Become a Virtualization Expert!

For those who missed the virtualization jump start, the entire course is now available on demand, as is the link to grab a free voucher for exam 409. This is a single exam virt specialist cert. I would encourage you to take the exam soon before all the free spots are booked.   Full info at http://borntolearn.mslearn.net/btl/b/weblog/archive/2013/12/17/earn-your-microsoft-certified-specialist-server-virtualization-title-with-a-free-exam.aspx

Microsoft Certified Career Day!

Our industry moves fast! There was a time when if you learned a system you e set for a long time.  Now Microsoft is releasing operating systems every three years (client AND server), and the management tools are constantly evolving.  A carpenter who takes a year off work may be out of practice, but will remember his way pretty quick.  An IT Pro who is out of the loop for that long has a steep learning curve to step to… just to get back to where he was.  Automation with PowerShell and System Center Orchestrator is increasing the ratio of servers to administrators, and that means that people who once thought they had a secure position may be fighting for their jobs, or even find themselves looking for a new one in a market where there are hundreds of others in the same boat, fighting for the same jobs.

In a world of ones and zeros, how can we stand out from the crowd?  What can we do to make ourselves worth more to a IT potential employer than the rest of the pack?  Experience is great, but once you are out of work it is hard to build while pounding the pavement.  What can we do to increase our value and marketability?

GET CERTIFIED!  Certifications demonstrate not only that you have the respect for your profession to learn to do things right, they also give you the chance to show that you are up to speed on the latest technologies… even when the company you were working for wasn’t.  Are you an MCSE? Great! But hiring managers now understand the difference between an MCSE on Windows Server 2003 (2000? NT4??) and an MCSE: Private Cloud.  If they are looking for someone to lead them into the future they are not looking for someone who only knows the past.  That is why we as IT Pros are constantly updating our certs, even at a cost of $150 per shot.  It is not usually for our current company, but rather for our next one.

Microsoft Learning is hosting an on-line certified career day on March 12, 2013.  The day will begin with a live, interactive panel discussion with IT managers and industry experts who will discuss how the cloud is redefining IT recruitment and the growing need for up-to-date certifications. 

The panel will be followed by an exclusive interview with special guest Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow. Next, attend the technology focused sessions with Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 product group experts.

Attendees of Certified Career Day are eligible to win an Acer tablet with full Windows 8. Event capacity is limited so register now!  Click here and you are on your way!

msl

Want to be an MCT? Start Here!

I had a conversation this week with someone who was asking me about becoming an MCT.

I know I am a good presenter, and I know my stuff… what do I need to do to become a Microsoft Certified Trainer?

Becoming a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) was, for me, a turning point in my career.  It opened a lot of doors, and made a lot of things possible for me.  I remember hesitating for several months, because I did not think that my most advanced certification at the time (MCSA) was sufficient… and there was no clear guideline that I could find to confirm it.

I spoke with several MCTs, including some who worked for Microsoft Learning.  The clearest guidance they could give me was that you needed ‘a senior certification’ in order to qualify.  However nobody could confirm what that consisted of.  I later surmised that it meant any cert on supported technology that was higher than a simple Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)

Today there is a list of requirements listed on the Microsoft Learning website (http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/mct-certification.aspx), along with a list of benefits, and a link to the program guide and application process.  However I noticed that the list seems to be short… it has not been updated with the latest certifications.  So to help out, I am going to add a few certs to this list, and if anyone at Microsoft Learning gives you guff about it, just tell them I said it was okay Winking smile -M

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Master

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator: Security

  • Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician

  • Microsoft Certified Microsoft Certified IT Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Specialist

  • Microsoft Office 2010 Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Master

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Master

  • Microsoft Certified Architect

  • Please Note: The Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) is not on this list.  I do not know if that is by design or by error, but I hope one of my DBA friends out there can help to clarify for us!

Clarity: MCSA vs. MCSE: the what and why

This article was originally published in June, 2012. Due to the relevance and current interest in certifications I decided to republish. -MDG

When I found out that Microsoft Learning was (again!) revamping the certification stack, I thought to myself that after all these years it might be time to stop chasing certifications.  After all, when they created the MCTS/MCITP model I had to essentially start from scratch, and if they were doing that again it might not be worth the effort.

Let me clarify that statement… Certifications are extremely valuable and necessary to an IT Pro, but at a certain point you have proven yourself… I have by now passed over 35 Microsoft exams, and expect that by now people know that I am established.

I stated in an article earlier this month that certifications are not for our current job, they are for your next job.  Unfortunately, as a contract worker, I am always working for my next job.  That means that I always have to maintain my certifications current, or at least I cannot let them get stale… Once I became an MCITP: Enterprise Admin on Server 2008 I might have gotten away with not taking my exams for Windows Server 2012… but because the new generation revolves around solutions rather than products I expected I would need at least my MCSE: Private Cloud… then people looking at my credentials would know I knew at least Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012.

Cert StackI like the way the new certification ‘pyramid’ is designed.  The ‘junior certification’ is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, which is product-focused.

