Real-life experience counts for more than just acronyms

By Charles Wright   cw (you-know-what)  June 4 2002

Copyright  © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald  
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After the third day watching the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer/Microsoft Certified Professional failing to fix his system, the customer - a small-business owner - was getting increasingly anxious.

Every half hour, the MCSE/MCP would tick off a box on his billing sheet - at $55 a tick - and then find something else to try. The customer was pretty sure that MCSE/MCP had tried the same thing more than once. From time to time he would cycle through screens in the Windows registry, and he seemed to be trolling the Internet, looking for possible solutions.

By this stage, the billable hours totalled 13, and the computer had stopped booting.

It wasn't as if the original problem had been all that bad. The PC - a 600MHz Pentium III - booted quickly enough into Windows 98 and ran the cataloguing software that was its main task without any problems. It just wouldn't complete a defragmentation.

Now, after $1430 of billable hours with the MCSE/MCP, it had stopped recognising the network, took half an hour to boot, failed to detect a mouse and finally developed an aversion to pretty well all of its hardware.

Had he known anything about computer trouble-shooting, the customer probably would have called a halt after the first hour. The MCSE/MCP had spent that time watching Scandisk failing to complete its routine, without killing off background processes. Indeed, the same processes would have stopped the defragmentation, which had been the original complaint.

Instead, having ticked off his first $110 in boxes, the MCSE claimed the operating system was corrupt and declared there was no alternative but to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system.

After 13 hours of "reformatting and installing software", when the customer calculated that for his money he could have bought a new PC, he called a halt to the work, and negotiated the bill down to $500.

Instead, he called a PC assembler who had built his main system. The assembler came around and had the PC running and back on the network in an hour - for $99. In the process, he discovered that the MCSE/MCP had changed the administrator's password but when he rang to ask what the password might be, the MCSE/MCP couldn't remember changing it. One day that will almost certainly force reinstallation of Windows 2000.

In the process of fixing the PC, the assembler discovered the probable cause of the MCSE/MCP's difficulties. The original assembler, which had now gone out of business, seemed to have over-clocked the CPU and fitted it to the wrong motherboard. And the power supply was flaky. For $500, the customer elected to upgrade to a 1GHz Celeron processor with a new motherboard and modem, with a new case and power supply.

This experience illustrates the level to which the qualifications of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer have been devalued - particularly when the certification is for NT 4, which is what the customer's "engineer" had to offer.

It's possible that someone with those qualifications might be able to administer an NT server box but they are certainly not "engineers" as Microsoft suggests. No part of the NT 4 curriculum - which is no longer offered - covered fixing PCs and, indeed, the existence of "cheats" on the exams has almost certainly produced certificate-holders whose knowledge is, at best, superficial.

While The Edge knows of some highly competent NT 4 MCSEs, their real qualifications have been gained out in the real world rather than through the books and the "boot camps" that might have cost them thousands of dollars.

The qualification "Microsoft Certified Professional" covers only one examination on a particular Microsoft product and, in our opinion, doesn't certify sufficient competence to open a PC.

We've recommended to the customer that he might try to recover his $500 through a consumer action on the basis of demonstrated incompetence. And we'd recommend that before you entrust your hardware to anyone, you look for something more than the letters MCSE.