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The SharePoint Hillbilly Fewer Big Words... More Pretty Pictures...

How many times can I read a resume listing someone’s Microsoft Certifications, get my hopes up that this person has a clue about SharePoint, call the respondent up on the phone to hear them verbally tout their Microsoft Certifications only to learn they don’t know a damn thing about SharePoint?!!?! It happens ALL the time! I’m completely sick of it and can only come to the conclusion that Microsoft Certifications are completely worthless!!! 

Okay… good.. I feel better for getting that out…  now that you are either pissed at me for saying something you disagree with or cheering because you agree, let’s really discuss what the values of Microsoft Certifications in SharePoint are. 

Also.. I must point out that the views I express are not the views of my company… it’s my rant…

The Problem

The problem, from my experience, is that having a Microsoft Certification does not in any way equal knowing HOW to implement the technology. Many times these people can articulate the technology, throw all the buzz words at you, and say things like “Well.. according to Microsoft..”, BUT when faced with a real world SharePoint scenario they don’t have a CLUE where to begin. Having a certification seems to mean that a person has the ability to read and memorize facts, but not necessarily place them in their correct context or know HOW to do anything useful with the technology. What’s worse, there are sites out there where you can basically find the questions asked for a certification so all you have to do is memorize JUST those questions, and pass!  Ugh… For those of us trying to find SharePoint people who can hit the ground running this is just another hurdle and obstacle we have to overcome…  It gets old…. quickly…

So… is there ANY benefit?

This is where I need input from people smarter than myself. As far as I can see the ONLY benefit to having Microsoft Certifications is that for a company to become a Microsoft Certified Partner, the employees have to carry a certain number of certifications. So, the benefit would be that said company would have better access to Microsoft resources to assist a customer. Which, there IS value and benefit there… but there is no guarantee that the people who hold the certifications know more about SharePoint than Sally down the hall who is the Site Owner for your Marketing Department. In fact, there is a good chance Sally knows more because she lives in it every day…

Well… okay then.. what about MCM??

Ahhh… MCM (Microsoft Certified Master)… As worthless as Certifications are is how WORTHWHILE MCM appears to be.  I say “appears” because I am NOT an MCM and the MCMs I do know have always been impressive in their skills. The ONLY problem with MCM is that it’s the other extreme! It’s thousands of dollars and you have to devote, what, a month of your life to living in Seattle to train and pass the tests??

First off… the whole process sounds pretty awesome, but I already work 12 –14 hours a day more days a week than I should.  How can I afford the time or money for MCM training? Plus, I’m not entirely sure I’m smart enough. 

Also, look at the prerequisites for MCM SharePoint Server 2010 :

1.A thorough understanding of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 design and architecture.

2.A thorough understanding of Microsoft ASP.NET, Windows Server, Internet Information Services, and other core technologies upon which SharePoint Products and Technologies depend.

3.The ability to speak, understand, and write in fluent English.

4.The following experience:

  • Hands-on experience via early adoption programs with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010: installing, configuring, troubleshooting, and custom development
  • Three or more years of hands-on experience with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007: installing, configuring, troubleshooting, and custom development

5.Candidates must have passed the following exams prior to applying to the program:

  • Exam 70-573: TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Application Development
  • Exam 70-576: PRO: Designing and Developing Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Applications
  • Exam 70-667: TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuring
  • Exam 70-668: PRO: SharePoint 2010, Administrator

Did you see those last prerequisites? You have to have Certifications… So… the value of Certifications is that they allow your company to become a Microsoft Certified Partner AND they are needed to enroll in the MCM Program?  But it STILL doesn’t mean you KNOW anything!?!?

    Okay… so.. stop whining and come up with a solution

    Despite all my ranting… I do conceptually see the value of Microsoft Certifications, and I DO think from a conceptual standpoint they are worthwhile… but how can things be changed so that if a person has a certifications it actually MEANS something? How can we make it a REAL checkmark on a set of requirements to know that if a person has a certification then they DO have some value other than making sure we have “X” certified employees.

    Well.. I have no solution. I have some ideas, but don’t know how to implement them… which is good, because I’m a nobody anyway… Smile

    But what about adding a couple options for prerequisites (lesser than the MCM) before you can take a test for a Microsoft Certification, like:

    Documented Real World Experience

    Let’s face it… 85% of what you actually do in SharePoint is not what you read in books or was taught in a class. It’s the other stuff you fight with day in and day out that your book didn’t mention because it seems like sometimes the exceptions are the norms in SharePoint. (nice run on sentence there Rackley) So, who cares if you “memorized” the norms! How about you have to have documented 6 months experience with the technology you are getting certified for? 6 months is not THAT long, and it’s long enough to get your hands dirty in the real world.

