TRAINING, CERTIFICATION AND MICROSOFT PARTNER COMPETENCIES
I will confess at the outset that I am a firm believer in life-long learning ... not just formal or professional education for job-related reasons, but also for continual personal growth. Piano lessons or cooking classes are valid ways to pursue that goal.
In the IT industry there are many views about the value of partner certifications like Microsoft or Cisco. Some pundits observe that certificates mean little without practical experience or "street smarts." I tend to agree with this view - it would be a stretch to send someone who takes a 3-week boot camp and earns the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer credential to design a Windows network for a multi-national company with 50,000 users!
Conversely though, highly experienced engineers tend to work on small subsets of product features that are most relevant to architecture and deployment. This is analogous to how the hundreds of millions of people who use Microsoft Office probably know and use only 5% of the capabilities of the software, although in the case of senior engineers this percentage is probably more like 50%. Certification exams push IT professionals out of their comfort zone by forcing them to learn all aspects of the product. So I would argue that the combination of formal learning and practical experience is the ideal scenario. And mind you, training is an ongoing process that typically requires re-certification every three years to match typical product cycles.
It is interesting that many people believe the fallacy that certification tests are easy, and someone who has used the product for years can just walk in and pass the exam. This is simply not true. Typically, an individual with a reasonable product background needs to invest 20-30 hours of time learning the material to pass a 90-minute test. So companies that employ certified professionals are really demonstrating in a very tangible way their willingness to invest in their people.
When I worked at Microsoft, an internal analysis found a strong positive correlation between employee certification status and customer satisfaction scores. This result was not just confined to Microsoft products, but included ITIL certification for operations and security credentials like CISSP.
So, I would conclude that training and certification is a smart investment for good business reasons.
Microsoft's Partner Program requires partners to earn ‘competencies' in particular technology and business areas. Each competency requires a combination of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) on staff, and relevant customer references. While no system is perfect, partner competencies provide a yardstick that shows a Gold Certified Partner has delivered verifiable business solutions to customers, and has invested in its workforce by attaining required technical certification status.
Here at Implement.com, we hold several Microsoft Partner competencies. We've most recently attained the Microsoft Business Solutions competency focusing on Dynamics CRM 4.0. Our company has a commitment to maintaining engineer certifications by assigning time for study, paying for testing, and programmatically tracking results to plan.