IT Schools: Readers Weigh In

Readers speak up to tell us about their training experiences—the good and the bad.

Recently, MCP Magazine asked readers to tell us about their training experiences, good and bad. The response was phenomenal. If you’re debating about what school to attend, check for your potential school here. You’ll find plenty of specific recommendations—pro and con. Thanks to all who wrote.

All That Sucks in Training

Staffmark Training Center,
Little Rock, Arkansas

In November 1999, I enrolled at Staffmark after meeting with its sales people. The $6,500 tuition seemed reasonable for A+ and MCSE training. It promised instructor-led lectures, hands-on labs and a 95 percent job placement rate of students, with starting salaries of $50,000 to $75,000 with no prior experience. I must admit that the A+ course was decent. It consisted of an eight-week instructor-led course in a formal classroom setting. However, things changed after I passed my A+ certification exams and proceeded into the NT 4.0 MCSE track.

Training consisted of CBTs that I, as well as many other students, found terribly dry and boring. After listening to the CBTs for 70-058 Networking Essentials, I decided that my time would be better spent studying on my own. The lectures, as it turned out, consisted of one session per each MCSE track. The “lecture” lasted no more than 90 minutes and sometimes the “instructor” was an MCSE student “upperclassman.” The hands-on labs were poorly planned and of little benefit. As it turns out, few, if any, of the school’s instructors were MCTs and/or licensed instructors with the State Board for Private Career Education. As a part of our study materials for each track, we were given a “braindump” that someone had downloaded from the Internet. We were told that if we memorized the questions and answers we’d certainly pass the test.

I quickly realized that Staffmark’s idea of training would make me nothing more than a paper MCSE. If I had followed its plan I would have been lost when I got my first IT job. After that first class, I rarely attended a lecture or a lab at Staffmark. I received my MCSE certification in October 2000 because of personal study and hands-on training. I’m using the same approach in my pursuit of Windows 2000 MCSE certification.

As for its advertised job-placement rate, Staffmark didn’t set up a single interview for me. Several weeks after I began my new job with ClearPointe Technology Group, one of Staffmark’s job-placement employees called my house one afternoon asking for me. My wife told her that I was at work, to which the placement employee asked, “Oh, where is he working?” After my wife told her, the Staffmark employee asked, “How much is he making?” to which my wife responded “None of your business.” I’d be willing to bet that my file at Staffmark shows that they placed me in my current position. Also, Staffmark’s claim of starting salaries of $50,000-plus may be true in larger metropolitan areas and Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t hold water in Little Rock.
—Jim Doyle

Business Training Institute
Rochelle Park, New Jersey
When I went for my initial tour of the school, the recruiter had told me the program was in its third booming year, and it was getting bigger and better. They told me that companies were always looking for interns and graduating students, and it had an alarming placement rate after graduation. It had new equipment and it was the right price. I signed up. The only thing that kept us 16 students in that class for 12 months was a great teacher, Luis Hernandez. After graduation, I got absolutely no help in finding employment from the school. In my view, the school had my money, and that was all it wanted. If I had to give advice to anyone, I’d say, talk to other students enrolled in the program and ask to get graduating students’ recommendations. The school itself was poorly run, and I told them so after I found employment on my own. I will go through Web-based training for CCNA next, as well as Win2K.
—Bob Limite

Silicon Valley College
Walnut Creek, California

The school advertises that you can get an associate’s of applied science degree in network systems administration. At first, the school seemed pretty good; it took us through the basics. We started with computer hardware. The school encouraged us to take the A+ certification, and I’m glad I got that one.

The second class we went into was Networking Essentials. All of the classes used Microsoft Press books. Unfortunately, the teachers possessed no Microsoft credentials. Out of nine instructors, two were qualified to teach Microsoft courses. My instructor had no background with networking and hadn’t read the book before the first day of class. Her lack of knowledge in the subject showed right away. I convinced 10 other students to sign a letter about this problem, and the instructor was removed from the college the night I turned it in. However, we were in the fifth week of a six-week class and never received reimbursement, nor the chance to take the class over.

We moved further into NT Server, IIS, and the whole MCSE suite of exam preps. Instead of teaching us the Microsoft software, they taught us how to pass the MCP tests by the use of braindumps. The material that was given to us appeared to be word-for-word as it appeared on the MCP test. Most of the time, the instructors would show up for about half the allotted four-hour class. I complained to the dean of the school and even the president. Their response: “Just stick with it until you finish school and get that degree.” I’ve since written many letters to this school demanding a refund for the classes. It has denied each one.

I got lucky with a referral from a neighbor and obtained a position within an IT department. I do love computer technology and won’t give up even with such a setback as I have described to you.
—Julian Engel

Quantum Training & Development
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

I paid $15,000 for a 54-week instructor-led course. The pluses: I lived reasonably close to the school; hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an hour for lunch; full-time students got a free laptop; the instructors were qualified (see minuses); each student had a lab computer; six NT exams were included in the cost of the course; parking was free; and there were a couple of fast-food places nearby.

The minuses: The instructors picked up their certifications just prior to training the class (on the fly); the school didn’t have an authorized testing center until near the end of the course; there was a lack of computers for each student during the course (they sold most of them and didn’t replace them); there was no router to program (the school bought us a software version to play with); and the software had no licenses.

Cisco training started one week before Cisco retired the same exam. We spent two months training for IIS 4.0 because the instructor said it was too hard for us without the additional time (even though it was soon after retired). We had minimal lab time (on average, much less than an hour a day). One instructor was nearly illiterate. The instructors read from books for hours upon hours daily and had no real experience (most came directly out of school and taught). Books were filled with lots of errors. The two NT electives were being retired and school was aware of it, but kept teaching those classes. Computers were mostly P133s with 32MB of RAM, and shared with other classes. Ghosting was required to get back the previous day’s configuration (which took a long time).

The results: I had some initial struggles until I discovered Transcender’s or similar CDs; I spent a three-month work term in which I trained students online (the blind leading the blind); I got to keep the broken laptop; I had no real work experience; and I became really disillusioned and considered dropping future certifications.

So I’m upset and the clock still ticks, the loan needs to be repaid, and I have no job or prospects. My girlfriend still supports me (great gal). The bottom line is that I do know my stuff and can’t figure out how to break into the “IT World.” I have more than 20 years of experience, but none of it is really “official”—it’s mostly helping others with their machines and software problems.

The best advice I can offer is to look for the results from past students and not the glitter. Get a full list of a previous class to see how they made out before giving a training center any money.
—Robert MacPherson

MicroAge Learning Centre
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Three years ago I decided to pursue my A+, CNA and MCP certification in NT 4.0 with MicroAge. The training was fantastic. The instructors were talented, competent, and insightful. More importantly, they were able to keep our attention while still achieving the level of technical proficiency required to succeed in the field (not just pass the exams!).

In November 2000, I went back the same school with two friends to pursue my MCSE in Win2K. Fifteen thousand Canadian dollars later, I'm disgusted with the training I received. The instructors who had taught three years ago had all left. The current instructor was a contract consultant who had just left a company to be out on his own. He essentially read from the book and expected us to follow along. The best part of the whole thing is the promised placement with a company has never materialized for Derek, who completed his MCSE almost three months ago.

