In a lengthy, fascinating, but still embargoed discussion with learning staff from a major vendor’s certification program yesterday, I found myself considering how good certification program design often follows a modular, building-block approach. Because Microsoft is NOT the vendor with whom I spoke, I can (and will) use their program as an example:
- the various Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) credentials all require taking one specific exam (which makes it a partial equivalent to the old MCP, or Microsoft Certified Professional credential)
- earning any of the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) credentials require multiple exams (and hence also, multiple MCTS certficiations) to qualify
- all five of the various Microsoft Certified Master credentials require multiple MCTS exams (which sometimes add up to MCITP credentials, and sometimes not), and some even hearken back to MCSE
Why do I call this a good design? Because it permits IT professionals to earn credentials sooner, while tracking the path to a more senior credential they may earn later. This lets individuals prepare themselves for more substantial credentials by earning “building block” elements. It lets companies and organizations deliberately foster staff development through total or partial funding and support for credentials. And it gives more junior staff members pursuing a “block at a time” path to more senior certs and responsibilities tangible signs of progress along the way.
I submit that all of these things are good for individuals and those who hire them, and not coincidentally, also good for Microsoft (and other vendors or sponsor organizations who implement similar approaches to certification program design). Sometimes, a the notion of a “certification ladder” (a progression of credentials where individuals advance methodically and deliberately from one to another, as when climbing up the rungs of real ladder) is more metaphorical than actual. But when this kind of cert program design is followed, it’s pretty actual — and easy to follow — as well!