Category Archives: Certs

Certification Exams: Is there a value to failing?

Although it is not something I am proud of, I have failed a number (the exact number is quite secret!) of certification exams.  I am not proud of this fact, but the reality is I have taken a number of exams that I have been unprepared for, and that is a sure-fire way to come up short.  I have always (not true… since becoming more enlightened, maybe!) felt that if I was going to shell out USD$125 to fail an exam (Actually, the first two were at USD$100) I should at least walk away with something… the consolation prize should not simply be a sheet of paper telling us that we failed.

So then what can we gain from failing?  We can learn what we need to concentrate on in order to actually pass the exam.  Let’s say you are a desktop deployment specialist for his company.  You are responsible for the deployment of systems across the country, which you do using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2008 and System Center Configuration Manager 2007.  Your manager informs you that there is a new deployment exam available (70-635) and that the new department policy is that all deployment specialists must obtain the MCTS: Business Desktop Deployment to be eligible for promotions or bonuses.  You schedule the exam, and as you sit there taking the test you realize that you do not know a lot about Windows Deployment Services, managing images for multiple languages, driver groups, and MDOP.  Crud, that makes up about forty percent of the exam, and lo and behold you fail.

You could hang your head in shame as you walk away from the testing centre… or you can go back to your office and learn what you are missing; you can set up a lab environment to deploy images in French with Windows Deployment Services; you can implement driver groups, and learn everything you need to know about MDOP, and you can go back to the testing centre a few days or weeks later and retake the exam… and pass.

I am ashamed to say that there are a couple of exams that I have failed and have not yet gone back to rewrite… with an emphasis on the word yet.  Most of the titles I have failed I have gone home, brushed up, and retaken successfully a few days (or weeks) later.  They are all things that do not apply to what I have been doing… but don’t worry, I’ll get to them!

It is simply a matter of attitude… ‘Why the heck would I have to know that?’ is the wrong attitude; if for no other reason, then you have to know whatever that is in order to pass the exam.  I know someone who failed an exam by fewer than twenty points – often a sign that he missed it by a single question.  He came out and said ‘I know what I got wrong… I’ll just retake the exam tomorrow and change that one question that I got wrong!’  He did… and failed by fewer than forty points – probably two questions.

Don’t waste it… if you find an exam tough, then you should be taking notes on the sheet they give you.  1) Windows Deployment Services.  2) Multiple Languages… and so forth.  Of course you have to surrender that sheet when you are finished the exam… but if at the very end you reread your notes, you should remember a lot of what you are missing when it comes time to study.

With Microsoft’s Second Shot Free promotion you can actually fail the first time for free… though I do not recommend this as a goal.  When you are prepared for the exam, register for it using the promotion, and then do your best.  If you fail, it costs you nothing to go home and study some more, and then rewrite it.  If you pass, then you get a pleasant surprise, a new certification, and a discount on your next exam.

Thomas Edison was once interviewed about the electric light bulb.  He did not get it right on the first shot… in fact it took him over two thousand tries and when asked he said ‘I never failed… I just learned two thousand ways how not to make a light bulb!’  Use that attitude when taking your next test.

… and good luck!

I’m back in the (WServer) News :)

imageOne of my favorite publications about the Windows Server ecosystem is WServerNews.com, which I get delivered to my Inbox every Monday morning.

Several weeks ago the Editor of WServerNews (Mitch Tulloch, who refers to me as The Other Mitch), posted a question earlier this summer from a loyal reader asking about his career path.  He asked the community for their opinions to pass along.  I read the question, and pinged Mitch to tell him that I would be responding.

I sat down to write a quick response, and fifteen hundred words later I fired off my email response.   Mitch replied back ‘Wow, way too long to post into a comment, can we publish it as an editorial for a future newsletter?’

That newsletter was published today.  I think my answer will be helpful to many, so please feel free to check it out! –M

Read the editorial by clicking here.

Certification Questions from a reader

I often get questions from readers and followers about different aspects of the IT Pro world.  If the answer is a simple one- or two-liner then I answer directly, but when the question is complex and the answer could benefit others I like to share that with the blogosphere.  This week I received this question:

I have a lot of IT experience but I am just now starting to accumulate some certifications. I am in a program now after work that ends in January 2014 where I will earn A+, Net+, MCSA Server 2008, and CCNA. I then plan to take 20417 to get MCSA Server 2012 and then MCSE Private Cloud. I hope to have all this done by the end of 2014. Is there a high demand for SCCM/Private Cloud certified individuals? Does SCCM seem better than VMWare ESXi or vSphere? Would you recommend that I also learn a Citrix equivalent virtualization? Thanks for answering my questions.

Firstly I am always glad when people with ‘a lot of IT experience’ decide to pursue certifications.  I have said many times that certifications demonstrate that you have respect for your profession and are willing to not only learn the right way to do things, but also to quantify that by taking and passing exams.  If you do not know how strongly I believe in certifications then frankly you have not been paying attention.  So congratulations on taking the first step!

Everyone learns differently, and while I am not usually a fan of programs that promise a plethora of certifications at the end I am not going to dismiss any method of learning.  The important thing is that you are doing it!  I don’t think that anyone has ever told me that they plan to get their MCSE: Private Cloud and their A+ certifications in the same paragraph, but that is also the choice of the learner; if the program that you are enrolled in starts with A+ then by all means man do it!

I suppose the real questions for me are as follows:

  1. Is there a high demand for IT Professionals certified in System Center Configuration Manager?
  2. Is there a high demand for IT Professionals with the MCSE: Private Cloud credential?
  3. Are Microsoft’s Private Cloud certifications more valuable than VMware’s assorted certifications?
  4. Is there any value to learning Citrix virtualization?

All four of these are valid questions, and I will gladly answer them in turn.

1) Is there a high demand for IT Professionals certified in System Center Configuration Manager?

System Center Configuration Manager 2012 is one of the most important solutions that many IT Professionals can learn.  The certification (TS: Administering and Deploying System Center 2012 Configuration Manager) is certainly a valid one, and anyone with experience (and certifications) in Configuration Manager are definitely sought after.  However it is important to realize that System Center 2012 is actually divided into seven components, and ConfigMgr is only one of them.  Frankly you did not mention it anywhere else in your question, so I can only assume that you made the common mistake of referring to System Center as Configuration Manager.

2) Is there a high demand for IT Professionals with the MCSE: Private Cloud credential?

The MCSE: Private Cloud is to date the certification that I am most proud of.  It requires candidates to first pass three exams to earn their MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then two more exams – Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (246), and Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (247).  All of these exams are tough, and passing them requires dedication, learning, and most of all experience with the products involved (including Windows Server 2012 and six of the seven components of System Center 2012).