I think that I will just go after the next certification on my own. That kind of money would buy an amazing test lab ($6,000); a couple of complete sets of prep books from a number of different companies ($1,500); all of the Transcender exams ($2,000); with $5,500 left over to take the exams (that's five attempts at each of the seven exams!) and a couple of hundred bucks left over to print resumes when I'm done!

IT Academy
Denver, Colorado
I attended an MCSE boot camp after taking out a loan for $7K. I flew off to Denver to achieve the pinnacle of certifications for Network Administrators. Once there, it was clear that the teacher was not interested in whether the class completed the certification. What made it so clear is that she spent all of our breaks in the hotel bar across the street. It was a mixed bag. All of us had varying degrees of experience (from complete novice to 15-year veterans). I was only three years into the industry, yet felt I had enough hands-on experience that a boot camp was the perfect option for me. In the end, we all ended up taking the copies of Transcenders that where part of the curriculum and memorizing the questions. I was so disheartened, I didn't even study for a couple of the tests. Needless to say out of a class of 15 students, none of us walked away with our certifications, not even the "Grey Dogs." Two years later and certified as an MCSE through self-study, I've decided that it's just not worth it to take classes in something that is better learned on the job. I do intend to recertify as an MCSE for Win2K but I won't continue to upgrade my certifications if Microsoft continues to retire certifications. [This school appears to have gone out of business or is operating under a different name.—Ed.]
—Glenda S. Canfield

A Cedar Rapids, Iowa community college
If I had to grade my training experience, I'd say it was a C at best. Our instructors are pretty good. However, the technology we used was for the most part seriously out of date. We currently have only one lab that's even capable of really running Windows 2000. I'll probably be able to use my certification for something, but I might have chosen a different path last year if I had known my training experience was going to turn out like this.

New Horizons
Richfield, Minnesota

New Horizons offers evening training, which works better with my work schedule, as well as pricing incentives that take the sting out of the cost. I paid for the training myself. I'm not a network administrator or developer. I sell software technology — embedded operating systems. I felt I needed the training to better comprehend my customers' environments. I tell you this because without a daily dose of administration chores, the material and tests are quite challenging. New Horizons' evening classes start at 5:30 p.m. and end at 10:30. Most classes are seven nights; some run consecutively and others are on a more sane schedule of every other day.

For a non-practitioner the material comes fast and furious. The classroom training and Microsoft training material didn't prepare me for the exams. I needed to purchase additional texts in order to supplement the classroom training, and on top of that, I used brain dumps from the Web.

The instructors were OK. Most had solid industry experience. I started my training by getting the A+ certification. The instructor's knowledge was obviously all text book. An Exchange class was conducted by someone who lacked the industry depth or teaching experience to be conducting the class. One instructor who had great job and teaching experience didn't do the labs because he thought they were too simplistic. Not a good choice for me. I eventually set up a small NT network in my home.

The net is, the material is coming at you almost too fast if you don't get to practice on a daily basis. This was my choice, since I needed to do night training in an accelerated format. I needed to spend equally as much time at home to prepare for the exams. I don't believe anybody, even with experience, could pass the exams with just New Horizons classroom training. It's not rigorous enough.

My masochistic tendencies have led me to sign up with more classes at this New Horizons facility. They had some highly discounted coupons which can be applied to instructor led training. I bit. I'll use the coupons for Win2K certification courseware.
—John Shasky

US Training
Miami, Florida
I went to a rip-off school and I knew it was a rip off school from day one. I paid for the course the day it started and the only trouble we had was some of the course books arrived two days later. They were offering NT 4.0 training in 1998 for only $1,271. For this amount you were given books, software and a two-and-a-half-week, eight-hour-a-day course on NT 4.0. Not bad. The instructor was an MCT, and while he was book smart he didn't have any real-world experience. I got what I paid for. Understand that during this same time other schools were charging $8,000-plus for the NT 4.0 track. The school is no longer here, and I don't know if they still exist. To others, I say, go in with your eyes open. Don't be misled by salespeople and don't think you are going to make $50,000 a year by being certified and having no experience. Last, try to pay for the course the day before or the day it's set to begin. [This school appears to have gone out of business or is operating under a different name.—Ed.]
—Raul H. Morales

Torrance, California
Apparently, this company went by various names and eventually moved to Los Angeles. At the time I was unemployed (laid off from aerospace), and I thought since I had some computer experience, it would be a good idea to go for my MCSE certification. I found a program offered by the Employment Development Department which paid for my MCSE training. So I went to iNet Versity and talked to one of their counselors. This guy broke out the usual newspaper clippings showing how much an NT Administrator can make in a year and gave me the whole sales pitch. I bought into iNet Versity's sales pitch and signed up.

As I took the MCSE course, I noticed the instructors weren't very bright on the subjects they were teaching. I learned that one of the instructors who had been teaching us NT 4.0 Workstation and Server wasn't even an MCP. The guy had no prior work related experience with NT let alone computer networking. He was a student who had taken the same course I was taking, and the school hired him after he was done with the course. Most of the instructors at iNet Versity made around $12 an hour. This course went on for five months, and I was promised I would be found the perfect job and that I would be making at least $60K a year.

When I finally finished the course, and it was time to find a job, iNet Versity started giving me the cold shoulder. All the contacts they said they had in the business didn't seem to exist now. I dealt with them for two months. They finally told me about a company that was hiring, and I went to that company and applied. I got the job with seemingly no help from iNet Versity. I was told that as part of the MCSE program that I took through EDD and iNet Versity, I was supposed to be employed for six months or the school wouldn't get paid.

I was employed for three months then laid off. I called iNetVersity and emailed them numerous times and they gave me the runaround for another month. I found a contract job for one month at a company in Sherman Oaks, which ended in December 2000. After that I was unemployed for two months. I contacted iNet Versity once again and then decided to file a complaint with EDD, which did nothing. I then filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Unfortunately, I'm still unemployed. It has gotten to the point where I'm considering a different career choice. [This school appears to have gone out of business or is operating under a different name.—Ed.]
—Shane P. Hagan

Certified Technical Institute
San Diego
The school was just opening up in San Diego but originated from Utah. I went down and checked it out. I liked the sales pitch and a few weeks later I signed up. They did make promises like starting salaries at $60,000-plus, but I took that with a grain of salt. The school was going great, five nights a week, four hours a night to go along with my part-time computer tech job. One week before I finished the MCSE track, the school folded. Poof! Gone. Totally bankrupt. Thankfully, California has a private school tuition reimbursement program. Right after the school closed, I landed a good helpdesk job at the company I'm currently working at. I finished my MCSE and then MCSE+Internet on my own by just doing self study.

