Q&A: Microsoft Releases First Certification Exam for Help-Desk Professionals Supporting Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office

Dan Truax, Director of Business and Product Strategy, Microsoft Learning

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 5, 2004 — Customer satisfaction with products or services is an essential part of every company’s viability in the marketplace. While each part of an organization contributes to delivering a quality outcome, it is essential that the front line of professionals serving customers has the technical knowledge and customer-service skills that make a difference between a positive customer experience and a negative one. There is now a way to prove it.

Microsoft has launched the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) credential. The first of the two examinations required to obtain this new certification went live Jan. 12, with the second scheduled for release today. The MCDST represents the first time Microsoft has offered a certification for the client and desktop professional. It provides a way for industry newcomers to gain the essential knowledge and recognition needed to obtain a job. It also provides an efficient way for IT and hiring managers to bring the competency of help desk staff on the Microsoft Windows desktop environment to a consistent level across the board. This will become an increasingly important factor as the help desk function experiences continued growth. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (see Related Link, right), the need for help-desk professionals will increase by 90 percent through 2010.

Dan Truax , director of business and product strategy at Microsoft, says Microsoft Learning is making it easy for those seeking a career to hone their skills on the desktop and prove their knowledge by taking two exams. PressPass talked with Truax about ways Microsoft customers can achieve the MCDST credential.

PressPass: Why are you offering the MCDST?

Truax: For starters, it will help to address a growing need industry-wide for qualified help-desk professionals. We believe it will provide the most effective way for people to gain the skills and recognition needed in this field. And it provides an efficient way for companies to ensure excellent desktop support to their user communities.

Recent research by the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that a demand gap exists in organizations between the number of support technicians who are needed for Microsoft Windows desktops and the number of skilled individuals available to do the job. The MCDST credential will help employers readily identify qualified individuals to close this gap.

The new credential has been well received by IT managers who face a constant challenge recruiting and training professionals, and who also need to ensure consistent, high-quality help-desk support for knowledge workers using the Microsoft Windows desktop. MCDST is also an excellent qualifier for IT managers who are responsible for managing multiple support-service locations, or who need to ensure their outsourcing provider is well qualified.

This means organizations that have made an investment in Microsoft software can establish a benchmark for hiring support technicians with appropriate knowledge, or who want to invest in professional development through training and certification. Over time this helps to increase the value of the help to the organization.

Press Pass: What can you tell us about the exam?

Truax: As with the well-established certifications for server and network administrators, the new MCDST exams underwent a rigorous development process to capture and test the skills and knowledge required on a daily basis of a help desk professional. Offered by Prometric or VUE, Exam 70-271 addresses the core skills necessary for supporting users and troubleshooting the Windows XP operating system. Its companion Exam 70-272 tests for the skills needed to support and troubleshoot applications running on Windows XP, such as Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer. In addition to the exams, Microsoft offers a wealth of preparation tools and resources, including courses, books, practice tests, and Microsoft websites.

PressPass: Who should pursue MCDST certification?

Truax: The MCDST credential is designed for anyone interested in a career as an IT support professional, and is interested in qualifying their skills early on. This credential is an important baseline in building a career in the IT profession. It’s really going to help anyone coming into the field to gain the core competencies and skills they need to handle any end-user problem or issue.

It’s worth noting that the MCDST certification covers the skills of help-desk technicians, customer-support representatives, PC support specialists, technical-support representatives, and technical-support specialists as defined by the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies Skill Standards for Information Technology and other research worldwide.

PressPass: What are the requirements for taking the MCDST exam? How much does it cost?

Truax: Although no prior relevant professional experience is required, an MCDST candidate should have solid user-level competency with Windows and Office, and the desire to pursue a career as an IT professional. Each of the two exams will cost the same as all other MCP exams, that is US$125 each.

PressPass: How is the MCDST certification different from the Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) certifications?

Truax: The MCDST is an entry-level credential, demonstrating that an individual has gained the core knowledge necessary to troubleshoot hardware or software operation and application problems for end users on the desktop or client-side, based on the Windows desktop operating system.

The MCSA and MCSE credentials, on the other hand, are for professionals who implement, manage, and troubleshoot network and system environments based on the Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 operating systems. These individuals typically do not directly support end users, or troubleshoot desktop or client-side issues as part of their job function. Unlike MCSAs and MCSEs, MCDSTs are not expected to have network administration skills.

The benefit for an organization is that it can certify across the major areas of support for IT — the desktop-support technician, systems administrator, and systems engineer –because Microsoft now offers three key certifications for employees. Individuals have a career path that they can invest in and companies have the assurance that their IT solutions are well designed, maintained and supported across the board.

Press Pass: What is your advice on how IT professionals should get started?

Truax: We advise three simple things for every individual preparing to take an examination:

  • Assess your readiness

  • Pursue the training that is tailored to your specific knowledge needs and learning style.

  • Prepare by practicing. It can be in a lab, classroom, on your own time, or by taking a practice test.

Specifically for MCDST, we recommend that individuals who are in the early stages of their career should visit www.microsoft.com/learning and review the course syllabi and exam prep guides. Depending on the way that you like to learn, you can choose from self-study material offered by local book stores, or find training on Microsoft.com with a Microsoft Certified Partner for Learning Solutions that can provide the expertise and guidance needed to gain the skills.

If you are an experienced help-desk professional, you should review the exam prep guides, make sure you are familiar with the testing process, and locate an exam delivery partner in your area to schedule an exam date.

PressPass: What training options are available to someone pursuing the MCDST credential?

