Despite the current air of global economic uncertainty, demand for trained and certified IT professionals is expected to continue apace over the next several years. Research firm IDC forecasts that demand for technology training and education programs will increase by 5.4 percent between 2007 and 2012, with the Americas leading the way with 6.6 percent growth over the forecast period. According to IDC, this demand for training is fueled, in part, by the perpetual advance of technology and continued shortage of skilled workers.*
In response to this acute need, Jim Clark, senior product planner, and Per Farny, director of advanced training and certification, will be at Microsoft Tech-Ed 2008 in Orlando, FL, this week to unveil two new training and certification programs from Microsoft Learning. Scheduled to begin later this year, the programs are designed to prime the pipeline of skilled workers and help companies maximize their technology investments.
Synchronizing Certification with the Customers' Needs
Technical certification is critical to ensuring developers and IT professionals stay up to date on the latest innovations in their field and what these new technologies can do for their customers. A prime example of a cutting-edge technology with tremendous potential to cut costs and increase efficiency is virtualization. Another study by IDC projects that the market for virtualization services will reach nearly $12 billion by 2011.** Correspondingly, virtualization is currently one of the most highly sought after areas of expertise, with skilled developers and IT professionals in high demand.
Yet the true benefits that companies can expect from virtualization, and the scenarios in which it will be most beneficial, remain unclear, Clark notes. To help IT pros develop a baseline of understanding about virtualization and the spectrum of technologies it encompasses, Microsoft Learning has created a series of training and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification programs that focus on Hyper-V and the forthcoming Windows Server Virtual Machine Manager, both of which are part of Microsoft's virtualization strategy.
"Right now, the goal of our certification offerings is simply to provide IT pros with a fundamental understanding of how virtualization software operates and how it can enable them to accomplish tasks that are asked of them. This means that if I need three virtual machines on a server that point to a particular data center I have the assurance that a Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist can do it," says Clark.
The virtualization training will be delivered in a variety of virtual, distance learning, and instructor-led options that focus on the fundamentals of virtualization, the underlying principles of virtualization architecture and the specifics of Microsoft's technology.
Clark's team worked closely with partners, customers and trainers to devise training and certification programs that reflected their needs. Their feedback will also help shape more advanced virtualization certification offerings that will be developed in the future.
Microsoft Adds a Rung to the Certification Ladder
Until now, Microsoft's training and certification programs have focused on fulfilling a customer's specific needs – primarily, equipping IT professionals and developers with the general skills they need to deploy and configure a product, or to fulfill the duties of a particular job role, such as systems administrator.
But later this year, Microsoft will launch a new Master's training and certification program to help IT professionals attain a "master's" level of proficiency in specific products – something previously only available internally to Microsoft employees and select partners. The programs will focus on design, build, and troubleshooting skills, and will require three weeks of mandatory training per track, delivered exclusively by top subject matter experts and industry-renowned instructors. The initial plan is to roll out the program for Exchange Server 2007, SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, with additional server products being added in the future.
As director of the program, Per Farny notes, "Eventually, most people reach a point in their careers where they want to differentiate themselves. For an IT pro this almost always means getting specialized skills and becoming recognized as the go-to person for a particular technology. That's really what the Master's training and certification program is all about. From the customer perspective, if there is a need for a complex implementation or upgrade, or for assessing an existing solution or identifying and resolving issues, the call to action is simple: get a Microsoft Certified Master on the job."
Microsoft Certification Structure
Technology Series: Specialist certifications train IT pros in implementation, building, troubleshooting, and debugging of a specific Microsoft technology.
Professional Series: Professional credentials validate the skill set required for a particular job.
Master's Series: Master's certifications identify individuals with the deepest technical skills available on a particular Microsoft product.
Architect Series: The Certified Architect program enables companies to easily identify experienced IT architects that have completed a rigorous peer review process.
To develop these programs, Farny's team analyzed customer needs, assessed job roles within IT and sought feedback from key external partners, as well as from product groups and top consultants at Microsoft. "We asked those who design, build and troubleshoot the most complex solutions every day, 'Hey, if you're going to be a master, what do you need to know and what should the curriculum look like?' What we came up with was a program that delivers real-world expertise and gives participants direct access to the respective product groups – it provides authoritative training and answers to their technical questions straight from the source."
Farny says that the Master's program will offer Microsoft's top-tier training and technical certification, so admission will be limited to individuals with the prerequisite certifications and whose resumes demonstrate that they're prepared to be successful in the program.
Climbing the Career Ladder with Microsoft Certification
The Master's training and certification program is another step in the transformation that Microsoft Learning started nearly three years ago to reflect customer needs and advances in technology. As part of the process, Microsoft created a role-based certification model in which candidates must prove their real-world expertise and ability to complete the tasks specific to a particular function.
Under the new structure, Microsoft certifications are composed of four broad functional areas: technology specialists (technology-specific certification focused on configuration), IT professionals or software developers (job-role certifications that are general in technology focus), the Master's training and certification program, and systems architects (dual focus on mastery of technical skills and strategy).
Each individual certification is focused on the technical skills needed to fulfill a specific job role, which also assists IT managers in verifying a job candidate's qualifications. As IT manager at law firm, Bowman and Brooke, Wendy Newton considers general proficiency in technology, allied to experience with specific core technology (such as Windows and Office) and strong troubleshooting skills, among the essential skills that she looks for in prospective IT professionals.
"Given the large number of people in the field, the more qualifications you have, the better your chances of landing a prime position," says Newton. "Certification can be critical depending on what part of the field you want to work in as well."
"That's why it's critical that certification represent a validation of real-world experience rather than being based on unrealistic, perfect world scenarios," points out Clark. "This is a hallmark of Microsoft's approach," he adds. "We work with more than 500 customers and partners to create tests based on the 80-80 rule: focus on what 80 percent of the people experience 80 percent of the time in a standard work environment. And if they read a question that doesn't meet that rule, they don't use it."