As private and hybrid clouds are certainly where companies are heading, these certifications will put you in good stead to earn a good living.  I do not know a lot of people who have these certs who are out of work, or who are not earning a good living.

3) Are Microsoft’s Private Cloud certifications more valuable than VMware’s assorted certifications?

This is a tougher question.  I have been a VMware Certified Professional for several years, and based on this cert I could earn a good living.  On the other hand I see more companies moving toward Hyper-V, and as I stated people certified in Microsoft are not going hungry.  However here’s the thing: The vast majority of vSphere installations in the world rely heavily on Microsoft technologies because the operating systems and application servers are all Windows-based.  Because of that the MCSE: Private Cloud cert would still be beneficial to administrators in a vSphere environment, whereas the VCP would not be valuable to an admin in a Microsoft-only environment.  With that being said, VMware still has a huge install base, and knowing their products will never hurt.  Also when it comes time to migrate from vSphere to Hyper-V a working knowledge of VMware will only benefit you!

4) Is there any value to learning Citrix virtualization?

The answer to this question is, of course, it depends.  What do you want to work on?  According to the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant of x86 Server Virtualization published in June Citrix is really not focusing on the server virtualization business the way they once did.  With that being said, if you are interested in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) then it is hard to go wrong with Citrix.  It is important to know that Citrix partners heavily with Microsoft on VDI, and knowing both will be hugely valuable.

Conclusion

Certifications are great, and having a plan is important.  I always appreciate questions like this because frankly people never know what they don’t know.  Questions demonstrate an individual’s recognition that they are not omniscient, and that seeking guidance is a good thing.  Frankly I wish i had done so when I started on my path to certifications – had I done so I likely would have hedged my bets and gotten some Cisco and other certs in addition to my Microsoft ones!

Good luck and go get ‘em… I look forward to hearing your thoughts at the end of this part of your journey!

Microsoft Certified Career Day!

Our industry moves fast! There was a time when if you learned a system you e set for a long time.  Now Microsoft is releasing operating systems every three years (client AND server), and the management tools are constantly evolving.  A carpenter who takes a year off work may be out of practice, but will remember his way pretty quick.  An IT Pro who is out of the loop for that long has a steep learning curve to step to… just to get back to where he was.  Automation with PowerShell and System Center Orchestrator is increasing the ratio of servers to administrators, and that means that people who once thought they had a secure position may be fighting for their jobs, or even find themselves looking for a new one in a market where there are hundreds of others in the same boat, fighting for the same jobs.

In a world of ones and zeros, how can we stand out from the crowd?  What can we do to make ourselves worth more to a IT potential employer than the rest of the pack?  Experience is great, but once you are out of work it is hard to build while pounding the pavement.  What can we do to increase our value and marketability?

GET CERTIFIED!  Certifications demonstrate not only that you have the respect for your profession to learn to do things right, they also give you the chance to show that you are up to speed on the latest technologies… even when the company you were working for wasn’t.  Are you an MCSE? Great! But hiring managers now understand the difference between an MCSE on Windows Server 2003 (2000? NT4??) and an MCSE: Private Cloud.  If they are looking for someone to lead them into the future they are not looking for someone who only knows the past.  That is why we as IT Pros are constantly updating our certs, even at a cost of $150 per shot.  It is not usually for our current company, but rather for our next one.

Microsoft Learning is hosting an on-line certified career day on March 12, 2013.  The day will begin with a live, interactive panel discussion with IT managers and industry experts who will discuss how the cloud is redefining IT recruitment and the growing need for up-to-date certifications. 

The panel will be followed by an exclusive interview with special guest Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow. Next, attend the technology focused sessions with Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 product group experts.

Attendees of Certified Career Day are eligible to win an Acer tablet with full Windows 8. Event capacity is limited so register now!  Click here and you are on your way!

msl

Want to be an MCT? Start Here!

I had a conversation this week with someone who was asking me about becoming an MCT.

I know I am a good presenter, and I know my stuff… what do I need to do to become a Microsoft Certified Trainer?

Becoming a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) was, for me, a turning point in my career.  It opened a lot of doors, and made a lot of things possible for me.  I remember hesitating for several months, because I did not think that my most advanced certification at the time (MCSA) was sufficient… and there was no clear guideline that I could find to confirm it.

I spoke with several MCTs, including some who worked for Microsoft Learning.  The clearest guidance they could give me was that you needed ‘a senior certification’ in order to qualify.  However nobody could confirm what that consisted of.  I later surmised that it meant any cert on supported technology that was higher than a simple Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)

Today there is a list of requirements listed on the Microsoft Learning website (http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/mct-certification.aspx), along with a list of benefits, and a link to the program guide and application process.  However I noticed that the list seems to be short… it has not been updated with the latest certifications.  So to help out, I am going to add a few certs to this list, and if anyone at Microsoft Learning gives you guff about it, just tell them I said it was okay Winking smile -M

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Master

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator: Security

  • Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician

  • Microsoft Certified Microsoft Certified IT Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Specialist

  • Microsoft Office 2010 Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Master

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Master

  • Microsoft Certified Architect

  • Please Note: The Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) is not on this list.  I do not know if that is by design or by error, but I hope one of my DBA friends out there can help to clarify for us!

Clarity: MCSA vs. MCSE: the what and why

This article was originally published in June, 2012. Due to the relevance and current interest in certifications I decided to republish. -MDG

When I found out that Microsoft Learning was (again!) revamping the certification stack, I thought to myself that after all these years it might be time to stop chasing certifications.  After all, when they created the MCTS/MCITP model I had to essentially start from scratch, and if they were doing that again it might not be worth the effort.

Let me clarify that statement… Certifications are extremely valuable and necessary to an IT Pro, but at a certain point you have proven yourself… I have by now passed over 35 Microsoft exams, and expect that by now people know that I am established.

I stated in an article earlier this month that certifications are not for our current job, they are for your next job.  Unfortunately, as a contract worker, I am always working for my next job.  That means that I always have to maintain my certifications current, or at least I cannot let them get stale… Once I became an MCITP: Enterprise Admin on Server 2008 I might have gotten away with not taking my exams for Windows Server 2012… but because the new generation revolves around solutions rather than products I expected I would need at least my MCSE: Private Cloud… then people looking at my credentials would know I knew at least Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012.

Cert StackI like the way the new certification ‘pyramid’ is designed.  The ‘junior certification’ is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, which is product-focused.

As I stated earlier, the requirements for an MCSA: Windows Sever 2008 are the same requirements you previously needed for the legacy MCITP: Server Administrator.  It is three exams, and you are certified.  I assume that when Windows Server 2012 comes out there will be a new MCSA for that platform, and I have no early insight into what that will look like, nor how many exams will be required.