As I stated earlier, the requirements for an MCSA: Windows Sever 2008 are the same requirements you previously needed for the legacy MCITP: Server Administrator.  It is three exams, and you are certified.  I assume that when Windows Server 2012 comes out there will be a new MCSA for that platform, and I have no early insight into what that will look like, nor how many exams will be required.

My point is this though.  Now that the junior certification is now three exams deep, it is going to be harder for people to claim the title.  When I first got certified any exam you took earned you the title Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).  I knew people who passed one exam, and coasted on that certification for years.  Heck, I was one of them for about a year… at least the first exam that I took was for Windows 2000 Professional, and not a sales-related exam, which gave you the same MCP title.

That problem was supposed to be resolved in the next generation, the MCTS/MCITP era.  At the beginning there was talk that not every exam would earn you that MCTS certification, and I believe that on the dev side there were a couple of those.  However on the IT Pro side there was never an exam that did not give you a cert… so when I passed three exams to get my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator cred, I had three certs, including two MCTS and the one MCITP.

I was asked this morning by Veronica Sopher of Microsoft Learning what I thought of the 70-246 exam, and my first response was it was ugly.  However that was my way of saying that it was tough, and that it tested your knowledge of a lot of different products in a relatively small number of questions.  In truth I am glad that it was as tough as it was (now that I have passed) because it means that Microsoft is trying to make earning your senior certifications more difficult, which means that you will really need to know your stuff.  A step in the right direction, no doubt!

As for the Master level – the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – I assume this is still going to be out of my grasp, until I decide to take a job running the infrastructure for a major international company.  I like what I do, so I don’t know that is in the cards.  However If you are an MCSM (equivalent to the former Microsoft Certified Master / MCM) then you are certainly recognized as a very top expert in the technology.

If the MCSM is anything like the old MCM then you not only have to know the technology, you then have to spend several weeks in Redmond on the Microsoft Campus learning from the product team, and then have to pass a series of exams and boards.  There is a reason they are called Masters… it is not for the faint of heart!

I appreciate Microsoft Learning’s revamped certification plan.  It makes it harder to ‘just get by’ and easier to distinguish IT pros by the exams they have passed.  I think it’s a step in the right direction, and look forward to seeing what other MCSE tracks will be revealed as the next generation of Windows operating systems launch later this year!

Getting Certified: Things have really changed!

This article was originally published to The Canadian IT Pro Connection.Boy has it been an exciting year… Microsoft’s busiest release year ever!  On the IT Pro side we have System Center 2012 (a single product now, but truly seven distinct products for managing your environment!), Windows Server 2012, Windows 8… we have Windows Azure (which for the first time is really beginning to show true relevance to the IT Pro and not just the devs), and of course the new Office (both on-prem with Office 2013, and in the cloud with Office 365).  There is of course Windows Phone 8, Windows Intune, and the list goes on.

With all of these new versions out many IT Pros will be looking to update their certifications to remain current, while many more will be looking for their first certs.  For the first time in six years Microsoft Learning has completely changed the way you will be looking at certifications going forward.  If you are like me (and so many others) and do want to get certified in the latest and greatest, then you will need to know what is out there, and how certifications have changed with the newest product cycles.

Solutions-based Certifications

In the last few years Microsoft Learning focused on what they referred to as task-based certifications (MCTS) and job-based certifications (MCITP).  However IT Pros started to see more and more components in learning and exams that were not actually in the product – so for example an exam on Windows Server might have included a question on the Security Compliance Manager (SCM) and System Center.  Although it made sense to the SMEs writing the questions, the unprepared found themselves facing questions that they couldn’t answer, and a resounding chorus of ‘we didn’t realize we would be tested on that!’ was to be heard across the blogosphere.

This year the new certifications have been revamped to be solutions-based.  That means you are not focusing on a role or a product, but rather on the solution as a whole, which will very often include technologies not included in the product, but that are complimentary to it.  Microsoft’s Solution Accelerators are a good example of this.  The Solution Accelerators are a series of free tools available from Microsoft and include the Security Compliance Manager, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Microsoft Virtual Machine Conversion toolkit, and others that are free downloads and may not be required knowledge to everyone, but every IT Pro should know about them because they really do come in handy.

Additionally you are going to see a strong interdependence between Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and Windows 8.  After all very few companies have only one of these, and in fact in any organization of a certain size or larger it would be rare to not find all three.

Of course it is also likely you are going to see questions that ask about previous versions of all of these technologies. ‘Your company has 25 servers running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and 5000 desktops running Windows Vista Business Edition…’ sorts of questions will not be uncommon.  This will make some of us scour our archived memory banks for the differences between editions, and may seem unfair to IT Pros who are new to the industry.  Remember that every certification exam and course lists recommended prerequisites for candidates, and 2-3 years of experience is not an uncommon one.  To that I remind you that you do not need a perfect score to pass the exams… do your best!

What was old is new again

In 2005 Microsoft announced the retirement of the MCSE and MCSA certifications, to be replaced by the MCTS/MCITP certs.  During a recent keynote delivered by a guest speaker from Redmond I heard him say that this was actually Canada’s fault, and unfortunately he is partly right.  The Quebec Order of Engineers won their lawsuit regarding the usage of the word engineer in the cert.  While it may have made their lives better, it complicated the certification landscape for a lot of IT Pros and hiring managers who never quite got used to the new model.

