Certified Mail

Certified Mail: June 2003

Who's worth hiring; how fast will you tread to Windows Server 2003 upgrade?

Walk, Don’t Run
In answer to Dian Schaffhauser’s April “Editor’s Desk” column, “Walk, Don’t Run,” I’m going to be upgrading my NT 4.0 domain to Windows Server 2003 as soon as it becomes available. The driving reason I’m skipping Windows 2000 is that I believe the upgrade-in-place is more graceful with Windows 2003. I’ve been reading as much as I can about it on Microsoft’s sites and have been preparing my LAN.
—Bill Lambert, MCSE
Buffalo Grove, Illinois

We plan to migrate from Novell NetWare to Windows 2003 within months after the release. We’ve had technical reps come in to show us the tools and toys of Windows 2003, and we were very impressed. The migration tools are also very impressive: Users and their files can be migrated from one directory services structure to another with their rights following.
—Dave Maller, MCSE, CNE
Portland, Oregon

My company is mid-sized, and we’re just about stabilized on Win2K Server and Win2K Professional. We won’t move to Windows 2003 for a long while. There probably are a few benefits in 2003 but at what cost? Like many other companies, we’re carefully considering alternatives to Microsoft. A proper job of upgrading takes accurate planning and execution, which takes time and costs money. We want the decision on when and how to upgrade to be ours—not Microsoft’s— because it’s our business that’s at stake. With Microsoft’s current licensing policies, I see several cost-effective alternatives to Windows 2003.
—Mike Robins, MCSE
Crawley, England

I’m the head of a small training, consulting and systems integration firm, and I meet a lot of diverse clients. The overall sense I get from my clients is that people are tired of constant upgrades. They’re struggling just to keep the status quo. They’ve already spent tons of money upgrading to Win2K. They’re finally catching up with that migration and just now getting their employees trained. Even “walking slowly” we’re seeing many clients who are choosing to sit down and relax for a while!
—Darshan Arya, MCSE, MCT
Anaheim, California

I’m Worth Hiring!
I read Em C. Pea’s April “Call Me Certifiable” column, “Hire the Imperfect,” and while I do agree with the interview questioning, she should also take note that the so-called paper MCSEs probably apply to larger companies. If these folks work at a small company (like I do), they’d be quickly discovered as unqualified. I’m the only IT person in my company, and I support about 40 onsite workers, as well as 40 more in different locations. You’d be hard-pressed to find a paper MCSE who could handle the administrative duties and burdens of managing a wide-ranging network.

When I was interviewed for the job, two people responsible for maintaining the network gave me a hands-on test. These scenarios don’t seem too friendly to paper certification holders, in my opinion.
—Mike Mattes, MCSA, MCSE
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Usually I smile or nod in agreement after reading Em C. Pea’s column—not this time.

I may be in the minority, but I did pass all the tests for my MCSE on the first attempt and take great pride in that. I didn’t go through a boot camp or rely on braindumps. Nor did I have the luxury of having years of practical experience under my belt—I’d just changed careers. I signed up for a 14-month evening program with the now-defunct Computer Learning Center, read the Microsoft Press textbooks, practiced loading and tweaking every variety of Windows and studied my butt off for the exams.

Now that I’ve been around the block, would I hire someone with my credentials when I started out? Definitely…but I’m a little biased.
—John Elder, MCSE

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I think hiring those who have failed a test or two is something to consider. For one, Microsoft’s tests aren’t real easy. (Maybe this is one reason for the existence of more braindumps for Microsoft exams than others?) Many scenarios make you dizzy before you go searching for the correct answer. Even worse, your English must be above average to understand the questions.

As for me, I failed my first Microsoft test, 70-215. I tried to take it in a hurry because of a 50-percent discount at that time. When I found out my score was one point shy of passing, I reviewed those questions I didn’t know and passed my retake within a couple of days. That was the thrill of getting my first MCP! Failing a test is really part of the game. It’s not the failing that counts, but the getting up after every fall.
—Gerard Ravasco, MCSA
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I’ve not yet tried Windows 2003, but the biggest problem most companies face is another migration. We just migrated from NT and Novell to Win2K, so we don’t want to throw anther wrench into the mix by upgrading to 2003. I suggested we wait at least a year after release. Windows isn’t that stable until the first or second server patch, as we know from previous OSs. But even with the added functionality, we aren’t using Win2K Server to the extreme; we’re using it for a file and print server. And with Service Pack 3, it’s a stable and secure operating system. There’s going to be a cut-off point for most organizations to say, enough is enough!
—Carlo Finotti, MCSE, A+, Network+
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I went to a boot camp for NT and passed six exams over 14 days, but I’d been an NT admin for a couple years already and wouldn’t classify myself as a paper MCSE by any means. With Win2K, I studied the Microsoft Press books, used the product at my company in a test environment and paid for some practice exams, which allowed me to hone my skills. I passed the five exams I needed to become an MCSE on Win2K and took the MCSA exam sans practice tests. To date, that’s 12 exams taken, no fails. My employer doesn’t require certification, but I do for my own satisfaction.