My point is this though.  Now that the junior certification is now three exams deep, it is going to be harder for people to claim the title.  When I first got certified any exam you took earned you the title Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).  I knew people who passed one exam, and coasted on that certification for years.  Heck, I was one of them for about a year… at least the first exam that I took was for Windows 2000 Professional, and not a sales-related exam, which gave you the same MCP title.

That problem was supposed to be resolved in the next generation, the MCTS/MCITP era.  At the beginning there was talk that not every exam would earn you that MCTS certification, and I believe that on the dev side there were a couple of those.  However on the IT Pro side there was never an exam that did not give you a cert… so when I passed three exams to get my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator cred, I had three certs, including two MCTS and the one MCITP.

I was asked this morning by Veronica Sopher of Microsoft Learning what I thought of the 70-246 exam, and my first response was it was ugly.  However that was my way of saying that it was tough, and that it tested your knowledge of a lot of different products in a relatively small number of questions.  In truth I am glad that it was as tough as it was (now that I have passed) because it means that Microsoft is trying to make earning your senior certifications more difficult, which means that you will really need to know your stuff.  A step in the right direction, no doubt!

As for the Master level – the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – I assume this is still going to be out of my grasp, until I decide to take a job running the infrastructure for a major international company.  I like what I do, so I don’t know that is in the cards.  However If you are an MCSM (equivalent to the former Microsoft Certified Master / MCM) then you are certainly recognized as a very top expert in the technology.

If the MCSM is anything like the old MCM then you not only have to know the technology, you then have to spend several weeks in Redmond on the Microsoft Campus learning from the product team, and then have to pass a series of exams and boards.  There is a reason they are called Masters… it is not for the faint of heart!

I appreciate Microsoft Learning’s revamped certification plan.  It makes it harder to ‘just get by’ and easier to distinguish IT pros by the exams they have passed.  I think it’s a step in the right direction, and look forward to seeing what other MCSE tracks will be revealed as the next generation of Windows operating systems launch later this year!

Getting Certified: Things have really changed!

This article was originally published to The Canadian IT Pro Connection.Boy has it been an exciting year… Microsoft’s busiest release year ever!  On the IT Pro side we have System Center 2012 (a single product now, but truly seven distinct products for managing your environment!), Windows Server 2012, Windows 8… we have Windows Azure (which for the first time is really beginning to show true relevance to the IT Pro and not just the devs), and of course the new Office (both on-prem with Office 2013, and in the cloud with Office 365).  There is of course Windows Phone 8, Windows Intune, and the list goes on.

With all of these new versions out many IT Pros will be looking to update their certifications to remain current, while many more will be looking for their first certs.  For the first time in six years Microsoft Learning has completely changed the way you will be looking at certifications going forward.  If you are like me (and so many others) and do want to get certified in the latest and greatest, then you will need to know what is out there, and how certifications have changed with the newest product cycles.

Solutions-based Certifications

In the last few years Microsoft Learning focused on what they referred to as task-based certifications (MCTS) and job-based certifications (MCITP).  However IT Pros started to see more and more components in learning and exams that were not actually in the product – so for example an exam on Windows Server might have included a question on the Security Compliance Manager (SCM) and System Center.  Although it made sense to the SMEs writing the questions, the unprepared found themselves facing questions that they couldn’t answer, and a resounding chorus of ‘we didn’t realize we would be tested on that!’ was to be heard across the blogosphere.

This year the new certifications have been revamped to be solutions-based.  That means you are not focusing on a role or a product, but rather on the solution as a whole, which will very often include technologies not included in the product, but that are complimentary to it.  Microsoft’s Solution Accelerators are a good example of this.  The Solution Accelerators are a series of free tools available from Microsoft and include the Security Compliance Manager, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Microsoft Virtual Machine Conversion toolkit, and others that are free downloads and may not be required knowledge to everyone, but every IT Pro should know about them because they really do come in handy.

Additionally you are going to see a strong interdependence between Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and Windows 8.  After all very few companies have only one of these, and in fact in any organization of a certain size or larger it would be rare to not find all three.

Of course it is also likely you are going to see questions that ask about previous versions of all of these technologies. ‘Your company has 25 servers running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and 5000 desktops running Windows Vista Business Edition…’ sorts of questions will not be uncommon.  This will make some of us scour our archived memory banks for the differences between editions, and may seem unfair to IT Pros who are new to the industry.  Remember that every certification exam and course lists recommended prerequisites for candidates, and 2-3 years of experience is not an uncommon one.  To that I remind you that you do not need a perfect score to pass the exams… do your best!

What was old is new again

In 2005 Microsoft announced the retirement of the MCSE and MCSA certifications, to be replaced by the MCTS/MCITP certs.  During a recent keynote delivered by a guest speaker from Redmond I heard him say that this was actually Canada’s fault, and unfortunately he is partly right.  The Quebec Order of Engineers won their lawsuit regarding the usage of the word engineer in the cert.  While it may have made their lives better, it complicated the certification landscape for a lot of IT Pros and hiring managers who never quite got used to the new model.

SolAssoc_WinServ2012_Blk SolExp_PvtCloud_Blk

In April, 2012 Microsoft Learning announced that things were changing again… we would again be able to earn our MCSA and MCSE certs, but they would now stand for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.  In fact they thought it was a good enough idea that although they were intended as next-generation certs, they would be ported backward one generation… if you were/are an MCITP: Server Administrator or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 you immediately became an MCSA: Windows Server 2008.  You were also immediately only two exams away from earning your MCSE: Private Cloud certification.

associate-blueMicrosoft Learning bills the MCSA certification as ‘the foundation for your professional career.’  I agree with this because it is the basic cert on the operating system, and from there you can jump into the next stage (there are several MCSE programs available, all of which require the base MCSA to achieve).

Of course now that Windows Server 2012 has been released, so too has the new certifications.  If you want to earn your MCSA: Windows Server 2012 credentials then you are only three exams away:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 20410
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 20411
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services 20412

Instead of taking all three of these exams, you could choose to upgrade any of the following certifications with a single upgrade exam:

MCSA: Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

The upgrade exam is called Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012, and is exam number 70-417.

expert-blueMicrosoft Learning calls the MCSE certification ‘the globally recognized standard for IT professionals.’  It demonstrates that you know more than just the basics, but that you are an expert in the technologies required to provide a complete solution for your environment.

The first IT Pro MCSE cert announced focused on virtualization and the System Center 2012 product.  Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Private Cloud launched first because System Center 2012 was released earlier in the year, and the Private Cloud cert could use either Server 2012 or Server 2008 certs as its baseline.  If you already have a qualifying MCSA certification (such as the one outlined above, or the MCSA: Windows Server 2008) then you would only require two more exams to complete your MCSE:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10750
70-247 Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10751
70-6591 TS Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization 10215A

1This exam can be taken instead of exam 70-247 until January 31, 2013 to count towards the Private Cloud certification.

