When it comes to certified training you’ve got to ask yourself whether you want to go for total vendor lock-in or choose a more open, real-world approach. Training in Microsoft products is available in both flavours, but from slightly different sources.
Microsoft has two types of training partners, the Authorised Training Education Centres (ATECs), which teach only course material developed by Microsoft, and Solution Providers, which are affiliated with Microsoft but generally use their own, more open course material.
Microsoft is planning on changing the name of its ATECs to Certified Training Education Centres (CTECs), in January next year, and at the same time is bumping up the requirements for training providers wanting to qualify for the mantle. The benefits, apart form the kudos associated with being certified by Microsoft, include access to the company’s official course material.
Wave Technologies is one company that provides Microsoft courses but has decided not to become a CTEC. Alan Bellinger, Wave’s marketing manger, claimed his company has no intention of joining the programme as it believes Microsoft’s course material is not as good as its own.
“If you become a CTEC, you have to give up your own course materials, and we happen to think ours are better than Microsoft’s,” he asserted.
Bellinger claimed Microsoft’s materials tend to tell things the way Microsoft sees them rather than the way they are. He also argued that if companies produce their own materials, they can give a more unbiased view. “Take Microsoft Network Essentials. The section dealing with groupware uses Exchange in all its examples, when in fact most people on the course will be configuring Notes,” he said.
Gillian Brand, marketing manager at Learning Tree, one of the UK’s largest training providers, said her company had also decided not to go for CTEC status as it just seemed to be a “comfort blanket” for customers looking for reassurances of quality.
She claimed that Learning Tree’s current status as a Microsoft Solution Provider provided more freedom. Brand said Learning Tree has a more independent approach to training and shows delegates the bad side of Microsoft technology, and “how to work round the snags”.
Going its own way
She added that the company believes it has very good teaching methods and does not need further certification from Microsoft. “The CTEC brand does offer a certain degree of comfort to customers, but we decided we would rather stay with our own proven training methods rather than having to sing the Microsoft tune.”
Details of the exact change to the status of ATECs have not been released in the UK yet. But the re-branding has already taken place in the US.
According to Microsoft’s US website, the changes will be good news for course delegates, as providers have to adhere to even stricter standards to achieve CTEC status.
Be warned, though. A UK Microsoft spokesperson cautioned that the US changes may not be representative of what will happen in the UK.
At the same time as the rebranding takes place, Microsoft will be upping the standards companies need to gain for CTEC status.
The quality of teaching staff should therefore increase, as the requirements now state that Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) will need to be certified in new technologies.
For example, tutors only qualified in Windows 3.1 will be forced to upgrade their skills. There will also be stricter guidelines surrounding facilities and equipment. The changes include better standards of instructors’ computer hardware, PCs for all delegates, and specialist projection equipment in classrooms.
Despite the promised improvements in the CTEC scheme, you will still be getting the word according to Bill Gates and Microsoft.
If all you require is in-depth training in one manufacturer’s technology, then vendor-certified courses are fine, but if you want your training painted with broader strokes, a more independent provider may be the way to go.
How close is too close?
Companies can choose how close they want their relationship with Microsoft to be. If a provider chooses to be CTEC, it has to use Microsoft’s training materials and adhere to its training guidelines in return for gaining official certification.
The Microsoft Certified Solution Provider mark, on the other hand, is a way of legitimising any company’s relationship with Microsoft; software and hardware providers can also gain this status. In the case of training providers, Microsoft has to approve their teaching methods, but unlike with CTECs, providers are not tied into doing everything the Microsoft way.