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Microsoft may demand recertification for all credentials

Microsoft's Windows certification programs have been changing, and some now require re-examination. Our expert discusses the possibility of recertification for all credentials.

Over the years, I've watched the Microsoft certification programs change and grow to its current population of nearly 6 million certified professionals. Along the way, I've seen credentials like the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer explode, grow and begin to fade from the scene. Today, they've been supplanted by a more modern generation of credentials that even include master- and architect-level offerings, as well as more junior credentials such as Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist, Microsoft Certified IT Professional and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer.

Until late 2010, I had never seen a Microsoft certification with an expiration date and explicit recertification requirements. Today, a couple of Microsoft's developer credentials come with "freshness dates" and need to be renewed by re-examination at two-year intervals:

I've also heard that cloud-related credentials -- not just MCPD, but also Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) -- may fall under a similar regime in 2012. I didn't completely understand what was involved in this recertification maneuver until I saw a Nov. 10, 2011, press release that features a Q&A session with Don Field, senior director of certification and learning at Microsoft's learning division.

Among the many interesting bits of information in this press release are the latest population estimates for Microsoft certified professionals, how Microsoft seeks to protect and defend its certification programs from dastardly misuse and abuse, and how it plans to reinvest the $12 million-plus judgment it just collected from some convicted bad guys.

What is Microsoft's vision for its certification program?
The press release asks this question of Field directly. In that portion of the Q&A, he makes a very interesting disclosure: "In the past, we've certified people based on a particular version of a product, but because that is changing with the delivery of products through the cloud, we've looked at other ways to ensure people have the relevant skills as our cloud offerings evolve." Note that all three of the items with actual or possible freshness dates mentioned above meet Field's description.

Furthermore, Microsoft surveyed its certified population and hiring managers this summer. I took part in this survey and blogged about it several times for IT Career JumpStart: "Microsoft shares results from IT recertification survey," "MS recerts are coming" and "Microsoft seeks recert feedback." Field shared some interesting observations on those survey results.

The surveyed population was mostly positive on recertification. "Sixty five percent were positive or very positive [on the] impact on the value of the program," he said. "An overwhelming 93% answered that recertification would have either no impact or a positive impact on the value of the program." In addition, Field said that "respondents also agreed ... that a two- to three-year interval between exams would be about right for recertification."

Is recertification coming to your favorite Microsoft qualification?
When I asked Field this question in a mid-September interview, he refused to provide a straight yes or no answer. I don't blame him for this evasiveness. Obviously, there are already cases where Microsoft is imposing a recertification requirement, but the bulk of its credentials do not include such stipulations. Feld's response makes perfect sense because Microsoft can't retrofit existing programs with recertification requirements without inciting unhappiness or perhaps even defection to other certification programs.

On the other hand, Microsoft's certifications are facing a major inflection point next year with the introduction of new Windows Server and desktop platforms and all the applications and services that go with them. Microsoft has already demonstrated that it will impose recertification requirements on credentials that aren't tied to specific product versions or to products that depend on the cloud.

With some kind of cloud connection and capability planned for both the desktop and server versions of Windows 8, I believe it's possible that the MCTS, MCITP and MCPD credentials may also acquire recertification periods. Microsoft is already promising to impose "freshness dates" on upcoming SQL Server certifications for 2012. I think recertifications for primary desktop and server platforms are coming, possibly as soon as whenever Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 are released.

Field acknowledged to me that the upgrade exams for Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) for NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 -- then from 2000 to 2003 -- set a precedent. Microsoft has already used an upgrade path as a kind of recertification requirement.

Microsoft could well attach recertification requirements to an increasing number of credentials. As cloud-based capabilities take up increasing importance and mindshare, version dependence will also decrease. If this doesn't presage a Microsoft certification landscape with more regular and predictable recertification requirements, I don't know what else could do so. Do you? If so, please share your thoughts and ideas with me.

I believe that Microsoft, like many other major certification sponsors including CompTIA and Cisco, is heading for certifications that require renewal to warrant current skills and knowledge of their holders.

Ed Tittel
is a longtime computer industry writer with over 100 computer books and thousands of articles to his credit. His most recent book is UTM for Dummies (Wiley, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1118087015; not yet printed). Read his IT Career JumpStart and Windows Enterprise Desktop blogs for TechTarget, too.

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