I was planning to spend this week exploring the new Microsoft SQL Server 2005 certification process, which includes new tests and certification options for professionals who specialize in SQL Server administration, business intelligence, and development technologies. Instead, I was sidetracked by the soon-to-be-launched Microsoft Certified Architect Program. So this week, I'll focus on just that aspect of the new certification offerings. I'll cover the SQL Server-specific certifications in an upcoming editorial, and you can review all the options on your own at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=1AEA1:285886 if you're too excited to wait for my comments.

I haven't written about Microsoft certification much during the past year or two because Microsoft hasn't added anything all that interesting and new for SQL Server professionals. I'm on record as saying that I didn't think the Microsoft certification process was predictive of a person's ability to be successful in the real world. In particular, I've never thought that any Microsoft certification was particularly useful for measuring a person's skill in advanced topics. (Note: I'm reserving judgment for the newest round of certifications associated with SQL Server 2005.)

But the ideas outlined for the pending Architecture Certification have caught my interest. The certification is scheduled to launch sometime in the first half of 2006, and the existing certification Web site raises as many questions as it answers in some ways. Nevertheless, I'm intrigued.

The main Architecture Certification Web site at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=1AE98:285886 explains that the program "validates top industry experts in IT Architecture. These professionals have 10 or more years of experience in IT with at least 3 years of experience as a practicing architect and possess strong technical and leadership skills and form a distinguished community." Candidates for the Architect Certification must pass a rigorous review board made up of previously certified architects. The certification is targeted to people who can use "multiple technologies to solve business problems and provide business metrics and measurements to describe the success or failure of the projects they drive."

Historically, the Microsoft certification process was simply an exercise in memorizing enough facts about a particular product to pass a test on a particular day. I know many people who have good short-term memory and were able to scan one of the exam prep books over a weekend and retain enough information for a passing score. These people didn't achieve mastery--or even understanding--of the subject matter. But take a look at the eight-step certification process outlined at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=1AE98:285886.

A big challenge for Microsoft in launching this program will be getting enough people to cover the logistics. It's one thing to administer certification tests on computer. But this program, like a PhD defense, requires mentors and people to serve on review boards, making the logistics of the process more complex. But if Microsoft can find a way to make a program such as this scaleable, it might end up with a program that has teeth and is a good measure of a person's true skill set and ability to be successful in advanced architectural environments.

To be honest, I'm a bit pessimistic that the initial round of this endeavor will be particularly useful. I'd love to be wrong, but measuring someone's ability as an architect is always going to be challenging. But I'm pleased that Microsoft has recognized the importance of trying to establish a certification process that has value. I'll reserve my final judgment on the success of the initial program until the all details are available next year and I've had a chance to chat with IT professionals who've gone though the vetting process. But even if Microsoft doesn't quite hit the target on their first try, I applaud its move toward the high end of the certification process.