Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Does Microsoft certification still have any value?

You know, when I was helping former mechanics, cops and railroad engineers learn the basics of an Active Directory infrastructure, I heard many versions of this question. I asked the same question myself when I finally decided to make the plunge into full time IT myself. I quit a perfectly good job (which I really didn't enjoy or desire) and went to school and started knocking off the certifications. One of the reasons I was motivated to do the certification part on top of the training was the promise from one recruiter to offer me an extra $11,000 a year if I came out of school with my MCSE. I got the cert and got the job.

I never looked back.

Year after year, version after version, I keep renewing my certifications on the latest offering from the folks at Uncle Bill's software factory (Mr. Gates has refused to adopt me... well, answer my emails... so it's Uncle). And with only one exception (everyone had a bad year that year), I have been seen generous compensation increases each year that are not tied strictly to my experience. I know many IT professionals with comparable experience who struggle at much lower salaries, all the while scoffing at the lack of value that a certification brings. Well, the employers I have picked seem to think there is something to the whole certification "thing".

Maybe I just picked the right businesses? Maybe being willing to change companies from time to time has made more opportunity? Do certifications really have any value other than to show you can pick the right answer out of four with the advantage of having two obviously wrong answers?

I believe certifications tell a story, a story about people who care enough about the technology to spend thier own personal time learning more about it. They weave a tale about people who don't want to just get by, but want to move ahead and excel. Studying for a certification is hard work, regardless of the method.

And now, there is the Microsoft Certified Master program. A written test and a lab, with high failure rates I might add, both of which really test in a way that goes way beyond simple multiple choice questions and really get down to the business of seeing what you really know. A Master cannot be doubted. They have done the real thing, and they know their business. Training by the top people in each technology, and real world problems with real world answers. And the compensation for most Masters is very impressive.

Yes, I am going after the Active Directory Master certification first chance I get, hopefully this year. It will be exciting (and scary) to see how much I can learn and how good I really am.

And, you know, funny thing, recruiters keep searching on those keywords like MCSE, MCITP and MCM. That alone makes the certifications relevant, regardless of the validity some IT people place on them.

Get some. Certification matters.

- Peter Trast, SQL Expert; MCITP DBA, MCITP EA, MCT LinkIn with Peter