SolAssoc_WinServ2012_Blk SolExp_PvtCloud_Blk

In April, 2012 Microsoft Learning announced that things were changing again… we would again be able to earn our MCSA and MCSE certs, but they would now stand for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.  In fact they thought it was a good enough idea that although they were intended as next-generation certs, they would be ported backward one generation… if you were/are an MCITP: Server Administrator or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 you immediately became an MCSA: Windows Server 2008.  You were also immediately only two exams away from earning your MCSE: Private Cloud certification.

associate-blueMicrosoft Learning bills the MCSA certification as ‘the foundation for your professional career.’  I agree with this because it is the basic cert on the operating system, and from there you can jump into the next stage (there are several MCSE programs available, all of which require the base MCSA to achieve).

Of course now that Windows Server 2012 has been released, so too has the new certifications.  If you want to earn your MCSA: Windows Server 2012 credentials then you are only three exams away:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 20410
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 20411
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services 20412

Instead of taking all three of these exams, you could choose to upgrade any of the following certifications with a single upgrade exam:

MCSA: Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

The upgrade exam is called Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012, and is exam number 70-417.

expert-blueMicrosoft Learning calls the MCSE certification ‘the globally recognized standard for IT professionals.’  It demonstrates that you know more than just the basics, but that you are an expert in the technologies required to provide a complete solution for your environment.

The first IT Pro MCSE cert announced focused on virtualization and the System Center 2012 product.  Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Private Cloud launched first because System Center 2012 was released earlier in the year, and the Private Cloud cert could use either Server 2012 or Server 2008 certs as its baseline.  If you already have a qualifying MCSA certification (such as the one outlined above, or the MCSA: Windows Server 2008) then you would only require two more exams to complete your MCSE:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10750
70-247 Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10751
70-6591 TS Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization 10215A

1This exam can be taken instead of exam 70-247 until January 31, 2013 to count towards the Private Cloud certification.

The next new-generation MCSE cert for the IT Pro is theMCSE: Server Infrastructure.  Like the first one the basis for this cert is the MCSA.  Unlike the Private Cloud cert, the MCSA must be in Windows Server 2012.  The required additional exams are:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414

Are you starting to worry that your current Server 2008 certs aren’t helping you toward your goal?  Never fear… the following certifications are upgradeable by taking three exams:

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

Which exams?  I’m glad you asked.  The upgrading IT Pro needs to take:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

In other words, you will be upgrading your pre-existing cert to MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then taking the remaining exams required for the MCSE.

The third MCSE that will be of interest to IT Pros is the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructurecert.  As with the others it requires the candidate to earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then take the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416

If you previously held the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 then you can upgrade by taking the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

There are actually five other MCSE paths, which are:

MCSE: Messaging

MCSE: Data Platform

MCSE: Business Intelligence

MCSE: Communication

MCSE: SharePoint

That I do not discuss these is not a judgment, simply they are outside of my wheelhouse as it were… If you would like more information about any of these, visit Microsoft Learning’s MCSE landing page.

The Unfinished Pyramid

You will notice that the MCSA and MCSE pyramids that we use are progressive… the MCSA has one level finished, the MCSE has two levels finished.  That is because there is another level of certifications above these, which is now called the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master.  This is the highest certification that Microsoft Learning offers, and only a few individuals will qualify.  It is a real commitment but if you think you are ready for it, I would love to point you in the right direction.  Personally I am happy with my MCSE: PC and don’t expect I will ever be a Master.

At present there are four MCSM tracks:

MCSM: SharePoint

MCSM: Data Platform

MCSM: Communication

MCSM: Messaging

It should be noted that of these only the MCSM: Data Platform is currently available; the others will be made available in 2013.

Also at the very top of the pyramid there is one more level – the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA).  There are currently four MCA certifications:

MCA: Microsoft Exchange Server

MCA: Microsoft SharePoint Server

MCA: Microsoft SQL Server

MCA: Windows Server: Directory

Achieving the MCA requires a lot more than just exams.  It is a long and grueling process which in the end will likely leave you drained, but with the highest certification that Microsoft offers.

I should tell you that these last two senior certs are not for most people.  They are only for the very top professionals with in-depth experience designing and delivering IT solutions for enterprise customers, and even then only for those who possess the technical and leadership skills that truly differentiate them from their peers.

Keep it up!

Several years ago Microsoft Learning tried to retire older MCSEs – Windows NT and such.  They were unsuccessful because had they done so they would have breached the terms of the original certification.  In other words, because they never told candidates in advance that they would retire them, they couldn’t retire them.  It is not uncommon for me to hear from someone who is an MCSE, but they haven’t taken an exam since the 1990s.  In fact the logo for MCSE on Windows NT is the same logo as for MCSE on Windows Server 2003, and those MCSEs will be allowed to use that logo forever.

In 2006 they made it a little easier to differentiate.  Not only would certifications be by technology (MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008) but they would, in theory, be retired with support for that technology.  So an MCITP on Windows Vista would not be able to use the cert past a certain date.  Unfortunately I found that people did not refer to their entire cert, they would simply say that ‘I am an MCITP!’  In other words, without some clarifying it was pretty difficult to determine what technology they really knew.  Additionally it is not uncommon for some pros to have several MCITP certs, making it quite difficult to list on a business card or e-mail signature.

