Why IT design skills are important, and how to measure them

The comments on my earlier post about the MS Security Design exam 70-298 prompted me to add some more general thoughts.

I agree with the comment made that the design exams do generally seem easier in some respects than the straight technical ones, as you don’t need to know the same level of detail of exactly how to do something in terms of making choices in a dialogue box.

On the other hand, the MS design exams do expect you to be able to take in, digest and interpret a load of business and technical requirements (some of the latter may only be implied from the former, some will be explicitly stated). The breadth of this is where the challenge lies in the real world, although the exam will often lead you in the right direction, rather than a blank sheet of paper on which to write an IT security plan. The nature of a computer-based exam does not lend itself to open questions; it would be very hard to make any kind of meaningful sense out of your answer to “How would you improve the security of the data for this organisation? (answer in no more than 200 words)”.

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Passed 70-298 "Designing Security for a Windows 2003 Network"

This morning I took and passed Microsoft exam 70-298 “Designing Security for a Windows 2003 Network”. Having not taken one of these scenario-style design exams before, I was a little cautious even though I was fairly confident of my knowledge of the material.

The first section had 11 questions which was great as I had made loads of notes from the provided fictional case studies, and I sailed through with loads of time to spare. Unfortunately the format of these exams is that the time for each part is independent, so you don’t get to carry any spare time to the next set of questions and use it there. I had a couple of shorter sections where I maybe spent too long reading the materials and answered the last question with seconds to spare.

Overall I found this style of exam to be right up my street; taking in lots of information in a very short time and then applying my technical knowledge to this to come up with solutions to the business issues. Despite the rushed time on a couple of questions I came away with my best score to date on a Microsoft MCP exam, and won’t need to use my second chance to take this.

How do you find these design exams compare to the ‘normal’ technical ones?