    Or…

    Certified Training Course

    So, just not patient enough to wait 6 months working with SharePoint in the real world? How about Microsoft and some training companies like MindSharp and Critical Path spend some time together to come up with a “Microsoft Certification Accredited Course” and in order to take a test for certification you had to pass this course with a proficiency?  It could be a week long course and come out with some value there. 

    Why don’t we just change the Certification Test??

    I am NOT suggesting Microsoft revamp everything and start over. That’s not practical with certain structures in place like the MCM prerequisites. I’m not suggesting that the TESTS have to change at all… Just put up a few prerequisites before you can have a certification so that they have SOME meaning.

    Summary

    Again, my points concerning Microsoft Certifications are:
    1. Having a certification does not mean a person knows how to use the technology
    2. It’s too easy to memorize the questions / answers and pass the tests
    3. They have value for Microsoft Certified Partner status and as prerequisites for MCM training.
    4. Something needs to be done so that having a certification means SOMETHING about a person’s knowledge and skill.
    5. Maybe with the addition of some simple prerequisites for the certification process things can be greatly improved:

a. 6 months documented real world experience or…

b. Accredited training courses

6. I’m not suggesting the entire process needs to be revamped, just do something to ensure it has some meaning!

I realize some people may strongly disagree with me, and I would LOVE to hear some FACTS that would bring more light to the subject. This blog is based on MY experiences and on experiences others have had as well… These experiences are real… and so is my frustration with the process…

My most excellent buddy Dan Usher (@usher) did a post from a different context and more optimistic point of view as well.. great insights.. check it out at: http://www.sharepointdan.com/?p=685

Posted on Saturday, May 14, 2011 10:50 PM | Back to top


Comments on this post: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Very good points! since I'm doing the exams, I decided to share my pov as well: http://share1point.com/2011/05/mcms-and-marathons/
Left by Stephen Cummins on May 15, 2011 9:24 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Well I am not sure that I agree, certs are good to show you have a knowledge of SharePoint, the understanding of SharePoint comes from talking to someone. There isn't any type of certification that is going to change that fact wherever it comes from, maybe MCM is the only answer but then it's usually reserved for those that have a rediculous knowledge and understanding of SharePoint.
Left by Matthew Hughes on May 15, 2011 12:28 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I understand your passion and the challenges you are trying to address, but I think your blame is missplaced.

Many firms use college degrees and industry certifications as a means to filter resumes. Some see this as an effective measure of a candidate's willingness to apply themselves and proof of their exposure to a set of concepts.

A college degree serves as proof that a candidate has been exposed to a set of ideas.

Nobody in their right mind would hire someone simply because they possess a college degree. It's up to you to interview the candidate to determine if they have ever applied those ideas, if they retained concepts, how well they understand those ideas, and if you think they could learn on the job while employed at your company. I could find an outstanding employee with no college degree just as I could find a worthless employee with many degrees, but a college degree is not worthless.

Just as with a college degree, certifications are proof that someone has been exposed to a set of ideas. You wouldn't hire someone simply because they possess a Microsoft certification, not even an MCM. You would interview a candidate and compare them against your current employees and other candidates to pick the one that is the right fit for you. I could find an outstanding employee with no certifications, just the same as I could find a worthless employee with many certifications. This does not make certifications worthless.

If ever there were a job whose sole requirements for employment were a Microsoft certification, I'd think twice about working there.
Left by Kirk Evans on May 15, 2011 1:02 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Excellent points and I see what you are saying, but at least with a college degree you know someone stuck it out for 4 years... with a Microsoft Certification, they could have spent 1/2 a day memorizing the questions on the test...

So... maybe the fault is my own for thinking that a Microsoft Certification should have some meaning other than "I read and understood a book."?

I guess that make sense, but what's really the point then? ESPECIALLY with a technology like SharePoint where the real world often does not reflect what you read.

When all is said and done, I guess there's no replacement for due-diligence when interviewing candidates... Weeding out the posers is just wasting so much of my time!!

Thanks again for the comments... it does change my perspective somewhat...


