The value of SharePoint Certifications

In today’s world of SharePoint consulting and engineering, there are certain competencies and thresholds that need to be met prior to being able to enter into an engagement that is profitable to both the individual providing services and the organization receiving services. Similar to medicine, SharePoint engineers and consultants have practices and firms that they are a part of. They do not necessarily know all there is to know about SharePoint when they start off, nor do they have the same expertise in every area of the product but rather they have a foundation of knowledge that they all take on as a core foundation of knowledge.

The Problem – How do we truly measure an individual’s acumen in the SharePoint Products and Technologies landscape?

With the SharePoint Products and Technologies continuing to expand and absorb capabilities within the Microsoft stack, it is a bear to think that a certification can truly qualify an individual and provide depth and insight into what they truly know and how they would react when presented with a real world problem. The purpose of this article is to examine the Microsoft certification process in relation to SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2010.

The Current Certifications – There are five available for both SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint 2010. Two of these exams are for IT Professionals that deal more with the core infrastructure at the collaboration platform level of WSS and SPF; the other more at the application level of MOSS and SPS. Similar to the IT Pro exams there are two for Developers that are aimed at the individual code level solutions using WSS and SPF in addition to application server solutions leveraging the capabilities of MOSS and SPS. On top of these four exams there is the Microsoft Certified Master. Coming soon there will be a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 end user certification (Microsoft Office Specialist – 77-886).

Similar in opinion to Mark Rackley in his post “The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint” at the SharePointHillBilly.com regarding Microsoft certifications, it’s frustrating when reading someone’s bio and finding that they’ve been certified in several Microsoft technologies only to come to find that they’ve read every book that’s been written to learn the theory of the product and the how to from a distance. Further, knowing that there are certification question and answer dumps available further infuriates SharePoint professionals as their knowledge becomes devalued and treated like a cheapened commodity of knowledge.

So what’s the benefit of an MCTS or MCITP – As an individual that maintains proficiency in a technology, they have various options for how to formalize this body of knowledge. By going through the certification process, it further legitimizes their knowledge. Further, as an individual that possess certification, from a perspective as a business partner, it provides greater avenues and channels to pursue opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

What about those folks that are using the brain dumps – it only lessens their value to go through the certification process with information that they’ve memorized. While it might open up opportunities to them and their business, winning contracts away from more deserving groups of technologists that just have not formalized their certifications they are only hurting themselves. As organizations become entangled in engagements that they lack the expertise in performing the work required, they will either have to a) hire individuals that are not certified that have real world experience, b) start learning the actually competencies and objectives that were called out as a part of the certification, lowering their return to their customer and slowing down their delivery or c) turning to another organization to subcontract the work out. In a worst case scenario it would mean retracting their bid for the work after they had started the work and have it go back out for rebid by the customer that was looking for someone to provide services.

This not only diminishes the organizations competency in a particular area but when it comes time for the organization to hand out customer reviews to be sent back to Microsoft as a part of the partner program to validate their competencies they’ll be downgraded.

What about that MCM thing? Well it’s a tough program and as my esteemed friend Mark Rackley stated, it goes to the extreme of requiring an individual to attain certification in all four areas as well as go through a registration process. Going through the registration process does not automatically mean an individual is admitted though as the MCM program has apparently tuned into the fact that some individuals don’t quite have the real world training and wouldn’t be able to make it through the three weeks of deep exposure to SharePoint. Again, similar to going to medical school, the application process weeds out those that may not actually have the foundation of knowledge that is required to be successful in a training program that helps to push an individual toward mastery of a wide variety of skillsets.

So what’s the value? So if we look at certifications being attained by individuals that have real life, hands on experience in some capacity, then we can look at these exams as being a foundation of knowledge and vocabulary. During the interview process, leveraging the learning objectives that are related to an exam should provide a starting point for where a candidate may be coming from in their interview for a position. If the individual does not seem to have an idea of any of the underlying knowledge related to the learning objectives then either a) they’re having a bad day or b) they’ve moved out of the technical expertise into more of a technical manager role that is no longer hands on and have lost their ShareFoo or c) they went through and deceived themselves through the use of test aids.

This foundational knowledge presented by the certifications provides a basis that allows for further collaboration among SharePoint professionals and allows for a greater ability to work toward solutions. When a developer is speaking a different language or an administrator doesn’t understand a core concept then it slows down the solution development and implementation. Having a team work together and teach one another to get certified further helps the team to produce results.

Bottom Line – Encourage your team to get certified, have a common body of knowledge that leverages the learning objectives of the certification exams – teaching one another through hands on experience. Don’t deceive yourself and your customers by presenting yourself as someone that you’re not though – keep it real.

Bottom Bottom Line – Get it on like Donkey Kong. ‘nuff said.

I encourage you to read Mark Rackley’s post on this topic as well to get a well balanced view of the SharePoint world regarding how certifications are viewed.  Mark brings a different angle which I agree with on several levels – http://www.sharepointhillbilly.com/archive/2011/05/14/the-real-value-of-microsoft-certification-in-sharepoint.aspx