Microsoft Enhances Certification Strategy

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Microsoft will take several measures this year to improve its certification program, including adding performance-based testing and simulation technology to its exams, using customer feedback to drive changes and implementing continuous learning tools on the Microsoft Learning Web site, said Al Valvano, business and product strategy group manager for Microsoft Learning’s certification and assessment operations.

The company announced in February that it would implement performance-based testing components for its Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Systems Architect (MCSA) exams. Microsoft will expand the range of simulation tests this summer when it rolls out similar platforms for all four of the Windows Server 2003 exams, Valvano said. “We really are looking at the range of technology solutions available to us and trying to select the right tool for the right job in terms of validating what we believe are the necessary skills for using Microsoft products and solutions. The adoption of performance-based testing was really a great step because it enables us to very accurately measure in a real-world way the actual path that someone has to perform on the job.”


Microsoft also will take customer feedback into greater consideration, using input from participants to increase exam relevance, boost benefits and provide more opportunities. “I feel very strongly that it is important for us to communicate to our customers,” Valvano said. “It gives people a really good idea of what’s working, what’s not working and how we’re responding. The good news is that people who are part of the MCP program in that past couple of surveys that we’ve done have said that their satisfaction with the program and the value that they think the program is bringing is increasing. They’ve also identified very clearly some areas that we want to really execute against and meet their expectations for.”


Another way Microsoft plans to add value to its certification program is by offering customers a connective learning experience via the company’s Web site, which features online learning and testing functions to support certification participants and partners. “What we are planning to do is launch an application or portal on that allows customers to come in and—in a very consistent and unified experience—be able to incorporate a continuous learning model into their personal and professional development,” Valvano said. “What that means is you can log into and, at no cost, be able to set different goals. Those goals are flexible, ranging from something as simple as understanding an overview of a particular new technology to something as complex as planning the next step in your career and achieving a certification to do that. In that same online experience, you can assess your skills, take an individual assessment to get a customized learning plan, get pointers on specific training around that and get access to different testing resources in order to validate that training program you’ve undertaken has actually taken hold.”


Valvano is enthusiastic about how these changes will benefit Microsoft customers and certificants. “I’m terribly excited about the changes we’re making to the Microsoft certification program,” he said. “We’ve tried really hard over the past year and a half to incorporate a lot of the great customer feedback we’ve gotten from our existing base of certified professionals and people who are entering technology and are not certified. We’ve asked them what it is they want to see from Microsoft to help them meet their goals and reach their potential. I really think we’re starting to execute quite strongly on the feedback. It’s very exciting for us to see some of this stuff start to emerge and come to market.”


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