The next new-generation MCSE cert for the IT Pro is theMCSE: Server Infrastructure.  Like the first one the basis for this cert is the MCSA.  Unlike the Private Cloud cert, the MCSA must be in Windows Server 2012.  The required additional exams are:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414

Are you starting to worry that your current Server 2008 certs aren’t helping you toward your goal?  Never fear… the following certifications are upgradeable by taking three exams:

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

Which exams?  I’m glad you asked.  The upgrading IT Pro needs to take:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

In other words, you will be upgrading your pre-existing cert to MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then taking the remaining exams required for the MCSE.

The third MCSE that will be of interest to IT Pros is the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructurecert.  As with the others it requires the candidate to earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then take the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416

If you previously held the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 then you can upgrade by taking the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

There are actually five other MCSE paths, which are:

MCSE: Messaging

MCSE: Data Platform

MCSE: Business Intelligence

MCSE: Communication

MCSE: SharePoint

That I do not discuss these is not a judgment, simply they are outside of my wheelhouse as it were… If you would like more information about any of these, visit Microsoft Learning’s MCSE landing page.

The Unfinished Pyramid

You will notice that the MCSA and MCSE pyramids that we use are progressive… the MCSA has one level finished, the MCSE has two levels finished.  That is because there is another level of certifications above these, which is now called the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master.  This is the highest certification that Microsoft Learning offers, and only a few individuals will qualify.  It is a real commitment but if you think you are ready for it, I would love to point you in the right direction.  Personally I am happy with my MCSE: PC and don’t expect I will ever be a Master.

At present there are four MCSM tracks:

MCSM: SharePoint

MCSM: Data Platform

MCSM: Communication

MCSM: Messaging

It should be noted that of these only the MCSM: Data Platform is currently available; the others will be made available in 2013.

Also at the very top of the pyramid there is one more level – the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA).  There are currently four MCA certifications:

MCA: Microsoft Exchange Server

MCA: Microsoft SharePoint Server

MCA: Microsoft SQL Server

MCA: Windows Server: Directory

Achieving the MCA requires a lot more than just exams.  It is a long and grueling process which in the end will likely leave you drained, but with the highest certification that Microsoft offers.

I should tell you that these last two senior certs are not for most people.  They are only for the very top professionals with in-depth experience designing and delivering IT solutions for enterprise customers, and even then only for those who possess the technical and leadership skills that truly differentiate them from their peers.

Keep it up!

Several years ago Microsoft Learning tried to retire older MCSEs – Windows NT and such.  They were unsuccessful because had they done so they would have breached the terms of the original certification.  In other words, because they never told candidates in advance that they would retire them, they couldn’t retire them.  It is not uncommon for me to hear from someone who is an MCSE, but they haven’t taken an exam since the 1990s.  In fact the logo for MCSE on Windows NT is the same logo as for MCSE on Windows Server 2003, and those MCSEs will be allowed to use that logo forever.

In 2006 they made it a little easier to differentiate.  Not only would certifications be by technology (MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008) but they would, in theory, be retired with support for that technology.  So an MCITP on Windows Vista would not be able to use the cert past a certain date.  Unfortunately I found that people did not refer to their entire cert, they would simply say that ‘I am an MCITP!’  In other words, without some clarifying it was pretty difficult to determine what technology they really knew.  Additionally it is not uncommon for some pros to have several MCITP certs, making it quite difficult to list on a business card or e-mail signature.

Now Microsoft Learning has really made an improvement to this issue.  The new MCSE certifications will require that you show continued understanding of the latest versions of the technology area by taking a recertification exam every three years.  While there was some talk of this with the MCITP program it did not come to fruition.  Today however this recertification requirement is clearly outlined on the MCSE pages.

While recertifying may seem like a bother for some, as we discussed earlier it is something we choose to do every three years to remain current anyways.  For those of us who do want to always remain current it is nice to know that we don’t have to start from scratch with every new product cycle.  For those for whom remaining current is not as important they will always be able to say ‘I was an MCSE, but I let my certs lapse.’  It shows that they do know the technology, just not necessarily the most current version,  This should be sufficient for a lot of people who often tell me ‘my clients don’t need the latest, and are not going to upgrade every three years!’

What About Small Biz?

I spent several years specializing in SMBs.  The first time I took a certification exam I remember coming out of it upset about questions that started ‘You are the administrator for a company with 500 server…’  No I am not!  At the time I couldn’t even fathom what that would be like.  So when Microsoft Learning started writing exams for SBS I was glad not because I wanted to limit myself (I didn’t, and am glad of that today) but because I knew that there are lots of IT Pros out there who do work exclusively on smaller networks.

I do not know what will become of SMB-focused certifications now that Windows Small Business Server 2011 is to be the last SBS release.  I do not have any insight into whether there will be exams around Windows Server Essentials, but could envision a cert around the tying of that product with Windows 8 and Office 365.  I have not been asked, but it would make sense.  However I have heard from a lot of SMB IT Pros that certifications are not as important to them and their clients as we feel they are in the enterprise, and I accept that; the needs of the larger do not necessarily align with the needs of the smaller.  However only time will tell if Microsoft Learning will address this market.

So in the end, should I get certified?

I have long been of the opinion that certifications are key for any IT Professional who is serious about his or her profession.  It shows that they have the respect for their profession to be willing to prove not that they know how to do it, but to do IT right.  Certifications are not for IT hobbyists, or people who dabble.  They are for the professionals who earn their living in IT, and who wish to differentiate themselves from other candidates for jobs, contracts, or promotions.

Whether you have been working in IT for years, or are fresh out of school and looking to embark on a career in IT, there are likely scores if not hundreds of candidates who will be competing with you for every job.  Why not take this opportunity to distinguish yourself?  No matter how much some people will denigrate their relevance, I have spoken to many hiring managers who have confirmed for me time and again that they are a key indicator of a candidate’s suitability to technical positions.

What’s this new Cert? MCSA: Windows 7!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/09/12/what-s-this-new-cert-mcsa-windows-7.aspx.

In April of this year Microsoft Learning announced its new generation of certifications.  Many of us who had previously earned certain MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) credentials were automatically ported into a new certification category, the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate).  Depending on the MCITP you had earned, you would get a different MCSA.

There are two senior certifications for the Windows 7 desktop:

  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician

If you have earned either of these certifications then you already have received (or will shortly) an e-mail from Microsoft Learning informing you that you will soon be awarded the new MCSA: Windows 7.  Congratulations!

Now, the benefit to this is that when it comes time to earning your MCSA: Windows 8 you will only have to take a single upgrade exam (70-689).

If you would like to learn more about the MCSA: Windows 7 and MCSA: Windows 8 certifications, visit the Microsoft Learning page here.

