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What Does A MCSE Certification Get You?

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With the IT industry in a rather sorry state, a few of you may be considering a certification to get ahead of the pack. Question is, does the MCSE certification mean as much as it once did?

Despite only getting into the IT industry 5 years ago, computers have long been a part of my life. I’ve been working with computers since 1987. My first PC that I actually owned was a 286, and it ran MS DOS. It was a pain in the ass to use, but it was fun learning how to make batch files to execute Wing Commander with a whopping 571KB of free ram! I used Windows 3.11 for Workgroups sometime after, but that wasn’t an OS. Nope, that came with Windows 95. I’ve used every version of Windows since then, and pretty much have been satisfied with the various versions. I did get study Graphic Design for a number of years, and even worked as a Graphic Designer for awhile, …in fact, the first computer I’ve ever used was a Mac. But I always went home to my trusty ole PC, much to the dismay of my “Mac friends”.

As a Graphic Designer, I worked in a small software company that wrote Windows software. Seeing the countless beta builds crashing our lab PCs, it was soon apparent they’d need some tech to manage the lab. Eventually, the company grew, and expanded it’s business plan to hosting web applications. There was still an opening for a Network Administrator, and I went for it. There was one catch, they wanted a MCSE to fill the role….

Anyhow, long story short, I was given the job with the promise that I’d complete the MCSE certification within one year, on my time, and with my money. I did it in 8 months. I would have done it in 4, but I was too busy procrastinating when to do my exams. Now, to be honest, since I already had a strong computer background, and a good friend at work training me for several months, the MCSE certification was a breeze. I did struggle with TCP/IP, but the NT based courses were a joke. Work experience was good for me, and it was an edge I had on my fellow classmates. Looking back now, I could have saved myself about 7000$ had I done self-study, rather than doing the instructor led program that I did.

Anyways, this isn’t about me. I’m going to talk a little about what you should expect if you’re planning to get a MCSE. If you’ve gotten this far into the article, either you have some form of an IT certification, or planning to get one, or you’re just bored :)

There are several articles online about different routes you can take to become certified. I recommend checking out Scott’s article over at Maximum3D for his take on the MCSE certification. For those who don’t know, a MCSE stands for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. The title implies that the MCSE is very strong in Microsoft Windows NT/2000 Networking and Troubleshooting. Ultimately, experience matters more than the title, but it’s definitely something an IT Administrator should attain to pad their certifications.

Myth #1: It’s An Easy Certification

Let me say that it can be. If you’re a pure Windows 9x guy/gal, you may find it a bit tough. You’re not in a bad place, because you’re already tech literate, but it is a bit difficult to understand NT based concepts right away. Still, there are similarities between the platforms, so as long as you stay motivated, you’ll pick it all up without too many problems.

Those who are already Network Admins, or similar positions, will definitely have an easier time. There are still a lot of tough concepts, but if you’re in a Microsoft networking environment, you’ll pick up quickly. If you’re already certified in Novell, Cisco, Oracle, or anything else, a MCSE will certainly be an asset.

Finally, for those who don’t know much about computers, other than turning it on, and running your office apps, I’ll have to say good luck. Unless you demonstrate a strong commitment, you’ll just end up throwing your money away. It isn’t impossible. I had one classmate attain certification within 18 months, but 2 others dropped out after the first course.

The easiest way to attain certification is via instructor led training. Unlike self-study, it’s always handy to have an instructor and fellow classmates to ask questions and to exchange ideas. This isn’t necessary if, again, you’re already in the industry, but for others, it may be a good idea. This is the most expensive way to do it, so if this is your plan, you better put aside that next computer upgrade. I said the certification can be easy, but this is based on my experiences with Windows NT. I still need to upgrade my certification to Windows 2000, and despite working with Win2k since Beta 2, I’m still a bit nervous about the upcoming exams.

Myth #2: It’s A BIG Payday!

Lies.

This is the problem with the MCSE certification nowadays. Unlike other certifications, MCSEs outnumber everyone at a minimum of 5 to 1. So right off the bat, you can bet that at any job you apply at where a MCSE is a minimum requirement, at least 10-15 others have already applied.

Other than over saturation, another problem is the number of “Paper MCSEs”. The term “Paper MCSE” comes from the fact that a huge number of MCSEs either stormed through the books and passed the exams, or studied braindumps like mad to pass exams. The second description is probably the more common, which is a shame since these people basically cheated. A “braindump” is simply a place, usually an online site, where people post questions from the exam that they remembered.

Since there are more and more MCSEs being pumped out of technical institutions daily, the above problems just get worst. However, a great source of the original problems originated from the first waves of “Paper MCSEs. In a nutshell, companies were hiring MCSEs like crazy, because these people were trained by Microsoft. They were offered big contracts, and eventually, these companies realized these people knew jack. I read somewhere that, “A MCSE without experience is like having a submarine with screen doors”. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that everyone needs to start somewhere, but don’t think that getting a MCSE is going to land you a 6 figure salary as soon as you get your certification. Those who’ve paid their dues, and are MCSEs (or any IT certification), are probably sitting pretty.

Myth #3: It’s Laughable Certification

Looking at Myth #2, and the media constantly bombarding us with Microsoft security issues, you’d think that the world doesn’t need MCSEs. Let me say that as long as Windows dominates the market, the IT industry will always need competent MCSEs.

A MCSE will (well, they at least should) have a deeper understanding of Microsoft networking and products, and there are areas of other networking technologies that the MCSE training does cover. With so many MCSEs in the world, there is a huge network of minds that can exchange ideas. There is a lot of talk about the Linux community, which is well justified, but the Microsoft community is also very strong and well connected. It takes a lot of effort to be a good MCSE, as it does with any IT certification, and being a MCSE is sure to still score some points with various IT people when visiting various conferences.

Final Words

I hope that clears a few things up for you regarding the MCSE program. I really do believe in it, but I don’t claim it to be the “be all, end all” of certifications. A good MCSE should be experienced, or at least a strong desire to learn on the job. Fact is, when I landed my current job, the MCSE was merely a “bonus” (though it was a requirement to weed out some people). What set me apart from a couple of other MCSEs (that I also knew were competing for the job) was the fact that I have over 5 years of IT experience, and over 10 years of PC related experience. That being said, I applied for a mid-manager type job, so if I had applied for a more senior position, like a CTO, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it.

What’s next? A good IT Administrator should have a strong understanding of one form of IT technology at the minimum, two is better, and three or more is “Guru” status. I’m looking into expanding my database knowledge, as well as padding my OS knowledge with more Linux experience.

First appeared at viperlair.com

Hubert Wong is Editor-in-Chief of viperlair.com. Feel free to visit http://www.viperlair.com. It offers an interative community and provides a
wide variety of articles and product reviews.

What Does A MCSE Certification Get You?
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