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CTPs and a New Certification Scheme Discussed at VSLive!

As .NET enters a new stage of maturity, Microsoft asks developers to turn their attention to new productivity features of Team System, announces an imminent release candidate for the Foundation Server, and rolls out some big changes to the professional certification program.


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oma Somasegar, Microsoft's Vice President for Development technologies kicked off the winter session of VSLive! in San Francisco Monday, with little news but a lot of enthusiasm for both recently released technologies and those on near the horizon. Garnering the lion's share of that enthusiasm was the Visual Studio Team System, Microsoft's first major extension of the core developer toolset in .NET.

While the client-side versions of each of three SKUs for Team System—Software Architect, Software Developer, and Software Tester—are already released, Foundation Server, the centralized integration and collaboration piece for VSTS teams, remains in the final stages of development. Somasegar announced that a release candidate of Foundation Server would be available on MSDN—and distributed to VSLive! attendees—no later than Friday, March 3. He said the company expects the final version of Foundation Server to ship in March as well.

A highlight of the presentation was a long segment featuring Team System customers who described the advantages they derived from exploiting Team System features, and several Microsoft partners, such as Serena Software, Sparx Systems, and Borland, who have used the Team System API to build out complementary toolkits that support developers who are using Team System to do requirements management, UML modeling, and more.

Somasegar announced that a release candidate of Foundation Server would be available on MSDN—and distributed to VSLive! attendees—no later than Friday, March 3.


Somasegar reserved a portion of his keynote comments for Orcas, the codename for the next version of Visual Studio, saying that he tended to think of Orcas as the "best toolset for the next-generation platform," which includes, most notably, Windows Vista and Office 12. Orcas will be the first version of Visual Studio to directly incorporate the WinFX graphical framework. The "Expression" suite of tools, which includes an Interface Designer, a Graphic Designer, and a Web Designer, are front-end tools that professionals can use to exploit the powerful features of WinFX and which will generate content and UIs to be consumed by the next generation of the Windows operating system, Vista.

Finally, Somasegar announced that in the future Microsoft will be firmly committed to releasing CTP versions of all products and tools before they ship, and he promised that every functional specification for Orcas would be released to the public in advance of the CTP. Today, you can download CTP versions of many upcoming technologies, said Somasegar, the most recent being the LINQ language extensions for .NET languages, which has already been touted as the flagship feature of the next versions of both the VB.NET and C# languages and which Somasegar called "a fantastic piece of technology." (See "Related Resources, left column, for more on LINQ.) Other CTPs now available include Atlas (AJAX functionality), Cider (a developer-centric front end for exploiting WinFX), and the WinFX framework itself.

Certifiably Up-to-Date
While new product features took the stage for much of the general session Monday, in an interview with DevX Microsoft made clear that it is doing some house-cleaning in its Learning division to help evolve the programs it offers to teach and certify professional developers. Most notably, the MCSD and MCSE certifications that have signified Microsoft platform expertise for many years are no more. No need to panic: Your hard-won MCAD, MCSD, and MCSE certifications remain intact, but going forward, developers who seek new certifications will meet both a new lineup of credentials and a rigorous new curriculum.

The new certifications are designed to be more helpful to developers seeking higher-level professional work by signifying more specific and proven hands-on job skills and with an even higher industry reputation for excellence.

Microsoft hopes that its new dual-tiered certification program will give developers an opportunity to authenticate their expertise in basic skills and, later, shore up their resumes with an intense program that certifies their ability to apply skills in a specific functional role. The new certifications are designed to be more helpful to developers seeking higher-level professional work by signifying more specific and proven hands-on job skills and with an even higher industry reputation for excellence.

The new credentials offer two tiers of certification. The "Technology Specialist" focuses on the specific type of development that each candidate chooses to specialize in, and the "Professional Developer" certification concentrates on the application of those skills to a specific job role, while simultaneously offering employers a way of honing in on more specific job criteria than in the past.

For developers, the first-tier Technology Specialist (TS) certification offers three options specific to the .NET Framework:

  • Windows Applications
  • Web Applications
  • Distributed Applications

The second-tier Professional Developer certification, for which the TS credential is a prerequisite, offers three corresponding options:

  • Windows Developer
  • Web Developer
  • Enterprise Application Developer

For SQL Server, the Technology Specialist has just a single option for expertise relating to the company's flagship database, but in the "Professional" category, developers can choose from three specialties that focus on real-world application of those skills in a job role:

  • Database Administrator
  • Database Developer
  • Business Intelligence Developer

Finally, an intensive "architect series" is offered for the first time, allowing professionals to prove their ability to deliver on the higher-level objectives of business integration issues.

All the new certifications, but in particular the architect series, emphasize a more academic and intensive peer-review process. Matt Carter, group product manager for MS Learning, likened the peer-review to that of a Ph.D. dissertation, where candidates work closely with a mentor to develop and refine a systemic interpretation of their knowledge, and then defend it before an expert oral review board. The architect role offers two foci: Infrastructure and Solutions. Carter explained that the changes to the certifications were inspired, in part, by the unparalleled reputation of the Cisco certification.



   
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