I’m coming off of a stint of a few exams in a row to earn my Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) credentials for ASP.NET 3.5, which I obtained last week!

  MCPD(rgb)_1259

In the past year, I have also passed a few Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) exams for SharePoint, and today I failed (eep!) the MB2-634 CRM 4.0 Extending Microsoft Dynamics exam (but plan to re-take it).

Throughout this experience I’ve been considering the impact having these “titles” might have on my employer’s confidence in me and how I’m presented to customers. I refer to the certifications as titles because they’re often displayed in email signatures, including mine.

In my limited experience as an interviewer (I’ve interviewed a dozen or so candidates for various positions within and outside of Microsoft), I have found that the old certifications weren’t terribly useful as a distinguisher. Most of the senior-level candidates had a pile of them (MCSD, MCAD, MCDBA, etc), and they were usually old versions of tests that showed they took a bunch of tests at some point in their career. It was nice to be able to fill in the certification check box, but didn’t always indicate relevant exposure or experience.

Things are slightly different for me now that there are more clearly versioned exams (such as the ASP.NET Developer 3.5 or SQL Server 2008 exams), and I feel that the titles can be helpful to distinguish developers on a few factors:

  • Active in Microsoft Learning community

    With the version-specific exams, I think the most obvious and clear conclusion about someone who takes newer exams is that they make a conscious and committed effort to Microsoft training. Everyone committed to a career that touches Microsoft software (or any other vendor for that matter) may want to pay attention to what the company itself feels is important to learn.

    While the learning community is a clear marketing tool for Microsoft to push earlier adoption and drive product sales, it also serves the purpose of producing better Microsoft developers.

    In interviews, I usually ask what resources candidates use to keep up on the latest happenings. I like to hear things like blogs, newsgroups, and email distribution lists. Being conscientious of what Microsoft itself pushes out for training shows an additional level of commitment.

  • Up-to-speed on the latest technologies, to some extent

    I feel strongly that Microsoft focuses its exams on showing the power of its technologies, and mentioning common pain points.

    Especially with the developer exams, it’s clearly in Microsoft’s best interest to point out gaps and have developers make the best use of its technologies. If ISVs and business application developers can make Microsoft technologies scream, the company will sell more software.

    There are limitations to what can be gleaned from a certification list, of course. In my experience it’s helpful to take practice tests to pass exams, but these sometimes seem to promote memorization of question types rather than actual learning. In the end, though, I’ve always learned valuable lessons from the exams and at least have been exposed to much of the power and pain points of the various technologies covered by the tests.

  • Has specialized or broad knowledge

    It seems like the impetus of changes to the title structure for exams in the past few years is to help people indicate what they’ve focused on.

    Although I’ve not yet realized the impact of my own certifications, I consider it a bonus for my marketability as a consultant to list the titles on my email signature and on my internal résumé. I think it will help the partners and customers I work with to see my focus areas, and help my management to allocate me appropriately in the future.

    Additionally, I want to indicate that I’m focused on being knowledgeable in a variety of areas, so I will continue to take exams in .NET development, SQL Server, SharePoint, CRM, and any other technology that I feel will help me solve customer problems in a more effective manner. I’m hoping my employer will see this commitment and allow me to grow into a more senior role as a consultant and/or architect.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Microsoft benefits monetarily when people become certified. Passing active and recent exams helps developers and allows employers to distinguish ones who stay current. It’s not a foolproof method, since passing an exam doesn’t always indicate practical knowledge or experience, but the titles can effectively communicate commitment to learning and staying current.

Disclosure: I work for Microsoft. I get exams, study materials, and practice tests for Microsoft exams for free. I also have access to free exam prep classes (schedule and budget permitting) at internal training events (such as TechReady, an internal training conference) and instructor-led training. However, I still have the same test standards as everyone else and no insight into exam answers.