I have long been a huge advocate of certifications; I have worked on many of the exams and courses, and have worked hard to earn the ones that I hold – not because I need them in order to teach the associated classes (although that was once a consideration), but because I strongly believe that certifications are proof that you have the respect for your profession to not only learn the right way to do things, but to sit down and prove it.

In 2012 Microsoft Canada held a series of virtual study groups for Hyper-V.  Across the country dozens of people studied together in groups, and dozens of them took (and passed) exam 70-659, earning them the MCTS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization credential.  With the launch of the new products and certifications I hope that we will bring these study groups back… as a benefit to the user groups, and as a way to get more people certified.  Watch this space for more information, and if you are interested in a particular cert let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help you out!

MCSE Private Cloud… Not easy, but valuable!

This morning before I started teaching I came into the training centre early to sit an exam.  It is not the ideal way to take exams – I showed up at 7:30, knowing I had to start teaching at 9:00 – but sometimes it is the only way that you can make it work, and besides, pass or fail I am usually a quick exam taker.

When Microsoft Learning announced the new generation of Microsoft certifications a couple of months ago I was surprised to see just how much of what I have already accomplished would count toward my new certifications.  Any IT Pro who held the MCITP: Server Administrator (or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator) would already hold the new certification, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate.  Cool.  Out of the gate I already had a new cert!

The MCSA is a prerequisite to earn your Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Private Cloud, which in the immediate would be my next goal.  The MCSE would require MCSA, plus two more exams (70-247 and 70-246). mcse-private-cloud

The Private Cloud certification would be great, but nobody said it would be easy.  Fortunately I had two things going for me:

  • I was able to sit the beta teach for class 10751A: Private Cloud Configuration and Deployment with System Center 2012.  It was held the second week of April in Redmond, Washington, and I had a great time learning.  This class aligns with exam 70-247, which would become irrelevant due to my next point.
  • If you have already passed exam 70-659 TS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization then you do not need exam 70-247.

In other words, it looked to me that I was one exam short of earning my MCSE (again). Okay, I can live with that.  All I would have to do is pass an exam based on one product… which until recently was actually seven products, each with their own exam (or two).  Although I was competent in the older versions of some of these products, and even an expert in one or two, this would be a tall order.  I would probably sit this one out for a few months, while working on other things.  It was not a question of procrastinating, I just had other things to do… and at $150/exam, it seemed like a waste to spend the money if I didn’t know I had a good chance of passing.

Then I got lucky.  Microsoft Learning announced that attendees at Microsoft TechEd 2012 in Orlando would be able to sit the exam for free.  Cool!  On the one hand, I had absolutely no time to prepare; on the other hand, it was free, and I would be able to see the types of questions they would ask, and then better prepare for the exam.

I have said before and I will say again, it is better to know the product than it is to study for an exam.  I broke this rule for this exam, because while I ‘know’ it, I do not consider myself nearly proficient in it to pass an exam without studying.  However when you know how to read the questions, once you have seen the exam you will know what you have to study.  There were a lot of terms and processes I had confused in my head, and based on my first (unsuccessful but free) viewing of the exam I was able to go back, study those terms and processes, and knock the exam out of the park.

This morning, June 20th, I signed onto the exam computer and was nervous… the questions were still tough, and it was a very rigorous exam – asking questions on several components of System Center 2012.  When I hit the ‘End Exam’ button I was not at all confident, but I was certainly moreso than I was last week in Orlando, when the results were in line with that confidence level.  When the screen flashed its congratulatory message and told me my score, I was thrilled… and I was an MCSE again.

I have a lot more to do… as the score report states, the Sectional Results …’indicates your relative performance on each section of this exam.  We hope this information will help you determine areas, if any, for further development.’  I certainly have several of those, and will be spending a lot of my downtime over the next few months working on these.  However in the meantime I can take a deep sigh of relief, knowing that I have earned that elusive MCSE (again).

Can you convince your boss to let you get certified? UCA!

English: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

One of the benefits I get from conferences like Microsoft TechEd is reconnecting with friends and colleagues that I only see at these shows.  David and I have been friends for a couple of years, and when we discovered that we were  both staying over an extra night we decided to splurge and drive a ways to Tampa for dinner at what is in my opinion the best steakhouse and among the best restaurants in North America – Bern’s Steakhouse.

Of course it is slightly over an hour’s drive each way, so in addition to the 2.5 hours we spent in the restaurant we had plenty of time to discuss all sorts of topics, some personal but many business and technology related.

David works on the Microsoft Windows team at Microsoft.  His current area of focus is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which is a subject that have been talking about to user groups for the past six months.  We definitely had a lot to discuss!

He was telling me that in a past job he ran an entirely VMware-based virtualization infrastructure, which makes sense because at the time most virtualized datacenters were running VMware.  He told me he thought it amusing that to this day a Google search of his name comes up with a presentation he did years ago at VMworld.

Speaking at VMworld is a very prestigious gig, on a par to speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd or MMS.  I would have thought that in order to be invited you would have to have at least a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) cert.  He told me that he wasn’t, and the reason for it was VMware Learning’s requirement that you take their course before you sit their exam, and since he knew the product well enough to run a datacenter for the City of Las Vegas, it was a tough sell to his boss to get them to give him the week off as well as pay for the class and exam.  It was not a battle he was ever able to win, so he never got VMware certified.

We started talking about his employer’s position, and that it was, after all, a reasonable one.  In the case of an IT pro who is already proficient on a technology, certifications are for your next job, not for your current one.

Some people are able to learn a technology on their own better (and certainly cheaper) than they could from a class.  Is this always true?  Of course not… it is only true of some of us.

If you know a technology and you have proven it in a production environment for your employer then although it may be reasonable to spend a couple hundred dollars on an exam that is done in an afternoon, there is little value in paying thousands of dollars for a course that takes you away from your job for several days to a week.

So if my previous statement is true, that certifications are for your next job, then what value should a company see in an IT education and certification budget and plan for its employees?

There are a number of answers to that question, and depending on the individual in question one of the following answers should help.

1)      An IT professional may know version X of a technology, but that does not mean that they will know version X+1.  For example, I am certified in Network Infrastructure on Windows 2000 and 2003, but I still studied for and wrote the exam for Server 2008.  Why?  It covers new technologies that most of us could not simply read about and then implement following best practices.  New roles and features such as virtualization, Remote Desktop, and IPv6 meant that I had a lot to learn.  A company who has technologists working on legacy products would benefit from a course that teaches the new technologies, as well as a good refresh to the old ones.

2)      When employees change roles – even within IT – education can prepare them for that new role.  I know plenty of IT pros who have been promoted out of desktop support into the server side, but knowing the one does not mean you automatically know the other.