Still, I find myself imperfect. I find the exams strenuous, even the ones that are considered easy. Because I work for a small company, I don’t use many of the technologies on which I’ve been tested. I’ve been with the same employer for 10 years; however, if I move to a different company, I hope the new employer doesn’t expect me to know everything. Instead, I hope they look at what I’ve done over the long haul and realize I’m one who can accomplish things when given an opportunity.
—David Fosbenner, MCSE, MCSA
Maybrook, New York

I had to giggle about the reference to paper MCSEs. My associates and I call them popcorn MCSEs, as the boot camps were popping them out in NT 4.0. I worked hard for my MCSE and did fail one exam. I studied day and night and basically disowned my family for months to pass these tests. I also have more than eight years of experience and a networking degree. I failed Networking Essentials twice for NT! What an embarrassment. I look forward to taking only a couple of tests for Windows 2003 and will still study just as hard for those.
—Jeffrey Sturm, MCSE
Minneapolis, Minnesota

In my opinion, the way in which employers should find employees is simple. If certifications matter to the employers, they should indicate which certifications are required for a position and filter based on it. Then, they should do all the hard work involved in any hiring process to scrutinize the candidates left standing. Of course, maybe it is cheaper to simply take the first step, skimp on the second and repeat the process if the resulting hire proves to be worthless.
—Joseph Egan, MCP, Linux+, Network+
San Diego, California

How can you fault someone for striving for excellence? Assuming a person would not be suited for an IT job based on passing their exams may have a hiring manager pass up someone who would make a great employee.

I decided to enter the exciting world of IT and obtain my MCSE certification after a twenty-year career in the military. I studied very hard to pass each exam and grasp the concepts at the same time. My specialty in the military wasn't technical, but I was fortunate enough to work with technology in the job thereby gaining some experience. My limited experience was nothing compared to folks working full-time in the IT field.

My first IT job was a contracting position as an NT Systems Administrator in a medium-size enterprise environment. Although the hiring manager was nervous about my limited experience, he decided to take a chance on me. During one discussion with the manager, I told him I hadn't built any great enterprises, but I thought by passing the exams on the first go around I certainly understood the material enough that I could learn as I gained experience. During my time with that company I was even called on to teach the full time administrators NT skills. The manager later told me he knew he made a wise decision to keep me on, in spite of my limited experience. The company later hired me as a full-time employee.

Maybe we are sometimes too quick to label someone as a paper MCSE. Just as there are people who pass certification exams and aren't suited for the IT field, there are those in IT who don't want to learn new skills and are just as unsuited. A wise hiring manager can recognize potential.
—Shawn Garmer, MCSE, CTT
Springfield, Virginia

Enough on the paper MCSEs gripe. Not everybody can just work two or three years and take those precious Microsoft exams. I worked for a church for 15 years doing accounting and maintenance. After that, I went part-time and started attending a technical college. In two years, I became A+, Network+, MCSE and CCNA certified. I carried a 4.0 grade point average throughout my courses. I used anything and everything I could to pass all the exams for my certifications, and I never failed one exam. I got a job three months ago as a Computer Systems Analyst. The company I work for has a couple of servers, about 50 computers and two offices with a router at each office. I confess the real world is not the same as the classroom, and I spend a lot of time researching different resources for the problems I run into—but I'm learning and having fun.

People are trying to make a living and sometimes need to be given the benefit of the doubt. The ability to get the job done really has nothing to do with whether you pass or fail certification exams. But without the credentials, I never would have gotten my foot in the door.
—Kim Judd, A+,Network+,CCNA,MCSE
Macon, Georgia

I appreciate all the feedback from people about their own experiences with the MCSE exams. As we all might have predicted, no one wrote in to claim to be one of those paper MCSEs that we hear so much about. Who knows, perhaps there aren’t any after all. Oh, and a personal note to those of you who wrote in high dudgeon to defend your own perfect record on the exams: A careful reading will reveal that Auntie nowhere claimed all perfect records belonged to paper MCSEs. Watch out for that sort of thing; careful reading is a skill you’ll need to pass on your next Microsoft exam!
—Em C. Pea

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Jul 6, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

very bad

Fri, Jun 13, 2003 Mandingo2003 Washington D.C.

I'm a paper MCP and I don't appreciate the bad rap that we are getting. Anything but paid experience is considered noexistent. I can't help the fact the noone would hire me as a LAN Admin without the cert. I have a CCNP and everyone raved about that cert, but I couldn't get a job managing a NIC, let alone a router. I now manage a Windows 2000 network for the govt. and realize that the reading I did really helped. All you Einstein's who are in denial about being a member of my fraternity need to stop bashing paper people and giv'em a little respect for putting forth an effort.

