IT professionals expecting easy success miss out on the most rewarding feature of their careers—learning new things.

Just Kick Back

IT professionals expecting easy success miss out on the most rewarding feature of their careers—learning new things.

Let’s discuss this certification thing. One day, you read about big-money jobs begging for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers and decide to enter IT, so you do some research. But that uncovers lots of conflicting information. You hear that the certification process is expensive, but you find certification preparation books for under $50. You hear the process is difficult, but you know inexperienced people who have passed some exams. Indeed, a few of them have been kind enough to document their certification experiences and even share actual questions from the exams. Wow! That should help, as should legitimate test preparation software. With all these resources, you begin to suspect certification will be much, much easier than you thought.

Armed and motivated, you begin to prepare. You try to read some of the books, but they’re dry and don’t have many pictures. So you switch to the test preparation software, going through it once and scoring only 10 percent. But after reading the answers revealed on the bottom of the screen, your second try scores 70 percent. Much better! Two more rounds and you’re acing the test! Yeah, you’re practically an MCSE.

Your ego grows as you download braindumps and memorize test questions. After a week, you’ve convinced yourself that you knew the answers to those questions anyway. So you schedule your first exam. And presto! You pass. You’re an MCP now.

Go through this process six times and get a nice certificate in the mail. You’re ready for a $65,000 network management position, right? Just throw your resume out there and kick back while recruiters hound you with attractive offers.

OK, what’s wrong with this picture? For one thing, it’s a hard sell to an IT veteran like the one conducting your first interview. Whoa! What’s this? You’re being asked questions about SCSI IDs and cables, IRQs, SRAM, Fdisk, Copy, and batch files? Aren’t those old DOS things no one uses any longer? What’s this about WINS, DNS, DHCP, and TCP/IP? Wouldn’t Microsoft have test questions on those topics if it thought they were important? (Microsoft does. It’s called TCP/IP for NT 4.0, and it’s a must for any serious MCSE.) Maybe those IT veterans—people who have actually worked in the field—ask these questions because they know certification and performance are two different things. Maybe, despite acing exams, you’re still not qualified if you don’t know things outside the Microsoft curriculum but required by the job.

Microsoft certification is important, but it hardly tells the whole story. You’ll need to continue to seek knowledge over time from myriad and unglamorous sources. You’ll learn in server rooms with cables strewn across the floor, or in cubes where users have jammed their desktops sideways to fit. And those braindumps you liked so much just a few weeks ago? Well, the best braindump in the world is Microsoft TechNet. But TechNet requires some skill. The right answer first demands the right question and can involve 10 pages of detailed information written for experts only. Moreover, sometimes you won’t find an exact answer, but will have to synthesize “sort of close” answers from scraps of information gathered here and there, drawing on your personal knowledge base to devise a solution.

The best way to cultivate that knowledge base is to surround yourself with people who know more than you. The industry truth is that without experience, certification elevates you only in the eyes of HR administrators and contractors eager to sell your services. When your newly certified feet hit the ground, they better be running, because you’ll still need to prove yourself. And that’s when you’ll need other people—people who have actually been in the trenches and through the IT battles, and are willing to help you. These early days may not be glory days, but the skills you develop now will help you navigate along the path to success.

Once you’ve achieved the core requirements, you’re ready for some electives. Let’s hear from some of you out there—what do you think they should be?

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