Now Microsoft Learning has really made an improvement to this issue.  The new MCSE certifications will require that you show continued understanding of the latest versions of the technology area by taking a recertification exam every three years.  While there was some talk of this with the MCITP program it did not come to fruition.  Today however this recertification requirement is clearly outlined on the MCSE pages.

While recertifying may seem like a bother for some, as we discussed earlier it is something we choose to do every three years to remain current anyways.  For those of us who do want to always remain current it is nice to know that we don’t have to start from scratch with every new product cycle.  For those for whom remaining current is not as important they will always be able to say ‘I was an MCSE, but I let my certs lapse.’  It shows that they do know the technology, just not necessarily the most current version,  This should be sufficient for a lot of people who often tell me ‘my clients don’t need the latest, and are not going to upgrade every three years!’

What About Small Biz?

I spent several years specializing in SMBs.  The first time I took a certification exam I remember coming out of it upset about questions that started ‘You are the administrator for a company with 500 server…’  No I am not!  At the time I couldn’t even fathom what that would be like.  So when Microsoft Learning started writing exams for SBS I was glad not because I wanted to limit myself (I didn’t, and am glad of that today) but because I knew that there are lots of IT Pros out there who do work exclusively on smaller networks.

I do not know what will become of SMB-focused certifications now that Windows Small Business Server 2011 is to be the last SBS release.  I do not have any insight into whether there will be exams around Windows Server Essentials, but could envision a cert around the tying of that product with Windows 8 and Office 365.  I have not been asked, but it would make sense.  However I have heard from a lot of SMB IT Pros that certifications are not as important to them and their clients as we feel they are in the enterprise, and I accept that; the needs of the larger do not necessarily align with the needs of the smaller.  However only time will tell if Microsoft Learning will address this market.

So in the end, should I get certified?

I have long been of the opinion that certifications are key for any IT Professional who is serious about his or her profession.  It shows that they have the respect for their profession to be willing to prove not that they know how to do it, but to do IT right.  Certifications are not for IT hobbyists, or people who dabble.  They are for the professionals who earn their living in IT, and who wish to differentiate themselves from other candidates for jobs, contracts, or promotions.

Whether you have been working in IT for years, or are fresh out of school and looking to embark on a career in IT, there are likely scores if not hundreds of candidates who will be competing with you for every job.  Why not take this opportunity to distinguish yourself?  No matter how much some people will denigrate their relevance, I have spoken to many hiring managers who have confirmed for me time and again that they are a key indicator of a candidate’s suitability to technical positions.

What’s this new Cert? MCSA: Windows 7!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/09/12/what-s-this-new-cert-mcsa-windows-7.aspx.

In April of this year Microsoft Learning announced its new generation of certifications.  Many of us who had previously earned certain MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) credentials were automatically ported into a new certification category, the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate).  Depending on the MCITP you had earned, you would get a different MCSA.

There are two senior certifications for the Windows 7 desktop:

  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician

If you have earned either of these certifications then you already have received (or will shortly) an e-mail from Microsoft Learning informing you that you will soon be awarded the new MCSA: Windows 7.  Congratulations!

Now, the benefit to this is that when it comes time to earning your MCSA: Windows 8 you will only have to take a single upgrade exam (70-689).

If you would like to learn more about the MCSA: Windows 7 and MCSA: Windows 8 certifications, visit the Microsoft Learning page here.

I have long been a huge advocate of certifications; I have worked on many of the exams and courses, and have worked hard to earn the ones that I hold – not because I need them in order to teach the associated classes (although that was once a consideration), but because I strongly believe that certifications are proof that you have the respect for your profession to not only learn the right way to do things, but to sit down and prove it.

In 2012 Microsoft Canada held a series of virtual study groups for Hyper-V.  Across the country dozens of people studied together in groups, and dozens of them took (and passed) exam 70-659, earning them the MCTS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization credential.  With the launch of the new products and certifications I hope that we will bring these study groups back… as a benefit to the user groups, and as a way to get more people certified.  Watch this space for more information, and if you are interested in a particular cert let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help you out!

Just in time… Second Shot Exams Are Back!

Why do I say Just in Time? Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 exams are coming out soon, and there’s a good chance that you may still have to write a few exams to earn your MCSE!

I don’t know if they are THE most popular promotions that Microsoft Learning offers, but if they are not then they have to be right up there…

SECOND SHOT VOUCHERS ARE BACK!

Simply stated: when you take an exam (for $150 per exam) you are going to be nervous… it’s a lot of money for something that is not a sure thing.  Now, I have written before about what you take away from failing an exam, but that is small consolation when you know you have to pay another $150 to retake it.

With Second Shot promotions from Microsoft, you have the peace of mind knowing that if you do fail the exam you get to take it again… for free.  How cool is that?

Now, the question I get all the time is ‘What happens if I pass the exam the first time? What do I get?’ Normally, you get a certification, as well as all of the time that you would have needed to study and retake the exam.  No, you cannot take a different exam for free if you pass it.