Left by Mark on May 15, 2011 2:21 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I agree certifications don't equal experience. Even the MCM doesn't represent the variety in rich experience the candidates bring with them to the training. Each MCM I've met has lot's of experience in areas I don't.
I feel your frustration, but I agree with Kirk it may be misplaced.
Is it really the certs that are the problem or the fact that there aren't enough qualified candidates for SharePoint positions? From my point of view, certs are just a value add on a resume, but I still look for them. If you've got an experienced SharePoint candidate, why shouldn't they be certified? All partners need the certs and they do show the candidate has taken the time to take the exam and think about SharePoint topics, if nothing else.
Left by Tom Resing on May 15, 2011 2:53 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I agree that degrees and certifications only real merit is that they demonstrate someone has made an explicit investment in improving themselves. The attitude of *learning for life* and a willingness to work hard are the biggest predictors of success.

As someone who put in the brutally hard work, time and money to attain the MCM, I have to admit that all the current Micrsoft certifications are seriously flawed. The purely exam based certifications do not prove enough, and the MCM goes much too far. The MCM is simply not going to scale with its current design, and sets the bar too high for a broader industry adoption.

Companies don't want a Top 1% kind of certification (or at least they are not willing to pay for it), they want a Top 20% certification. Something that requires some real experience and hard work to attain it, but is in reach for the wide array of hard working and talented professionals working at companies large and small.
Left by Chris Beckett on May 15, 2011 10:20 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Personally, I don't have any certifications, but feel that experience is what rings true for SharePoint. If I were looking at two resumes, and one person had 8+ years experience as a SharePoint Administrator or Developer, and the other person had a developer cert and an admin cert, with no experience, or even 1-2 years of experience...I'd lean towards the person with just the experience. Just sayin'...that's my two cents anyway.
Left by Erich O'Donnell on May 16, 2011 9:27 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Thanks again for the comments and feedback.. I'd just like to add one final thought... If the point of Microsoft Certifications in SharePoint is just to make sure someone has some "base" academic knowledge, I find that an even BIGGER problem in SharePoint... That base academic knowledge creates statements like "SharePoint Development means Visual Studio", and "You can't do that in SharePoint" and many other black and white statements when in reality SharePoint is MANY shades of gray... And of COURSE the correct answer is always "It Depends"...

Again.. I really do greatly appreciate the thoughts and insights...

Maybe the Certification process is fine, but doesn't translate to SharePoint because it is such a massive beast? Microsoft created this juggernaut that we love and hate... I, like Chris mentioned, would LOVE to have some way to quickly identify those that are in the top 20%...
Left by Mark on May 16, 2011 9:52 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Hear here!! It's just a load of window dressing crap to get companies' partnership status increased. I've had the same problems you have. And in fact, the people with all certifications and no real world experience seem to mess up the platform more rather than fix it.

Being someone looking for staff now, the first thing I look for is 2 - 3 years+ *onsite, full time* experience. I could care less about those pieces of paper.

Outstanding post Mark - as usual, you call it like it is! Good job.
Left by Veronique Palmer on May 16, 2011 10:15 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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PS : You need a LIKE button for your blogs, I wanted to LIKE it! :-)
Left by Veronique Palmer on May 16, 2011 10:17 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Great points. I agree with you but some points. Depending on thinking, on expectation to take Microsoft Certification namely SharePoint 2010. For instance, may I want to take SharePoint certification because I want to check my knowledge but someone wants to take exam because he/she want it so that they can join good company. However, for case #2, it's very dangerous.

For my points, I think the Microsoft certifications is strategies of Microsoft. Imagine that you are director of Microsoft education training academy. You mus register Microsoft with fixed-price. And you must consider Microsoft Learning Course and book them. You will consider registration of Microsoft partner so that leveraging your brand. In fact, Microsoft will get a huge benefit from Microsoft education training academy, from Microsoft Partner program, Microsoft Learning Course. In addition, Microsoft also gets benefit from Testing Center, such as Prometric. Many many benefit from Microsoft certification. What I'm mentioning in Microsoft. Microsoft need not to know MCITP, MCAD, MCDP...not require..they just need to know what they gain..a huge benefit.

Anyway, I agree about your points..it's great..
Left by Thuan Soldier on May 16, 2011 10:52 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I have been monitoring this post and the comments since it came out and have thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. I thought it was about time to add some additional perspective.

I agree with the original analysis that the certs basically just give a company a way to up their partner level. I do not think that they are good for making hiring decisions...usually not even as a resume filter in my opinion.

