REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 4, 2005 – The launch next week of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk 2006 ushers in a new era of Microsoft Learning programs. While the products are just being announced next week, Microsoft Learning has been working closely with the product development teams and its network of Certified Partners for Learning Solutions to have a new generation of learning and certification programs launched simultaneously with the product – a significant increase in integration between product and learning.
The changes are part of the Microsoft Learning “customer readiness promise” to provide the right level and mix of knowledge resources directly aligned with Microsoft technology lifecycles, supporting its customers and partners from the beta stages through the design, building, deployment and management phases. The role of Microsoft Learning is to have the right training and certification programs in alignment with Microsoft technologies, ensuring companies have the right level of expertise in place so they can adopt new technologies as soon as they become available. The new certification program provides valuable training and credentials for IT professionals and developers. The first of the new certifications include the following:
For SQL Server 2005:
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist for SQL Server 2005
Microsoft Certified IT Professional Database Administrator
Microsoft Certified IT Professional Database Developer
Microsoft Certified IT Professional Business Intelligence Developer
For Visual Studio 2005:
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist .NET Framework 2.0 Web Applications
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist .Net Framework 2.0 Windows Applications
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist .NET Framework 2.0 Distributed Applications, Web Applications and Windows Applications
Microsoft Certified Professional Developer Web Developer
Microsoft Certified Professional Developer Windows Developer
Microsoft Certified Professional Developer Enterprise Application Developer
“There’s a big, big difference [in integration],” says Dandy Weyn, a Microsoft Certified Trainer and SQL Server Technologist based in Belgium. His company, Dandyman, provides IT solutions and training all over the world. “I’ve been doing SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 sessions since October of last year. There has been a lot of technical and non-technical briefings, so from a training and partner readiness point of view, this is exceptional. I’ve also been teaching 70 people a week for the last five or six weeks at Microsoft’s ISV Touchdown events. Most of these people are really excited about the new features of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005.”
“It’s very well integrated,” says John Paul Cook, database and systems architect for Chicago-based Microsoft Nationally Managed and Gold Certified Partner Software Architects, Inc. “Microsoft Learning had those early courses out late last year on new SQL Server 2005 features for existing database administrators and another one for existing developers as well as one for Visual Studio. Those three courses are close to being a year old, so the training’s been there early on.”
“In previous product launches, they were behind in providing training,” says Rob Labbé, lead architect and Microsoft Certified Trainer for Fidelis IT, Inc., based in St. Johns, Newfoundland. “This time around, the courses and certifications are much better synched up with the product. It was months after Visual Studio 2003 that we saw courses linked to it. I had already been working with .NET for a year before the coursework came out. This time around we’ll have all the coursework, which is a really great turnaround. It helps my consulting business when I talk to my clients I can say ‘Yes, I can develop the product and there’s training for your staff as well.’ Even press books are ready now. That’s a huge improvement on any certifications for any product.”
Multiple Learning Methods
The new certifications reflect the broader, more interdependent nature of IT as well as the changes that have taken place in the way people need — and want — to learn. Individuals receive personalized ”blended learning” plans, which combine different learning styles, and at the same time ensure that the technical content is optimally aligned with the technology product lifecycle. A plan can include different forms of classroom training, such as workshops, clinics and hand-on labs, several methods of online training like premium e-learning courses, virtual labs, e-reference titles, and additional reading, studying and reference materials, like MS Press books and white papers.
“Microsoft Learning is delivering their courses through multiple avenues now,” Cook says. “These courses were originally delivered by training centers and they still are, but they also are delivered via e-learning and by partners, like us, as a part of landing business. Sometimes you’re developing a system that the existing staff will maintain. In that situation, the client often wants you to take care of training or mentoring, or both, of their people so when you walk out it’s a seamless transition. That’s a big deal to be able to say, ‘We’ll make sure you’re up to speed and on the same page as us.’ That can be very valuable.”
Workshops are a new learning format that offers lab-intensive, scenario-based sessions for experienced IT professionals who want a more self-guided learning environment built around scenarios and troubleshooting in hands-on labs and analysis of best practices.
“The new workshops have about 15 percent lecture and the rest of it is hands on,” Cook explains. . “And the feedback from my students is that they are getting a tremendous amount of value from these courses. Consultants in my organization have taken a workshop course as we ramp up for the product launch and the feedback has been very positive. My colleague delivered a workshop to a prospective client. The students enjoyed it and found additional value in the format. Microsoft is trying to make workshops less a features walk and more problem solving.”
The new learning formats allow individuals to gain new skills quickly, enabling them to apply that knowledge in the workplace much more rapidly than before.
People Drive Success
The new certification program also reflects the more holistic approach that Microsoft Learning takes — understanding that it is people who drive business success and learning, and the verification of a person’s knowledge and capabilities through certification delivers tangible benefits to individuals building their careers over time. It also aids IT organizations by having better trained, more productive teams, and to companies through cost reductions and more effective systems.
That understanding has led to a restructuring of Microsoft Learning certifications into a three-tier system with separate tracks that more closely correlates to real-life job roles and skills.
“It’s a phenomenally good improvement to have separate tracks,” says Labbé. “I’m a developer. To get the old certification, I would need to take the administration exam, and that’s not what I do. It maps much better to real job roles. Folks are able to take the level of exams appropriate to their jobs and what they need. If I’m a junior developer I can do it at my level, as opposed to taking five or six exams that are way over and above my current level to get a certification that I won’t use most of. The new certifications let people write exams at their level and focus on what they do—and at the end of the day have a certification.”
“The new tracks offer more technical depth, focused on-the-job experience and better mapping with real-life experience,” adds Weyn. “If you look at SQL Server 2000, you had an MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator) certification, which meant you had to take two exams — admin and programming — and then data warehousing. But not everyone who manages a database will have to program against it.”
Faster Technology Adoption
The Microsoft Learning “customer readiness promise” guarantees tight integration between learning tools and product availability so IT professionals can adopt new, more capable technologies rapidly, and Microsoft partners can provide the highest level of service possible.
“With the learning and certification program in place, people see the new technology as a valuable purchase,” says Weyn. “They look at it like, ‘Wow, this is going to be huge. This is going to change the way we develop applications.’ That’s a big difference. You know the capabilities much better, you know the features much better. And that’s definitely going to have a big impact on deciding to switch and start adapting this technology much earlier.”
“I think this will open the door for people to get certified,” adds Labbé. “Many people wouldn’t take any exams because they knew they couldn’t pass them all and much of it didn’t apply to what they did. Now, for example, if I’m going for my Technology Specialist certification in Windows apps, all I have are Windows apps on the exams, which I know. It’s a much more manageable thing. I think it will attract a lot more people to the certification track.”