Advice on becoming a true professional.

Can a Classroom Produce a Solid MCSE?

Advice on becoming a true professional.

I’m considering starting training for an MCSE. My computer experience is limited to what I’ve done at home on my PC. I’m considering a Microsoft CTEC because they promise a hands-on approach. My question is, will this approach give me any more hands-on training than a self-study course or will I be using the same CDs, books, and so forth, only with an instructor in front of me?

My second question: Why become certified with NT 4.0 when Windows 2000 will be replacing it shortly? All the reviews I’ve read for Windows 2000 promise that NT 4.0 will be obsolete by the end of the year. Microsoft itself has announced it will be retiring some of the NT 4.0 tests later this year.

I don’t want to be just another guy with a piece of paper that says I passed a multiple-choice test.
—Daren Cubbedge
Great River, New York

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Let me start, Daren, by applauding your wisdom, your enthusiasm, and your determination. As all of our readers know, becoming an MCSE is the sure-fire way to achieve a meaningful, satisfying career and get rich at the same time. (Ouch! Bit my tongue again! It’s so hard to write when it’s planted firmly in my cheek…)

Seriously, as a firm believer in the Socratic method, I need to ask a few questions—rhetorically, of course. First, why do you want to become an MCSE? Yes, “computers are the wave of the future” and there’s a high demand for skilled, talented people, but is “a fascination with your home computer” going to carry you through not only the training but also the apprenticeship you’ll be facing? In my other line of work, history, there’s a long tradition of “gentlemen historians,” people who dabbled in history because it fascinated them. Luckily, they were usually independently wealthy and could afford to indulge their interests. Not to be discouraging, but I’d like to ask you again about your dedication after you’ve assembled and loaded your hundredth system.

Second, what do you do to support yourself now? I understand you want to “get into computers,” but where are you starting from? This isn’t meant to discourage anyone from a career change, but you need to start thinking now about how you can leverage your previous experience in your new chosen field. For example, if you’re an accountant, there are lots of accounting firms with their own computer consulting division. Are you a teacher? A company that has its own custom or off-the-shelf training division might be a good prospect. A plumber? How about a systems integration firm? After all, parts are parts, and you already understand the flow.

All right, enough of my questions—let’s get to yours. I must say that for the most part I agree with Greg, especially the part advising you to check out the instructor. One way to do this is to participate in a local PC user group. Most of them have general meetings and also Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings that concentrate on one aspect of the technology, like dBASE or Multiplan or wire-wrap bootstrap programming (just kidding!). If the group is active, chances are you’ll find people who have taken classes from every one of the training organizations in your area. Ask them not only about companies but also about specific instructors—if you find an instructor that everyone raves about, sign up for the class, but only on the condition that that instructor teach the class. I remember some of my employees getting burned when the desired instructor injured his leg over the weekend, and a (poor) substitute took over. The instruction was so bad that at the end of the week, the training company offered them a free retake of the class when the other instructor returned, but by that time, they’d already wasted a week.

I’m ambivalent on the NT 4.0 vs. Windows 2000 issue, at least for someone like you who is just starting out. Normally, I’d agree with Greg—companies will want Win2K knowledge and experience, but right now they need help with their current technology. Don’t believe the hype you read in the trade press—remember, those are news organizations, and NT isn’t news, but Win2K is. So, as Greg indicates, the decision depends partly on your timeframe. There will be companies running NT 4.0 for a while to come—heck, there are companies still running VAX VMS, for heaven’s sake! But a Win2K background might be attractive, especially to larger firms that already have a stable of NT experts.

Finally, as our readers can tell you, these aren’t just any old multiple-choice tests you’ll be preparing for. Microsoft has worked hard to maintain both the validity and integrity of the MCP exams. Of course, to become a valued professional in this business you’ll need lots of experience, but tackling the MCSE exams shows a prospective employer not only that you have a base level of technical knowledge, but also that you have the determination to succeed. When you walk into that interview, you can hand the employer your MCP credentials, instead of a line like, “You know, I’ve always had a fascination with computers…”

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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