Sunday, December 7, 2008

The SharePoint Certification Gauntlet

Finish Line

This week I finally finished the last of the SharePoint certifications. They include:

  • MCTS: 70-542 (MOSS Application Development)
  • MCTS: 70-541 (WSS Application Development)
  • MCTS: 70-630 (MOSS Configuration)
  • MCTS: 70-631 (WSS Configuration)

Doing all four in a single year was a little more time consuming than I thought it would be, and I'm glad it's finally over.

The Value

While certifications themselves don't really get you deep in a subject matter (at least not that I've noticed), they do give you a really good idea of the surface area. At that point you're in a good position to explore the topics on you own and get deep in a few.

Here's a more concrete example. A cert in ASP.NET won't get you deep in HTTPModules, but it will tell you what they are, and what you might use them for. The next time you hit a problem that involves say URL Rewriting, you've still got some learning to do, but you're a lot less likely to leave the reservation completely and come up with something home brewed and semi exotic.

To me that's one of the biggest values of certifications, they try to clearly define the scope of the technology. After a cert you should at least know what you don't know about some tech stack. At that point you're a lot less likely to write a bunch of code to solve a problem that your tech stack is naturally geared towards solving.

Rounding The Edges

Of course each of the four SharePoint exams have a slightly different focus. It's also worth mentioning that two of them don't really have anything to do with writing code, they're all about configuration. I thought these were important because of SharePoint's farm footprint. The platform is a lot more than a single web server/database. It's really a series of services working together on many different machines. When all these services act in concert, the resulting ballet provides a pretty decent platform for collaboration.

Because there's so much in play (and so much complexity), it seemed just as important to me to learn the infrastructure nuts and bolts as it was to learn the various APIs.

This sentiment was recently corroborated by the SharePoint Master program. The program involves the same four certifications. I'm pretty sure the content authors of the program are on the same page, that you can't be a "SharePoint Master" unless you have a holistic knowledge of both infrastructure and application development.

Go For It

For those wondering how to go about getting a certification I would encourage them to do so. The experience alone will tell you if you feel it was worth its salt. The typical certification route looks like this.

  1. Find a technology that interests you and a certification path on the Microsoft Learning web site.
  2. Read the about the test requirements. This may involve one or more exams that each have a preparation guide. Be sure to follow the preparation guide.
  3. Study up. This might involve some online learning, some books or just spending a lot of time on the MSDN.
  4. Take a Practice Test. Real exams cost $125 and a couple hours of your time. It's doubtful you'd want to want to write the real exam more than once. Most exams require at least 70% as a passing grade, I've written exams that required as much as 80% to pass. Make sure you're ready before you schedule an exam. You can often find free practice exams online, failing that just pay the $70 to a practice test provider (MeasureUp, Transcender, TestKing, etc...). The idea is to make sure you're ready before scheduling the real exam.
  5. Schedule an exam. For Microsoft exams you'll most likely end up going through Prometric or Pearson Vue. Their web site will book you an appointment with a testing provider (most often some IT college or learning center). Exams cost $125 USD and usually need to be scheduled at least 48 hours prior to writing.
  6. Show up and ace the exam!

Everyone learns at a different pace, but expect to spend at least fifteen hours going over material and practice exams for your first certification. After writing a couple exams you'll notice your preparation start to decrease as you start to streamline the process.

After finishing a certification you'll be given an MCP ID (if you don't already have one), a welcome kit, a certificate, and use of a certification logo (below) for business cards and such. I don't personally make use of the last two, but they may help demonstrate to your boss that your passionate about technology, or convince women you're able to commit to something.

Remember that certs are just a part of your learning continuum, supplement them where need be. They're nice to have, but by no means the finish line.

70-542 (MOSS Dev) 70-630 (MOSS Config)70-631 (WSS Config) 70-541 (WSS App Dev)



Anonymous said...

great information. thanks for the insight!

Marcus Bell said...

Good info, Tyler. I am such a slacker when it comes to getting any of these certifications. I really should get my butt in gear and pursue at least one! But that family life is quite a time consumer...

Great stuff as always. You took quite a hiatus this time around since your last article. Your loyal readers are deprived!

Marcus said...

Hey, that's odd. This post is coming up on your RSS feed at June 15, 2009. Hmph!

Tyler Holmes said...

That is odd, I edited it last night because I noticed a typo or two. It's not at the top of my reader, I'm wondering if your reader is sorting by the <updated/> field in the feed as opposed to <published/>.

Great to hear from you Marcus, I'm going to try to make posting a more regular habit again.


Sonny said...

Congratulations, Mr. Holmes. I know you are a overachiever, but doing all four in a single year besides maintaining a blog, full time job, everything else that you do, you surpassed my expectations.

Thanks for sharing your experience.


Tyler Holmes said...

Sonny it's great to hear from you! Hopefully you'll come back and work with us some time soon.

My Best,