3)      Certifications are the proof that you have the respect for your profession to learn the material the right way, and then take the time to sit down and write a test created by a panel of subject manner experts (SMEs) and prove it.  They are also a good way to learn where you are weak.  Whether you pass or fail the exam your score report (from a Microsoft exam) will let you know what aspects of the technology you are weak on, so you can go back and study those specific parts more.  The first exams I ever wrote (Windows 2000) simply said ‘Fail’ or ‘Pass’, which meant I never learned how close I was to succeeding, nor what I had to brush up on in order to do that.

4)      Technologies change, job roles change.  Over the past ten years desktop deployment specialists have had to learn components of Windows Server, Active Directory, Windows Deployment Server, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Windows AIK, and of course System Center Configuration Manager.  Individually some of these are easy enough to self-learn, but for most of us they take a good deal of learning to get right.  Hacking around in Active Directory or System Center production environments when you don’t know what you are doing is just a bad idea.  A class, especially one led by a leading trainer who is also a consultant and can discuss real life scenarios and experiences that can point out shortcuts and pitfalls to be aware of is often worth so much more to the company than the cost of the class.

5)      There are companies that require industry certifications by virtue of corporate policies or external regulatory bodies.  Although many certifications do not expire, they do eventually become irrelevant.  A professional who was hired based on Server 2003 certifications nine years ago was cutting edge, but as the infrastructure is migrated to Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 those certifications are now meaningless, and with the changes in the industry (such as the advent of the Private Cloud) they may be required to recertify as an MCSE: Private Cloud (for example) in order to remain within scope of the policy or regulations.

The list can go on and on, but the simple fact is this: spending one million dollars is not a waste if you can prove that your return on investment (ROI) will be two million dollars.  If you are struggling to convince your employer/manager/director that they should be sending you for certification training, you simply have to show them what that ROI will be.  However remember to balance that with what it would cost them to replace you with a newer model with the current certs!  Experience and tenure are important, but the era of corporate loyalty is behind us, and I have seen too many times professionals talk themselves out of their jobs by telling their boss how much they have to spend on certification and continuing education.

Good luck!

Wanna be an MCT? Read on!

I cannot count how many people have come to me and asked how they could become a Microsoft Certified Trainer(MCT).  I have said many times that I consider it among my most valuable credentials, and well worth the yearly fee.  If you are one of those who would like to become one, then read on… especially if you are in the Greater Toronto Area!

Of course in order to become an MCT you need to be proficient in the technologies you are going to teach… so you have to have the senior certifications that align with the technology (MCITP/MCSA, etc…)

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who hold those certifications who cannot teach, and that is not a surprise… one of the greatest fears in people is the fear of public speaking, and training is just that.  Getting up in front of an audience is not easy.  Add to that you have to be able to clearly and concisely make your point – you have to know not only the subject matter, you also have to know the courseware, and the flow.  And don’t forget the importance of knowing how to use and project your voice.

So how does Microsoft distinguish between those who can and those who can’t (and sometimes there are those who shouldn’t)?  It is difficult, but one of the ways they determine eligibility is to check that people have taken and passed a CTT+ ‘Train the Trainer’ class.  The class is only taught by a very select few companies in Canada, and at that not very often.  So now is your chance… Trab Training, a CTT+ certified vendor on Microsoft’s pre-approved list, is offering the class in Toronto next month (June 26/27).  You can sign up at http://www.trab.com/form-reg.html, or contact them at http://www.trab.com/contact.html for more information.

While I did not take this class I have heard from several of Bart’s students that he is an excellent trainer, and they each have their MCT to prove it.  Please mention to them that you heard about this class from me, and when it is done please let me know any feedback you have!

Remember… if you want to be an MCT, you almost certainly need this class!

70-659 Vouchers Giveaway!

Hey folks my friends at TekSource Corporate Learning (www.teksource.ca) in Toronto have told me that they have just received nine (9) more vouchers for the 70-659 exam (TS: Microsoft Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization).  Knowing that so many of you were disappointed when Ruth (Technology Advisor, Microsoft Canada) announced that she was out of them, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer them up to you.

Now, there are some pre-conditions:

  1. First priority is going to go to members of the IT Pro Toronto Virtual Study Group (or any other affiliated study group from across the country).  They have done the work, and many were under the impression that we had promised them vouchers.
  2. Second priority will go to people who have attended any session that I have led or participated in.  That means a user group event, IT Pro Boot Camp, Tae Kwon Do class, Summit, anything… as long as I was there and recognized as a presenter or proctor.
  3. Third priority goes to Canadian IT Pros.  I know I support the community worldwide, but my first priority for this program has to go to Canada.  They are not geo-locked, but I will be checking! :)
  4. You have to schedule and take the exam before May 31, 2012.

So with that being said, if you want a voucher I need for you to do two things:

  1. Comment on this blog article to the effect of ‘I want a voucher! I want to get certified!’
  2. If you are a member of one of the study groups, send me an e-mail letting me know which one, who the leader is, and when it ended (or is scheduled to end).  That will of course put you to the front of the line.
  3. If you are not a member of one of the study groups let me know which session you attended.
  4. If you did not attend one of my sessions let me know where in Canada you live… and work or study!
  5. Check your e-mail!  If you don’t get an e-mail then I am sorry, you didn’t get it.

That’s it folks.  I will ask one more thing though… Commit to writing the exam before May 31.  If for any reason you cannot I do not want to see any of these vouchers (value: $150 US Dollars!) wasted.  Also please let me know how you did!  I am always very interested in the success of my students and readers!

Good luck… both with the contest and the exam!

Congratulations on Your Microsoft Certification!

I received the following e-mail earlier in the week:

Congratulations on earning your Windows Server® 2008 Core certification! We hope you enjoy the benefits of your certification and of membership in the Microsoft Certified Professional community.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Visit the MCP member site (www.microsoft.com/mcp) to download your new logo, certificate, view and share your transcript, and access additional MCP resources.

KEEP IN TOUCH!

Visit the profile center and make sure you are subscribed to the MCP newsletter for updates on exams, training, and program benefits: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/newsletters/default.mspx.

Connect with your peers for networking and advice in the Born to Learn blog:

http://blogs.technet.com/mslcommunity

Congratulations once again,

The Microsoft Certification Program Team

I have received several similar e-mails before.  After all, this is not my first cert.  It is, however, the first time that I have received this e-mail without having so much as scheduled a test.  As I mentioned in my recent article Microsoft Renews the Certification Plan I earned the new MCSA: Windows Server 2008 Core credential by virtue of the fact that I was already an MCITP: Server Administrator.  More accurately, I earned it because I had already passed the three requisite exams: 70-640, 70-642, and 70-646 which, by no coincidence I am sure, are the three exams required to earn the new cert.