So how does it work? Follow these steps (C&P from Eric Ligman… thanks Eric!)

    1. Register to receive a Second Shot voucher for either a single exam or a certification pack (certification packs not only offer you the Second Shot, but also save you at least 15% off the single exam prices too).
    2. Using the Second Shot voucher number, schedule and pay to take your initial exam through our testing provider, Prometric, at http://www.register.prometric.com.
    3. Take your exam.
    4. If you do not pass your exam the first time, you may register to take the same exam again at no charge, via http://www.register.prometric.com. Provide them with the same Second Shot exam voucher number when registering the second time.
      • NOTE: Please wait one day after failing the exam to register for the retake, to allow for test results to be entered into the system.

How long is Second Shot available?

  • Second Shot voucher offer is available from August 27, 2012 to May 31, 2013.
  • Exam voucher expires on May 31, 2013 for single exams (with 070 and 071 prefixes), June 30, 2013 for academic exams (exams with a 072 prefix), and December 31, 2013 for certification packs

Which certification exams is Second Shot available for?

Looking for more info? Check these links out:

Good luck on your Microsoft certification path and enjoy the Second Shot offer for both your individual exams and exam pack purchases.

(Portions cut & pasted from Eric Ligman’s blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mssmallbiz/archive/2012/08/28/free-microsoft-exam-retakes-with-the-ever-popular-second-shot-certification-exam-offer.aspx)

Are you a Microsoft Certified Professional?

Microsoft Certified Professional

The MCP logo (since 2002)

As we celebrate twenty years of Microsoft Learning, it is amazing to see some of the changes that the certification program has gone through.  I remember the first day I was ever able to call myself a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).  It was March 31, 2003, and I was ecstatic!

When Microsoft Learning unveiled the new (now old) certifications model in 2006 the MCP was supposed to be retired.  Not the program itself, but the actual cert.  We would still log into mcp.microsoft.com/mcp to access our accounts, but if you passed any of the new exams you would now be an MCTS or an MCITP, but not an MCP.

I sat down with Erica Cravens of Microsoft Learning recently and she explained to me that with the newest iteration of Microsoft certifications, the MCP designation is back.  If you pass an exam from Microsoft Learning, you will earn the MCP credential, as well as the right to use that logo.

Speaking of logos, I am holding out hope that there is a new logo in our future… maybe as an anniversary present next year marking 10 years as an MCP for me Smile

Can you convince your boss to let you get certified? UCA!

English: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

One of the benefits I get from conferences like Microsoft TechEd is reconnecting with friends and colleagues that I only see at these shows.  David and I have been friends for a couple of years, and when we discovered that we were  both staying over an extra night we decided to splurge and drive a ways to Tampa for dinner at what is in my opinion the best steakhouse and among the best restaurants in North America – Bern’s Steakhouse.

Of course it is slightly over an hour’s drive each way, so in addition to the 2.5 hours we spent in the restaurant we had plenty of time to discuss all sorts of topics, some personal but many business and technology related.

David works on the Microsoft Windows team at Microsoft.  His current area of focus is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which is a subject that have been talking about to user groups for the past six months.  We definitely had a lot to discuss!

He was telling me that in a past job he ran an entirely VMware-based virtualization infrastructure, which makes sense because at the time most virtualized datacenters were running VMware.  He told me he thought it amusing that to this day a Google search of his name comes up with a presentation he did years ago at VMworld.

Speaking at VMworld is a very prestigious gig, on a par to speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd or MMS.  I would have thought that in order to be invited you would have to have at least a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) cert.  He told me that he wasn’t, and the reason for it was VMware Learning’s requirement that you take their course before you sit their exam, and since he knew the product well enough to run a datacenter for the City of Las Vegas, it was a tough sell to his boss to get them to give him the week off as well as pay for the class and exam.  It was not a battle he was ever able to win, so he never got VMware certified.

We started talking about his employer’s position, and that it was, after all, a reasonable one.  In the case of an IT pro who is already proficient on a technology, certifications are for your next job, not for your current one.

Some people are able to learn a technology on their own better (and certainly cheaper) than they could from a class.  Is this always true?  Of course not… it is only true of some of us.

If you know a technology and you have proven it in a production environment for your employer then although it may be reasonable to spend a couple hundred dollars on an exam that is done in an afternoon, there is little value in paying thousands of dollars for a course that takes you away from your job for several days to a week.

So if my previous statement is true, that certifications are for your next job, then what value should a company see in an IT education and certification budget and plan for its employees?

There are a number of answers to that question, and depending on the individual in question one of the following answers should help.

1)      An IT professional may know version X of a technology, but that does not mean that they will know version X+1.  For example, I am certified in Network Infrastructure on Windows 2000 and 2003, but I still studied for and wrote the exam for Server 2008.  Why?  It covers new technologies that most of us could not simply read about and then implement following best practices.  New roles and features such as virtualization, Remote Desktop, and IPv6 meant that I had a lot to learn.  A company who has technologists working on legacy products would benefit from a course that teaches the new technologies, as well as a good refresh to the old ones.

