Microsoft to Maintain NT 4.0 Certification

To the relief of many IT professionals, Microsoft has reversed an earlier decision to retire Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certifications for Windows NT 4.0 at the end of the year.

To the relief of many IT professionals, Microsoft Corp. has reversed an earlier decision to retire Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certifications for Windows NT 4.0 at the end of this year. Based on customer feedback, the Redmond, Wash., company last week announced a plan to simultaneously recognize multiple, distinct versions of all MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) credentials and is also introducing a new credential, the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, targeting IT administrators.

The decision to maintain various flavors of the MCSE hinges on slower than expected migration to Windows 2000 along with customer feedback that indicates Windows NT 4.0 isnt going away anytime soon in the corporate world. "Many candidates as well as their employers expressed concerns with the MCP programs continuing certification policy," Microsoft officials said in a statement. "They have clearly indicated that they manage heterogeneous IT environments and therefore need to identify skills on current as well as previous versions of the Windows platform."

The company has historically retired certifications based on older versions of products. The recent change in policy indicates that IT environments have become too complex to allow Microsoft to predict appropriate timing for such retirements. In the future, the MCP program will recognize credentials as long as the market demand for them exists, Microsoft officials said. MCSE NT 4.0 certifications will be supported indefinitely, and the formal designation of MCSEs in Windows 2000 will serve to differentiate that particular track.

The move is something of a relief for many MCSE certification holders, such as Amy Jones, an IT manager at the National Retail Federation, in Washington. Jones spent nine months studying for MCSE NT 4.0 certification and had even taken two required tests, Networking Essentials and Windows NT Workstation, by the time Microsoft decided in 1999 that it would retire the certification. Like many, Jones felt the action undermined the time, hard work and money—certification expenses can cost from $7,000 to $10,000 for classes, learning material and tests--spent by those seeking certification.

"You do all that work and studying and take classes and a lot of people spend a lot of money, and [Microsoft] just cut it off," she said. "It doesnt mean anything." An MCSE Windows 2000 certification would still come in handy for Jones, seeing as the National Retail Federation is in the midst of a migration to Windows 2000 that should be complete by March. But because of Microsofts original planned decertification of MCSE NT 4.0, Jones had soured on certifications in general. "They expired [the MCSE NT 4.0 certification] before I could get all my tests, which made me really hesitant to start the 2000 track," she said.

On the other hand, the move is a ho-hum to plenty of IT managers. At The Boeing Co., theres plenty of expertise found in-house without having to worry about external verification of skills. "In companies like Boeing, we deliver our own expertise," said Jerry Bunce, head of Boeings IT K to PhD Education Relations, in Seattle.

"When Microsoft decertifies, we generally have enough expertise in-house to exist until we decide to upgrade."

And there are even some IT managers who look upon certifications as a waste of money.

Thats the case for Brett Arquette, chief technology officer for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Orange and Osceola Counties, in Orlando, and an eWEEK contributing editor. "I look at the MCSE as more of a liability than something Id pursue in new hires," Arquette said. "If I have a choice between hiring someone with four years of hard-core, hands-on NT support, or someone with little experience but they have an MCSE, Id hire the person with experience. The MCSE is only important to people looking for work, and from a hiring perspective, they generally want more money if they have the MCSE."