My advice: Try your local university, community college, or tech school. Prices will be better, and courses will be suitable for a working adult. If you have the discipline and some disposable income, set up a lab: two or three computers, a hub, maybe even a router or two. Get on eBay and shop. Buy stripped down computers (while keeping in the mind the Microsoft HCL). Last, read magazines like this one. They're full of great articles.
—Thomas Tenhunen

America's Computer Training Source
Virginia Beach, Virginia
They used all the usual tricks and traps to lure me in: promises of an immediately successful career, the prospect of their job placement representative finding me my "dream job," and a claim to provide me with all the materials I'd need to pass the tests. I bought the nine-month long program hook, line and sinker, $13K price tag and all. The initial two months were quite rigorous, and the entire staff was overly friendly (I now assume only because at that period in time, I was still entitled to a refund if I dropped out of the school), and enabled me to earn my A+ and Network+ certifications with ease.

After the actual Microsoft training began, it became more apparent of the racket that this particular institution had going. It quickly came to my attention that it is nearly impossible to pass a MCSE test with only the MOC as a study source, as was promised before I laid my money on the table, and the list of lies I was told only began to grow from there. The staff of MCTs numbered around a dozen, but I can count on two fingers how many of those actually conveyed a sense of interest in our success and completion of the program.

When I finally achieved my MCSE (three months before the program ending date, to boot), I figured the job placement coordinator would have no problem helping to line up interviews, especially with the obvious effort I put in to finish up early. However, by this time it didn't even surprise me when all I received from her were excuses about how she couldn't find me work, there are no jobs right now, and the like. They've already got my money — why should they care what happens to me now? With luck and four months of effort, I was able to land a great job, with absolutely no help from my school.

I'm sure there are some institutions out there that are well worth investing time and money in, but ACTS is nothing but a sham. In the coming months I will begin to pursue a bachelor of science/computer information science degree. The way I look at it, that will be money well spent vs. further IT certification.
—Aaron Frketich

Hesser College
Manchester, New Hampshire
Hesser lured me in with "state of the art facilities" and "Microsoft certification..." Silly me. I believed it and signed up for the road to MCSE. This was in January 2000. The "state of the art" lab was Windows 95 (for which exams were about to be retired). When we raised complaints, the official response was "We're not geared toward Microsoft..." Long story short, I stopped going to Hesser and didn't have to pay for classes I had already attended.
—Jen Freeman

Wilmington, North Carolina
I am a cardiovascular technologist in a hospital looking to change careers. At Softrain the instructors not only had to be certified, they were required to have good experience. I invested a lot of evening time and money for good hands-on training with great equipment. The certification and education "sub-industry" is definitely a gargantuan money making machine. Of the 72 pages in the July issue, 30 are advertisements for certification or hurry and pay for the next certification before you "expire." The foundation and fuel for all of this can be found on the mouse pad I received from my training center. Microsoft says, "Seize the Opportunity." On my mouse pad with Microsoft logos and colors, the following is emblazoned: "Fast forward your career, get certified." I got certified. I'm in the same career and my debt was fast forwarded.
—Mark Townsend

Newport News, Virginia
I'm a career changer. Entre's the kind of company that hypes the market and possibilities, showing the 20-year-old with no college making $40K on local billboards and in local papers. While I didn't buy into the hype, I did feel that there were ample opportunities for a person with certification. Oops!

I trained for and obtained my Windows 2K MCSE, a difficult task that took seven months. It was certainly all the more difficult with no formal background in the field. The quality of my instructors was good, and training was rigid, but I saw a bad trend toward hiring anybody willing to do it. I could have been hired as an instructor there right after my own training, but I vowed I would never again teach without a background in the subject I'm supposed to teach.

The other issue I have with this center is the "service after the sale," or in this case the lack of it. Once you're in the door and paid, you're left on your own for job finding despite the claim of "placement assistance." This assistance comes in the form of copies of Internet job postings, which you're already finding for yourself most likely. I expected to see sales/placement people who are in the hip-pockets of local IT directors and have the inside track for putting good students/talent into local positions. I guess I expect too much but I think that's what I'd do if I were in the position.

In hindsight, my advice for selecting a CTEC is: 1) check the experience levels of the instructors; and 2) check the placement statistics of all students, not just the three or four success stories that the salespeople have carefully rehearsed for you. My CTEC doesn't even try to keep in touch or abreast of my status. (If I contacted them and told of my new job, I'm sure I'd be one of those success stories that new prospects hear about.) Also, ask the salesperson for his list of local IT contacts. If you get the blank stare or an excuse for not producing one right away, walk away!
—John S. Kane

Lanop Affiliate (Orange Training Corp.)
West Orange, New Jersey
My training started with an introductory program that was a sales pitch to get me interested in training with Lanop. I attended the one day affair and was impressed so I signed on at a cost of about $6,000. Their training combines self study, classroom preparation, lab time and practice exams. I passed Windows 95 and Networking Essentials within a few months and was on my way to the coveted MCSE NT 4.0. Simultaneously, I had been talking with my future wife and we were discussing a possible move from New Jersey to Missouri, where there are no Lanop outlets. Before I moved, I explained the situation to the school and they helped me out by giving a CD with practice tests, CBTs, and all of the training manuals I would have gotten had I been able to stay. I was now on my own.

I decided I needed more reference material so I bought the Exam Cram and Sybex books. I already had enough of my own equipment to build a test lab and really didn't get that much out of the classes so I figured I could do this on my own. The six-month recipe worked well, and I was able to complete the MCSE in February 2001 a few weeks prior to the extended deadline.

The upshot of all this is that I could have completed the training on my own using self study material, resources I already owned, and Internet resources for about a sixth of what I paid to Lanop. I'm preparing to start studying for the Win2K MCSE. I've purchased or obtained several good practice test engines, Exam Cram books, and a few other books. I have beta copies or 120-day copies of Win2K Server, Win2K Pro, and Win2K Advanced Server, which I'm now using to upgrade my test lab. I'll get the Win2K MCSE on a budget of around $1,000.

I'd recommend Lanop to someone who is new the IT Field and very "green." The resources they have and the people you might meet while at their location could prove helpful to a newbie.
—Dan Obie

Connecting Point
Duluth, Minnesota
I received my A+ and MCP a little over a year ago from Connecting Point, which promised grandiose money and prestige. I stopped only at my MCP because I realized halfway through the class that my hard-earned MCSE would soon be null and void. I mentioned this to my instructors and then finally to the owner of the facility, but they continued to push us (the class) to continue anyway.

Of course, I bucked the current, stating that this was just not right. And besides, it would cost $15,000 to boot! I even approached my classmates regarding these very same issues; they rejected my views as disgruntled and wrong. From that point on I was ignored by the staff and the class.

If there's anything people can glean from this horror story it's this: Thoroughly check out the facility you plan to attend and spend thousands of dollars on. Contact your state and city Better Business Bureaus to see if they're registered and if there are any infractions or complaints about them. Ask in-depth questions regarding their credentials, staff training, financial aid packages and if they provide job placement.
—Tanni R. Poole

Getting It Right

Monterey Park College
Monterey Park, California

The teachers don’t teach to the test, but from the book to real-life experience. This school actually lets you touch the computer during class time when you need to. Provided you’re A+ certified, you can take apart a computer when the classroom exercises required you to do so. Other perks: a warm and friendly staff; and when you finish your run of classes, you and your peers get a pizza party. I first chose the school because I saw that it had three branches and has been around for almost 10 years. The school is ACICS-accredited and can provide financial aid. Those are two important things people should look for. Many schools just offer the quick way to certification and aren’t really accredited. They don’t follow any standards. This school does.
—Allen Tang

Albany, New York

The classrooms were well-equipped and the instructors were knowledgeable. When a question was asked that the instructor didn’t know, he or she would take the time during breaks or lunch to get the answer. The instructors didn’t simply read from the book, but added their own experiences. They’ve also been willing to answer questions not directly related to the class when there’s time. I’m hesitant to go elsewhere.