2)      When employees change roles – even within IT – education can prepare them for that new role.  I know plenty of IT pros who have been promoted out of desktop support into the server side, but knowing the one does not mean you automatically know the other.

3)      Certifications are the proof that you have the respect for your profession to learn the material the right way, and then take the time to sit down and write a test created by a panel of subject manner experts (SMEs) and prove it.  They are also a good way to learn where you are weak.  Whether you pass or fail the exam your score report (from a Microsoft exam) will let you know what aspects of the technology you are weak on, so you can go back and study those specific parts more.  The first exams I ever wrote (Windows 2000) simply said ‘Fail’ or ‘Pass’, which meant I never learned how close I was to succeeding, nor what I had to brush up on in order to do that.

4)      Technologies change, job roles change.  Over the past ten years desktop deployment specialists have had to learn components of Windows Server, Active Directory, Windows Deployment Server, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Windows AIK, and of course System Center Configuration Manager.  Individually some of these are easy enough to self-learn, but for most of us they take a good deal of learning to get right.  Hacking around in Active Directory or System Center production environments when you don’t know what you are doing is just a bad idea.  A class, especially one led by a leading trainer who is also a consultant and can discuss real life scenarios and experiences that can point out shortcuts and pitfalls to be aware of is often worth so much more to the company than the cost of the class.

5)      There are companies that require industry certifications by virtue of corporate policies or external regulatory bodies.  Although many certifications do not expire, they do eventually become irrelevant.  A professional who was hired based on Server 2003 certifications nine years ago was cutting edge, but as the infrastructure is migrated to Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 those certifications are now meaningless, and with the changes in the industry (such as the advent of the Private Cloud) they may be required to recertify as an MCSE: Private Cloud (for example) in order to remain within scope of the policy or regulations.

The list can go on and on, but the simple fact is this: spending one million dollars is not a waste if you can prove that your return on investment (ROI) will be two million dollars.  If you are struggling to convince your employer/manager/director that they should be sending you for certification training, you simply have to show them what that ROI will be.  However remember to balance that with what it would cost them to replace you with a newer model with the current certs!  Experience and tenure are important, but the era of corporate loyalty is behind us, and I have seen too many times professionals talk themselves out of their jobs by telling their boss how much they have to spend on certification and continuing education.

Good luck!

Microsoft Renews the Certification Plan

I remember the day that I earned my first senior certification, the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) on Microsoft Windows 2000.  It was a proud day for me, May 27, 2005.  I would later earn my MCSA on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 (June 30, 2006), and I was thrilled beyond belief.  Interestingly, although my original goal when I set out to get certified was to earn my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) on Windows 2000, it would take me several years – in fact, until December 16, 2010 – to become an MCSE, and by that time the Windows 2000 cert exams had long since been retired, and I settled (quite happily) for earning it on Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

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The story behind why there was no MCSE on Windows 2008, and why Microsoft Learning transitioned these certifications (the MCSE is still the most recognized certification that Microsoft has) probably has many branches to it, but only one of them involves me, The Montreal IT Professionals Community, and Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, or the Quebec Order of Engineers.

In mid-2006 organized communities of IT Professionals were still in their infancy.  I was the president of the Montreal IT Professionals Community (www.mitpro.ca) which was, as near as I could tell, the only organization at the time dedicated to furthering the careers of IT Professionals throughout the province of Quebec.  It seems that the Quebec Order of Engineers (OIQ) was worried that people would confuse MCSEs for actual Engineers, and on April 23, 2004 Judge Claude Millette of the Court of Québec agreed, penalizing Microsoft $1,000 (IT Business.CA, April 23, 2004).  In mid-2006 (MITPro was founded in January of 2005) I received word that Microsoft had exhausted the appeals process, and had issued a statement that MCSEs in the province of Quebec were to stop using the title Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

As the representative of the largest organized body of IT Professionals in the province, I realized the relevance of this decision, and sprang into action.  Leveraging my contacts at Microsoft Canada, Culminis, and anyone who would listen I made it clear that this decision – to bar IT Pros in one province from using their credentials while permitting those elsewhere to do so was not only discriminatory, it would be actionable.  Of course at this point I did not hold the credential myself, but that was not relevant to the discussion.

I do not know what effect my actions had (I was a very loud voice at the time, but only one voice) but I do know that within a short delay Microsoft backtracked a bit, saying that the MCSE certification would be discontinued, and that going forward (from the next version of the technologies) there would be a new certification… which nobody had decided on yet, but would end up being the Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP) program.

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One benefit of the new program that was introduced to replace the MCSE program was that rather than having one primary certification that encompassed everything, there would be senior certifications for each specialty… although we would also be able to create combined logos where it made sense – so in my case, I have my Server certs, my Windows 7 certs, and my Windows Vista certs each grouped together.

I remember giving several user group presentations on ‘The Next Generation of Microsoft Certifications’ around North America.  It was great because I was involved in creating so many of the exams back then, and I was able to get a clearer understanding of how certifications (the MCTS and MCITP) would map out.