However, for some people (those who are truly passionate about SharePoint), it is also a way to reinforce and, in some cases, demonstrate that passion. It is not a perfect way to reinforce your passion...or even a good way. But it is a way. If you really study (don't look up answers to exam questions on the internet) it can be a "fun" way for people like me (passionate about SharePoint) to learn a few new things and reinforce my love of the technology. I am always looking for new ways to learn and sometimes studying for a cert can be a fun way to learn a few new things.
Left by Doug Hemminger on May 16, 2011 12:51 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Here is an out there idea.

Microsoft could pay the SharePoint MVPs to interview people before they get the certification tick. Weeding out the dumpers. Of course those wanting to be certified would need to pay MS so they recoup costs.

This has the added benefit of certified people needing to be involved in the community.
Left by Travis W on May 16, 2011 7:58 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Glad someone else has came out and said this publicly, agree completely. They have their place, sure, but we shouldn't confuse that with the benchmark for product knowledge.
Left by Shaun O"Callaghan on May 29, 2011 2:25 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Yes! I agree 100%! My experience so far has come from the other side in some ways. Where I work, I was required to get my MCSA in server 2003 and yet, I rarely use those skills in what I do for the most part. Some places really seem to push having some certification and yet they would ask questions that make no sense when polling your knowledge of SharePoint. Sign me up!
Left by Dan on May 29, 2011 4:16 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I agree to an extent. I can view certifications from 2 standpoints:

1. Being certified
I wear my certifications with pride, I studied for them, worked hard to pass them and would hope that people look at them and say; he must know something. To say that they don't really mean I know anything about the product would be a bit harsh.

However !!!

2. Being an employer
I never employ anyone just on their certifications, they have to have experience and you have to interview them.
This is the point where I agree with you, you need experience as well as the certification in my opinion without the two you will have no real world experience and therefore no idea how to implement the software.

Hope that all makes sense and a great thought provoking post by the way.
Left by Alan Richards on May 29, 2011 4:30 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I can come from a similar standpoint as Alan, although not an employer I do know that I wasnt hired just because of my certs. I also wear my certifications with pride, I am extremely happy that I could walk in for all the SharePoint Admin certs without having to study because of my real world knowledge.

On the other hand I did study hard when I went for one of the development ones and I passed, but I myself would not really consider myself a SharePoint developer (at this point) and as such I do not do anything that requires VS. It did give me a better understanding of capabilities though when I did study for that exam.

I do think Microsoft should raise score required to pass an exam and do a better job if possible of catching all the question dumps that exist out there, or rotate out questions, its not like the product is small, there are hundreds of questions they could ask.
Left by Cory Williams on May 29, 2011 9:09 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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We (Combined Knowledge) already developed such mid level qualifications back in SharePoint 2007 and also for SharePoint 2010 for Microsoft New Zealand and it's Elite partner program. We wrote practical exams for IT Pros and Devs plus an IW end user exam but the two technical exams take 8 hours and the students have practical scenarios to complete. Unfortunately it is not that easy to get all Microsoft to follow NZ and for this to become global accepted it really needs the backing of MS in my opinion. With our world education alliance of which Combined Knowledge and Mindsharp are the primary partners we have the means to deliver it globaly and I think there is a need for this qualification tier but we really need MS to be involved to give us a stamp of approval plus it is not cheap to run and so there will be a cost involved, probably aligned with our advanced training courses to make it worthwhile for all involved and maintain the qualifications integrity.

Steve Smith
Owner
Combined Knowledge
Left by Steve Smith on May 29, 2011 10:20 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I agree totally with you, Mark. Certifications are good to boost one's resume, but doe not necessarily justify the individual that they have a working knowledge of the subject. Standardized testing is a farce in my book. Many people can test well, expecially when it is based on a multiple-choice system. Easy just pick the best answer! You usually have a 25% chance of getting it correct. Not alone, Microsoft offers you multiple chances to take the same test.

Quick question: What do you call a Med student who passes all his classes with a D- average? Anyone? Bueller?

Answer: You call him a Doctor!

I've known many a gent who couldn't read to save their lives, but they could strip an engine block down to the rocker arms and piston rings and put it back together blindfolded.

In my opinion, being able to pass a test does not constitute having a working knowledge of what you read. It simply means that you have a very keen aptitude for memorization and logic.

SPMan07
Left by Jay Brandon on May 30, 2011 8:24 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Mark,

I'm biased here based on my copmany that does SharePoint training. You know that, but I'd like to clarify for any other readers.

