IT certifications and changes in the landscape
Posted on
March 4, 2020
The IT certification landscape is changing. Microsoft is one big signal of things to come.

With my planned retirement date of June 30 from the California Community College system, it looks like I won't be the only one retiring. On that day, Microsoft will be retiring a whole series of somewhat outdated certifications that I will be eliminating from my resume (see Microsoft is Retiring its MCSA, MCSD, and MCSE Certification in June 2020). Those include:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) [Windows Server 2012 Private Cloud]
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) NT4.0, Windows 2000 (Security Specialization)]
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA 2012)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) [Windows 2000 (Security Specialization)]
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) [Virtualization Administrator]
  • Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) [Desktop Virtualization / Server Virtualization

This change forecasts the importance of cloud computing, and a general move away from the operational aspects that include hardware and server administration. What this tells me, and what I should be telling instructional faculty colleagues, is that we need to look toward whether there is a need to overhaul our traditional IT programs.

For those faculty enamored with teaching hardware, we need to recognize that, at least in the coastal regions of California, this isn't a place to house data centers. The reasons can be broken down into three simple truths. They are:

1) The high cost of electricity thanks to our utility companies (PG&E, SDG&E, and Southern California Edison).
2) The high cost of real estate.
3) Higher wages than other locations in the United States.

The IT certification landscape is changing. Microsoft is one big signal of things to come.

For the anticipated response from those who claim I'm wrong in this assertion, I point to the Chromebook that I'm using to write this article. End points are moving in this direction for a couple of reasons. First, in terms of security, this style of end point is considerably more protected, using its scaled-down operating system, when compared with using Windows, OSX, or Linux. I'm not alone in having this view, incidentally.

When we get to a point where the only application we will be using on my Chromebook is a browser, end point security returns us to something close to the "dumb terminal." In my opinion, that's a good thing.

Yes, I know some of you will be pointing to the fact that if the Internet isn't accessible, then no work can be done with a "dumb terminal." But let's be realistic. How often in our 4G environment is that the case? 5G promises include better connectivity and better bandwidth. I'm willing at this point to accept that as true.

The second reason is providing a standardized process for accessing web applications through a standard landing page that provides a single-entry point to the applications you need to get to do your job. This landing page is often referred to as a portal. Products like CampusM used by our students illustrate its usefulness.

Rather than having to navigate to specific web applications like the college's learning management system (e.g. Blackboard), or the college's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (e.g. Banner), faculty and students can be directed to a single web portal.

As we move into a more connected world, improved practices associated with data encryption (at rest, in transit, and at use), will become more widespread. Adoption of policies, procedures, and technology that control identity and access management will become more effective, as rules relating to downloading data and other files can be enforced by simply ensuring that there is no accessible hardware media available to serve as a storage device.

So what does all this mean for those entering or continuing in the information and communications technology (ICT) field? At a minimum likely consequences include:

1) The need to retool at a more rapid pace.
2) Desktop support and hardware support jobs will disappear.
3) Technical skills will include having the ability to automate activities utilizing scripting (mirroring the days of writing batch files).
4) System administration activities will be reduced as a consequence of placing applications in a serverless cloud environment.

Of interest is Microsoft's rationale in killing these certifications. According to its website:

Microsoft's focus on role-based training and certifications can help you develop necessary skills and experience to advance in an accelerated and increasingly competitive cloud-based world. Role-based training and certifications are kept current with new features and services that Microsoft is constantly adding to the cloud solution areas, minimizing skill gaps associated with the applicable job roles.

The problem I see with this approach is that Microsoft appears to be abandoning key foundational elements of their legacy certification tracks. Those of us who have been around for a while remember the core exams relating to their MCSE track like Networking Essentials (70-058 exam), Microsoft TCP/IP for Microsoft Windows NT (70-053 exam), and Implementing and Supporting NT Server (70-067 exam).

The IT certification landscape is changing. Microsoft is one big signal of things to come.

Perhaps the abandonment of these fundamental certifications suggests Microsoft's recognition of CompTIA's specific efforts that are directed towards providing meaningful exams and related certifications that are foundational in nature. We see that in CompTIA's release of a series of new certification exams that include:

  • ITF+ (FC0-U61) released September 2018
  • Cloud Essentials+ (CLO-002) released November 2019
  • A+ (220-1001 and 220-1002) released January 2019
  • Network+ (N10-007) released March 2018
  • Server+ (SK0-005) anticipated release November 2020

It will be interesting to see what's around the next bend in the road through the ever-changing certification landscape.

About the Author

Steve Linthicum, while still active as an educator at the college and university levels across more than three decades, is looking at retiring in the near future. Focused on helping individuals achieve their certification objectives, Steve will continue to provide help for students as a volunteer.

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