While some individuals are right to be disappointed with the training they received, individuals must ask if they might share the responsibility for poor results. When taking a class, students would learn more and ask better questions if they prepared ahead of time. I try to get a basic understanding of the subject prior to the actual class. In doing so, I can focus my questions on details that are confusing or unclear, rather than waste time on topics that are quickly understood with a bit of self-study. I gain more from the class that way.

The other problem is that we all want something for nothing. The training centers that promote large salaries are dangling the same, old carrot—and they’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge as well. The reason people believe them is they either haven’t done their homework (i.e. investigated the IT field), or they simply want to believe there’s a shortcut to high salaries. Expectations need to be realistic.
—Chris Lightner

New Horizons
Knoxville, Tennessee
Just wanted you to know that there are some good schools out there that give the opportunity with realistic expectations. New Horizons instructors have both hands-on experience and add much to the curriculum and value of the class. I believe that 60 percent of what I’ve learned (and been able to apply at the testing table and in the field), I’ve learned not from the MOC but from the instructor who could break it down and teach why a certain operation or attribute functions the way it does, how to diagnose problems, and how to fix them.

I attribute this to two things: 1) The school was locally owned and is still managed by the former owners. So far, it doesn’t have a production-line mentality; 2) The instructors. Ritchey Hume and Fred Cobb are DEC guys who migrated to NT. One is a private consultant, and the other works for Compaq. It would cost me around $150 to $250 per hour to pick their brains as consultants. You can imagine the opportunities there in terms of getting the bang for your (outrageous) Microsoft class buck. I ate it up, four hours a night for eight to 10 nights per class. The instructors made the difference here.
—Greg Horner

MCSE University
Sandy, Utah
I took the 15-day upgrade accelerated class. The first morning we were asked if we had done unattended installs. I replied that in all my NT 4.0 classes it was mentioned but never done due to “time.” The instructor, Walter Boyd, then told us that we’d be spending the whole first day on all the different ways to install Win2K, including RIS, SYSPREP, and so on. I knew right then that I was at the right place. From then on everything was hands-on. The environment was very conducive to learning. The instructor was fantastic and had a wealth of knowledge. He had no problem sharing this wealth.

We actually had Compaq servers with hot-swap drives as our workstations. Most places use workstations with the server OS installed. The class ran from 8 a.m. to about 6:30 p.m.. After that it was lab time and reading until midnight or 1 a.m., seven days a week. The pace was hectic and we were told that this type of class isn’t for everyone. Because of this, the other students were top-notch.

Walt took pride in his work and really wanted us to leave with the knowledge to implement Win2K correctly and efficiently. I learned so much there that as soon as I learned things, I connected to my server at home and made changes to correct security and other settings. It was more than worth the money and time.
—Greg Engels

Old Dominion University’s ITPro program
Norfolk, Virginia

The courses I took not only helped me toward my certifications, but I also received credit for them.

The teachers are knowledgeable and always willing to help you out. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they’ll find it or help you find it. They have good labs that are set up for learning exercises. Also, they understand that many of us are not full-time students, but full-time workers with families at home.

Once I had completed my MCP status back in 1998, I searched hard for a job with a company that would allow me to grow and get on-the-job experience with the NT 4.0 OS, which is crucial to complete the learning experience. I started out at the dreaded help desk and quickly progressed to Level II technician, then Field Service Tech; now I’m one of the LAN administrators. I made a good decision to work for a company that allowed me to grow while I completed the rest of my certs.
—Karen Causey

Seattle, Washington

NetDesk was pricey ($8,100 for 27 days of classes, equaling $300 per day). Fortunately, my company paid for the classes and allowed me to take full-time day classes to concentrate on learning Win2K. The facility is very well set up—no more than 16 students per class (always fewer in my experience), with well laid-out workstations. I took my tests there and liked the testing facility also, which was comfortable, quiet and well-lit. The instructors were very well trained and seemed to really know and like the subject matter. While they allowed us to delve deeper than the MOC, they kept us from getting off on irrelevant tangents. They were available before and after classes for extra help and had a lab available for our use after hours. I don’t think that just taking the classes would (nor should) prepare anyone for the tests. I had a test network at home; bought sample tests online (MeasureUp); and read, studied and worked hands-on for probably an additional 40 hours per test. I also had a great motivation: I have to upgrade our network and make sure it works! I passed all the exams comfortably the first try, except 70-222, Migration from NT, for which I just didn’t study. (Passed it on the second attempt a week later.)

I also have 20 years of experience in the computer field. I doubt I’d hire an MCSE with no experience unless the person had some academic background in the field and was willing to accept a computer assistant position. When I was seeking a new computer assistant, I got resumes from several people with no computer or computer academic background, but with an MCSE; these people wanted $60,000-plus! I couldn’t believe the gall (or stupidity?)!
—Lynnette Goodman

The folks at NetDesk really took the time to delve into what you really are interested in doing and finding the right mix of classes to facilitate that end. They have a knowledgeable client support staff, and the instruction was above and beyond the call of duty. They not only brought the necessary knowledge into the room with them, but they also brought a touch of fun too. They were not just the contract teachers you see in many places, but full time staff that I have been able to call and question even months after the class ends. Each time I passed a test, there I was, surrounded by well wishers. These folks are the best. Even though I work at an AATP, I realize there are different learning types and styles, so while I'd love to help everyone who comes here for training, there are those who desire or need the compact learning style of a CTEC. I send them to NetDesk.
—Shay Jones

Hamilton College
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

My instructor was Sheila Sorensen, who had her MCSE, bachelor’s degrees in English and computer science, and an MBA. The instruction was excellent. Many of the students in the class had jobs before they were three months into the nine-month program. I waited until I got my MCSE. I got almost nothing from Internet job searches and temp agencies, but when I put out hard-copy resumes, I got an interview for a second-level support job working at John Deere within days and was offered the job two days later.

I’m presently a network administrator in Erie, Pennsylvania making what it took my Dad more than 20 years to work up to at General Electric.

Getting my MCSE and studying at Hamilton were two of the smartest moves I ever made.
—Tom Strike

Computer Education Institute
Riverside, California
This school didn't mess around. The networking program was five hours a day, five days a week for eight months. You had to pass a test to get into the program, and it cost about $10,000. Studying a minimum of three hours a day after school was imperative. We lost 75 percent of the class by the end.

