Showcasing Developer Skills

Microsoft's new generation of developer credentials provides a focused path to certifying skill sets.

[@microsoft.com is an occasional, vendor-written series featuring Microsoft's own program managers and directors on topics of interest to Microsoft Certified Professionals. -- Editors]

If you ask a professional baseball player what he does for a living, you are more likely to get an answer like "I play third base for the Cleveland Indians” than "I'm a professional baseball player.”

For developers, certifications have been much more like the "professional baseball player” response. Your certification proves you are a skilled developer, but you have to elaborate about exactly what kind of developer you are.

The new generation of Microsoft developer certifications changes all that.

Microsoft Corp. now offers developers two series of certification that verify specific skills and clearly communicates the area of proficiency.

A Holistic Approach
The new developer credentials are a result of extensive research conducted by Microsoft to fully define the larger process of certification. It defines what it means to be proficient in a specific job or task, leads to a learning path to gain that proficiency, and creates rigorous and relevant exams delivered through standardized testing.

This holistic approach to certification drove the development of the latest generation of certifications for developers. Beginning with job analysis research to identify the tasks people perform daily and what they believe is most important in their professional life, a unified skills domain was created that defined those responsibilities in detail to help develop role-focused curricula.

Based on the job analysis research, Microsoft developer certifications were redesigned to provide an exacting, focused framework for managers to validate core skills. The certifications reflect the varied career landscapes for developers and support their needs wherever they are in their careers.

Two Series of Skills-Specific Programs
The two new series of certification programs provide a more relevant and skills-specific way to test and validate developer proficiencies.

The first series is the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), which requires candidates to demonstrate their developer skill sets on specific Microsoft technologies. For experienced developers, the Technology Series helps distinguish areas of specialization and achievement.

These are the MCTS developer credentials:

  • Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Web Applications
  • Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Windows Applications
  • Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 2.0 Distributed Applications

The second series is the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) designed for experienced professionals. These credentials are tied to job roles at an organization and test a candidate's professional skills within the context of using the technology.

These are the Microsoft Certified Professional credentials:

  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Web Developer
  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Windows Developer
  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Enterprise Applications Developer

Multiple Learning Methods
To prepare for the new certification exams, Microsoft offers a broader array of learning products to meet the ways people need -- and want -- to learn. After taking an assessment exam, individuals receive personalized learning plans, which offer different products to meet different learning styles and at the same time ensure that the technical content across the product portfolio aligns with each of the objectives covered in the exams. A plan can include different forms of classroom training, such as workshops, clinics and hand-on labs; several methods of online training such as premium e-learning courses, virtual labs and e-reference titles; and additional reading, study and reference materials, such as Microsoft Press books and white papers.

Program Enhancements
In the past, developers were required to choose the programming language they wanted to be tested in at the time they registered for the exam. With the new certifications, they now choose the language at the time they take the test, allowing the choice to be made after the learning process instead of before.

Another new option available across all Microsoft certifications is Microsoft Exam Insurance. With Exam Insurance, you get two chances to pass your certification exam if needed. If you pass on the initial exam, you receive a 25 percent discount on any future Microsoft Certification exams..

Microsoft's new generation of developer certifications measures the true ability of developers to apply knowledge and skills. The program provides a valuable yardstick by which individuals can prove their value and hiring managers can better assess a candidate's qualifications.

The Value of Certification
New data supports the value that certification has to individuals and organizations alike. Managers prefer hiring people who are certified because those people have proven themselves to be more skilled, more productive, and frequently more motivated and eager to learn. They also improve an organization's performance.

Recently, IDC surveyed the organizational performance of 1,200 IT teams to examine the relationship of team performance to the percentage of each team certified by Microsoft on a variety of technologies. Its published study (sponsored by Microsoft) reported that as a measure of skill, Microsoft certification had a direct and positive correlation to team performance improvement.

The IDC study found the following:

  • Sixty-six percent of managers believe that certifications improve the level of service and support offered to IT end users and customers.
  • Seventy-five percent of managers believe that certifications are important to team performance.

For traditional application development, database development or Web application development teams, the organization is more likely to perform in the top tier when between 40 percent and 50 percent of the team is certified.
Team performance increases every time a new team member is certified.
When the concentration of Microsoft certified members on a team increases, it directly improves team performance.

Top performing teams on average are shown to have between 40 percent and 55 percent certified Microsoft members who are trained on relevant Microsoft technologies and processes.

More than general excellence (e.g. "agility” or "IT efficiency”), the study found that functional excellence, such as application development, was what most IT managers strive for. It also confirmed that team performance had a direct correlation to the number of its members that were certified. In fact, having a sufficient number of team members certified can increase IT organizational performance by an average of 11 percent.

A Personal Barometer
In addition to quantifying a developer's skills, certification is also a good barometer of a person's motivation and drive. The rigorous process to become certified demonstrates a level of commitment on the part of the individual that sets him or her apart from non-certified peers. It is a clear indicator about the individual's drive to succeed, because certification involves a high level of personal commitment in preparation for what can be a multiple-exam process.

People pursue certifications to enhance long-term career prospects, improve their development knowledge and skills, and distinguish themselves from their peers. For many, it's also a way to expose themselves to new ideas and technologies, as well as innovative solutions.

Developing and Showcasing Skills
Certification is a proven method for developers to demonstrate skills, knowledge and motivation levels that differentiate them from their peers. It aids managers in assessing individuals within their organizations and new-hire candidates by providing a recognized, standardized benchmark. And, certification delivers a documented way to significantly increase overall organizational performance.

To learn more about the value of certification to IT organizations, download the IDC report at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/benefits/whyhire.mspx.

About the Author

Keith Loeber is group product manager for Microsoft Learning's certification group. For more information on Microsoft Learning's developer certification programs, visit http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/mcpd.

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