MCPreschooler? Why Microsoft shouldn't be certifying 5-year-olds
If you are a regular visitor of technology news sites or blogs, then you may have seen the name Ayan Qureshi trending earlier this month. Ayan is a 6-year-old youngster who lives in the United Kingdom. His father, a professional IT consultant, has encouraged Ayan's interest in computers and networking equipment, letting his son play with and examine various pieces of hardware. Ayan's father eventually created a functional computer lab network for Ayan to tinker with.
By all accounts, Ayan is a remarkably gifted student. His father says that Ayan has an exceptional memory, a strong natural aptitude for learning computing and networking concepts, and a surprisingly advanced aptitude with Windows operating systems and other software.
The reason why Ayan is now part of a heavily-circulated news story is that on Sept. 27 he became the youngest-ever person to pass a Microsoft Certified Professional certification exam, thereby earning the MCP designation. Ayan passed the Supporting Windows 8.1 certification exam (exam 70-688), and was properly awarded MCP status. This story has since been picked up on and widely circulated; Ayan's achievement has been reported on by the BBC, Wired magazine, and other major media outlets.
The news coverage of this event has been very positive, not unlike other stories of young prodigies who amaze and delight the world by performing remarkable feats at very young ages. The recent publicity should hopefully give young Ayan a great platform from which to both continue his learning, and eventually leverage his celebrity and his talent to establish a career in information technology ... if that's what he chooses as his desired calling, of course.
That said: This shouldn't have happened. Or, more to the point, this should have happened in a different manner.
First and foremost, nothing should take away from Ayan Qureshi's achievement. He is a bright, gifted boy who deserves his moment, and this is likely the first of many accomplishments that his intellect and curiosity will lead him to.
But by awarding an MCP to a 5-year-old boy, Microsoft has provided a weapon to long-time detractors of the MCP program who argue that Microsoft certifications are valueless due to the nature of their exam structure and content. Although Microsoft has continually made efforts to make its certification exams a proper determiner of a candidate's knowledge and skills, there are limits to what overall capabilities an automated electronic exam can be used to measure.
A greater issue here is one of professional recognition. Say you are a junior IT technician working for a large company, and you decide to spend the time, effort and money required to train for Microsoft's Supporting Windows 8.1 exam. Your hope is that passing the exam and achieving the MCP certification will help you gain recognition within your department, and receive consideration for advancement opportunities by your manager.
You pass the Windows 8.1 exam, and are awarded your MCP designation. You show your freshly-printed certificate to your coworkers and your manager, but instead of peer recognition and increased standing with your manager, you are told, "Congratulations, you're as smart as a 5-year-old."
By awarding a professional industry designation to a child, Microsoft has put every MCP worldwide in a difficult position. The widespread media attention this event has generated has given managers and decision makers an excuse to discredit and devalue the MCP program.
The validity of this excuse is irrelevant to the related issue. A professional certification program relies just as heavily on perceived value as it does on training and testing protocols. In this instance, the perceived value of the MCP has gone down, not up.
Here is Microsoft, concerning the value of the MCP certification:
"Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) is a certification that validates IT professional and developer technical expertise through rigorous, industry-proven, and industry-recognized exams."
The key word in that description is "validates." Earning a professional designation is supposed to provide validation of your knowledge and skills, something that has now become more difficult for an MCP to do.
This isn't to say that gifted youngsters like Ayan shouldn't have access to some sort of IT credential program. Microsoft should take this incident, and turn it into something beneficial like an exclusive recognition system for young computer experts.
To give children (even extraordinarily gifted ones) full access to the current MCP program, however, is a questionable practice that works to the detriment of all MCPs. Microsoft should consider creating an alternate program, and establishing age limits for existing MCP exams.