I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Shon Hong of Microsoft Learning, who has the (to me) fascinating job of hunting down cheaters. Let me explain:
Microsoft exams are the basis for the entire Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program. The exams you pass earn you credentials and credibility. Unfortunately because of the format the exams currently take there are several methods of cheating that have become prevalent. Simply put cheating diminishes the value of the program and of certifications in general. Anyone who has passed an exam knows how much work went into doing so, and probably walks out of the exam centre a little taller than when they walked in. When I present my credentials I do so with pride at having achieved them.
So what about someone who cheats to earn those same credentials? Do they walk as tall? Stand as proud as I do? Probably not, but that is irrelevant. The really important point is how others – potential clients, employers, and peers – see you. Imagine you hire someone who has a certification that is important to you. This credential theoretically translates into the knowledge you require for the position filled. Subsequent to being hired you realize that the candidate does not have the understanding of the technology that the credential implies. You may fire that employee; you may also lose a little respect for that certification, and then the next time a candidate submits their resume with the requisite certifications you are weary and hesitant.
Without certification integrity it is impossible to really trust certifications. Should you have to test all of your potential employees or consultants? Though some degree of testing or confirmation of knowledge may be a good idea, in theory a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator has already passed at least four tests written by people who know the technology better than you do.
There are a number of methods of cheating on certification exams; however it must be made clear that before you sit down at the exam workstation and again before you begin the test you are agreeing to a set of rules that includes that you will not cheat on the exam. In short you are not allowed to – during the exam or any time prior to it – use any tool, method, or aid that can give you an unfair advantage on an exam. An exam is meant to be you and your knowledge, which can be based on studying or experience, but it cannot (for example) be based on a prior knowledge of the questions to be asked.
So what are the consequences of cheating? There are a number of them:
- You will never be able to respect yourself for having passed the test. That is to say that even if the screen says PASS you will live with the shame of knowing that you did not earn it; and
- You run the risk of being caught. If you get caught, whether it be on your first or your fiftieth exam, you will be stripped of your certifications – all of them. No exceptions. You are an MCSE and you get caught cheating on a MCDST exam? The math is simple: You lose your MCSE. Maybe you are an MCSE, MCSA, MCDST, MCDBA, and MCAD and you get caught cheating on a MCTS exam? You are stripped of all of your certifications.
Now here’s the rub: If you do get caught and you are stripped of your certifications, you are banned from ever taking another exam again. Forever. Your credentials and credibility shatter like glass, impossible to recover.
Is this all theoretical? Not at all. Since January of this year Microsoft Learning has stripped nearly one hundred cheaters of their certifications. Where are they? In China and the United States; Canada and Russia; Argentina and England. They are everywhere, and Microsoft – with Shon and his team – are relentless in hunting these people down. Why? So that when I sign my name and put that list of certs it means something – to me, and to the people who see them.
I should also give mention to some community members who do not work for Microsoft, but are a part of how Microsoft fights cheaters. www.Certguard.com is run by a colleague who has never taken a certification exam, and yet he not only hunts down cheaters, but makes the information available to testing centres and Microsoft alike. You can also find discussion forums to ask your questions in case you come across a dubious offer that may be too good to be true.
What does this mean to you and me? Take the time to study your material, and fly right. You’ll pass if you know the material. If you don’t? You will have learned a bit more about what you do not know.
Thanks Shon, thanks Certguard; Best of luck to all legitimate test takers, and down with the cheaters and those who help them!