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

I'm 100 percent in favor of certification exams. I hold a triple-legacy MCSE (for Windows NT 4.0, 2000, and 2003), and I'm an MCITP for Exchange 2007 and 2010 and an MCTS for SharePoint 2010. I also hold A+, Network+, iNet+, CNA, CCNA, and other certifications. I've been riding the "get certified" train for 15 years. But I've also learned there's an obvious disconnect between a person who can pass a test and one who can do the job in the field.

Certifications were created because employers needed some way to validate that a person knew enough about the technology to be considered for a six-figure salary or key contracting role. But as the market became bloated with more and more "paper MCSEs," as they were affectionately termed, who could pass tests despite having no real-world know-how, the validation focus has shifted from certs back to experience.

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But certifications remain a very valid starting point when looking you're looking to bring in new blood for your company's IT. Salary surveys indicate that people who are both certified and have valid experience do better in the hunt for new employment.

So certs matter -- even the MCSE cert, which after fading away due to the "paper MCSE" problem is coming back.

A new MCSE as the industry shifts to the cloud

I was pleased to hear that the MCSE certification was being brought back. Fifteen years ago, I fought through six exams to obtain my first-level MCSE with NT 4.0, and I've always believed it was a worthwhile certification to pursue. The more recent MCST (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) and MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) exams have been great for allowing people to prove some level of competency and understanding of specific tracks, such as Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL. But a base MCSE demands a solid grasp of networking, Windows Server, and Active Directory, so it should be a requirement before people can pursue the individual certs.

The old MCSE was for a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, but the new one is for a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. The change in the acronym's makeup reflects a heavier focus on the cloud.

That's a promising change, but there are still devils in the details to be worked out. For example, the new MCSE program's specifics are a little fuzzy and not quite what I expected or hoped for. We'll see what Microsoft comes up with soon enough, though. (If you already have a Microsoft cert, there will be a way to map current certifications to the new program, as well as transition and upgrade paths for those with MCTS, MCPD, and MCITP certs.)

Keep in mind that unless something changes radically in Microsoft's certification tests, the new MCSE exams are still multiple-choice questions, perhaps with some interactive questions tossed in for good measure. As an employer, you need more proof of skill.

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