How Microsoft’s new certification program affects Exchange admins

Microsoft recently updated its certification program, but what does that mean for Exchange admins? Long-time expert and MVP Tony Redmond chimes in.

Back in April, Microsoft revamped its certification program to address the heightened interest in cloud technologies among corporate IT shops. And not only are there three new levels of certification -- the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) and the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) -- IT pros also require recertification.

But how do the certification changes affect Exchange administrators and the Microsoft admin job market? SearchExchange.com sat down with Exchange expert Tony Redmond at The Expert’s Conference in San Diego earlier this month to discuss.

SearchExchange.com Why is Microsoft picking this time to introduce new certifications?

Tony Redmond: [Microsoft] had a few problems. The first was the engineer thing. You can’t call them [engineers] in some countries, because those are actual accreditations where you need a four-year college degree. Another problem was that the program had lost credibility. With 450,000 MCSEs and no differentiation between any of them, that’s a problem for everyone.

There’s one more problem. The cloud is there, so [Microsoft has] got to reflect reality. All the focus in the past has been the classic deployment techniques for Windows.

SearchExchange.com: Do companies really care about certifications?

Redmond: When I was a hiring manager, I never cared. I put a much higher value on other attributes such as track records, past achievements, etc. This goes back to the point that I didn’t think much of the MCSE. I went for people who could communicate and be part of a team. MCSE was a checkbox kind-of-thing. It only added 2% to the equation. As a manager, [IT staff with MCSEs] would scare me. After they get [the certifications], lots of people want a raise or go for a new job.

SearchExchange.com: How does this affect Exchange admins and the overall admin job market?

Redmond: We’ll need time to see what happens. It’s like all programs -- they take time to improve themselves. There are certainly some good aspects. But in a year’s time, we’ll know people who have gone through the process. When you compare someone with an MCSE to someone who does not, who is better? You don’t have people trading info as to who is a good MCSE and who isn’t. From a personal level, I think achieving one of these certs gives a person a large deal of extra confidence. When you’ve got extra confidence, it helps you do your job better.

SearchExchange.com: As we mentioned, Microsoft has added a cloud certification. How does this play into the equation?

Redmond: If a company is going to the cloud, they need to have a holistic view. In the U.S., labor laws are fast-hire, fast-fire. Most enlightened companies considering cloud will reskill and retrain their admins. Look at the real issues your company is facing and make sure these people can fix that. They should know about consumerization and BYOD, and be familiar with your company and know what they need to do to get the job done. Giving them other responsibilities will instill confidence in them to tackle other jobs if your company moves to the cloud.

My mantra has always been “adapt and you’ll prosper, if not, you’ll lose your job.”

SearchExchange.com: What else can you say about the revised cert program and how it pertains to Exchange admins?

Redmond: What are all the [Microsoft certification] boot camps going to do? Microsoft is trying to get away from the learning that condemned MCSE to mediocrity. People would pack up and pass all their exams. How rigorous is the new certification process? Will some of these boot camp companies still be able to offer them? Will MCSE still be a valuable certification? They’ve got to be able to guard the integrity of the program. They’ve got to come up with ways to quiz people in real-life practical situations. Things change as service packs roll out. How often are these tests refreshed?

Microsoft outsources a lot of the exam creation to experts. They create questions and approved answers, how [is Microsoft] going to make sure that this process doesn’t leak? Also, best practices evolve all the time. Everyone has their own way of doing things and some twists are better than others. It’s important to keep best practices alive, refreshed and current.

Interested in anything else Tony has to say? Check out his blog: thoughtsofanidlemind.

This was first published in May 2012

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