The curriculum included hardware, Novell and NT. No exam question memorization — just hands-on. Excellent computer lab with several hired tutors covering all shifts. After this, I was hired by a company doing second-level technical support for $10 an hour. I knew that no company would hire me as an administrator or engineer with no experience. I was able to get a junior network technician job soon after that, due to having some "computer" experience combined with the schooling. I was an MCSE four months out of tech school but I still wanted some kind of experience before I shot for a network job. Three years later I make $52,000 and owe much of my success to the school that let me learn as much as I wanted.
—Nathan Steere

Mountain View Systems
Fort Collins, Colorado
The Mountain View Systems Windows 2000 MCSE Boot Camp in Fort Collins, Colorado is, without question, the finest training course I have ever attended. James Carrion taught us how Windows 2000 technology really works, in addition to what we needed to pass the certification tests. [Carrion is also a columnist for MCP Magazine. — Ed.] James explained the most complex subjects (Active Directory Schema, Replication, Group Policy Objects, Trust Relationships, Inheritance, Public Key Infrastructure, Routing and Remote Access, etc.) in such a way that we all understood the subject matter.

The accommodations were first rate. The Mountain View staff and Marriott staff were very helpful and made sure that everything was right. Everyone in our class had access to the training room 24 hours a day. There was no traffic or commute to worry about because the training room is in the hotel.

This was also the most intense course that I've ever attended. The classes lasted about seven to eight hours a day, seven days a week, but we also spent four to six hours a night studying, sometimes in groups and sometimes alone. Most of us passed all seven certification tests on the first try, and those who failed a test passed on the second try. Everyone in our class graduated as a Windows 2000 Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer!

James Carrion spent many hours after class helping small groups and individuals with some of the more difficult concepts. Prospective students should have a year or more of experience with Windows NT and some familiarity with Windows 2000. I highly recommend the Mountain View Systems Windows 2000 MCSE Boot Camp to anyone interested in achieving or upgrading Microsoft Certifications.
—Ammon Doc Leeson

Southern Methodist University's School of Engineering, Advanced Computer Education Centers
Plano, Richardson, Houston & San Antonio, Texas
Wave Technologies
Dallas, Texas (specifically, Irving,Texas)

Clearwater, Florida
I made a career shift from manufacturing to computers three years ago, after being laid off. SMU offered classroom training with a server for every two students and a full lab we could use after class. It was just what I needed: total immersion and lots of motivated students to study with. My only criticism was that my particular instructor tended to "read the text" and not "teach" but there were other instructors who could do this. The course took about four and a half months and I passed my last two exams within six weeks of completing the course. (Then I landed a job where 80 percent of my time was dealing with Unix!)

Last year I went through Wave's CCNA course. It was intense, and yes, they taught to the test; but the course material (and lab equipment) was superb and required the student to comprehend and perform real skills necessary for a CCNA. My only criticism was the instructor joked too much and often wandered off course; but I was impressed with the facilities, the equipment and some other instructors I met.

Then, I attended Hewlett-Packard training on HP NetServers to achieve my HP Star certification at TechData. Here, the equipment and instructor were very good. The more experience you have, the more you will gain from a class/lab setting. I had none for the MCSE. I had no illusions about what that MCSE meant and that I had just begun to learn.) but some networking issues and building HP servers as part of my current job enabled me to "go deeper" with the material presented in the other classes.
—Eric G. Brown

Laindon, Basildon, Essex, UK
There were 16 or so students in a class, which doesn't help when you want to ask questions. My advice would be to go to a good training establishment with no more than six to eight in the course. However the training was on the whole good and I felt I learned a lot, except there was a lot to take in. The course gave me confidence in learning the material. It was definitely of benefit, but I reckon next time for 2000 I shall go it alone, with the books, especially Microsoft training kits. I would say that 80 percent of preparation for exams was done outside the classroom.

If I could make £100,000 a year doing gardening, I probably would do it. Any way, I really enjoy computing and don't regard it as work. And I get paid a pretty decent wage. So my advice is keep getting qualified, but keep on the look out for other things as well.
—Bob Oldershaw

Parsippany, Northern New Jersey
I spent a lot of time in self study to prepare for the classes. Of the four instructors I had, each was very knowledgeable in the subject area, and one in particular was an excellent instructor. I was very satisfied with the classes and felt I received my money's worth. Included in the fee for the classes, were New Riders Exam Study Guides, access to the MeasureUp exam prep site, and a $100 voucher for each exam.

As far at the certification frenzy goes, the "too many IT jobs to fill" myth is in fact a fantasy. I hate to say it but the promises of getting a lucrative IT job by attending training classes — even attending classes at reputable firms — is a ticket to the unemployment line. No employer is going to hire someone, be it a person with an MCSE or and MCSD, who has attended training, and has merely passed the exams. It just isn't going to happen.
—Charlie Bruno, MCSD

EdNet Career Institute
Woodland Hills, California
The students were mostly displaced aerospace workers. I think we were all JTPA funded. The facilities weren't elaborate, and the equipment wasn't "state of the art." But the training was an intensely focused six months. We were in class eight hours a day, five days a week, and spent most weekends in the school working on labs. We built our own machines from components supplied by the school and re-networked the classroom for each new MOC. It was a real testament to the staff that almost my entire class achieved NT 4.0 MCSE status. We were never promised we'd get high dollar jobs after graduation, but we did have a sense that we were getting more than a paper certificate. The training I got there provided just enough background to get started in this new career.

Like most new guys in this business, I worked any temp contract I could get until I finally accumulated a little real-world experience. A year ago I landed a regular 8-to-5, salaried tech support position. Today, I supervise our helpdesk and administer our new Win2K network.

Now I'm back in school at a local technical college in Eagan, Minnesota, upgrading my MCSE to W2K. This time classes are paid for by my employer. I'm attending classes two nights a week, with one eight-hour Saturday session each month. The school isn't bad, but I sometimes wish I was back in that schoolhouse in Woodland Hills. My present class started out with 14 students in April. There are six of us left today. I will probably be the only one who will actually try to certify after completion in August. The atmosphere here is completely different from that at EdNet. The information is presented pretty much straight out of the MOC. There's no emphasis on preparation for certification testing. I guess that's the difference between a community college and a commercial CTEC. Certification was the carrot at the end of the stick. It's still a pretty tasty carrot.
—Jim Freemon

Wave Technologies
London, UK
I've successfully completed the CCNA 1.0 and CCNP bootcamps at Wave over a period of 12 months. I found the level of knowledge and equipment on hand exceptional. The instructor for both camps was Indi Sall, a CCNP on his way to becoming a CCIE. The CCNA camp was one week and very intense. Starting time at 8 a.m., a quick break at 10, a quick lunch at 12. Afternoon was much the same, finishing between 4 p.m. and 5:30.

