Craig Bushman, Vice President, IT Pro Marketing, Pearson VUE
This year, we celebrated the twentieth year of the Microsoft Office Specialist certification World Championship, as well as the ninth year of the Adobe Certified Professional World Championship. Conceptualized to drive greater interest in certification primarily within the K-12 market, the popularity of the courses and the competition grew quickly to a point where the world championships draw hundreds of candidates from all corners of the globe.
As the leading provider of performance-based IT certification exams that accelerate academic and career opportunities for learners, Certiport is exceptionally proud of this initiative, its growth year-over-year, and the phenomenal benefits it brings to the students.
We spoke to Craig Bushman, Vice President, IT Pro Marketing, a Pearson VUE business on the continued success of the competition, and the plans for its future.
Q. What was the initial idea for the creation of the Microsoft and Adobe competitions?
The Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification is one of the most popular IT certifications in the world, with millions of exams delivered annually in 15,000 global testing centers and in nearly 30 languages. Its focus is primarily on K-12 and higher education institutions that purchase an annual license for their school or campus.
In order to drive usage of these licenses and to generate public relations, the idea of a global competition was conceived over 20 years ago. Students love competitions and the MOS competition has attracted students from all over the world to compete annually for the title of “World Champion.” Because of the success of that competition, Adobe requested that we create a similar competition for the Adobe Certified Professional program.
Q. How have these competitions grown over the years?
These competitions have grown with the popularity of Microsoft Office, the ubiquitous use of that software globally, as well as with the popularity of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software.
As the certification programs at Certiport continue to gain traction in education, teachers and school districts look for ways to engage students, to make learning exciting and motivational. These competitions fit that mold and often start with classes in the same school district competing with one another.
About five years ago, we started identifying state champions in the United States. These contributed to the growth and publicity of the competitions. Internationally, as our localizations of Microsoft and Adobe certifications increased, popularity of these exams and competitions increased.
The Certiport business model relies upon a partner-leveraged network outside of the United States. These partners run national competitions that run-up to the global competition. Due to growing exposure in the press, these national competitions are growing in participation.
Prior to COVID, more than 850,000 student exams from 116 countries qualified for the competition. We had a lower participation rate this past year due to some in-country gathering and travel restrictions, but hope to be back to normal in 2023.
Q. How important are these competitions to Certiport and its business partners around the world?
These competitions have a direct impact on the license renewal rates of these certification programs. When school districts and students prepare, practice, and compete, they are using their licenses. We see the public relations associated with these competitions as significant drivers of exposure across the globe as to the value of certification. The competitions have been covered by CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Vibe, and many other influential media outlets. This has drawn interest from state departments of education and ministries of education. Microsoft and Adobe see these competitions as key drivers of their certification business and are very involved in the planning and publicity.
Q. What impact do these competitions have on the students who compete?
We see routinely the value these industry-recognized certifications have on the productivity, confidence, and professionalism these individuals bring to college or their careers. Everyone who participates in the competitions, whether at the national or world levels, are already champions from their respective states or regions. Just competing on the world stage is a significant accomplishment for all. As we have followed some students who have come to our competitions in the past, we see many go on to successful careers or receive significant college scholarships as a result of their accomplishments.
This summer, Hunter Liss, a student from Nebraska who won the Microsoft Office Specialist Word U.S. National Championship, was walking in the Dallas airport and carrying the large winner's check that he received at the competition. Several businesspeople in the airport stopped him and asked about it and offered him jobs on the spot.
Ashley Masters, a high-school student from Washington state, competed in the MOS competition of our U.S. National Championship several years ago. She won the U.S. championship and went on to the world championships. Her enthusiasm and story were so compelling, Microsoft executives who attended the competition offered her an internship. Ashley is now a full-time employee at Microsoft and attended this year’s competition as a judge from Microsoft for other student competitors!
Q. What do our partners have to say about the success of these competitions?
Microsoft’s Jennifer Filarski, Sr. Business Program Manager, indicates that the global Microsoft competition is her favorite event of the year due to the passion, excitement, and success of the event. Each quarter, Microsoft and Adobe review with Certiport Marketing the strategic plans and activities associated with the competitions and ponder how they can continue to leverage them for exposure and driving influence in their software sales and certification programs. Each consider the competitions the top marketing activity of the year associated with their respective certification programs.
Q. How have the competitions changed over the years? How do you think the competition will change in the future?
The competitions have grown from a handful of countries to more than 100 countries and nearly a million student qualifiers each year. We have expanded the growth by driving greater marketing exposure across the globe, hand-held some Certiport partners in markets to show how to run the local competitions, and added sponsors to many aspects of the competitions to drive exposure and reduce costs. As a result, many Certiport partners engage airline carriers to cover the cost of travel to the global competitions, and media outlets have followed student competitors. This past year, an independent filmmaker from Australia and ESPN producers from the well-known series “30 for 30” were onsite to work with us in producing a film over the next 18 months about the Microsoft competition.
Q. How has the quality of contestants changed over the years?
The level of competition continues to increase. As more competitors compete across the world, the quality of student competitors continues to improve. Microsoft’s product teams have come to the competition in the past to do focus groups with competitors and have been impressed with the degree of product knowledge they had at young ages and pre-career. As Certiport partners drive national competitions and local attendance grows, the national competitors are increasing the quality of student competitors.
Q. What are some of the best winner stories you can remember from the competitions?
There are many great stories about students that come out of these competitions. One that stands out to me is a student from Virginia who lived with his mother in the basement of a friend's house. He was extremely shy and suffered from school bullying. In order to stay away from school bullies during school lunch, he would hang out in the classroom of a teacher who taught IT certifications. Recognizing the situation this young man was in, she told him, “If you are going to hang out in my classroom during lunch, you might as well do something productive.” She started his interest in IT certifications and soon recognized that this student had some exceptional IT skills. He began to achieve several of the Microsoft Office certifications and qualified to compete in the U.S. Nationals. Upon arriving at the competition, he indicated that it was the first plane ride he ever had and that his immediate goal was to be the first person in his family to ever graduate from high school. He went on to win the U.S. National Championship in Excel and competed at the world championships. His mother told us that she had never seen him so excited, and that he had come out of his shell. He went from being bullied to becoming recognized in his high school as one of the top students and recognized by the local press and peers.
Q. When do next year’s competitions start?
Next year’s competitions are already underway. Many countries, including the U.S.-run semester competitions, and with school back in session in the northern hemisphere, students are already competing to be the best in their schools and qualify to be state winners for the semester. The top semester winners are invited to the U.S. championships.
Q. Should candidates wish to enter, how do they go about contacting Certiport or your partners?
Most student competitors find out about the competition through their teachers, who are the champions in the classroom driving certifications. Our marketing efforts target schoolteachers to drive interest and participation. More information can be found at www.moschampionship.com and www.acachampionship.com.