Jan 19, 2010

digitalworldIdeally, a tech certification demonstrates mastery of what the vendor feels is baseline amount of domain expertise. With the release of Windows 7, vendors are providing related IT certifications and a broad ecosystem of books, websites, and online, CD/DVD-based and live courses to help prepare IT professionals for the certification tests.

You need a driver’s license to legally operate a vehicle on a public roadway. But IT professionals don’t require certifications such as Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), or Project Management Professional (PMP) to manage a computer, run a network, or manage a project. Certifications can help an IT pro get a new job, skill, knowledge, and experience are what counts.

A Short Tour of Windows 7 Certifications

According to Jim Clark Sr., certification manager for Microsoft Learning, there are currently two Windows 7 certifications relevant to Microsoft Certified Technology Specialists (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP): MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration, and MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7.

Plus, says Clark, Microsoft Learning is creating an upgrade exam for Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician’s (MCDST) which should be out in early 2010, This exam, says Clark, is for Windows XP or Windows Vista enterprise desktop support technicians who want to become certified for MCTS: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician.

Windows 7 certifications are somewhat different than previous Microsoft certifications, says Jay Ferron, chief security officer at Interactive Security Training. “For Windows XP and other areas, what Microsoft offered wasn’t necessarily what the customer did. But the ‘matrix’ of certification tests has changed. You now choose a certification based on what you’ll be doing.”

For example, says Ferron, “You can become an ITP – ‘IT Professional’ – just in Windows 7.” An individual can take a specific course, like deployment, and get a certification for it, Ferron says, showing they’ve mastered the relevant baseline technology. “These new certifications mean my people have specific knowledge,” he says.

Worth the Investment?

Certifications have long been under fire for their relevance in the real world. Some argue that they are not worth the time or money investment for the test and its preparation.

Windows 7 certification exams are administered at Prometric testing centers. The price for the exam proper may be modest; for example, Exam 70-680: TS: Windows 7, Configuring is $60. Preparing can run higher. Books and study guides cost tens of dollars, CD/DVD and other computer-based training products may be hundreds, and live classroom courses can cost thousands of dollars. On the other hand, lots of resources are available for modest prices or even free (such as online, through your local library, or job training center).

Many question whether hiring managers, human resources departments, and agencies look for certifications. Does including a certification acronym in a resume or online profile help you make it at least to the next round of selection? Will lack of them leave you stuck at the starting gate? And do certifications – Windows 7 certification in particular – have any other potential value? Here’s what a number of HR professionals, IT managers, and others have to say.

In general, according to Tom Silver, senior vice president for North America of Dice.com, a well-known career website for engineering and other technology professionals, “Slightly more than half — 53% — of technology professionals say that technology certifications give them an edge.”

“As an IT consultant and IT manager, certification was one of the things I looked for in making hiring decisions,” says technology author and instructional trainer William Stanek, whose 100 books include the Windows 7 Administrator’s Pocket Consultant from Microsoft Press. “While certification alone wasn’t a deciding factor, it always helped in candidate selection for interviews, so it definitely helped at the start of the hiring process.”

Independent IT consultant Anil Desai currently has 38 certifications. Desai believes that certifications help provide a well-rounded perspective. “It’s most useful for people who are new or who are shifting gears. For hirers, it’s a differentiator, but not an automatic decision maker.”

Some job openings or postings generate a blizzard of resumes. As a result, “HR managers need a way to identify the most serious contenders, just as candidates need a way to demonstrate their skill in a particular technology,” elaborates Dice’s Silver. “For both, certifications are a key element.” However, stresses Silver, “Certifications will never trump real-world skills and experience for hiring managers. It’s best to have a combination of both.”

“I firmly and fully believe, and tell my students, that they’ll always have an advantage having that cert under their belt,” states Tim Warner, a technical trainer from CBT Nuggets who also teaches 11-week classes and two-to-five-day corporate courses. “Either the job post will require it, and it will be part of the screening, or it will give them a leg up.”

Certifications may be more important in dealing with prospects and customers, adds Interactive Security Training’s Ferron. Ferron practices what he preaches; he has a handful of certifications of his own. He looks for certifications when hiring, including jobs and tasks that will involve Windows 7, although he also expects to supplement their certifications with training. “Customers ask if our people are certified and trained. My business card doesn’t say Chief Security Officer; it has a list of my certifications on it. So when the engineering staff sees my card, they don’t think I’m just another sales guy.”