According to the Microsoft Certification Logo Builder site, the MCSA Windows 2008 Server logos will only be available on April 24th, but I expect we can all imagine what that will look like.  In the meantime, I do not feel that I have earned this certification, so much as it has been bestowed onto me for past acts Smile

Microsoft Renews the Certification Plan

I remember the day that I earned my first senior certification, the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) on Microsoft Windows 2000.  It was a proud day for me, May 27, 2005.  I would later earn my MCSA on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 (June 30, 2006), and I was thrilled beyond belief.  Interestingly, although my original goal when I set out to get certified was to earn my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) on Windows 2000, it would take me several years – in fact, until December 16, 2010 – to become an MCSE, and by that time the Windows 2000 cert exams had long since been retired, and I settled (quite happily) for earning it on Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

MCSA-RGB MCSE(rgb)

The story behind why there was no MCSE on Windows 2008, and why Microsoft Learning transitioned these certifications (the MCSE is still the most recognized certification that Microsoft has) probably has many branches to it, but only one of them involves me, The Montreal IT Professionals Community, and Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, or the Quebec Order of Engineers.

In mid-2006 organized communities of IT Professionals were still in their infancy.  I was the president of the Montreal IT Professionals Community (www.mitpro.ca) which was, as near as I could tell, the only organization at the time dedicated to furthering the careers of IT Professionals throughout the province of Quebec.  It seems that the Quebec Order of Engineers (OIQ) was worried that people would confuse MCSEs for actual Engineers, and on April 23, 2004 Judge Claude Millette of the Court of Québec agreed, penalizing Microsoft $1,000 (IT Business.CA, April 23, 2004).  In mid-2006 (MITPro was founded in January of 2005) I received word that Microsoft had exhausted the appeals process, and had issued a statement that MCSEs in the province of Quebec were to stop using the title Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

As the representative of the largest organized body of IT Professionals in the province, I realized the relevance of this decision, and sprang into action.  Leveraging my contacts at Microsoft Canada, Culminis, and anyone who would listen I made it clear that this decision – to bar IT Pros in one province from using their credentials while permitting those elsewhere to do so was not only discriminatory, it would be actionable.  Of course at this point I did not hold the credential myself, but that was not relevant to the discussion.

I do not know what effect my actions had (I was a very loud voice at the time, but only one voice) but I do know that within a short delay Microsoft backtracked a bit, saying that the MCSE certification would be discontinued, and that going forward (from the next version of the technologies) there would be a new certification… which nobody had decided on yet, but would end up being the Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP) program.

MCITP(rgb)_1324_1084_1085

MCITP(rgb)_1315_1314 MCITP(rgb)_539_540

One benefit of the new program that was introduced to replace the MCSE program was that rather than having one primary certification that encompassed everything, there would be senior certifications for each specialty… although we would also be able to create combined logos where it made sense – so in my case, I have my Server certs, my Windows 7 certs, and my Windows Vista certs each grouped together.

I remember giving several user group presentations on ‘The Next Generation of Microsoft Certifications’ around North America.  It was great because I was involved in creating so many of the exams back then, and I was able to get a clearer understanding of how certifications (the MCTS and MCITP) would map out.

With the announcement last week by Microsoft Learning, all of what I did know has now been upended, with yet another Next Generation of Microsoft Certifications.  In fact not only are they making changes going forward, they are also going back to the older certs and renaming them.  So:

MCSA-RGB = MCSA(rgb)_454_440
MCSE(rgb) = MCSE(rgb)_457

Going forward Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts (MCSE) will be solutions based rather than product based.  So the first one (in my bailiwick) will be called MCSE: Private Cloud.  This will require the Core certification (in this case MCSA: Windows Server 2008) plus two exams – 70-247 (Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012) and 70-246 (Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012).  Until it is retired (on January 31, 2013) Exam 70-659 can take the place of exam 70-247 for this cert.

You may have noticed that I have not made any mention thus far of the MCTS exams.  That is because going forward there will be no equivalent to the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS).  Microsoft Learning is doing away with the whole concept of taking a single exam to earn a certification.  They had discussed doing this earlier (or at least they discussed requiring multiple exams to earn an MCTS) but until now it has not happened.  In any event, that day is here!

By the way, for those of you who previously held the cert MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008, you will be happy to know that you are now officially a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows Server 2008.  The requirements for the MCSA are exactly what they were for the old MCITP: SA (70-640, 70-642, and 70-646).

imageIt is not uncommon for Microsoft Learning’s MCP site (https://mcp.microsoft.com/mcp) to have a few hiccups in the transition between old and new, and this time is no exception.  I have noticed a number of cases there this is true.

1) As of this morning my MCP Transcript does show both certs, even though they are in all respects that same.  I do not know if they intend to leave it as is, but I should think that if they are identical then it need only appear the once.  As you can see, the Certification Numbers(introduced with the new transcript format last year) for the two as well as Achievement Dates are unique.

2) My Logo Builder no longer shows that I am an MCSA (v1) or MCSE (v1) but has renamed both of those in line with the new (v2) program.  However it does allow me to build a logo for the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, and under that the only platform listed is Windows Server 2008 Core.  I assume that in the near future this will be remedied, but for the moment I am satisfied that My MCSA now spans the server technologies in which I am expert, from Windows Server 2000 to Windows Server 2008 R2.

image

This may be the only time and place you ever see this logo… I am reasonably sure it is a blip, and already the site will create it but will not allow me to Build it.

So what’s next for me?  Obviously I will start studying to take the 70-246 exam to get my MCSE: Private Cloud.  What’s next for you?  That is up to you… but Private Cloud solutions are certainly an exciting place to be working for the next few years, and if you are not in the cloud then you will eventually be left behind.

My Certification History, and the Importance of Multi-Vendor Certifications

In 2001 I had an intern working for me at IGS Security whose name I cannot recall, but she was a student at LaSalle College, and was working toward earning her Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. She and I did not get along very well, and she left early with a bad attitude… although some of it was justified.

