Camera:   DCS560CSerial #: K560C-00969Width:    2008Height:   3040Date:  11/20/02Time:   12:42:02DCS5XX ImageFW Ver:   3.2.3TIFF ImageLook:   ProductSharpening Requested: YesCounter:    [93438]ISO Speed:  100Aperture:  f7.1Shutter:  1/100Max Aperture:  f4.5Min Aperture:  f32Exposure Mode:  Manual (M)Compensation:  +0.0Flash Compensation:  +0.0Meter Mode:  SpotFlash Mode:  No flashDrive Mode:  SingleFocus Mode:  ManualFocus Point:  --o--Focal Length (mm):  68White balance: CustomTime: 12:42:02.087In the first article, I focused on some key areas to help your staff (or yourself) attain MCP certifications while working on it from a company angle, rather than from the perspective of an individual contributor. These included making sure exams relate to your current and future competency plans, exams as clusters and exam takers as clusters, building a virtual and a physical library of resources, and taking advantage of special offers, which there always seems to be at least one. This time around I will focus on strategies for attaining and keeping Gold Competencies, some exam path strategies for those of you who are new to Microsoft certification, and how Microsoft’s Cloud technologies are impacting the direction of Microsoft certifications.

Attaining and Maintaining you Gold Competencies

The primary difficulty that many partner organisations face when looking at Gold Competencies is the requirement for four unique MCPs achieving the pre-requisites. The competencies usually allow some variety in elective exams that make up these competencies, and as a partner you have two primary ways of approaching the electives.

Option 1: Encourage your technical staff to try to sit different exams to expand the capabilities within your organisation.
Option 2: Minimise the variables so that you can take advantage of group learning and exam experiences of others.

There really isn’t a wrong or right approach to this, and there are many factors which may contribute to the path you take or encourage. However, with Gold versus Silver competency you need to think a little bit differently. Being able to reuse the MCP attainments of a single individual across multiple Silver competencies means that sometimes it’s just easiest to get the low hanging fruit.

With Gold, I see a big difference – unless you already have five or more individuals who have achieved the Gold requirements already, you need to start succession planning. The people who come in very handy during this type of planning are those who have been doing exams for many years, have already accumulated a variety of certifications already, and just through their sheer experience both with the technologies and with past exams can pick up new topics with relative ease and pass exams within a matter of weeks of being advised they need to do so. While you can use brute force as your method for ensuring coverage in case of losing a key staff member (and their certifications!), it’s better to plan appropriately.

Take input from your technical staff about the areas they would like a chance to investigate as a long term strategy, but also ensure they know what the short and medium terms goals and expectations are. This also presents an opportunity for those on your technical teams who really want to go over and above what is required and expected.

Exam Path Strategies For Those That Are New To The Game

I’m not sure if using the word game is disrespectful in this instance, but that’s how I see certification, and preferably as a game your staff win often. The reason I see it as a game is that there are many different strategies that can be taken to achieve the end result, and knowing the arena in which you will play helps your game. I’ll stick with this analogy a little longer…
Start at an easy level, in an arena that you are extremely comfortable. The skills that are built up in these easier levels do help the transition into harder levels. An example of this which I encountered last year after sitting my first exams in almost four years was that I was underprepared, and incredibly rusty on some of the basics. Many of the infrastructure (versus developer, which I’m not qualified to comment on) related exams are going to assume you know the basics of such things as Active Directory and TCP/IP, and just using a product regularly doesn’t really mean you are ready for the exam. 

By sitting some of the base Windows Server exams, your staff can identify some weaknesses that will hurt their results in other exams, and these areas will be second nature by the time the focus exams are done. Your staff also get practice on exams and learn what the experience is like, so there will be less anxiety when they get to more difficult and challenging exams.

Microsoft Cloud Certifications

There are now several paths you can go down when it comes to Microsoft Cloud certifications. You can go down the System Centre 2012 path for Private Cloud, or down the Office 365 path for Public Cloud. While these exam paths target very different things, the important commonality between them both is that you cannot rely on your on premise skills with the technologies covered to get you through the exams. The different portals, the different capabilities between on premise and hosted products, different ways to manage the solutions.

Loryan Strant of Paradyne in Melbourne, an Office 365 MVP and community contributor wrote a great article about what to expect based on his experiences sitting the beta of the Office 365 exams. There are some comments from others who sat the exams which generally agree that the exams are hard, but primarily because of the breadth of knowledge you need to have, and most importantly that it really does expect you to be deploying and managing the technologies.

I will cover the System Centre 2012 exams in more detail in an upcoming post on the changes to the Management and Virtualization Competency, which leads to…

Keeping Abreast Of Competency Requirement Changes

Competencies are not static, and you need to ensure you keep an eye on upcoming requirement changes. The April 2012 Competency Roadmap should help you to identify areas where you may get caught out, or conversely, new opportunities that may be presented. Ensure that competency compliance is something that comes up when you talk to your account manager, as they can provide assistance with formulating a strategy to help you keep your qualifications.

That’s all from me for now, in the next instalment I will start the focus on individual competencies, with Desktop being the first to be covered.

Mark O’Shea
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