I was so excited in 2003 when I passed my first certification exam and became a Microsoft Certified Professional. I immediately went out and printed new business cards with my new MCP logo, quit my (reasonably low-paying) job, and decided to make my own way as an independent computer consultant. It was, up to that point, the proudest day of my IT career.
Whenever people complain to me that certification exams are hard, I remind them that if they were easy then the credentials would be worthless. The harder we have to work for a goal, the higher we value it – the higher it is valued by others. As the famous quote states:
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow” –Thomas Paine
So really, why would you ever want a certification exam to be easy? I remember walking out of one exam that I took several years ago fuming because it was too easy. I was angry because I felt it diminished the value of all of my certifications, and was glad when Microsoft Learning revisited that exam and did make it tougher… somewhat.
I know, looking at my transcript, which were easier and which were not… but I also know by speaking with my peers. There was a time when we simply didn’t discuss failed exams… although one good friend of mine, with whom I went through many of my early certs, made me a bet about one exam that he had failed three times. I couldn’t understand at that point how someone could actually fail one exam that many times… I have since learned the hard way.
One friend of mine – someone I consider to be smarter than I am – has failed one particular exam four times. That is rough… but it is among the hardest exams I have ever taken. To be fair, it took me a second try to pass it, but I was glad when I did. Maybe glad is the wrong word… thrilled, relieved, exhausted, and elated are all accurate. The exam was 70-647 PRO: Windows Server 2008, Enterprise Administrator. It is easy to underestimate these exams, but it is a PRO exam, which means you have to really know your stuff… and not just the answer to questions, you have to be able to weigh the needs of different people and departments in a client environment before selecting an answer. The exams that go through scenarios (testlets) and ask you several questions on that environment help to not only understand the technology, but also what is required to be a trusted business advisor to your customers.
That certification – the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator – is in my experience the toughest of the MCITP certifications available today. It is a worthy successor to the retired Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) which remains among the most recognized industry certifications today. It is rigorous – you need to pass five exams – 70-640, 70-642, 70-643, 70-647, and a desktop exam. However when you do obtain this credential, hiring managers will take notice.
If this is a bit much (and for a lot of people it is not just a question of being too hard, it is simply overkill) then Microsoft offers another certification – MCITP: Server Administrator – that I see as the successor to the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) from Windows Server 2000 and 2003. It is also tough, but only requires three exams… 70-640, 70-642, and 70-646. If you are paying attention, you will notice that the SA cert requirements are a subset of the EA cert, so if you are working toward your Enterprise Admin, but need more time, it may be worthwhile to take the extra exam and get the SA once you have passed the first two exams.
Once you earn both credentials you will actually have six separate certifications, which may not be more knowledge than you would have had with the MCSE model, but it does make for a slightly more impressive transcript. For all of the people who would say ‘I have four MCPs’ or ‘I am an MCP in Server Infrastructure and Active Directory’ they were really just MCPs. Today you can show potential employers exactly where you are in your certification roadmap, and what you have left. It also, frankly, looks better.
The harder you work on your certifications the sweeter they will be… but the current model also allows you more milestones along the way… I remember thinking back when I started out that it was cool that I got a certification with my first exam, but how disappointing was it that I needed to pass six more exams until I got my next cert? The introduction of the MCSA made it a little better – only four exams for that. Now every time you pass an exam you can add it to your transcript, and it does show more granular progress. So the MCITP: EA may be harder than previous iterations, but you can at least hang your hat along the journey with measured progress.
Of course… soon enough Microsoft will be releasing Server 8, and I’ll have to start all over again…