A couple of years back I achieved the Microsoft certification MCSE – Business Intelligence. You can read all about that process in my blog post How I prepared myself for the MCSE certification. As you might know, this certification is only valid for 3 years. My certification should have expired a couple of months ago, but Microsoft graciously extended the period for recertification. Anyway, when your certification is about to expire, you have two options:
- take the 70-470 recertification exam.
- recertify by following a Microsoft Virtual Academy course called Enterprise BI Developer.
Let’s just say I was not really looking forward to study for an exam again and learn lots of useless details about lesser known (read: less useful) features. So I was thrilled that Microsoft gave me the option to stay in my lazy seat and follow an online course to recertify myself. The set-up is simple: you watch a couple of videos (okay, a lot of videos) and you answer some assessment questions. If you pass all of the assessments, you can apply for recertification.
I think that’s a great concept. Suppose you don’t live close to an examination center (or don’t have the option to do online proctored exams). In this case you can still do the recertification without much hassle. The MVA course by the way is pretty solid, has good instructors and offers plenty of material. If you’d watch all of the videos, you have several hours/days of learning ahead of you. I’m pretty sure there will be some things to pick up, no matter what your skill level. That’s the good part. The bad part is that you don’t even have to watch the videos, you can skip directly to the assessment. These are just 5 multiple choice (or true/false) questions about the current subject matter. And it’s online. Meaning, you can look up the answer. You can ask the colleague next to you what the answer is. Even if you did fail the assessment, you can just take it again. And again. Eventually, you’ll have the answers memorized because they show you which you did on each question. There aren’t that many options to choose from, so eventually you can just memorize every question and their answer. So if exams were easy to cheat (and Microsoft certifications are quite notorious on that part), these are even easier to “cheat”. I have to point out that you can only take an assessment a couple of times. If you still haven’t passed it, you have to watch the accompanying course material. But you can just skip the video to the end, which will make the assessment available again. So basically these assessments are worthless as a test of your actual skills. Meaning, the recertification is also worthless as a skill test.
Then there are the assessment questions themselves. They are like normal certification questions. By which I mean some of them are open for interpretation, some of them are quite vague, but some of them are just plain wrong. Let’s take a look at this beauty for example:
It’s obvious that the correct answer is A. However, as most SQL Server people would agree, there’s only one correct answer: it depends. What if there isn’t a primary key? What if there is a more suitable index for the SELECT query? What if the table is a heap? There’s no such thing as a “default order”.
Here’s another one:
— Koen Verbeeck (@Ko_Ver) October 5, 2016
I think I’m going to show this to Kimball and watch him have a heart attack.
Aside from the difficulties with such questions, there’s also the topic of most questions. There were very little actual questions about new features, which is a bit odd for a recertification. This is probably because this is a general MVA course. However, if it doesn’t test your skills on new features (or not enough), what’s the point of using it as a tool for recertification?
Conclusion. I like Microsoft Virtual Academy. It allows a lot of people to learn more about Microsoft products at a very low cost (as it’s free). However, I don’t think it’s a great tool to measure people’s skills for recertify certifications. Mainly because the way the assessments are set-up and because they are too easy too circumvent. This only hollows out the value of certifications even more. I’m not going into the debate if certifications have any use at all, that’s maybe the topic for another blog post. Let’s just say I miss the days there was a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) certification.