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Determine your .NET worth

Certifications in Microsoft’s .NET platform should be valuable-when they’re finally available.

Microsoft’s .NET platform is being touted by some as a revolutionary, language-neutral environment for writing programs that can easily and securely interoperate. The reason for this supposedly great level of compatibility is that rather than targeting a particular hardware/OS combination, programs will instead target .NET, and will run wherever .NET is implemented.

Microsoft has described .NET as a “platform for XML Web services [that] allow[s] applications to communicate and share data over the Internet, regardless of operating system or programming language.” In short, .NET is meant to be built around standards-based computing that allows the company’s products to communicate with any other platform.

Whether or not that level of ubiquity is ever reached by .NET remains to be seen. But with the collective muscle of some of the most powerful software developers in the world behind it, the platform will be making noise for years to come, and anything getting that kind of push is bound to include some interesting training options for programmers.

(Note: The next version of Windows Server will be formally called Windows Server 2003, and it will carry the .NET Connected logo, indicating its ability to connect disparate information, systems and devices regardless of underlying platform or programming language.

What’s what

First, some definitions. .NET is the umbrella term for the Microsoft strategy to move from a client-centric model to a network-centric model. On the server side, it constitutes operating systems such as Windows DataCenter, which Microsoft has been positioning to compete with the mainframe market. In the middle, it’s XML, combined with the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) to expose information in sources such as databases and spreadsheets so that developers can call them with XML. On the client side, it’s operating systems that support XML parsing to display the information based on the tags assigned to it.

.NET is also the collective name given to various bits of software built upon the .NET platform. These will be both products (Visual Studio.NET [VS.NET] and Windows.NET Server, for instance) and services (like Passport, HailStorm, and so on).

At the moment, there are two primary certifications related to .NET: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) and Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD). More on those in a minute. If you think the coming .NET revolution is a gold rush in which you can stake a claim tomorrow, you’d better hold your horses. .NET certs are for established programmers only. If you’re going to learn .NET, you’ll first need to have mastered a programming language–typically, VisualBasic, C#, or C++. The next step is learning the .NET framework, building Windows and Web applications using .NET, and then building XML Web services and server components with .NET.

Step one: MCAD

Microsoft steers the MCAD toward those who develop applications for use at what it calls a department level–in other words, a small business or a portion (department) of a larger business ,with fewer than 500 seats.

The first step toward the MCAD, after selecting a language track, is to pass the language-specific test for XML Web services. This test demonstrates your ability to manipulate data within various programs. XML is the language for Web services, and because .NET is a Web services architecture, everything in the certification process presumes an understanding of XML. At the same time as the XML exam, you need to take either of the user interface exams (Web applications or Windows applications) for the language track you’ve picked. Passing one of these tests will show your ability to build user interfaces as desktop applications or Web pages. Finally, you need to take one elective exam.

The MCAD cert is an optional junior-level title that’s a stepping stone to an MCSD. The core exam asks you to choose between VB.NET or C#. As long as you can program with VB or C#, you can program with any language for which support is available in VS.NET.

If you’re not sure, the MCAD is the way to go if you develop, test, deploy, and maintain department-level applications, components, Web or desktop clients, or database and network services using Microsoft tools and technologies. Even if you don’t fit one of those descriptions, it can be a good route if you have one or two years’ experience building, deploying, and maintaining applications.

The average cost for exams leading to MCAD certification is $125, and once an exam is failed twice, you must wait 14 days before you try again.

Step two: MCSD

The MCSD for Microsoft .NET credential is the top-rated certification for lead developers who design and develop enterprise solutions with Microsoft development tools, technologies, platforms, and the Microsoft .NET Framework. This cert is more appropriate if you’re in a large corporate or governmental office with several locations, each with 200 to 500 seats.

The MCSD is a great step up for software engineers, application analysts, software application developers, software developers and technical consultants. It will show that you can help design, implement, and administrate business solutions with Microsoft products. Microsoft also recommends (but does not require) that you have two years’ experience designing and maintaining Microsoft software before you take the battery of exams.

Four core exams and an elective exam are required. Unlike on the MCAD track, the elective exam must come from your preselected language track–in other words, if you’re on the VB.NET track, you can’t use a C# exam as an elective.

The first two core exams toward MCSE.NET (70-306, Developing Windows-based Applications with Visual Basic; and 70-316, Developing Windows-based Applications with Visual C#) were released last spring.

Similar to the MCAD, the average cost for exams leading to MCSD certification is $125, and once an exam is failed twice, you must wait 14 days before you try again.

Not so fast

Of course, things change rapidly in both the software and training fields, and it’s possible that your .NET training options could do a 180 before you’ve even signed up for your first course.

As with many new initiative this size, training opportunities will come at an excruciatingly slow pace. This year will see the release of .NET Server and its accompanying certification track, and it remains to be seen whether NT 4.0 holdouts will wait for .NET or stand pat with the certifications they already have.

By this time next year, all the puzzle pieces should be in place for a full-blown MCAD/MCSD.NET certification. Last year, MCSDs earned an average of $78,600, according to Microsoft Certified Professional magazine. Could this be your year to take a place in that income bracket?

What it takes: requirements for MCAD, MCSD

MCAD for Microsoft .NET exams, not including elective exams (two required):

Visual Basic .NET

70-305: Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET; or

70-306: Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-310: Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework

Visual C#

70-315: Developing and Implementing Web Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET; or

70-316: Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-320: Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual C# and the Microsoft .NET Framework

MCSD for Microsoft .NET exams, not including elective exams (four required):

Visual Basic .NET

70-305: Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-306: Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-310: Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework

70-300: Analyzing Requirements and Defining .NET Solution Architectures (February 2003) Note: This is required for all MCSDs, regardless of language choice.

Visual C#

70-315: Developing and Implementing Web Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-316: Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

70-320: Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual C# and the Microsoft .NET Framework

70-300: Analyzing Requirements and Defining .NET Solution Architectures (February 2003) Note: This is required for all MCSDs, regardless of language choice.

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