Professionally Speaking

The Road Best Traveled

With so many roads to choose from, which certification path should you follow?

I have an MCSE (4.0) and just attained my CCNA (2.0). My ultimate desired Cisco path is CCIE; on the way, I’ll be working on my CCNP. I have two years’ experience with NT 4.0 and am gaining experience with Windows 2000. Is it worth it for me to recertify my MCSE or should I just forge ahead with Cisco? Recertifying my MCSE will take me off the Cisco track for almost a year, whereas, I could already have my CCNP by then. But some have told me that keeping the MCSE current is an important foundation.
— Ron Devito, MCSE, CCNA
Staten Island, New York

Steve Crandall says: Ron, I must say that I agree with everything that Greg says. It appears you’ve given some thought to your future and that your path takes you along the OSI model instead of through Active Directory. Why would you then take a year’s detour and pursue something that has marginal benefit for you? In your case, you really need to take a hard look at the return on investment of your time and money—I think you’ll see that you’ll get a better payback with the Cisco, kid. (I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to write that!)

But this applies to you because you want to be a network engineer and you’ve already started your Cisco training. Let me, for a moment, take a look at the case of someone who’s just starting out, trying to decide which path to take. This is a major career decision, so take your time. Get a sheet of paper and list all the reasons for and against MCSE certification and do the same for the Cisco certification. Do this as objectively as you can—looking at training costs, number of job openings, starting salary and any other factors.

When you’re done with your list, see if you can come up with a rational decision. Objectively and rationally, which is the better decision?

Now, once you’ve completed this exercise, take that piece of paper, tear it into little bits and throw it away. Why? Because happiness and satisfaction on the job are not rational. What you need to do now is visualize—take some quiet time and picture yourself doing that job. If you’re not sure what the actual job entails, find someone who does the job you think you want and talk to them. If you don’t know anyone, find a local users group and go to a meeting. Point is: if you’re not satisfied and challenged by your job, you’ll have spent all that training time preparing for misery.

“Follow the money” is a classic line from “All the President’s Men.” Well, when you’re thinking about a career, that’s only partly true. Yeah, you want a good-paying job in a growing industry, but you also want a job for which the commute isn’t torture because you really don’t want to be there. Balance what you want and what you need.

Also, try to figure out if the jobs will be there when you finish. When I started college, a lot of my friends went into accounting because, at the time, there was a shortage of accountants and there were plenty of well-paying job openings. They really didn’t want to be accountants, but they were told that was where the money was. Unfortunately, by the time they graduated, the shortage was over and some of them had a hard time finding a job. Take it from a historian: Things change.

Yes, I know, I’ve seen the forecasts of dire shortages of IT workers well into this century. But I also get plenty of e-mail each month from qualified people who are having difficulty finding those jobs. How many MCSEs can the industry support? How many Cisco CCN-whatevers? Remember the cycle: the certification is announced; at first, certified people are scarce; because of that scarcity, they command more money; the higher salaries attract more people to get certified; soon we have thousands of certified people; certifications become a commodity to employers; the higher salaries are trimmed back down—the classic supply and demand seesaw.

Go with what you want to do and become very, very good at it—hard work, dedication and excellence never go out of style.

OK, enough of the sermon—back to Ron. One piece of practical advice: Because you have your NT 4.0 MCSE, you’re entitled to one free shot at the Accelerated Exam until the end of this year. Don’t divert a lot of time and energy away from your Cisco goal, but you might want to pick up a self-study guide for the exam and spend some time in the lab with Win2K. For a relatively small investment, you just might pass it—then you’re that much closer to re-certification. As Greg says, keep your MCP status—it just might come in handy!

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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