Professionally Speaking

How Much is Too Much?

How much training should be performed on the job?

I spent roughly 250 hours last year training, most of which was self-training. Is this way out of line with what everyone else is doing? I’m an MCSD and a software engineer. I think I should’ve doubled my training time, but my boss says we can’t afford that much non-billable time.
—David Patrick
[email protected]

I obtained my MCP+Internet and MCSE last year and would like to obtain my MCSE+Internet and MCDBA. I also have to upgrade my certification to Win2K and will take the Exchange 5.5 exam. Should I upgrade first or take the three exams to achieve +Internet and DBA? I want to give this certification rat race a rest.
—Faisal Habib
[email protected]

Greg Neilson says: David, it’s really up to you to manage your education plan. Regardless of whatever your employer is able to afford, to be a good consultant you’ll always need to supplement it with learning on your own time.

Having said that, the rate of change in IT seems to be accelerating all the time, so you need realistic education goals. You can’t try to learn everything about everything!

The thing is, once you have a firm grip on the basics of any new technology, you’ll constantly be learning as you actually apply all of this knowledge to client projects—that’s why we value experience so highly. There’s nothing wrong with this, although—given this is on your client’s dime—you need to be able to move fast enough to put into practice the things you are learning while undertaking assignments.

When you put yourself in your boss’ shoes, you’ll see that they’d prefer you to be out there billing every hour possible—not attending classes. Not only is this a loss of billable hours, but the cost of courses is significant. It isn’t unreasonable for your employer to think that, since you were hired as a competent professional, you should be able to undertake some self-study as needed. Employers typically don’t have a problem paying for books (although you should check first), and usually they’ll plan for you to take anywhere up to five or 10 days of classes/conferences each year. It’s up to you, in managing your own education plan, to decide which courses or conferences provide the biggest bang for your employer’s buck. After all, in some cases you’d do just as well to read a good book instead of taking a class, but there are some advanced classes or specialized conferences that can give you an advanced level of knowledge.

Faisal, you mentioned something many of us say to ourselves—“I want to give this certification rat race a rest.” Whenever I tell my wife that these are the last exams I’ll be taking, she just laughs and doesn’t bother responding. I’m afraid that—given the career choice we’ve all made—continuous learning is a fact of life. Passing the certification exams is just a matter of being able to demonstrate that we actually learned something along the way.

I’m tending to agree with Steve about your plans. You can’t possibly master Win2K, Exchange and certify as a SQL Server DBA within one year. Well, let me clarify that—maybe you can find a way to prepare for and take all of these exams within a year, but there’s a great deal more you need to know to become useful and proficient in any one of these areas. For example, at the moment, I’m completing my updates for my Win2K MCSE. (I have completed the Accelerated Exam and am taking a design elective in the coming week.) It’s true that in the process, I’ve learned a great deal about Win2K, but it’s also true that I’ve a healthy respect for what I don’t know. And then here comes Windows XP coming down the pike…

At this point, I advise you to steer away from an Exchange 5.5 exam. The Exchange 2000 exam is here and fits in logically with the AD knowledge you’ll get when updating your MCSE. Also, if you want to specialize in Exchange, why are you looking at the MCDBA program? This is a totally different field. In this case, you’d be able to do anything—tuning SQL queries, determining what indexes are required and tuning SQL Server and the Windows NT/2000 operating system. A great career option, no doubt, but I think you need to decide whether you follow the Exchange or the DBA path in the short term. Over time, you can learn both, but—for now—you should choose which direction you want to head. Either would be a good choice.

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to and


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