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Survey Results: IT Teams' Essential Skills Lacking

Last year I asked you to complete a short survey on your team's essential IT skills. A huge number of you took a few minutes to answer those questions -- thank you! Thanks also to those of you who agreed to speak with me on the phone for some follow-up questions.

The news, unfortunately, is not good. I'd asked about your team's grasp of basics like network troubleshooting, AD basics, and so forth, and almost 50 percentof you said that less than half of your team (but more than a quarter) really understood those basics. Another 25 percent of you said that only about a quarter or less of your team grasped the foundations. That means we're seriously lacking some basic skills -- and I think I know why.

Take a look at nearly any IT-level computer course these days and you won't see much of the basics. They're missing from certification exams as well, even though 80 percent of you said that these skills were "very valuable," with another 15 percent checking in at "valuable." The fundamentals have been pushed out by the ever-increasing number of features that have to be taught, and by some economic realities.

Look, let's just admit that Windows Server 2008, as one example, is a lot more complicated than Windows NT 3.51. Earning an MCSE in Windows NT 3.51 required you to pass six exams, which were supported by about four or five weeks' worth of Microsoft Official Curriculum training. Earning an equivalent certification in Windows Server 2008 requires basically the same number of exams, supported by somewhat less classroom training. That means you're mostly being taught, and tested on, new features -- while the basics have been squeezed out. Nobody's going to accept a 12-exam certification or send their folks to 10 weeks of training, but in reality today's products are probably complex enough to warrant it. So the exams and classes we get have to stuff more into the same amount of time, and so the foundation stuff just doesn't make the cut.

It's a shame. A huge 90 percent of you said your IT teams would be more effective is essential skills were better-understood by a majority of the team, but it's damnably hard to even find training on networking basics, for example. It's like sending your kid to school and having them learn trig without learning basic addition and subtraction, because they just use calculators for that low-end stuff.

Posted by Don Jones on 03/01/2012 at 9:03 AM

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Reader Comments:

Sat, Mar 31, 2012 Ryan O'Donnell Phoenix, AZ

I have mix feeling about the use and vilitiy of having certifications. What I have been took during my experiences in IT is this, read about the past, know what is today, and look forward into the future. I have old book I refresh myself with. I foucs on the next 2 years of tech. Then read up on Blogs, Posts, Mags., to see the latest and greatest. I personally believe that certifications will give you a good grasp on the technology, but for my example, if I studied for MCSE and it's still used today and my company doesn't want to go foward with MSITP, should I waste my time and money to get this cert, if people are still running XP as we speak....You know what I mean.

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 Thomas Edelblute Anaheim

That is why I have not pursued Microsoft certification. Everytime I look at what they are testing on, most of it is completely irrelevant to my day to day job duties. So why should I study for stuff I will never use?

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 Richard Volpe

I also agree. I've been teaching Microsoft's certification track since Windows NT 4.0, and I've seen a steady deterioration in basic Windows Server knowledge. I'm not just talking about the fancy stuff such as designing an AD or network infrastructure. Instead, I'm talking about share and NTFS permissions, how to implement them, and how they work together. In addition, IP addressing, DHCP, DNS, and more. I want my students to be able to look at the big picture, and try to see how everything works together. It's only with that capability that they will be able to successfully function in an IT environment. By the way, I've been teaching at a community college for nearly 14 years, and it's the best bang for the buck that IT students will find. The equipment may not be the best, but students will have 17 or 18 weeks to learn the subject, and we work at our own pace, not the manic pace of the Microsoft Official Curriculum.

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 Norm Willinger Vancouver, WA

I agree 100%. As IT growth spreads into more and more areas, it is becoming almost impossible to start learning a new discipline because one must start in the middle of the subject and try to learn 'forward' as well as 'backwards.' In our shop, folks stay for years. Because of that longevity, we are slow growing and border on obsolete technology because the folks who have learned the new technology don't meet the job requirements to also manage the older tools we have.

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