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That certification is no longer available

Serendipity or shenanigans? Ed Tittel ponders who's to blame when students get charged for outdated certification training.

Laptop frustrationA recent Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) discussion on LinkedIn discloses a Lebanese student’s frustration upon learning that there was no certification exam available for the class he had just finished: 98-632 Windows Development Fundamentals. The lack of an exam is entirely understandable. The topic of study is Visual Studio 2008, and the certification is no longer available. Most participants in the discussion agreed that a training company should never take money for a course that no longer leads to an exam. But was it an honest mistake, or a case of someone falling victim to bad business practices?

 

Anybody who’s been around the IT certification game knows that exams come and go, and that certification programs are constantly changing and evolving to keep pace with technology. This is particularly true for exams that are pegged to a specific software release or platform version. It’s entirely logical, after all, that when the program or the platform goes away, the certification disappears along with it.

 

The student whose experience stirred this particular tempest in a teapot is a 35-year-old aspiring software engineer. The developer class that he recently took and completed falls under the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) program. The kerfuffle ingnited after the student learned that the exam had retired on July 31. (The discussion group thread began with his initial post on Aug. 29, nearly one month later.)

 

The entire discussion is quite interesting, and eventually involved representatives from both the training company and Certiport, the Pearson VUE subsidiary that designs, supports, and administers the MTA curriculum and exams. (It bears noting that those exams are made available only to academia, K-12 and post-secondary institutions, and other “special outlets” such as trade and technical schools, military educational outlets, and so forth). In the course of sifting through 30-plus postings in that thread, and following the viewpoints and opinions of the posters involved, I learned some fascinating things, including:

 

1. It’s not unheard of for training companies to keep delivering certification classes to students, even after the exams that correspond to those courses have been retired or otherwise made unavailable. Nearly all posters agreed that those training companies should warn students about exams that are nearing retirement, or have already retired. Alas, not all training outlets do this consistently or explicitly (especially for those already taking classes as retirement dates approach), nor do all students pay sufficient attention to such things.

 

2. It’s important to recognize that, although Pearson VUE will be the sole commercial outlet for Microsoft exams as of 1/1/2015 — at which point Prometric will no longer offer such exams in its testing center —  Certiport is part of Pearson VUE, and will keep on offering Microsoft cert exams (including MTA and MCP) through educational outlets for the foreseeable future.

 

3. There’s no ideal recourse for students who pay to take a certification course and then discover that its corresponding exam is retired or no longer available. Their best bet, however, is to approach the training provider and request a credit to take another class for which an exam remains available. This applies in particular if they’ve purchased a package deal that involves exam costs as well as classroom or online training, or if they took the course so they could take the exam to earn a specific certification.

 

The training center already has some or all of the money involved, but you can ask them to credit you for more training to replace the now-outdated course you took. They may not agree, but if you approach them calmly and reasonably, and explain that you took the course to earn a cert, they may very well agree to let you take a different course for a different cert in the interests of maintaining good customer relations, and your continued patronage.

 

4. Read through the threads to learn about the fascinating “MTA games” that Microsoft apparently allowed to be played at some recent Tech-Ed conferences. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will tell you it is hard to credit what one poster reports was going on. You’ll see some interesting information that may cause you to rethink recommending the MTA to high-school and college students as a way to get started down the “Microsoft certification trail.” I know it had a somewhat chilling effect on my attitude toward the program! You’ll also find some fascinating ruminations from the marketing and technical staff at Certiport about the MTA program, its value, and those companies and organizations who’ve endorsed its credentials in their job postings and hiring guidelines.

 

If you know anybody who’s thinking about enrolling in MTA training or interested in MTA certification, please share this link with them. Ask them to read over the material carefully, and to think long and hard about investing time and effort in the program. It may make more sense, as some posters to that thread clearly opine, to jump straight into MCP certification instead (also available through the Microsoft IT Academy programs in high schools, colleges, universities, and so forth).