunity to update the very popular Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) program and they are taking it. They appear to be responding to various anecdotal stories about so-called "paper MCSEs," certified because they passed the tests, not because they are capable. Now, Microsoft is making it harder to become an MCSE.

While, in the short term, this is annoying and expensive for those of us who must update their certifications, in the long term it's good for everyone. For Microsoft, it helps the MCSE title retain value and have actual meaning in the real world. For employers and potential employers, it provides added assurance that candidates who are MCSE will have the technical skills necessary to work effectively. Microsoft seems to have aimed the new requirements squarely at weeding out the paper folks and providing some assurance to potential employers that the MCSE will be a real certification with meaning. For those folks seeking certification, it provides more credibility when seeking employment.

So what has Microsoft done? Aside from revamping the test requirements, they are aggressively retiring exams. In the past, certification exams were usually good for at least two versions. In other words, your NT 4.0 exam and certification would be valid until the Windows 2005 (or whatever) certification was released. Now, Microsoft is retiring the NT 4.0 exams, effective December 31, 2000. People who became certified with 4.0 exams will retain their certification until December 31, 2001. Microsoft states that this is to help "organizations ensure that they have professionals on board who are fully skilled and ready to use the latest technology." This accelerated retirement and totally redesigned certification track will probably force existing MCSEs to start taking tests as soon as possible.

NEW MCSE REQUIREMENTS

Previously, there were two MCSE tracks: NT 3.5x and NT 4.0. These consisted of six tests, including four core tests related to the operating systems, clients and networking basics and two elective tests, allowing the MCSE to pick an area of concentration.

The Windows 2000 certification requires seven tests, including five core exams and two electives. Microsoft chooses four of the core exams. The MCSE candidate can choose the fifth from three options. The core requirement exams are:

• Installing, Configuring and Administering Windows 2000 Professional (Exam 70-210)

• Installing, Configuring and Administering Windows 2000 Server (Exam 70-215)

• Implementing and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure (Exam 70-216)

• Implementing and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory (Exam 70-217)

The fifth core exam is chosen from:

• Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure (Exam 70-219)

• Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network (Exam 70-220)

• Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure (Exam 70-221)

This optional core seems to be designed to let the MCSE specialize in a particular area. The basic Win 2000 Server exam will certainly discuss security; but, by taking the Designing Security exam, an MCSE could say they specialize in security. This may have value for particular employers.

The elective exams are chosen from the same pool of exams as previous tracks. A wide variety of topics are available including Proxy Server, Internet Information Server, SQL Server administration, SQL database design, Systems Management Server and Site Server. One new exam, Upgrading from NT 4.0 to Windows 2000, has been added. Additionally, the optional core "Designing" exams can also be used towards the elective requirement.

ANY QUESTIONS?

Microsoft has also announced some changes to the exam questions. In the past, questions were primarily multiple choice. This, theoretically, allowed the candidate to guess the correct answers and pass the exam. Occasionally, a question would require multiple answers or a graphical point to a particular area on a graphic. With the new exams come two new question types: case study and select-and-place. Additionally, Microsoft will probably make more use of simulation questions that have started to appear in some exams.

The case study questions present a scenario and offer various solutions. They are designed to force the candidate to actually solve a problem.

Contrast this with simply knowing a fact. For instance, you may know that the length limit of various cable types. Does this mean you can troubleshoot a network? Cable lengths are simply one aspect of network design and troubleshooting and probably not the most important one.

Select-and-place questions are just that. They will require the candidate to manipulate graphics or text on the screen. For instance, drag a Web server to the correct side of a firewall for full access. The simulation questions, cursed by many exam takers, will force you to perform actual tasks during the exam through a simulated interface. Instead of asking, "How do you change the bindings on a network card?" and presenting the multiple answers, a candidate would have to go to the Control Panel, select Network, etc.

By moving away from memorized facts to more "real-world" problems, the candidate is required, by default, to have some experience. Indeed, one of Microsoft's stated goals for the new exams is to demand "the candidate have troubleshooting skills acquired through hands-on experience and working knowledge." Microsoft expects that candidates will need a least one year of hands-on experience to pass the exams.

Speaking as an MCSE, the whole thing is annoying. I'll have to spend a lot of time getting up to speed - not to mention spending $100 to take each test. However, in the long term, the changes are good. Win 2000 MCSE will add more credibility to their certification and, hopefully, we'll get rid of some paper MCSEs who don't know seem to know coax from twisted pair.

Resources

Microsoft Certification: www.microsoft.com/mcp

Microsoft Training: www.microsoft.com/train_cert

Saluki MCSE Mailing List: www.saluki.com/maillist.htm An excellent resource for people who self-study and want to keep up on certification.

 

Prometric: www.prometric.com; and Vue: www.vue.com Want to take an exam or find out what's involved? These are the two official test providers.

- Ryan Maley is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer who needs to work on the 2000 track. He can be reached at ryan@maley.org.