Truax: Over the course of the year, we will be offering comprehensive training materials and resources that let students learn in their own place and in their own way. This will help the support technician assess their skills, prepare by training in a facilitated environment with our Microsoft Certified Partners, or via self-study material like books.

  • The Microsoft Skills Assessments for Microsoft Windows Desktop Operating System to help people set up personalized learning plans will be available late spring.

  • We will also be releasing MCDST Training Kits that offer all-in-one preparation, practice, and review. These kits will provide in-depth, exam-preparation content; reference materials; and trial software.

  • Accelerated training at a Microsoft Certified Partner for Learning Solutions (also known as Microsoft CTECs) uses Microsoft-developed course content and is one of the quickest ways to acquire the skills required for MCP exams. The MCDST exams require no more than five days of classroom training. Part-time courses are also an option. Training materials to reinforce the ability to do everyday tasks properly on the job are approximately 50-percent hands on.

PressPass: How does this certification benefit an entrant to the field or a career changer?

Truax: Let’s start off by pointing out that Microsoft technical certifications are recognized and valued worldwide. With that context, there are at least four main benefits in my mind:

  • Technical credibility — Professionals certified to Microsoft standards enhance their credibility and find it easier to articulate their experience and skills on Microsoft products and solutions. Customers can be assured that a Microsoft Certified Professional is equipped with the knowledge, tools, methodologies, and the technical skills necessary to help make them successful.

  • Job satisfaction — These folks are touching customers every day. Being able to solve technical issues is what they do. Satisfaction of achievement is cool. Achievement enhances someone’s confidence, proficiency, and career viability.

  • Recognition — As a Microsoft Certified Professional a help desk employee obtains membership in an elite community and enjoys the accompanying recognition of achievement and status.

  • Job Opportunities — The credential increases individuals’ credibility and provides a competitive edge when marketing their skills. Microsoft Learning MCDST training and the MCDST credential provide skills enhancement and validation. The MCDST certification also counts as an elective for IT Professionals obtaining an MCSA. The MCDST is a credential that puts those entering into IT on a long term career path.

PressPass: What’s the benefit to hiring managers?

Truax: Hiring managers at medium and large companies, and even small companies, face an ongoing challenge to train and recruit competent staff for the help-desk function. And because technology is progressively changing how people work, these managers must have a way to qualify partners or outsourcing firms to ensure qualified support teams are delivering high quality service capabilities. In most organizations, the help desk is the entry point for people starting off in an IT career. As such, the average turnover for a help-desk employee is 18 months as individual skills increase and they move into more advanced positions such as system or network administration and configuration. The three main benefits include:

  • Simplified recruiting and hiring — Certification reduces the time management spends and the inherent risks in recruiting, hiring, and promotion decisions for help-desk personnel internally and externally, many of whom are new to the IT field. Certification helps qualify and motivate staff members by increasing their self-esteem and sense of achievement. It also provides the IT manager peace of mind knowing that the level of knowledge and service on the team meets a certain baseline.

  • Lower training costs — The goal of certification helps identify training needs of employees and measures the effectiveness of training programs. MCDST is a highly efficient model for designing fundamental IT education and training for a company.

  • Consistent level of ability — Certification helps to ensure consistent levels of IT ability throughout an organization. The MCDST credential provides clear cut evidence to users of an IT organization’s ability to deliver effective Microsoft Windows desktop support.

  • Higher satisfaction — Data from Burlington found that IT organizations with certified individuals realize 14 percent higher satisfaction from their end users

PressPass: How does the MCDST relate to the real world?

Truax: A clear goal from the outset was to ensure that both the curriculum and exams for the MCDST mapped to competencies expected of help desk personnel. Just as software goes through a rigorous testing phase, so do new certification programs. In order to make sure our exam was relevant to real-world activities, we reviewed the exams in depth with both Microsoft Premier Support professionals, as well as with a group of experienced help-desk technicians from organizations across the U.S. This was supplemented by an extensive beta testing program where a wide range of professionals with varying backgrounds and skill levels took the exams and gave us detailed feedback. In addition, we tracked and evaluated the objectives compared to data that Microsoft receives directly from customers.

Press Pass: Does the MCDST credential cover other areas of expertise needed by a support technician like customer service skills?

Truax: Microsoft certifications such as the MCDST are designed to enhance technical application of software. There are complimentary certifications focused on hardware and professional skills in the industry.

Most of the help-desk certifications in the marketplace compliment the MCDST certification because it is a technical credential focused on supporting key technologies on the Windows desktop operating system, specifically Windows XP and Microsoft Office. This exam is targeted at resolving 80 percent of the incident requests that come in from end users running Windows XP Home Edition or Windows XP Professional.

Because soft skills are an important component of a successful help-desk or support professional job role, Microsoft is co-marketing with HDI, a leader in help-desk credentials for customer service and call management. HDI is a global industry leader in help-desk credentials for customer service and call management, and has an excellent reputation in working with Fortune 500 companies. Both Microsoft and HDI want to ensure that customers have access to a complete help-desk certification solution.

Customers pursuing these certifications will have a similar, more efficient experience because exams by Microsoft and HDI are purchased from and delivered by Prometric.

PressPass: The Microsoft Certified Profession program began more than 10 years ago. How has the program been received?

Truax: The MCP program is the most successful such program in the IT industry. More than 2.5 million certifications have been delivered since the program began more than 10 years ago. It has been shown that MCPs perform better at their jobs than non-certified peers and that companies employing MCPs experience a more reliable computing infrastructure. Our community of trained professionals has the knowledge and skills to better support Microsoft technologies.

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