Thu, Jun 12, 2003 Mark Washington/DC

A couple of months ago I finished obtaining my MCSE. As a 20 year veteran of the IT industry I have seen our industry go through a number of changes. Certification is nothing more than continuing education. When veiwing certification from a training and proficiency perspective, the argument for paper or popcorn MCSE is irrelevant. If a person can sit down and truly absorb the material and pass the Microsoft exams, withstanding using the braindumps cheating methodology, then they have demonstrated a fundamental level of competency to apply and to continue to learn the Microsoft product in my estimation.

My respect for Microsoft certification has radically changed after obtaining certification. I know what it took me to obtain my MCSA and MCSE certifications. It was hard, difficult and time consuming, but what I learned has been invaluable.

I am sure there are those among us willing to take the shortcut to certification by memorizing the braindump test questions for Microsoft exams. That caliber of individual will be discovered within two weeks in my IT shop, amongst practicing professionals.

The most validate argument against certification is the time required to achieve certification. Many professionals are challenged to balance the operational demands of day to day work with the need for continuing education. This is a personal choice for professional development. An IT professional realizes that continuing proficiency in this industry lies on that professioals shoulders. It is not the obligation of the firm that employees you, it is your responsibility and the true professionals in this field know and practice this approach to continuing education.

If a wannabe paper or popcorn MCSE has truly studied and obtained certification by honorable means I enjoin them to be honest in the hiring process with a potential employer. As a hiring manager I respect folks you are self motivated, directed, focused and willing to learn and adapt, this skill can serve to differentiatel you from the crowd.

In summation, for those of you pursuing an IT career, pursue certifcation as a learning process and nothing more. Decide to work for those whom will mentor you. And be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Remember IT is a team environment and we must rely on one another to keep these systems working.

Wed, Jun 11, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

To the above poster I agree that it is frustrating working with unqualified personnel on the job. However you indicate that "Management" indicated to you that the person is able to keep his or her job based on lack of representation which I assume you mean the person is a token and has no other function in the position outside of that.

Assuming that my assumptions are correct I will tell you what I tell alot of people who complain about "unqualified" people holding positions that they souldn't hold.

Your management team has some serious issues and should all be fired for hiring a person that is unqulified to function in a position. To suggest that they couldn't find a person who is representative of a community--and-- who is also qualified is BS.

Try again.

Wed, Jun 11, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I sit near someone at who just came back from a boot camp an MCP/MCSE/MCSA who could not have passed those tests unless they had a co-pilot. There is no way this person should have these certifications. All MCSEs I know who also know this person wanted to tear up their certs when they heard. We don't know how this person did it, but there had to be something fishy going on. I do not believe that a boot camp should be allowed to conduct the testing. They depend on customers saying the boot camp got them certified, so they make it happen at all costs (including integrity). Until this happened, I thought the tests had some value. I agree that hands-on testing is a great idea, but it won't really matter as long as those conducting the tests have a vested interest in seeing their customers pass. You say maybe there are no paper MCSEs? I now have to deal with one on a daily basis and it is very ugly. This person keeps their job because there is a lack of this person's minority representation in the organization. Management told me that quite explicitly. I am not assuming anything. I would be quite surprised if this comment found its way onto your website.

Wed, Jun 11, 2003 Ric Crouch Warner Robins, GA

Regarding perfect records on MS exams... I passed each of the four exams I took, but for a different reason--at a hundred bucks a pop, I DEFINITELY over-prepared so as not to have to pay that twice!

Wed, Jun 11, 2003 Ken Broggelwirth, A+,MCP, New York, NY

Regarding the continued noise about "paper MCSEs." I have to say that I was a long term veteran network/system admin through Novell, UNIX, and Windows. I've seen my fair share of defensive IT people who refuse to go to any class or take a test. Often with mumblings about "paper MCSEs" (which was "paper CNEs" until MS knocked many Netware installations off the map. I ended up going for the gusto and went for the certs (when Windows 2k showed up) and was surprised to find that is was much harder than I expected and failed more than a few tests. Eventually I went on to work at a CTEC that was also a Prometric Test Center. We did occasionally catch people cheating, but for the most part my stats from that test center as well as ones I was able to unofficially uncover from MS reps say that the pass rate is very low on these tests (especially for smart ass industry people like me who underestimated how much more there was to know than what was in my little world). From that experience I come to the conclusion that although cheating may have been common during Win NT MCSE days and the tests were easier, it is no longer the case. I say that we should all drop the paper MCSE thing and take our medicine. I do many consulting gigs and am surprised how many incompetent admins are out there who manage to hide in the IT noise and either never went for there certs, or lied to employers who were too dumb to check up on them. Also, much like a college degree, the MCSE cert is only the beginning. You still have to put in your time to really get any good. And to those that still think the gravy train is running, wake up! before corporate america outsources everything IT to other countries with people who respect the value of study, training, and education and are willing to do the job well and for less than us. Get good at the technologies fast and keep ahead of the curve and stop taking advantage (didn't get me started on this one, I could tell you stories about the stuff that goes on).

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