Everything you need to know about Microsoft certs (and then some)

Certification guru Patrick Regan explains the new Microsoft certs and reveals which Cisco, project management and security certs are worthwhile.

Certification guru Patrick Regan explains the new Microsoft certifications and reveals which Cisco, project management and security certifications are worthwhile.

Moderator-Julie: Welcome and thank you for coming. Our guest today is certification guru Patrick Regan. Patrick has penned over a dozen books, written the study guides for the A+ certification exams for Cisco Press and is currently writing an Exam Cram on Windows Server 2008. When not writing books, Patrick is a senior network engineer at Pacific Coast Companies supporting a large enterprise network and a celebrity blogger for Microsoft Subnet. 

Patrick_Regan: Hi all.

Moderator-Keith: PRE-SUBMITTED QUESTION: Hi Patrick, I am completing a Masters of Information Technology Degree in March. However, I have limited work experience in IT. What certifications do you recommend to enhance my chances of employment in this field?

Patrick_Regan: You need to figure out where you want to focus. You need to choose at least one major vendor certification. Then you might consider some other certifications that will supplement that certification. For example, you can go for the MCSE (or MCITP for Windows Server 2008), then include the smaller certs on Exchange, SQL, CRM or SharePoint. You can also follow up with non-Microsoft certifications such as Cisco's CCNA, CompTIA's Security+ or (ICS)2's CISSP. Other certifications to consider would be the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). Ones that I am not as familiar with, but that you might want to consider, are the Oracle database certifications and SAP certifications. One last one to mention, which requires a technical background but not necessarily deep technical knowledge, would be the PMI Project Management Professional. It is often difficult for employers to find a good experienced project manager of IT projects.

Rocky: Hi, I'm 59 years old with an BS in computing technology. I graduated in June 2007. I have two associate degrees in engineering. I want to get my first job in IT and it has been hard. I am concerned that my age and the fact that I'm entry-level in the field is causing me difficulties getting a job. Any suggestions?

Patrick_Regan: Getting your foot is in the door is one of the hardest things. After you get in, it is much easier. I don't think that a person's age is as big a factor as it used to be. You will find that the computer geeks that began when computers were new are maturing. Microsoft MCSE and other certs will help you get interviews and then your knowledge will be what carries you though the interview. While you don’t have much IT experience, you most likely have an understanding of the business world, something that is as important as the technical skill. Since you don't have much experience, you need to focus on reading blogs and other forums to learn what problems are encountered and how to deal with those problems. You can then razzle-dazzle them with your knowledge and that will go a long way.

DaveM: Is it worth the bother for an enterprise IT person to get certified in Vista? What kinds of things can you learn through that certification program that you can't learn easily any other way?

Patrick_Regan: If you are already certified in Windows XP, you don't necessarily need to get certified in Windows Vista unless you are going for the MCITP Enterprise certification. If you are upgrading from the MCSE to the MCITP, you will not have to take the Windows Vista exam. But nonetheless, you still need to learn Windows Vista. You will find that Windows Vista offers new technology that was not available in Windows XP. For example, IPv6 is going to become much more popular during the next few years, so you are going to have to deal with the new DHCP servers that will be handing out IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. You will also need to understand how the NTFS file structure and permissions differ so that you know what changes need to be done on login scripts and group policies. Since more emphasis is being put on mobile computers, you need to learn the options Windows Vista has for file and data synchronization with mobile computers. Lastly, don't forget that you may need to learn how to deal with User Access Control, those dreaded pop-ups that come up asking if you should do something on Windows Vista.

DaveM: For brand new computer engineering graduates, what kinds of certifications do you recommend?

Patrick_Regan: As a computer engineer, I think of the programming and development. training that Microsoft offers. Multiple certifications are aimed at software development. Much like the network certifications such as the MCSE program, you need to realize that software development changes often. However, if you can stay current or semi-current, you will find that you will be in high-demand. Currently, Microsoft offers two developer certifications. The Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) credential provides industry recognition for professional developers who build powerful applications using Microsoft Visual Studio .NET and Web services on the Microsoft .NET Framework 1.0 and Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1. Developers who use the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 should consider the new Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) credentials. While some may not consider this as "real programming: of the type that you might find in Delphi, C++ or C##, you will find it more then challenging since you are trying to tie into the Windows operating system with the same look and feel as other Windows applications. You also may be called to interface with a SQL database or interface with other applications.

Meb: What blogs and forums do you recommend reading?

Patrick_Regan: Microsoft actually has a couple of blogs. One is the Technet blog and another is the Microsoft discussion group. These will give you good feel for what problems are out there and what technology is becoming popular.

Rocky: From a networking standpoint, what are the areas where Cisco and Microsoft meet? Also, how is the cooperation between these two companies regarding that area of the network?

Patrick_Regan: Basically, the cooperation is touch and go. For example, Cisco is still working on getting a VPN client that works 100% with Windows Vista, even though Windows Vista has been out for a year. The next security features have prevented some features such as auto-connect, to function properly. And with the separation of testing centers, I see a little bit of friction. But then in other places I see that they work close together.