Not only did we learn what we needed to pass the exam, but we learned about how things work in the real world. The CCNP boot camp was much the same. A two-week excursion to hell and back: four exams in two weeks. A slow start due to late arrivals. First exam, Routing. Not to be taken lightly. A lot of theory going over all in the Cisco Press book, which we all should have read prior to the camp. A lot of configuring routers as a group and in pairs. Wednesday, exam day, we had only the morning to do the exam, as we had to start on switching in the afternoon. All but one candidate passed. With a renewed confidence we then started Switching. Once again, into the depths of the books and even more hands on using 5505 and 2900 switches. Intense practices. Friday, exam day. All passed. No let up for the weekend, even though we weren't in class. Week 2: Straight into the course material. Remote Access first. Most of us found this hard going since we mostly work on switches. Lots of setting up ISDN circuits and backup circuits. I personally found this hard going as did a lot of the other candidates. Wednesday, exam day. Feeling very unprepared. I passed the exam with a quite good pass. Straight into Support. Not a lot of hands-on to be done — mostly playing with different commands and seeing the results. Some troubleshooting mainly due to errors in the previous labs; still good practice. Friday, exam day. The final hurdle. Some had been brave and taken the exam on Thursday evening. The last four of us took the exam and passed. The candidate who failed Routing on the first exam passed it on the second attempt. A 100-percent pass rate on a very intense course.

I'm now looking forward to increasing my Cisco knowledge and possibly going after a CCIE. It's scary to realize what you don't know when you're out in the real world and getting in the thick of it.
—Simon Pell

Academy of Florida
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Not a lot of hands-on, but the teacher, Scott South, was outstanding. While I was finishing my exams, I noticed that the students taking the new Win2K course were required to do numerous labs before they were allowed to take exams. The upside and downside to this training center is their extremely small size, which limits the price, and availability of teachers to help with labs; but the staff who are there have great people skills and immense technical knowledge. They also have a test pass guarantee if you follow their lab schedule. The prices for classes are much more affordable than any other training center I have ever heard of.
—Ray Douglas

Rhino Systems
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Rhino believes its instructors must also be implementers and so require each of them to work at what they teach. My SMS instructor, Matt, also uses SMS to implement network upgrades and installations. Those who teach programming work as contract programmers. This affords the students a wealth of "real" background when taking classes. I've taken four classes there, most recently the Upgrading Skills class. The school seems to go out of their way for their students, going so far as to supply Friday lunch for those of us attending a five-day classes and having snacks at each major break. Of course, this doesn't make the classes better, but sometimes little things can break up the day and make the atmosphere nicer.

One of the nicest things about the company for whom I am working is their support for training. We're a company specializing in industrial construction, with much work being done in the power production facility field. We have administrative assistants pursuing degrees in fields not normally considered "secretarial." My own manager believes I should upgrade my present certification to the Win2K track. To this end I have four classes scheduled for this year alone. It's really not something I've ever seen in other positions I've held. AZCO, Inc is not paying lip service to training/education. It's actually doing something about it.
—David Dahl

London, Wokingham, and on-site, UK
This training organization makes a lot of effort to ensure that the training is a pleasant experience with first-class facilities (including an excellent lunch, coffee, biscuits and croissants and air-conditioned offices). It encourages its staff to go out into the real world so that they can supplement the official text with how stuff can really be made to work. The staff are all very approachable and will go out and find answers to all the questions posed to them. When I had the misfortune of being made "redundant" in the middle of my company-sponsored MCSE, I was able to come to an arrangement with Azlan that enabled me to finish my training at a very reasonable rate.
—Paul Harman

Richland College
Dallas, Texas
I received an associate's degree in computer networking and took classes for my MCSE and CNE. Each class was six weeks long with lots of labs. They met two days a week, generally from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. The instructors in most of my classes had real-world experience and certifications. This helped greatly since they could tell you about working in the industry. After getting my MCSE, I got a job in a help desk for Bank of America. When I started, I was very nervous that I was not as prepared as they wanted me to be. After a week of training I knew I would was OK. I went back to the same school, took classes for my CCNA, and passed that certification. I'm now working on the Windows 2000 classes.
—Stephen Dempsey

New Horizons
Hartford, Connecticut
I found the instructors for the most part to be excellent and quite helpful. The sales end of things used all the charm words to lure you, though I hadn't paid that much attention to what they promised. I knew what I wanted and asked questions of my instructors when I didn't know something. Every instructor I had thanked me for asking the questions I had. At a morning coffee break I had sat with a couple of them. They were thankful because week in and week out they lecture to blank faces with vacant eyes. Each of my instructors gave me insight and opinions on books they've used as well as Web sites they frequented and one gave me the all important knowledge of how to use TechNet. Wow!
—Dan O'Neill

New Horizons
Denver, Colorado
I've taken seven training courses and each one has been excellent. I'm continually impressed with the level of knowledge the instructors display there, especially the last class, "Updating Support Skills from Microsoft Windows NT to Microsoft Windows 2000." That class consisted of about 16 MCSEs who rattled off question after question concerning the various nuances of Win2K. The instructor, Shawn Stugart, handled each question with superior knowledge. I kept thinking how scary it would be to stand up in front of 16 "know-it-alls' and handle everything they can throw at you.

As for those who would blast certifications, I say, take the certification for what it is: a way to obtain a great deal of general knowledge about a certain topic/software/OS/. It's not a guarantee for high-paying jobs, but it is valuable knowledge to have if you use it in conjunction with real-life IT situations. The combination of certification and experience is greater than the sum of its individual parts and the key in finding those good-paying IT jobs, even in slow economic times like today. I managed to combine my certification with actual experience, and, yes, I'm making what they said I would!
—Kevin Bollinger

New Horizons
Lexington, Kentucky
After three years of working as a contractor in a large network test lab, I signed up for an MCSE program at New Horizons, paying a fairly hefty sum for seven classes and six exams. The training was fairly useful, filling in some holes in my experience and allowing me to pass all of my exams on the first try. I combined the classes with lots of studying and a fairly good lab in my basement. Becoming certified allowed me, in combination with my experience and degree, to move up the ladder to a different job with more upward mobility.

A friend who has a degree and career in a totally unrelated field has paid a large sum of money to the same training center, hoping to get through the MCSE program, become certified, and break into the fabulous world of IT riches. The advertising for the training points out that the average MCSE salary is around $68,000 per year, without mentioning the many years of experience that go along with that level of earning. After attending several classes, having paid a large sum for an MCSE track, this person is now being asked by the training center to pay several thousand more dollars to continue attending classes. His IT career is still non-existent.

Many training centers deliver a good product, but they use less than honest marketing to try to bring in as many bodies as possible, without regard to the student's prospects for success. It seems that many people will strike at the chance to start a new, high paying career in as few as three to six months. The truth is that none of these training programs is able to prepare someone with no experience or education for the immediate riches they promise. If it sounds too good to be true...
—Timothy L. Wisner

Bloomfield, Connecticut
New Horizons
Trumbull, Connecticut
At the time, I was new to networking concepts. My employer was planning to install an NT network and asked if I would like to head up the project and manage the network after installation. To ensure that I took the assignment seriously, they required that I obtain MCSE status. At that time, IKON was a great facility with excellent instructors. My only problem was with some of the students. Some treated the time away from work as a vacation, with little motivation or requirement to learn. Some had little or no computer skills and had to be tutored in the basics. Some craved attention and had to demonstrate to the class their vast knowledge of the obvious. In the higher level classes like SQL 6.5 administration, there were fewer of these types. I earned my MCSE in early 1999 and completed a successful network installation.

