MCSE is back -- but can you rely on it?

Microsoft's revised MCSE program has created buzz, but such certs still show only knowledge, not ability

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A variety of sources for certs

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only game in town when it comes to technology certifications. There are many vendor-specific certs for their products, of course, from Cisco to VMware. Besides reviewing the specific knowledge areas for their covered products, such certs can help people new to a product understand the whys of the technology and how the various components come together as a solution set, says Greg Shields, a training consultant for CBT Nuggets. Preparing for these certs brings people through the progression from base understanding to more complex concepts and design/deployment scenarios.

There's also CompTIA, which tries to stay vendor-neutral with its two exams: A+ and Network+. Both are worth pursuing if you're a newbie. The A+ certification covers hardware, basic DOS, and Windows; Network+ covers the basics and underlying elements behind networking.

Employers need to go with the skills, not just the certs

More and more, a certification and some experience will get your foot in the door. But an employer looking to hire should consider in-house testing before handing out a contract or job offer. There are many ways to do so, such as by having systems set up in a lab for a prospective employee to use or having cloud-based virtual systems at the ready for testing a person's skills.

Say you're looking for someone proficient in Exchange, and a candidate has an Exchange-oriented cert. You have that person work with a few systems (virtual systems on a local box or in the cloud) and let them prove their knowledge. Ask them to create a domain, install an Exchange organization, round up a few mailboxes, configure quotas, and so on. Give the candidate adequate time to perform the tasks, and see how he or she does.

If you're hiring for a design position, give the candidate a company profile and ask him or her to design the deployment for you. If you're filling a hardware position, supply the pieces and tell the candidate to build the computer.

You get the point. As the employer, you should trust a certification only to a degree. Likewise, the résumé may not give you a full story, either. Let the candidates show you what they can do. It gives you a chance to see how they work, how they react under pressure, and possibly even how they interact with others.

Certification is one positive way to ensure the people you're looking at have put a modicum of time into knowing the intricate elements of their professed skill set and have made the effort to prove it officially. But it's just a starting point.

This article, "MCSE is back -- but can you rely on it?," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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