One of the conversations that we had was around certifications, and she was working on hers, but didn’t have any yet. I told her (stupidly) that I could get my MCSE if I wanted to, but didn’t have the time nor see the value in it. When she quit she wrote a letter to my boss and among other accusations (which were not true) she brought this one up (which was). I felt bad about it, but never contacted her to apologize. I did, however, make the decision to start working toward that credential, and with a little help from friends and family embarked upon an incredible journey that has changed my life.

clip_image001Since I earned my first certification on March 31, 2003 I have been extremely proud to hold industry certifications. It was on that day that I passed exam 70-210 and was officially (and still am) a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). That afternoon I went out and downloaded the MCP logo (I may have had to wait a few days until I got the confirmation e-mail from Microsoft Learning), and went into the company where I worked and resigned my position as Director of M.I.S. I knew that I could now demand a much higher salary… and I was right, to a point.

clip_image002I needed to pass a number of other exams in order to achieve my next certification, which was the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. I earned the one on Windows 2000 on May 27, 2005, and a year later (June 30, 2006) I passed the upgrade exam to be an MCSA on Windows Server 2003. I now had a senior certification, and was as proud as a peacock. Within the Microsoft world I was on my way!

clip_image003With my senior certification under my belt, it did not take long before I was able to qualify as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT). This took a little more work, because in those days I didn’t have a credit card, and unlike regular certifications, there is a $400/year fee to being an MCT. As well I had not taken the Train the Trainer class, so I had to get proof from a Certified Partner for Learning Solutions (CPLS) that they wanted me to train for them. Versalys in Montreal provided the letter, and in August, 2006 I earned that right.

clip_image004In the same month – August 29, 2006 to be exact – I earned my Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) cert. It was, to date, the easiest senior cert that I had achieved, but that is probably because it was two exams on Windows XP, a platform that I had been using and supporting for five years. That was the first time that I had passed two exams on consecutive days… the truth was I thought about taking one in the morning and the next in the afternoon, and do not remember why I didn’t… it was probably either because I was busy in the afternoon (or did not want to schedule a full day away from clients) or because I was simply afraid that if I failed the first exam I would never be able to pass the next. That achievement – multiple exams passed in a single day – would have to wait a little while longer!

clip_image005I knew that that with Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista that Microsoft was evolving their certifications model… there would no longer be an MCSE, MCSA, or MCP… rather most exams would earn the candidate an MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist), and the PRO exams, in conjunction with the TS exams, would earn a senior cert. My first MCTS was on Windows Vista (Configuration). I believe that was the first exam that I ever took in beta (pre-release) and I took it the first morning that it was available, which was October 31, 2006. I would not get confirmation that I passed it until January of 2007, but according to my certification transcript I earned it on the day I took the test, making it the first (of many) certifications to which I had the honour of being a Charter Member. I don’t know how many become charter, but it means I was one of the first.

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The only two certifications I would earn in 2007 were my first two senior certifications of the new model… My first Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) was MCITP: Consumer Support Technician, which I earned April 2, 2007. For reasons that I cannot recall it took two more months to be accredited as an MCITP: Enterprise Support Technician, which I was awarded on June 18th of that year. However I actually passed the qualifying exam for it several times – including once dating back to the first beta – December 22, 2006 – but I was never able to get Microsoft to change the date of the award on the transcript. I am, however, still a Charter Member of that cert.

clip_image007Over the course of the next few years I earned several other Microsoft certifications – several MCTSes and a handful of MCITPs – but in December, 2010 I decided that I had put off my original goal for too long. I had always said that I wanted to be an MCSE, and despite that being an older certification on legacy technology, I think I knew deep down that it meant something, because it was my original goal. I think that it is important to set goals, and although there is nothing wrong with modifying them along the way, sometimes our goals have a significance other than the obvious.

I know that over the years I have lost contracts and jobs because I didn’t have the MCSE… even though by a certain point I DID know the material… at least most of it! I can think of two companies where I was told ‘Sorry, we really do need someone with the MCSE after their name.’ I mean, in 2010? Really? Ok, so be it. It may have been meaningless going forward as people started to understand that MCITP was the new MCSE, but I decided in December of 2010 to do it. I looked at my transcript, used the Certification Planner (which is a great tool on the MCP site that lets you know what requirements are left for any given certification), and realized I was short two exams… both of which I had failed once before.

I wouldn’t say that 70-293 (Planning and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure) was the hardest exam I had even taken, but it was the one I struggled with most. I had failed it not once but three times, twice dating back to 2008, and once earlier (February) of 2010. I decided to really dedicate myself to passing this time. I studied my butt off, and when the final screen showed ‘Congratulations you passed’ and that my score was 866, I was thrilled! Now all I had to do was…

I had failed 70-297 (Designing a Microsoft Server 2003 Active Directory and Network Infrastructure) before, in 2008. It was then that I learned about testlets… and how much I did not like them. I was worried because the format of the exam was so different, but again, I was a lot more experienced than I had been in 2008, and I wrote the exam the day after I passed the previous one… and for the first time in a very long time I took nearly all of the allowed time. I am generally a fast test writer, but I made sure I left nothing on the field for this one. When the screen said that I passed I was relieved… but when the score report showed that I scored a perfect 1000, I gasped! I had never done that before, and was shocked, thrilled, elated… and surprised! On December 15, 2010 I was finally able to proudly call myself a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE).

it would take a few more months for me to earn the last Microsoft certifications that I wanted… MCITP on Windows Server 2008 (there are two – Server Administrator and Enterprise Administrator). I had already earned the MCITP: Virtualization Administrator, but that was a specialty cert, while the SA and EA were essentially the 2008 versions of MCSA and MCSE. I wrote the three requisite MCTS exams in one day – the first and last time that I will ever try that again! I passed them all, but it was nerve wracking. The following month I went into the testing center prepared for exam 70-696 PRO: Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator. It was another bear – a testlet-type exam like the 297 Design exam, and although I was not prepared for that, I did know the material, and was glad that I was able to pass it. The following day I went back confidently to pass 70-697… and failed.

clip_image008You should never underestimate or take a certification exam lightly… it is a recipe for failure, as I discovered that day. It was, in my humble opinion, one of the toughest exams I had ever written. As I wrote recently in an article Wow that certification exam was TOUGH! exams are not meant to be easy, and the more valued the certification the tougher the exam should be. It took me a few more months to both find the time and the energy to prepare for and re-take the exam, but on December 20, 2011 – a year after finally earning my MCSE, I became an MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008. Not since my early days of certifications had I been as proud of a credential as this one.

clip_image010clip_image012Of course, I have discussed my journey to Microsoft certifications, but I have not discussed the others… I am also certified in VMware – both by VMware themselves, and by VMTraining, a third party training company that has their own course called the vSphere Ultimate Bootcamp. Both of these companies have their own certification exams, and I am proud to have passed both of them for both vSphere 4 and the current vSphere 5. I have said for years that IT should never be about religion, it should be about the best tool for the job. Until recently Microsoft was a bit-player in the server virtualization space, and while that has changed and will change more with the release of Hyper-V 3.0 with Windows Server 8, VMware is still the industry leader in that space, and I could never represent and discuss Microsoft Virtualization properly without knowing the competition, and besides, the certification has helped me get a number of consulting gigs in VMware shops!

The point is I have never been hurt by certifications, and when people ask me if they are still relevant or important I point to both the gigs I have gotten because of them… and the ones I have not gotten. I tell them that when I am asked to consult on a hire (which I do from time to time) one of my first qualifiers is always ‘What certifications does the candidate have?’ I consider certifications proof that the professional has the respect for their field to not only do things the right way, but to prove it. So if you are not certified, I think it is time to seriously consider getting so… your career will thank me for it!