This problem is exactly the reason why USPJA wanted to provide a college type degree for SharePoint. Although we aren't accredited yet, we apply the same principles to our degrees and certifications as are mandated by the accreditation standards.

This means that in order for a student to get a 'stamp of approval' from us, we need to personally review that student's merits, including the training they receive at USPJA.

This is closer to the 'college' option you mentioned earlier. As you say, if nothing else, it proves that someone dedicated enough time to pass the program, but the value you place in that program depends greatly on how you perceive the integrity, methods, faculty, and content of a particular institution.

For example, you can be fairly certain that someone graduation with honors from Harvard Law will likely be a very good candidate, simply because the institution carries an aura of integrity and reputation. At the same time, someone from 'ACME School of Law and Knitwork' may not carry the same reputation, despite their titles being exactly the same.

Microsoft's problem is in being dependent on their own success. Thus, it makes sense to 'graduate' as many students as possible because that increases the success of SharePoint and thus their revenue. They don't make money on certifications, at least nothing worthwhile, so they have no incentive to care about the integrity of the program. More candidates mean more sales of the product.

It boils down to the reputation and integrity of the certification provider, not whether someone carries a certification or particular title.

As a shameless plug, here is the description of one of our degree programs, the Certified SharePoint Developer.

http://www.uspja.com/studying-at-uspja/programs-and-courses/sharepoint-certifications/certified-sharepoint-developer

As you can see, the program requires at least 30 credit weeks of study, with personal supervision from multiple faculty members in order to get those credits. There aren't even exams to pass; we need to personally review each candidate before we grant any credits or degrees.

We certainly hope to build and maintain the reputation for integrity and quality to such an extent that you or anyone else would trust us in the same way you would trust a candidate from Harvard or a similar prestigeous institution.

Sadly, though, that means we can't churn out candidates for your consumption.

.b
Left by Bjørn on May 30, 2011 8:47 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Ok how about a compromise. I agree the MCM is extreme. The USPJA is a great start if we want a SharePoint University. But what about this idea.

The certifications are only as good as the integrity of the exam and the testing center. What if we have an MCT test a candidate? Because you can't stop the brain dumps, you eliminate the source of the problem, the tests themselves. No question could ever be reused. Every candidate would be tested the same but never with the same questions. You essentially shift the responsibilty from the test to the tester. That's what college is all about. Those exams are created by teaching professionals and are hardly ever reused. Now how we do it, you'll need to think about it.

Great points, Mark.
Left by Brian Bedard on May 30, 2011 9:41 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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Hey Bjorn,
Mark hired me because of the skills I've learned at USPJA. Keep up the good work! What I've gained while attending is far more valuable than any certification I possess, which is a fair amount of them...
Left by Matt Bramer on May 31, 2011 2:19 AM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I disagree that Microsoft have no motivation to improve exam quality.
Raising the bar and making the certifications more difficult to attain would allow employers to identify competent individuals and improve confidence in the product and its field readiness.

In it's current format (a set number of multiple choice questions in apparently the same order every time), the questions will always leak somehow and people will cheat. For that reason, I don't think it should ever be used by employers as a filtering mechanism and Microsoft should consider an alternative means of assessment for the MCTS / MCITP exams (the MCS exams use a simulation, albeit the concept needs some polish). I feel that at the very least there should be a larger pool of questions and they should be presented in a random order.

However, I think it's also worth considering the test takers perspective (as opposed to a prospective employer).

As an individual specialising in SharePoint I can't see any reason why anyone WOULDN'T want to get certified in order to establish a baseline level of knowledge. Personally, the certifications motivate me to learn about product areas that I am not frequently exposed to whilst in my day job. The fact that a couple of certifications on my CV occasionally ticks a box is a bonus.

Just my $0.02.

Left by Benjamin Athawes on Jun 01, 2011 3:23 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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As someone who is looking to increase her SharePoint skills and get a job that incorporates them, I use the certification training (books, articles, etc) as a guideline of what is needed to succeed. It's nice to have that certificate, but mostly I want it as proof that I know how to use it.
Left by tek on Jun 29, 2011 4:06 PM

# re: The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint???
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I understand what you guys mean about the crammers who got the exam and dont really use the technology. What I dont understand is the people saying that they would not hire someone without industry experiance, If people like you are not hiring people without industry experience and the certs, and or degrees dont men nothing to you, than how can they ever get a job?

P.s
You do need a like button but I copied the link and posted the article on my Facebook page anyway.
Left by Gregory B on Mar 08, 2012 11:27 PM

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