He Shoots, He Scores

How we're being tested—now and in the future.

Your dear Auntie was woolgathering the other day when Fabio’s dulcet tones intruded on my reverie. “You never listen to a thing I say,” he complained. I was quick to protest, of course. Perhaps I don’t hear every word, but I certainly got the gist of the fabulous one’s complaint, to wit: that I wasn’t doing a very good job of meeting my deadlines, and if I didn’t get busy, the gravy train was going to pull out of the station without me.

But naturally, the precious boy was right. A quick glance at my task list showed a river of red, and this column was at the top of the list. Fortunately, the topic was ready-made: The folks in Redmond never listen to us, do they? Surely I could rant (I mean, opine) about that for 700 words or more.

There’s only one problem with that theory: They do, in fact, listen to all of us on occasion. Take the case of the MCP score reports. In the olden days, exam score reports showed your strong areas and gave you an overall grade. But, if you took any certification exams in 2002 or early 2003, you might have been a bit shocked at the lack of detail on your score report. Gone were the area-by-area bar graph and the numeric score. Instead, there was only one piece of information: if you passed or failed.

MCPs everywhere howled about these changes. Some pointed out that knowing one’s own weaknesses would lead to intense study in those areas and consequently increase the pool of MCP knowledge. Others speculated darkly about whether Microsoft was even bothering to be honest about the pass ratios. How could we know whether the scores were based on our own actions if there were no details? Very few people had anything good to say about the pass/fail scoring.

Well, somehow, the howls got to the right person at Microsoft. Starting with the Windows Server 2003 exams, score reports include a numeric score and a bar graph with each bar running from “needs development” to “strong.” (Isn’t “weak” the opposite of “strong”? Or is that politically incorrect these days?)

Microsoft says this is a new score report, redesigned on the basis of customer feedback, but it looks a whole lot like the old score report. Perhaps they think we’ve forgotten.

Still, nice as this move is from our point of view, one can’t help wondering whether Microsoft thought it through. Now that we know our howls can bring about change, what else might the Microsoft Learning folks (formerly known as Training & Certification) be forced to change? Imagine the scene in their offices in another year or two…

A junior manager slams the cracked-open door and pushes a desk in front of it: “It’s getting ugly out there. They’ve surrounded the building and are threatening to cut the fiber-optic lines, leaving us with only dial-up!”

A senior manager, head in hands: “What do they want? We’ve given them $10 certification exams. We’ve given them open book exams. We’ve handed out exam vouchers like candy, let people invent their own titles and gotten rid of all the hard questions. If you get the Microsoft Certified Systems Guru credential, Bill Gates comes over and personally washes the windows on your car! We’ll be the laughingstock of the certification world if this keeps up!”

A rock flies through the window with a note attached.

The junior manager reads: “They want us to count their high school GPA toward certification. A 2.0 gets an automatic MCP; a 3.0, an automatic MCSE.”

The senior manager, in resignation: “Offer them a 2.4 and a 3.4. We need to keep some standards.”

Uh-oh. Fabio says I’ve been woolgathering again. Doesn’t he understand that this goofy smile comes from thinking about the future of certification? I’m working, darn it! And with that thought, I’ll leave you to apply your own pressure to Microsoft.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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