I've since moved on to another employer that's requiring me to upgrade my cert to Windows 2000. I enrolled this time at New Horizons. I've already taken 1560, 1562 and 2150. I'm scheduled for 1561 next month. I'm very satisfied with New Horizons. They have a "guaranteed" class policy, which states that certain classes will be held even if minimum attendance is not met. Martin Wuestoff is the primary networking instructor at this New Horizons franchise. He's well prepared and very knowledgeable in the course material. He also provides demos and further explanation where he feels Microsoft may not have given a topic enough attention. Overall, I feel that both CTECs were top-notch training providers.
—Rob McCabe

New Horizons
Knoxville, Tennessee
Just wanted you to know that there are some good schools out there that give the opportunity with realistic expectations. New Horizons instructors have both hands-on experience and add much to the curriculum and value of the class. I believe that 60 percent of what I've learned (and been able to apply at the testing table and in the field), I've learned not from the MOC but from the instructor who could break it down and teach why a certain operation or attribute functions the way it does, how to diagnose problems, and how to fix them.

I attribute this to two things: 1) The school was locally owned and is still managed by the former owners. So far, it doesn't have a production-line mentality; 2) The instructors. Ritchey Hume and Fred Cobb are DEC guys who migrated to NT. One is a private consultant, and the other works for Compaq. It would cost me around $150 to $250 per hour to pick their brains as consultants. You can imagine the opportunities there in terms of getting the bang for your (outrageous) Microsoft class buck. I ate it up, four hours a night for eight to 10 nights per class. The instructors made the difference here.
—Greg Horner

Smart Digital Technology
Fullerton, California
Last year I heard of thousands of IT jobs waiting to be filled nationwide and overseas. So I decided to go to school. I shopped around at eight different schools. After checking with others, I decided to attend Smart Digital.. They take the time to make sure you understand the courses and you can even sit in with other classes as a refresher. They're a reliable and honest business. They don't over charge their students like some other schools I looked into, and they don't offer a "free computer" with the A+ course, which is another rip-off. (Everyone knows the cost is included within your tuition to the school and it's usually a minimally equipped computer anyway.) All schools have job placement assistance but none of them can guarantee you a job after you graduate, although they give you the sales pitch that they will if you attend their school. I'm currently still trying to get into this IT field but I'm keeping my options open to return to trucking, my previous field. Right now most companies have a hiring freeze due to the economy. In fact, I've gone on several interviews and they say they're using NT, and it works fine. They don't want spend the money to upgrade and get new licenses for Windows 2000. So for now I'm in between the famous "rock and a hard spot."
—Jon Martinez

Creative Networking Concepts
Sussex, New Jersey
CNC is a Microsoft-certified facility that uses only top-notch MCT and CTT trainers and that conducts their testing strictly by the book. They go to great lengths to make sure their students are provided with anything they need to be successful in their MCSE quest. Although they use the MOC for their tracks, the instructors often delve much deeper into the more important concepts and add extra hands-on labs to help assure students can apply what is being taught. The labs reflect real-world situations and are not just simple plug-and-play jokes. They strongly and repeatedly encourage all students to form study groups and use their facility to the maximum degree.

I don't expect the credential to net me a $100K/year job that I don't deserve. I just want it to provide me with enough knowledge and credibility to start in the field, and have the opportunity to learn even more from working with more experienced IT professionals. After spending the last 25 years doing something I hated, just because the pay was good. I'd simply like the opportunity to spend the next 25 doing something I actually enjoy.
—Andy Morris

Dallas, Texas
I went to TechData's Advanced Cisco Routing Class. My instructor was at the top of his field. He had real-world experience and was able to get this information to us. The classroom setting had newer equipment and the routing labs worked great. We even got to throw in some bugs and see if we could fix the problems they caused.
—Dave Samic

Advice on Training

As a result of my experiences as a trainer and trainee, I can reduce my opinion of a good training program to a single word: Instructor. While it's true the facility does have some impact (good light, equipment, temperature, and the like), the single biggest contributor to the success of the candidate is the instructor. The instructor makes up for inadequacies in the materials, physical plant and personalities of the students — for good or bad. My ideal instructor is one who not only has the credentials but also works in the industry. The experience factor of the instructor provides for "real world" augmentation of the theory presented in the materials.
—Brent F. Goodfellow

First, my training came entirely at my own expense and at my own rate of learning. Several promises by employers along the way to help offset the cost proved to be unfounded. Second, my training and certifications were not taken seriously by anyone until I had built my own connections inside the industry. My mid-life career change came at a time when I needed to do something I really could love. That meant a mix of training. Since I couldn't get experience, I chose a community college. From there I cultivated connections to begin trying networking skills in various environments for free. I was already A+ certified and had been building boxes on the side and that was a big help. I did roughly three years of freebie work after hours and on weekends. Next, I began to purchase books (lots of books!). Reading only created a bigger desire to get more hands on.

Then I chose the next step: closing out a retirement account, I took some of the money and signed up for a boot camp. I already had some limited experience, a junior college certification, and a good reading background. We had 11 people in my camp; only six of us made it all the way through. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about "paper MCSEs," but if the intensity of the camp I went through is any indication, I would say the boot camp was an excellent experience.

Did this make me a networking guru? No way!

After all this, the most important lesson I learned is that there's always more to learn. You can't stop. That's the beauty of this business. It's impossible to know everything. And that's its challenge as well.

Learning to say thank you, asking for help, and sharing information without reserve would help the public's view of IT professionals immensely. On the other side, this industry has also been hurt because companies expect to have multi-disciplined IT professionals with experience in every piece of software ever made. This makes for an environment that discourages hands-on learning and developing local resources, both of which are extremely important for a network administrator or desktop support specialist.

The last thing I've observed is that companies no longer like to contribute to the cost of training. Certifications change almost every 18 months anymore, but the industry is usually one or two operating systems behind. This is happening with equipment as well. That means for an IT professional to stay in the hunt for knowledge, they have to keep training. This in itself justifies higher wages, since companies are balking at providing that training.
—Darwin Steele

I would like to offer an instructor's point of view. I joined the technical training facility I currently teach at based primarily on past experience as a student and the center's reputation in the community. Coming from a mix of four years in the field and prior (apps) trainer experience, it was a validation of my hard work to be accepted into such a group. I've taught over 2,000 students in my training career. There's simply no method of calculating the hours I have spent in preparation for each class; but it makes every minute worth it to know that a student of mine will leave with what he or she came for. I know it may be difficult, but prospective students need to do homework on the training centers in their area before committing those hard-earned funds. Do whatever it takes to find others who have attended each facility you're considering and get their opinion. Preparing for a career in this industry isn't easy; so take the time to qualify the training provider you choose and dig in!
—Butch Waller

Before deciding which school I was going to attend, I spoke to people in the field, asking where they went and if they would recommend that school. I also attended open houses at these schools. I decided only two schools were worth it, Computer Learning Centers (which has since gone out of business) and Temple University's IT program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since Temple is a college, I figured it had a reputation to live up to. CLC had been in business for over 40 years so I figured they knew what they were doing. I chose CLC and graduated in October 2000, with an A+ and MCSE in NT 4.0. But from the start I knew the bulk of the work would be on my shoulders. Diploma or not, I was responsible for my success. I found a job within two weeks of graduating. In closing, don't believe everything they tell you, use your head, do your homework and you will succeed!
—Bruce Levin

I've worked as a trainer at two different training centers. Neither of them is a CTEC; both are AATP centers, offering two-year degrees that incorporate the MCSE certification. Here's my take on what's bad.