JoeAdmin: With all of the brain dumps available on the Web leading to people with "paper certifications," are the Cisco professional level certifications still relevant? A number of colleagues of mine have argued that the only Cisco cert worth having these days is the CCIE, and that working towards any of the professional level certs is a waste of time. I'd appreciate any insight you could give to this debate.

Patrick_Regan: With the many dumps available online, you will find that the Cisco Professional level certifications are still relevant. Even taking the CCNA exam, you must know how to do subnet masking and converting IP addresses to binary format to answer questions and to do it almost without thinking. If not, you will run out of time and if you leave any questions unanswered, you automatically fail. The Cisco exams are changed frequently, often adding new questions. And lastly, they have multiple questions where you have to program or configure the switch, router or other device, something that usually requires several commands.

The same can be said for the Microsoft exams. While there are plenty of dumps out there, which I am sure devalue the certification to some extent, Microsoft is watching for people who are cheating on these exams. If you use this material and are caught, you can be decertified and disallowed from future exams. Microsoft is also attempting to add more hands-on portions on their exams to weed out those people who do use dumps. Lastly, there is the job interview. Any company that is looking at hiring someone should always test the person's knowledge. It won't take long to determine if someone really knows the material or not. So if you look at taking shortcuts by doing these dumps, you will mostly only be hurting yourself.

Servergal: What kinds of ways can you recommend to get Microsoft training on the cheap? Any freebies or demo classes worthwhile?

Patrick_Regan: If you can find it, the right book always helps. Of course, you also need to be able to get the software and load it on the computer and play with it. Then when you are ready to take the exam, the Exam Cram books are in-depth enough to learn the technology and prepare you for the exam without getting too lost in the fluff. Also you would be amazed at what you can find just searching around on the Internet including what is on Microsoft's Website.

JasonW: Mr. Regan, in the WAN area, what do you feel is the hottest certification track or single certification? MPLS? Also, what is your take on the new developments of "network coding," and what books would you recommend for future learning? Thank you!

Patrick_Regan: If you are looking at WAN arena, you need to look at the Cisco certifications. The first one will be the CCNA. Then you can either go for the some of the professional certs or go for the big one, the CCIE. Some people go for the professional certs first, then upgrade to the CCIE. Unfortunately, the CCIE is very difficult to pass. It is not that it is necessarily difficult, but you must do it the Cisco way or fail. You could find a solution in two minutes to a problem and the Cisco way may have been longer, but for the exam, the Cisco way is the correct method. I am not much of an expert on network coding.

Bobm: Any recommendations about certifications if you are more hardware oriented?

Patrick_Regan: What do you mean by hardware oriented? WAN? LAN? or PC?

Bobm: What I mean by being hardware oriented is PCs or LANs primarily.

Patrick_Regan: Typically, for a PC technician, there is only one cert to get and that is the A+. While the A+ is really only a basic PC technician, it has enough clout and recognition to get your foot in the door. I used to recommend the Network+ exam, but a lot of the material has been brought into the A+ exam that is not necessary. There is not a specific LAN hardware cert to go except the CCNA, which test switches and routers and TCP/IP in general.

SpyMaster: Wondering about Java certifications. Do they guarantee a job?

Patrick_Regan: With any certification, there is no guarantee. Think of a certification as being a foot in the door to get an interview. Then when you interview, you will really show them what you can do. As a Java programmer, it really helps to have some nice razzle dazzle applications so you can show them what you have created – not that it looks pretty and flashy, but that it also has a concrete function that a company may want.

FlyboyC172: What is the highest sought-after certification by employers in the job market today? What is the best way to obtain these certs?

Patrick_Regan: I am not 100% on the exact rankings but the Cisco CCIE is very high. Also the CCISP is high if you want to specialize in security. The CCISP usually goes well with a Cisco security certification or a Microsoft MCSE certification.

Moderator-Keith: PRE-SUBMITTED QUESTION: How does the release of Windows Server 2008 impact Microsoft's certification programs?

Patrick_Regan: When Microsoft releases a server operating system, they retire the older certification. So in this case, Microsoft will be retiring the Windows Server 2000 MCSE program. Therefore, you should expect the Windows Server 2003 MCSE program to be around for a minimum of three more years. Another change to the program is that Microsoft will not be continuing the MCSE program for Windows Server 2008. Instead, it has been replaced with the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), which you will find is very similar to the MCSE program. If you compare the MCITP Enterprise and the MCSE Windows Server 2003, you will find that the two tracks are very similar. For the workstation requirement, Windows Vista exam replaced the Windows XP exam. Both tracks have an Active Directory exam and a Network Infrastructure exam. The Windows Server 2008 Application/Platform Configuration exam replaces the Windows Server 2003 exam. With the Windows Server 2003 exam, you would take one design course plus one elective, while the MCITP has the Enterprise Administrator exam which includes advanced topics including design.

StevenB: Cisco CCNA Question: What is the best material to prepare you for CCNA – software, simulations and/or books? What specific ones do you prefer?

Patrick_Regan: Of course, I would recommend the Exam Cram books, but then again I've written some of them. I also know that Que is about ready to release a whole new set of books for the newer exams. I would also try to acquire RouterSim, which allows you to build a network consisting of multiple subnets, switches and routers. If you programmed all of the routers and switches properly, you should be able to ping from one side to the other. The Sybec book for the CCNA is good also.

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