Point-Counterpoint - Why you Should be Certified.

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Certification Should Be Required

I believe certification should be required for most everyone

in the IT industry. In fact, I firmly believe that some time in the next 5-10

years, many of us, system administrators, DBAs, and professional developers

will be bonded, insured, or some other backing that will both limit and

quantify the liabilities for what we do. I believe IT professionals will and

should be responsible and, to some extent, liable for their actions. As

computers become more and more integrated into every facet of business, those

who maintain and support computer systems must incorporate the “best practices”

and adhere to standards for doing so. The days of building computer

applications and networks by the seat of your pants are numbered.

Will certification build quality applications and networks?

Perhaps. Will certification ensure that an employer is hiring a competent

employee? Not necessarily. An IT certification is like a college degree. It

assumes that there is a minimum amount of knowledge. It ensures that some

measurable level of understanding of the material for a position. An employer

ought to be able to expect that a candidate who has passed the SQL Server 2000

Administration exam can perform certain functions, like add a login and user,

backup a database, restore a server, etc.

Is the MCSE the answer?

Does this mean that I believe that the MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, or

other certification should be required by all IT professionals? No. I think

these certifications are fundamentally flawed and must be redesigned. It would

take an entire article to examine the status of these certifications, but the

highlights are as follows.

The certifications are not granular enough. I hold an MCSE

so would an employer expect that I can setup an Exchange Server? Should one

assume that I can configure your IIS web server? Not necessarily. The only

thing one can assume is that I know something about Windows NT 4.0. I should be

competent in administering a network based on NT 4.0. However, the MCSE does

not address this. It places all MCSEs are equivilent in experience (from the

courses). However, very few MCSEs that

I know have the same electives. The certifications need to be expanded to more

accurately reflect the different type of certification that one has achieved.

In line with this, a certified individual should only be certified on a

particular version of the software.

These MS certifications also do not incorporate any tiers to

which one can aspire. An MCDBA who has passed the design and administrator tests

has nothing to else to achieve. There is not specialty in data warehousing,

DTS, database design, etc. The lack of additional levels or types of

certifications both induces complacency in certified DBAs. Just like Cisco has

implemented the CCNA, CCNP, CCIE tracks, there should be a track for MCDBAs. By

providing additional levels of knowledge to aspire to, the certifications will

continue to attract students as well as continue to push existing DBAs to

expand their knowledge. I would hope the highest levels would also require oral

exams in front of MCTs or even other MCDBAs who could assess one’s ability to

react to situations.

The Exams

The third major complaint, and by far the most important

one, that must be addressed by Microsoft (and other vendors). The exams

themselves need to be rebuilt, reengineered, redesigned, pick your re- process.

As of September 2001, as I write this, the exams, in my opinion, are entirely

to easy and not that representative of the skills and knowledge needed to

perform the functions they are testing. There are quite a few problems with the

exams, but my main complaints are the pools of questions are too small (3 or 4

people who have taken the exam can probably clue another into most all of the

questions), the questions do not measure real world skills, and the format is

not representative of the real world.

Instead of 100-200 questions, there should be over 1000 for

an exam. When I took that SQL 2000 Design Beta exam, I saw 93 questions. When I

took the real exam a few months later, there were 52 questions, all of which I

had previously seen. I would have hoped that the Beta would have only included

50% or so of the total pool, so I would have a low chance of seeing many of the

questions during any re-takes of the exams.

The questions also do not, in my humble opinion, really

measure real world skills. I thought the SQL 2000 Design exam was the best at

forcing one to think, but most of the other exams I have taken do not really

force one to think about how this would work on a real computer. I would hope

that with all the Phds at Microsoft, they would be able to generate scenarios

or questions, which would force one to have some experience with the product. I

hate “memorization” questions, like “what is the correct syntax” for something.

My third biggest complaint about the exams is that they are

not presented in a good format. Rarely does one have to actually use the tool

in an exam. A better format would include the real tools, or mockups of them,

that would force one to actually perform the function. An examinee might be

asked to give Jim access to the Sales database. The user would have to create

the login and user and assign rights using the tool. Along these lines, I think

the exam should include the same tools that an examinee would have in the real

world. For SQL, I would expect to have TechNet and BOL available. If the exam

is long enough and the time limits short enough, an examinee would not be able

to look up every answer. But a professional would be able to use BOL to quickly

find what they needed for a question or two.

Conclusions

I do believe that IT professionals will become liable for

their actions. I suspect that as insurance companies start to insure more ASPs

as well as other businesses; they will require that the system administrators

be certified or at least insurable themselves. This will lead to standards and

certifications, much like the accounting industry. This will also lead to

liabilities for the code you write or the systems you maintain. I firmly believe if

I remain in this industry until I retire, I will have to be bonded at some point.

I believe all these things will come true, but only if the

problems I have outlined above are remedied. Vendors must build a worthwhile

product, which applies to the certification as well. Once this occurs, then an

IT certification will really start to mean something, and employers will see

the value in requiring them.

Please join the debate and tell us what you think.

Read the anti-certification article Certification

Should be Required


Steve Jones

©dkRanch.net October 2001


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