First, the school doesn't qualify the prospective student in the following issues, and therefore sets the student up for failure: Has the prospect ever used a computer before? The philosophy is that we should be able to give them introductory courses, and when they've finished those, they're ready to start the MCSE track. I disagree. A year of real-world experience as a user (it doesn't even have to be work experience) is a bare necessity in my opinion. I can't teach operating system concepts successfully to folks who don't even know how to use a mouse, copy a file, or run a program.

What is the prospect's reason for taking the MCSE track? I'm mighty tired of hearing that the prospect looked at a list of comparative salaries and chose MCSE without having a clue about what the job entails. When I point out that the job behind the salary glitz is demanding, requires overtime, requires weekend and holiday work because that's the only time you can bring the servers down, requires them to constantly retrain and learn new stuff for the rest of their lives, and will require them to actually work and study very hard outside of classroom hours, you should see how many of them beat feet to the door.

Management refuses to let me give this speech before the prospects sign the financial contracts. It's only about money to them. But the result is a 30 to 40 percent drop-out rate (for which the instructor is likely to be blamed). And since you must "teach out" a degree student and can't add new students halfway through the MCSE track, you end up with unprofitable class sizes that make everybody unhappy.

Does the prospect have the aptitude for computers? Network administration is a detail-oriented, multi-tasking, demanding, logic-based career. And it's not for people who want to do only one thing at a time or who want a nice predictable 9-5 job.

Is the prospect willing to put in 10 to 20 hours per week of personal study time while in school? I can't spoon-feed a certification into them. It takes work on their part, outside of class. Too many students think they can just "put in the time" in the classroom, without even so much as taking notes and expect to get that $80,000 job. And guess who they blame when they can't pass a certification exam? Yes, the instructor. Perhaps all of this sounds elitist on my part, but I've been training folks in operating systems for a lot more years than there have been PCs, and the issues are still the same as they have always been. The prerequisites for studying an operating system have to include more than the abilities to breathe and qualify for a student loan.

Second, the school should be realistic. Can we really retrain a 50-something person into a brand new career in computers and realistically think he or she can get a job? How many companies do you know who are comfortable hiring 50-something new-hires with zero experience in the industry? I'm 50-something with 20-plus years of experience, and I have trouble getting hired in this dot-com era! I compare this to the modeling schools that promise young girls the opportunity for lucrative modeling assignments. When they have completed the course, they're then "assessed" and told they're too short, the wrong shape, not photogenic. But, of course, the money has already changed hands...

Third, students and instructors deserve a quality learning environment. That means decent chairs (not the stackable plastic cafeteria chairs; four hours in one of those and you go directly to your chiropractor after school), reliable hardware, cartridges for printers, white board markers and erasers — you know, the basic stuff for a classroom. How about vacuuming the floor occasionally? And is it asking too much to get the instructor materials to me some time before the class begins so that I can prepare to teach?

Fourth, management either has to be computer-literate or had better be willing to listen to their instructors who are. You can't dictate how long a technical course will be just so that it will fit nicely into your block schedule. (No problem, I will just talk faster to compress this 12-week course into six weeks.) And we don't just "baby-sit" our classes like some of the intro courses (which use teach-yourself-type textbooks). We actually lecture, explain and guide the students during the entire four-hour class. Don't ask us to make follow-up calls to absent students during our 10-minute breaks!

Fifth, schools that use unlicensed copies of software (or allow instructors to pass out bootleg copies of software) are doing the whole industry a big disservice. What message are we giving to the students? What will the local companies think of our graduates who espouse the same philosophy about bootleg software? If you steal software, what else do you steal?

Sixth, some schools pass out As like popcorn by allowing instructors to give students the classroom test questions before the test is given or to give ridiculously easy, unrealistic tests. What a shock when the student tries to take a Microsoft exam!

Seventh, instructors expect to be paid within a reasonable timeframe. Yes, I'm sorry that your small classes aren'tprofitable, but that isn't my fault since you refuse to allow me to qualify the prospects and refuse to take my advice in how to do so.

In spite of all of this, several of us still manage to turn out a few quality students (the ones that had a decent background before they started and who had a high level of motivation). And we jump through every imaginable hoop possible to make it happen for them, including extra unpaid review sessions, providing reference materials, helping them with their home PCs, and the like. The joy comes when you're finally able to launch someone into a new career and watch them blossom, knowing that you shared a turning point in their life. That's what makes it all worthwhile.
—An instructor in the southeast

I decided that I learn much better from books and experience, so I haven't received any training from a formal program. I'm currently an MCSD. I managed my first exam in Visual Basic after four years of experience in VB, two years of sporadic studying, and one month of intensive, full-time studying. I used a single "official" book and (to learn VB in the first place) the Mastering Visual Basic 5.0 CD. Both were incredible finds for me.

I passed the VB 6.0 exams with a few months of experience, four books, and two months of studying about 20 hours a week. I also received a 95 percent on that exam. I passed my last exam, Analyzing Requirements, after studying one book for a month. I passed all but one exam on the first try. I had no experience with Distributed Applications (which is the one that I had to take twice) and minimal experience with project management, which is the focus of Analyzing Requirements. However, I feel that I learned a tremendous amount from the whole experience. In fact, I believe the only value that the MCSD has provided me is the increased confidence and knowledge that came from all of the studying. I have actually given lectures on the material I learned for the Analyzing Requirements exam and currently am the leader of an Access/VB user group. Passing my first exam may also have helped me land two jobs at a critical time in my career.

The quality of the study materials varied greatly. My VB 5 book and the Analyzing Requirements book were mind-numbingly useful and instructive. Most of the rest of them were only useful for providing extra exam questions and giving a rough sketch of what was actually on the test. Total cost of training: $230.
—Shane Hubler

I took classes part-time in the evenings and on Saturdays at NetTrain in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. I received sufficient instruction to pass all three NT core exams and hope to roll them over to Win2K by the end of the year. We had plenty of hands-on work.

Recently, my instructor asked the class if they were going to take more certification exams. I didn't answer right away, then he asked me directly. To his horror, I said no. When asked why, I told him that certifications won't get you the job, and the entire certification process is really only for experienced computer professionals. I explained that the lure of "thousands" of IT employers, ravenous for MCPs, literally haunting the back doors of just such schools was in reality nothing but a pipe dream. Of course, he stuck to the school line and told me I was wrong.

I did get a short-term position doing break-fix work for Siemens. I absolutely loved the work. It wasn't anything like network administration, but I was (and am) completely willing to start at the bottom. I'll start at the bottom. I'll work the third shift. I'll take less money. I entered this game figuring it was a way to improve things for my family. An IT "career" would allow me to constantly upgrade my brain, and I would finally be paid for thinking. I don't wish to take over the whole IT department — I only wish to prove to a lucky employer that I'm an asset. I don't care about the thousands of IT jobs that will go unfilled... I only need one. Soon.
—Floyd Adams


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