The Increasingly Tricky Role of Microsoft Certified Trainers and Microsoft Certification Content Developers
I had a great dinner with an old friend and colleague in East Austin last night. Among other things, I put down probably the biggest (and best-tasting) "pork chop" I have ever seen. But our conversation mostly related to my friend's recent adventures in training students to prepare for Microsoft certifications.
My friend — let's call him Bob — cheerfully admitted that teaching cert classes remains a major portion of his income generation strategy. But he, like me, is also interested in generating content to help people get trained up and ready for certification exams. Unlike me, his inclinations lean toward developing and delivering online video training materials.
(I'm still more print-oriented, but am starting to understand that video training is the end-all and be-all for how most people want to learn nowadays.)
The appeal of building content, however, rather than teaching classes — either online or in the classroom — is that the content keeps working (and generating income) whether you are delivering to students or not. That's one of the reasons I launched my Exam Cram series way back when (1997), and why writing books was a major piece of my income generation strategy for many years.
So, What's the Problem?
Actually, there are several problems, for people like Bob and myself these days, with building high-quality training materials for the new Microsoft role-based certifications. Let me list them out, with some brief explanations:
1) Ongoing program changes: Microsoft adopted the role-based certs paradigm in 2018 and has now switched its program over from portfolio-oriented credentials (Remember the era of MCSE and MCSA?) to these more narrowly focused job-role credentials.
This has made for major changes, lots of new topics and technologies to learn, and a learning curve for training developers. Developers have had to make a major effort to get out in front of what everybody else has been shifting over to learn and adopt.
2) Constant content churn: To make life more interesting, the new role-based certification coverage and exam questions turn over (or change) faster and more frequently than was the norm in the old "portfolio cert" days. This means materials need more frequent refreshes and revisions than used to be the case under the previous Microsoft certification regime.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, but it does make for more work and a shorter shelf life for any training content that Microsoft (or third parties, such as publishers and training companies) may wish to build.
3) Lack of quality/in-depth source materials: Bob's most plaintive observation at dinner last night was that he had to back out of a couple of video training development contracts recently for one galling and frustrating reason — he simply couldn't lay hands on enough detailed technical information to create the course sessions he needed to put together.
Most such sessions are built in the form of 15-20 minute technical videos with lecture and demo content, followed by labs and sample Q&A or problem-solving exercises built to emphasize and reinforce key concepts, use of tools and consoles, configuration and troubleshooting tasks, and so forth and so on.
"I just couldn't find enough material, no matter where or how hard I looked," said Bob. "And I couldn't get the material from Microsoft either, though they knew I was developing aftermarket training for a valued and trusted training partner."
Put all these problems together — especially the third and final one — and you've got a big hurdle for publishers and training companies to jump over. Most of them want to get their materials to market as close to public release of the non-beta versions of cert exams. This is proving anywhere from somewhat challenging to ridiculous, depending on the topic right now.
A Boost for Content Creators?
My own experience sadly parallels Bob's. And what I've heard from my old certification publishers (including Pearson, Syngress Media, and others) and several top-of-the-line online training companies (LinkedIn, Pluralsight, Global Knowledge, and more) only reaffirms the challenges here.
Problems 2 and 3, in fact, can create a "negative feedback loop" that means it takes forever to get training materials put together and out the door because things keep changing even while it's hard to lay hands (or eyes) upon the necessary source materials to make things happen.
I have a suggestion for the folks at Microsoft Learning: Please consider creating and acknowledging a new cadre of third-party knowledge professionals. Let's call them Certified Training Content Developers, or something like that. They should get something like the MCT (or its CompTIA CTT equivalent) and then be tested on their ability to create and maintain quality training materials.
In exchange for demonstrating capability and competence, let them become privy to the internal materials that MS itself provides to in-house course and exam developers to permit them to keep up with change and churn. Honestly, I think this is the only way to maintain the great aftermarket and infrastructure that the global IT market needs to keep up with the leading desktop OS and its supporting technologies, and a leading cloud platform, and ditto again.
Otherwise, we risk losing the breadth and depth of support that the training companies have long provided for Microsoft certifications outside the company's official training umbrella. Does that make such a change inevitable? I hope not, but only time will tell.
Stay tuned and I'll keep you informed about what I'm seeing in the marketplace, and hearing from its players and participants.