With the announcement last week by Microsoft Learning, all of what I did know has now been upended, with yet another Next Generation of Microsoft Certifications.  In fact not only are they making changes going forward, they are also going back to the older certs and renaming them.  So:

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Going forward Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts (MCSE) will be solutions based rather than product based.  So the first one (in my bailiwick) will be called MCSE: Private Cloud.  This will require the Core certification (in this case MCSA: Windows Server 2008) plus two exams – 70-247 (Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012) and 70-246 (Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012).  Until it is retired (on January 31, 2013) Exam 70-659 can take the place of exam 70-247 for this cert.

You may have noticed that I have not made any mention thus far of the MCTS exams.  That is because going forward there will be no equivalent to the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS).  Microsoft Learning is doing away with the whole concept of taking a single exam to earn a certification.  They had discussed doing this earlier (or at least they discussed requiring multiple exams to earn an MCTS) but until now it has not happened.  In any event, that day is here!

By the way, for those of you who previously held the cert MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008, you will be happy to know that you are now officially a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows Server 2008.  The requirements for the MCSA are exactly what they were for the old MCITP: SA (70-640, 70-642, and 70-646).

imageIt is not uncommon for Microsoft Learning’s MCP site (https://mcp.microsoft.com/mcp) to have a few hiccups in the transition between old and new, and this time is no exception.  I have noticed a number of cases there this is true.

1) As of this morning my MCP Transcript does show both certs, even though they are in all respects that same.  I do not know if they intend to leave it as is, but I should think that if they are identical then it need only appear the once.  As you can see, the Certification Numbers(introduced with the new transcript format last year) for the two as well as Achievement Dates are unique.

2) My Logo Builder no longer shows that I am an MCSA (v1) or MCSE (v1) but has renamed both of those in line with the new (v2) program.  However it does allow me to build a logo for the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, and under that the only platform listed is Windows Server 2008 Core.  I assume that in the near future this will be remedied, but for the moment I am satisfied that My MCSA now spans the server technologies in which I am expert, from Windows Server 2000 to Windows Server 2008 R2.

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This may be the only time and place you ever see this logo… I am reasonably sure it is a blip, and already the site will create it but will not allow me to Build it.

So what’s next for me?  Obviously I will start studying to take the 70-246 exam to get my MCSE: Private Cloud.  What’s next for you?  That is up to you… but Private Cloud solutions are certainly an exciting place to be working for the next few years, and if you are not in the cloud then you will eventually be left behind.

My Certification History, and the Importance of Multi-Vendor Certifications

In 2001 I had an intern working for me at IGS Security whose name I cannot recall, but she was a student at LaSalle College, and was working toward earning her Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. She and I did not get along very well, and she left early with a bad attitude… although some of it was justified.

One of the conversations that we had was around certifications, and she was working on hers, but didn’t have any yet. I told her (stupidly) that I could get my MCSE if I wanted to, but didn’t have the time nor see the value in it. When she quit she wrote a letter to my boss and among other accusations (which were not true) she brought this one up (which was). I felt bad about it, but never contacted her to apologize. I did, however, make the decision to start working toward that credential, and with a little help from friends and family embarked upon an incredible journey that has changed my life.

clip_image001Since I earned my first certification on March 31, 2003 I have been extremely proud to hold industry certifications. It was on that day that I passed exam 70-210 and was officially (and still am) a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). That afternoon I went out and downloaded the MCP logo (I may have had to wait a few days until I got the confirmation e-mail from Microsoft Learning), and went into the company where I worked and resigned my position as Director of M.I.S. I knew that I could now demand a much higher salary… and I was right, to a point.

clip_image002I needed to pass a number of other exams in order to achieve my next certification, which was the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. I earned the one on Windows 2000 on May 27, 2005, and a year later (June 30, 2006) I passed the upgrade exam to be an MCSA on Windows Server 2003. I now had a senior certification, and was as proud as a peacock. Within the Microsoft world I was on my way!

clip_image003With my senior certification under my belt, it did not take long before I was able to qualify as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT). This took a little more work, because in those days I didn’t have a credit card, and unlike regular certifications, there is a $400/year fee to being an MCT. As well I had not taken the Train the Trainer class, so I had to get proof from a Certified Partner for Learning Solutions (CPLS) that they wanted me to train for them. Versalys in Montreal provided the letter, and in August, 2006 I earned that right.

clip_image004In the same month – August 29, 2006 to be exact – I earned my Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) cert. It was, to date, the easiest senior cert that I had achieved, but that is probably because it was two exams on Windows XP, a platform that I had been using and supporting for five years. That was the first time that I had passed two exams on consecutive days… the truth was I thought about taking one in the morning and the next in the afternoon, and do not remember why I didn’t… it was probably either because I was busy in the afternoon (or did not want to schedule a full day away from clients) or because I was simply afraid that if I failed the first exam I would never be able to pass the next. That achievement – multiple exams passed in a single day – would have to wait a little while longer!

clip_image005I knew that that with Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista that Microsoft was evolving their certifications model… there would no longer be an MCSE, MCSA, or MCP… rather most exams would earn the candidate an MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist), and the PRO exams, in conjunction with the TS exams, would earn a senior cert. My first MCTS was on Windows Vista (Configuration). I believe that was the first exam that I ever took in beta (pre-release) and I took it the first morning that it was available, which was October 31, 2006. I would not get confirmation that I passed it until January of 2007, but according to my certification transcript I earned it on the day I took the test, making it the first (of many) certifications to which I had the honour of being a Charter Member. I don’t know how many become charter, but it means I was one of the first.

