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Microsoft Windows certification moving toward expiration dates

Once upon a time, many IT certifications could be earned once and last a lifetime -- at least upon first glance. Thus, until 2010, you could earn and keep all of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) certs for life, including A+, Network+ and Security+. But these days, even those most popular CompTIA credentials go away every three years if earned on or after Jan. 1, 2011, unless specific recertification requirements are met. The same is true for a wide variety of credentials and programs, including offerings from Cisco, the (ISC)2 (home to the CISSP), PMP and countless other bits of alphabet soup.

Until recently, Microsoft used a platform-specific strategy to sidestep expiration dates and the whole recertification problem. By tying Microsoft certificates to a specific version of Windows, SQL Server, etc., the company could make sure that those credentials remained current and acceptable only as long as those platforms remained relevant to actual workplace deployments and use.

In the past year, however, Microsoft has changed its approach to developer credentials. And there's a new ethos emerging at Microsoft that seems to push hard for new Windows versions and platforms at least every three years, so a de facto expiration date philosophy may be emerging for the rest of its certification credentials as well.

Freshness dates matter for development tools and platforms

Right now, the description for the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) credential on Windows Phone includes the following proviso:

Note that candidates who earn the MCPD: Windows Phone Developer will be required to show continuing ability to perform in this technology area by completing a recertification exam every two years.

So far, none of the other MCPD credentials use similar language (they apply to Visual Studio 2005, 2008 and 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Silverlight 4).

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But that's OK, because the MCPD is being phased out in favor of the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) program, which is, so far, available in Windows Store Apps and Web Applications flavors. At present, there's no credential aimed specifically at Windows Phone 8, but I expect Microsoft to announce something in this area before the end of the first quarter of 2013 to remedy that lack. Mobile apps and synergy between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are clearly high-priority items for Microsoft Windows certification for the foreseeable future.

The two current MCSD credentials both include detailed coverage of HTML5 and related modern Web technologies. The HTML5 specification is evolving quickly, and tools are leapfrogging the standards involved. While these credentials make no mention of expiration dates or recertification, I don't see how they can work in the longer term if they aren't replaced by newer versions on a regular basis or through introduction of a recertification requirement. This stuff is simply changing too fast for these certs to maintain market value otherwise. And when Microsoft does include a Windows Phone 8 credential in this lineup, I'll be astonished if it doesn't continue the same two-year requirement that applied to the MCPD Windows Phone credential that preceded it.

A regular version calendar also imposes Microsoft certification freshness dates

It seems like Microsoft is trying very hard to get on a three-year calendar for desktop and server OS releases, with platforms and enabling technologies following suit. Thus, even though Microsoft Windows certification may never adopt an explicit recertification requirement as the developer certs are more likely to do, timing of version releases may achieve the same net effect anyway.

If Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 fade by the time Windows 9 and Windows Server 2015 appear, this will confirm a de facto approach to freshness and expiration dating on three-year intervals.

However, it might be even better if Microsoft were to go ahead and follow in the footsteps of Cisco, CompTIA and other certification sponsors who mandate recertification for their credentials every two or three years. For many vendors, this simply reflects their desire to comply with American National Standards Institute and Open Systems Interconnection Basic Reference Model requirements for professional IT credentials anyway (now a necessary characteristic for certain credentials to be acceptable to EU governments and other government and industry organizations around the world).

At present, it seems pretty unlikely that Microsoft is unwilling to take such a deliberate step. Earlier this year, the senior director of certification programs at Microsoft was unwilling to comment or commit to anything like this when I raised the issue of recertification directly with him. He did indicate, however, that Microsoft takes the perceived value of its credentials very seriously and is doing everything it can both to keep Microsoft certificates in sync with current supported OSes and platforms and to maintain their value to employers and IT professionals alike.

In the next year, as the follow-ons to the introduction of Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 make their way into the marketplace, a great many more additions and updates to Microsoft Windows certification should appear as well. As those new elements in the program are introduced and described, it will be interesting to observe mention of recertification for any of them and how the freshness and currency of program credentials will be addressed.

This was first published in February 2013

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