Q&A

Certification Czar

Master of exams Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning, talks about Redmond's new certs.

In 2005, Microsoft overhauled its certification program for developers. Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning, lead the effort to reshape the program based on specific technology skills and role-based job requirements.

The certification czar at Microsoft since he joined in 2002, Ziob took the helm of Redmond's training efforts after similar stints at CompTIA Inc. and Novell Inc.

In addition to the standard skill sets-.NET Framework 2.0, Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005-new exams on the 2007 Office system and .NET 3.0's Windows Communication Foundation can help developers validate their Microsoft muscle. "Certification should not be used as a replacement for real-world experience," says Ziob, but for those seeking to take on new positions or projects, it's a way to showcase competency. We asked Ziob to share his thoughts on how the new certifications support Microsoft's platform advances and what developers can expect as "Software Plus Services" becomes Redmond's charter.

How would you describe the breadth and philosophy of your certification program for developers?
Microsoft's new generation of certification programs makes a developer's certification path simpler and more targeted. The programs allow customers to showcase product-specific skills using the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist credential as well as validate job-role skills using the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer credential. Developers will be able to showcase specific skills directly on their certification logo.

Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning "We envision a developer universe where Windows and Office are the initial touch points for business users and their workflows. ... Our current and forthcoming certifications for developers reflect this architectural vision. "
Lutz Ziob, General Manager, Microsoft Learning

Are your certifications aimed at programmers? Is there also a role for managers, should they look to gain new certifications? If so, why?
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist certifications showcase skills with .NET Framework for Web, Windows and distributed application development. Individuals can earn these certifications using different development languages, which they choose at the beginning of the exam experience. Microsoft Certified Professional Developer certifications are geared toward Web, Windows and distributed application developers.

Some developers have argued that they don't need certification to prove their value. Do you see this attitude changing?
The perception of the value of Microsoft credentials is steadily improving, as evidenced by a recent IDC study ["Value of Certification: Team Certification and Organizational Performance," November 2006]. Although there are still some outdated perceptions, those who have followed the evolution of the program over the past several years are aware of the stricter requirements for the latest Microsoft certifications. In addition, many people are aware of the substantial work by Microsoft and its test-delivery partners to fight piracy.

What do you try to tell developers who continue not to believe in certification?
Certification should not be used as replacement for real-world experience but rather as a means to showcase competency for those new to IT, to validate IT skills and experience in a consistent and industry-recognized way, and to demonstrate proven breadth and depth of skills for those with IT experience.

Are there any groups that are more easily convinced that certification has value?
We've recently documented that IT managers are convinced of the value of certifications. In the study conducted by IDC and sponsored by Microsoft, analysts surveyed the IT organizational performance of 1,200 teams, looking at performance and the percentage of each team certified by Microsoft on a variety of technologies. The study concluded that Microsoft certification is positively correlated to performance improvement, specifically that team performance increases every time a new team member is certified. As hiring managers continue to see the advantages of having certified individuals, those looking to achieve new positions or take on new project challenges will find value in certifications.

How did the customer base help shape your new certifications?
Simply put, these new certifications better meet the needs of our customers. In developing the new certifications, we looked to our customers to tell us what they wanted and overall we heard that they're looking for more flexibility, relevancy and credibility out of their certification programs. The new certifications emphasize the primary technology skill set and the job role of each individual and focus on core technical or professional skills. In addition, the new framework makes it easier for managers to distinguish candidates that meet specific job criteria.

What are the most interesting new certs Microsoft is offering?
I'm particularly excited about the new certifications for 2007 Microsoft Office system. The new technologies in this release give developers a head start in solving an organization's business challenges. Developers now have the capability to build and extend business applications that make enterprise data more accessible and business processes more efficient.

The new Office exams indicate three developer-level Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist titles. Are there plans to develop a line of Professional Developer-level titles?
It is something we're considering-we see the inherent value and potential for these types of certifications-but we're committed to getting the foundation pieces correct first and then relying on the industry and market to help us build the job-role certifications at a later date.

FoxPro developers aren't addressed in the new line of certs. Any plans to address this group?
We're open to discussing it with customers but at this time we have no further plans to address FoxPro.

Certification numbers: What are the goals for the program these days? To grow the numbers of certified Microsoft professionals? To provide needed training and certifications for products and technologies to help hiring managers?
These days we're particularly invested in driving awareness around the new certifications, reaching out to academic and corporate audiences and providing training programs that give customers greater flexibility. With the IDC study, it was shown that teams perform at a higher level with more individuals certified. Our goal is to ensure our customers are successful with Microsoft products.

How are new concepts-Web services, Software as a Service and Windows Live-being addressed in the certification program?
Web services will be addressed within the larger context of services and will be covered in the upcoming Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) exam. At present, we have not yet considered certification content on Software as a Service or Windows Live-that doesn't mean we won't in the future if and when customers demand it.

Are you looking to build programs for those interested in developing against Microsoft Dynamics?
We're always looking for ways to broaden our outreach to both developers and IT professionals. At this point, however, our present developer focus is on current and future releases of the .NET Framework and related tools.

Any plans to build programs to help developers truly exploit the new security features of Vista?
We are certainly committed, as is all of Microsoft, to helping developers build secure solutions, and you'll see this reflected in our new certification exams as portions of these exams are devoted to security-related issues where applicable. Our exams promote Microsoft security best practices with specific focus given to ensuring that solutions run well on today's tightly secured systems.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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