Nearly a decade ago, I spent a year working for LearnKey where we created technical training courses for professionals. These were the early days of steaming video, so we sold most of our courses as DVD sets. Most of our training courses focused on Microsoft and Cisco certifications, although our most popular course was an introductory course for Microsoft Office.
I left LearnKey to work at Microsoft where I managed a group of technicians who support hundreds of internal and external events. We were a traveling IT group setting up computers and networks for tradeshows, conventions, and product launches. While LearnKey introduced me to the certification courses, it wasn’t until I came to Microsoft that certifications were part of the hiring and promotion process.
Back then, the MCSE was king. It was the recognized standard for IT professionals around the globe. Technicians I hired either had earned an MCSE or were working towards one.
This week I had a chance to chat with Veronica Sopher, who works at Microsoft as a PR and Social Media Manager for the Microsoft Learning group. Veronica has been a friend of mine for a number of years, and I was hoping she could shed some light on what’s happening today in the land of Microsoft certifications.
Q & A with Veronica Sopher
StorageCraft: Besides marketing and PR, what other responsibilities do you have with Microsoft Learning?
Sopher: My responsibilities are focused around social media, building community and events. Tech Ready is our largest and most important event where employees can take certification exams while onsite. SQLPass is another of our larger events.
Note: Microsoft TechReady is a semi-annual 5-day internal technical conference for Microsoft employees. Here they learn about products in the pipeline and receive training on current products.
StorageCraft: With the economic changes over the past five years, have you noticed an increase in interest regarding exams and certifications?
Sopher: Internet has been steady. We used to see people choose between an IT or developer track. Today we are seeing more people take a hybrid route incorporating both developer and IT into their training.
StorageCraft: The primary areas of Microsoft certification are Server, Desktop, Applications, Database, and Developer. Which of those areas are you seeing the most interest?
Sopher: It’s very dependent on the local markets. There might be a need for developers on the west coast and a need for DBAs on the east coast. But our most popular area of interest is the MCSA in Windows Server and SQL Server.
StorageCraft: I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of young kids creating apps for smartphones. How do you go about reaching them?
Sopher: Young kids come from school knowing a lot today. Many of the young developers are too cool for certifications or formal training, so we’ve created the Microsoft Virtual Academy. This is free on-demand training, delivered by experts.
Note: Microsoft Virtual Academy would be an excellent training choice if you have employees who are interested in specific areas of training, but they don’t necessarily need a formal certification. The breadth of available training is impressive. IT, developer and knowledge workers are likely to find topics of interest here.
StorageCraft: Are you seeing people transition from careers in teaching or the military into technology?
Sopher: We are seeing a balanced breakdown between those new to technology and those looking to transition to a career in technology. One industry where we are seeing a lot of interest is health care. Project managers in health care are in high demand. We’re also seeing people with project management experience take technical exams so they are better equipped to work with technical teams.
StorageCraft: With so much investment being made in cloud services, are certifications being updated or refined with this in mind?
Sopher: The training is dictated by market conditions, so yes, we are working towards creating training that meets the needs of the market. We recently released two exams: Office 365 and Azure. The Azure is a new specialist exam with either an IT or developer focus.
Microsoft is dead serious about the cloud, and that means they are going to pull out all the stops to entice developers to Azure. That means there’s going to be developer and IT jobs in this area for years to come. If I were jumping into any Microsoft platform, this is where I would focus my efforts. Since Azure is based on Windows Server technology, any server courses will be beneficial.
After speaking with Veronica it’s clear that certifications continue to play an important role in hiring and compensations decisions. Certifications have evolved to serve the demands of the market, and that means providing a more flexible curriculum. Online and on-demand training will continue to grow to reach a segment of the market that has grown up with YouTube and Skype.
If you’re considering becoming Microsoft certified it’s worth your time to survey your local market to determine what skills are in demand. Global Knowledge would be a good starting point. They are the largest provider of IT training and business training, with many locations inside and outside the US.
Photo courtesy of Tatsoft.