In RomSoft, the idea to become a Microsoft Certified company came, at first, from a very simple principle: the development tools were expensive, and so many people around us were simply pirating them. Time confirmed that what was at first an ethical problem has turned today into a serious security issue and a liability that no company can afford.
The day we became a Microsoft Silver partner (in June 2010), we celebrated with enormous satisfaction. The Silver partnership came with 25 Windows licenses and 10 Visual Studio licenses, at a moment when the cost for a Windows license was pretty high, even for IT companies like RomSoft. Six years later, in April 2016, we became a Microsoft Gold Partner for software development, and we’ve maintained this level ever since.
It’s a continued effort for both the company and the team and we are very proud of this sustained marathon that inspires us all. But I often wondered about the story behind the milestones, the titles, and the accolades. So I’ve spent some time talking to my colleagues to understand what it means to get a certification and why it’s important to have one. This is what I’ve learned.
Why should a software development company be Microsoft certified?
For a company, as more and more developers become certified, regardless of the program – Microsoft, Oracle, and Red Hat – a trend is created. People will have information at their fingertips, and they will know how to prove it. In front of peers, and in front of customers. They will be able to prove that they know, what they know and how they know it.
The customer will see the company in a different perspective. If you want to win over an important customer, especially a customer who puts value on procedures, processes, quality, and a customer who works in a highly regulated industry, then this customer will probably appreciate working with a certified company.
In the same way, our ISO 9001 certification helped us a lot in our collaboration with our customers. As the most prominent name on the list, there is Sysmex, one of the top laboratory diagnostics and healthcare companies in the world – since it operates in such a highly regulated industry.
The 27001 Security Certification is another chapter in the same book – to own this certification means to have a high level of security for your company’s Intranet, a well configured firewall, database, and backup system.
Nicu, one of RomSoft’s co-founders, concludes it better:
“Looking back, none of our certifications were obtained in order to show off, or to checkmark an item on a list. The idea was to use them as much as we could, to improve the development process and to raise the technical level of our team.”
Nicu Popescu, managing director and co-founder at RomSoft
Last but not least, these partnerships come with strong financial incentives. Through our Gold Microsoft Partnership we have access to 30 MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscriptions, 100 Windows licenses, 100 Office licenses, support, and more. These don’t cover all our software needs, but a fair chunk of them.
What does it mean to study for a certification exam?
Not being a developer myself, I turned to some of my colleagues who took on the challenge and went through a Microsoft certification process.
From their point of view, there are two aspects: The first one is that you learn because you need to know, and to own that knowledge. The second aspect is that you have to learn in order to pass the exam.
On the practical side, people have different learning patterns. They use different instruments and techniques to learn faster and more effectively. From mental mapping to video tutorials, from notepad to blog notes, from PDF reading to old-school highlighter on printed exam courses, everything goes.
But in the end, going through the bibliography at least once and taking some test exams to anchor the new concepts is what seals the deal and helps you pass the exams.
What makes people keep on learning?
The motivation that drive people to this sustained learning effort may be very different, but it seems that there are some common themes that kept on emerging in our conversations:
Preparing yourself to use a new technology
When you study for a certification exam, for a specific technology, you learn a specific way to use that technology. More exactly, you learn how to use it, and how not to use it. What are the most important scenarios? What are the scenarios that were initially projected, and which ones proved viable in production?
In Microsoft technologies you have this situation very often. They come up with a new technology. Then, the technology goes through several iterations, until it becomes truly mature and you can count on it. These certification exams are an opportunity to learn.
Gaining a more comprehensive view of how technology evolves
Occasionally, a certification process helps you find out about concepts that you don’t necessarily bounce against in your day-to-day developer work. Some questions help you think about scenarios or functionalities that you wouldn’t normally think relevant.
Stefan, who is one of our Microsoft certificates veterans, offered a unique perspective on the AZ-204 certification – Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure:
“I liked that I interacted with some technologies that I had first contact with during an older certification. In the meantime, the technology has changed a lot. But it was nice to see how the SaaS transition was conceived, from its early developing phase (where one can’t argue it was very solid) to the current phase, where you can feel that Microsoft really is interested that SaaS becomes a very important part of their business offer.”
Stefan Dascalu, software engineer at RomSoft
Achieving a new career milestone
Being internationally recognized, a Microsoft certification acknowledges a certain professional level that you have for using that specific Microsoft technology. It guarantees that you have a certain technical level to anybody who wants to work with you.
To raise yourself at the team level
A more particular motivation comes from the belief that nothing comes easy and you should always keep yourself in check with the professional level that is required on a specific job market. In IT, the bar is set very high.
“The less knowledge I have in a certain technology, the more I am challenged to prove to myself that I can learn it. It doesn’t matter the amount of time that it takes me, I will get there, where my colleagues and peers are.”
Irina Coclici, software developer at RomSoft
A mindset for continuous learning
TThis way of thinking is very common among IT professionals. It was very well summed up by my colleague Dan:
“Personally, I like to learn anyway, because software development is my hobby. And I want to do my job the best way I can. There will always be new technologies, many of them solve existing problems. So they help you do your job better, write better code. The applications that you develop will become more robust, and will serve the final user better.”
Dan Vasilov, Principal design engineer in the Office Timeline project
Can you study for an exam and keep working on your projects as usual?
That is another concern that I thought people might have when pursuing a Microsoft certification. As we all know, time is an important asset in our professional and personal lives alike. Sometimes it really feels impossible to allocate the extra hours to study for yet another exam.
The workaround we found at RomSoft was to offer a 5 days study time per exam that can be allocated whichever way the developer feels comfortable. Of course, often times, 5 days are not enough to learn a new technology. But it’s a starting point.
The preferred strategy among people I’ve spoken with was to take a little bit of time every day. Either at the beginning or at the end of the work program, or when they have idle time. It is important to learn in small steps to allow information to be fixed. The (not so) secret recipe is to have a first contact with the information, then try to use it, and then go once again through it. This helps to use as much as possible your logical sense and not learn by heart.
Most popular certifications in RomSoft and key takeaways
In search of some visual gratification, I made the following RomSoft Microsoft Certifications infographic:
The top three certifications by number of people owning them are as following:
|70-483 – Programming in C# – 8 occurrences|
|70-487 – Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services – 6 occurrences|
|AZ-204 – Developing solutions for Microsoft Azure – 5 occurrences|
In viewing these stats, I couldn’t help but wonder what is it about Azure related certifications that makes them so popular? Following a fascinating conversation with my colleague Dan, I could see that he is kind of the master mind behind this outcome.
As he puts it:
“Azure is a set of technologies so new, so powerful, freeing the developer of so much redundant work … I’ll always encourage people to be curious about it.”
Dan Vasilov, Principal Design Engineer in the Office Timeline project
For example, in many instances we prefer to use Azure Storage instead of a relational database, because it spares us a lot of effort. Similarly, using Azure Functions (Lambda). Or Azure Key Vaults, able to properly secure the application secrets. Or Azure Static Web Sites, greatly improving the app performance, reducing the costs, and diminishing the attack surface.
If your project is suited for Azure technologies only, you can focus solely on your business need, and implement only business logic. The entire project infrastructure, the plumbing part – Azure is taking care of.
However, no matter the certification type, there’s an important personal effort behind every one of them. And all of them, together with the non-Microsoft related certificates, all the trainings, and the practical knowledge that is gained in the everyday work field, create the unique technical fingerprint of RomSoft.