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The only two certifications I would earn in 2007 were my first two senior certifications of the new model… My first Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) was MCITP: Consumer Support Technician, which I earned April 2, 2007. For reasons that I cannot recall it took two more months to be accredited as an MCITP: Enterprise Support Technician, which I was awarded on June 18th of that year. However I actually passed the qualifying exam for it several times – including once dating back to the first beta – December 22, 2006 – but I was never able to get Microsoft to change the date of the award on the transcript. I am, however, still a Charter Member of that cert.

clip_image007Over the course of the next few years I earned several other Microsoft certifications – several MCTSes and a handful of MCITPs – but in December, 2010 I decided that I had put off my original goal for too long. I had always said that I wanted to be an MCSE, and despite that being an older certification on legacy technology, I think I knew deep down that it meant something, because it was my original goal. I think that it is important to set goals, and although there is nothing wrong with modifying them along the way, sometimes our goals have a significance other than the obvious.

I know that over the years I have lost contracts and jobs because I didn’t have the MCSE… even though by a certain point I DID know the material… at least most of it! I can think of two companies where I was told ‘Sorry, we really do need someone with the MCSE after their name.’ I mean, in 2010? Really? Ok, so be it. It may have been meaningless going forward as people started to understand that MCITP was the new MCSE, but I decided in December of 2010 to do it. I looked at my transcript, used the Certification Planner (which is a great tool on the MCP site that lets you know what requirements are left for any given certification), and realized I was short two exams… both of which I had failed once before.

I wouldn’t say that 70-293 (Planning and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure) was the hardest exam I had even taken, but it was the one I struggled with most. I had failed it not once but three times, twice dating back to 2008, and once earlier (February) of 2010. I decided to really dedicate myself to passing this time. I studied my butt off, and when the final screen showed ‘Congratulations you passed’ and that my score was 866, I was thrilled! Now all I had to do was…

I had failed 70-297 (Designing a Microsoft Server 2003 Active Directory and Network Infrastructure) before, in 2008. It was then that I learned about testlets… and how much I did not like them. I was worried because the format of the exam was so different, but again, I was a lot more experienced than I had been in 2008, and I wrote the exam the day after I passed the previous one… and for the first time in a very long time I took nearly all of the allowed time. I am generally a fast test writer, but I made sure I left nothing on the field for this one. When the screen said that I passed I was relieved… but when the score report showed that I scored a perfect 1000, I gasped! I had never done that before, and was shocked, thrilled, elated… and surprised! On December 15, 2010 I was finally able to proudly call myself a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE).

it would take a few more months for me to earn the last Microsoft certifications that I wanted… MCITP on Windows Server 2008 (there are two – Server Administrator and Enterprise Administrator). I had already earned the MCITP: Virtualization Administrator, but that was a specialty cert, while the SA and EA were essentially the 2008 versions of MCSA and MCSE. I wrote the three requisite MCTS exams in one day – the first and last time that I will ever try that again! I passed them all, but it was nerve wracking. The following month I went into the testing center prepared for exam 70-696 PRO: Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator. It was another bear – a testlet-type exam like the 297 Design exam, and although I was not prepared for that, I did know the material, and was glad that I was able to pass it. The following day I went back confidently to pass 70-697… and failed.

clip_image008You should never underestimate or take a certification exam lightly… it is a recipe for failure, as I discovered that day. It was, in my humble opinion, one of the toughest exams I had ever written. As I wrote recently in an article Wow that certification exam was TOUGH! exams are not meant to be easy, and the more valued the certification the tougher the exam should be. It took me a few more months to both find the time and the energy to prepare for and re-take the exam, but on December 20, 2011 – a year after finally earning my MCSE, I became an MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008. Not since my early days of certifications had I been as proud of a credential as this one.

clip_image010clip_image012Of course, I have discussed my journey to Microsoft certifications, but I have not discussed the others… I am also certified in VMware – both by VMware themselves, and by VMTraining, a third party training company that has their own course called the vSphere Ultimate Bootcamp. Both of these companies have their own certification exams, and I am proud to have passed both of them for both vSphere 4 and the current vSphere 5. I have said for years that IT should never be about religion, it should be about the best tool for the job. Until recently Microsoft was a bit-player in the server virtualization space, and while that has changed and will change more with the release of Hyper-V 3.0 with Windows Server 8, VMware is still the industry leader in that space, and I could never represent and discuss Microsoft Virtualization properly without knowing the competition, and besides, the certification has helped me get a number of consulting gigs in VMware shops!

The point is I have never been hurt by certifications, and when people ask me if they are still relevant or important I point to both the gigs I have gotten because of them… and the ones I have not gotten. I tell them that when I am asked to consult on a hire (which I do from time to time) one of my first qualifiers is always ‘What certifications does the candidate have?’ I consider certifications proof that the professional has the respect for their field to not only do things the right way, but to prove it. So if you are not certified, I think it is time to seriously consider getting so… your career will thank me for it!

Wow that certification exam was TOUGH!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…