Windows 7: New IT Requirements

With the roll-out of Windows 7, IT needs to add Windows 7 to its IT admins’ skills portfolio. “Windows 7 is a standard criterion for our hiring process now,” states Howard Sherman of live online tech support firm RoyalGeeks.com. “RoyalGeeks.Com candidates must have Windows 7 knowledge and are tested on it.”

For some companies, candidates with Windows 7 certifications simply will stand out. “We’re not seeing a lot of Windows 7 certifications yet,” says Sherman. “But whenever we do, that support engineer is chosen over a candidate who is not Microsoft-certified on Windows 7.”

“If I’m looking for somebody in Windows 7 deployment, their having a certification lets me see they passed that technology, and means I have a better view of that person,” says Interactive Security’s Ferron. “If I have five candidates, certification is a good starting point for vetting them.”

These aren’t the only certifications that make sense to acquire. “It helps to have a background in both the desktop and server space, because the two work together,” Ferron explains. “For example, Group Policies can control what happens on the desktop, but are configured from a server. So my server people have to understand the desktop features and functions, and may need desktop certifications like Windows 7 in addition to the server certifications.”

The State of the Windows 7 Certification Marketplace

That being said, are there job postings calling for Windows 7 certifications? And do candidates have them?

Windows 7 certifications aren’t currently in big demand, according to Dice’s Silver. “There are about 50,000 job postings on Dice. Some companies are asking for the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialists (MCTS) or Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP) certifications; those two certifications average about 150 requests in job postings on any given day. But requests are not tied specifically to Windows 7 at this point. Windows 7 as a skill set is only requested in about 100 job postings on any given day.”

Nor is there a large supply of Windows 7-certified candidates, at least on Dice.com, presently, reports Silver. “There are currently less than 25 technology professionals with resumes on Dice with Windows 7 certifications.” However, he adds, “In a recent Dice poll, 37% of tech professionals anticipate that their companies would be installing Windows 7 within the next 18 months. As companies migrate to Windows 7, we would anticipate that both requests for the skill-set and those specific certifications will grow.”

“Windows 7 certification is essential for IT pros,” states author and trainer Stanek. “Very soon, Windows 7 certification will be as important as Windows XP certification. So if being certified on Windows XP proved important to your career, being certified on Windows 7 will be equally as important.”

Iman Jalali, director of sales and marketing at IT training products company Train Signal, Inc., which creates computer-based training for IT certification exams, predicts larger demand in people looking for certification in desktop OSs — notably, Windows 7. “The demand for Windows Vista certification training was not that hot,” states Jalali, “but we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for Window 7 certification training.”

One piece of advice, from CBT Nuggets’ Warner: “Hiring managers in general aren’t up to speed with the current generation of Microsoft certifications such as the MCICP. Windows 7 certifications involve yet another new acronym, MCTS, for Microsoft Certified Technology Specialists. So be sure to identify what this is, as a valuable credential.”

Beyond the Resume Slush Pile

Windows 7 certifications aren’t necessarily just about Windows 7, or about getting hired. “Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 share the same core, so knowing Windows 7 will help you know Windows Server 2008 R2,” points out author and trainer Stanek.

A Windows 7 certification can also smooth the way to other certifications, adds CBT Nuggets’ Warner. “For newcomers familiar with client OSs like Windows XP, and looking to pass the server certification test, Windows 7 certifications fulfill some of the requirements for server certifications, and passing the Windows 7 certification exam can help them build confidence.”

There may be other benefits to certifications in general. For example, according to Microsoft Learning’s Clark, “Certification also draws individuals into the larger community of 2.5 million Microsoft-certified professionals, giving them access to exclusive Microsoft resources and benefits, including peer support through private newsgroups; professional tools and opportunities such as resume posting and job searches; and professional networking tools.”

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  • Jan 20, 2010 | Zack Williamson says:

    In what state is the 60-780 exam priced at $60? All Microsoft exams I've seen (except for upgrade exams) are priced at $125, and have been for years (and in the two different states I've lived in at the time).

  • (From the article author:) Re the question about the cited exam price – I got that price by calling Prometric (the organization through which exams are given) and asking a live human being. I don't remember if I was asked "what state?"

    It's possible they gave me an incorrect number; it's possible that prices vary from one location or time (I noticed recently-expired "coupon" ads on the site). But sixty bucks for this particular exam is what they told me.

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