Like over 800,000 other people, I spent an incredible amount of time and effort studying to be an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). I took six classes, studied several books from cover to cover, took practice tests and used knowledge in my job and on my own time. Why did I do all of this? Because I wanted to have one of most prestigious certifications in field - MCSE!
For those of you who don't know, MCSE consisted of six tests designed to ensure that system administrators meet a minimum level of experience and knowledge with Microsoft products. The concept is this gives guidance to managers as to who they should and should not hire, and ensures that those people know how to use Microsoft products.
In my experience, people who honestly pass MCSE exams are indeed better qualified for their positions than others with equivalent experience and skills. Of course, boot camps, brain dumps and similar methods of cheating process tend to allow people to dishonestly pass exams. This, however, is true with all certifications (and tests for that matter) and not unique to MCSE series.
In their attempts to get people to upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000, Microsoft has run into quite a bit of resistance from industry. While there are very significant reasons to upgrade, Windows 2000 requires major changes in network configurations, applications and user training, which has tended to slow acceptance. In addition, since Windows 2000 was released around time of large expenditures on Year 2000 bug, system managers found themselves without funds or manpower to upgrade their networks.
In order to force people to upgrade more quickly, Microsoft has, in it's infinite wisdom, decided to retire Windows NT 4.0 certifications. Thus, on December 31, 2001 any and all MCSE certificate holders who still have not upgraded will need to remove those four letters from their resume and business cards.
It now appears that over half (at least 400,000) of these MCSE's will be invalid in under five months! I know from experience that change from Windows NT to Windows 2000 is not an easy one, and given that many people actually have to work for a living it's not surprising that so many of them have not had a chance to obtain new certifications.
There is also a large amount of anger about policy. It appears that Microsoft is only interested in increasing it's bottom line, which translates into selling an endless procession of upgrades to operating system and office suite. It's plainly obvious that Microsoft feels it's dollars come from these upgrades, and thus those engineers who cannot or will not upgrade their certifications have little or no value.
Even worse is that Microsoft has started path towards Windows XP certifications! A large number of MCSE's have not even started (much less finished) their training for Windows 2000, and now they have to figure out how to upgrade that to Windows XP! And, of course, it's a sure bet that next version of Windows will follow very quickly after that.
Me and several of people who work for me have obtained MCSE certification for Windows NT 4.0. Given that we all work very long hours (a 60 hour week is a short one) and have lives, it's a miracle that even some of is found time to pass these exams.
And now Microsoft is saying that we are no longer valuable. They are directly implying that we are not worthy of their greatness because, well, we are too busy actually putting their products to work to take time out to study and pass exams.
We do want to pass exams and we do want to become certified on Windows 2000. Every single person that works for me strongly desires to pass these tests. Our objection does not come from fact that tests exist or that Microsoft is raising bar or improving their products.
Our objection is underhanded, sneaky and downright unethical way that Microsoft is forcing us to put pressure on our company and our employers to needlessly upgrade over and over again. The pressure comes from every aspect of Microsoft - from forced upgrades via their licensing practices to their forced certification policies.
Let's play devil's advocate for a minute and see what we can learn. Perhaps Microsoft has to do this because they are more intelligent and have a wider vision than rest of world. Microsoft knows they have a far superior product, and in order to ensure that we lesser beings provide best value for our companies, they are requiring us to upgrade our knowledge. Heaven forbid that companies (especially large ones) actually keep Windows NT 4.0 installed on their networks (much less Windows 95 or 98). To allow that would be completely irresponsible of Microsoft, wouldn't it?