Realistic Expectation
by Rick McGuinness, MCSE + I

A couple of times a year we do an Open House for the MCSE Program at one of the local community colleges where I teach. They are a lot of fun and every time I get asked the same types of questions:

  • "How long will it take me to get my MCSE?"
  • "Do I have to take all of the classes on the track?"
  • "Will certification make me rich?"
  • "What kind of job can I get once I'm certified?"
  • "Should I certify or get work experience first?"

Invariably I find myself using the old standard IT answer of "It depends."

"How long will it take me to get my MCSE?"
How long have you been working with Windows 2000? How quickly do you learn? Personally, when I certified on the Windows NT track, I took and passed all six tests in two and a half months. When I upgraded to Windows 2000 I took five tests over eight months. If you're starting from scratch and plan to pass seven Windows 2000 exams, you should give yourself at least a year to accomplish it. That's pushing hard too!

"Do I have to take all of the classes on the track?"
No, of course you don't. Different people learn in different ways. Some do better in an instructor-led environment where they can be walked through labs and ask questions. Others do fine reading a book and playing with the programs on their own. I recommend that students use self-study where it makes sense and to take classes when they feel they need that extra help that only a live instructor can give. Another good reason to take a class is a lack of hardware or software at home. Most people don't have the resources to set up an Exchange Server for example.

"Will certification make me rich?"
It seems that in almost every class I teach, during introductions, I get at least one exchange that goes something like this:
Student: "Hi, my name is (Bill, Bob, or Sue) and I've spent the last 10 years in (selling auto parts, driving a truck or being a homemaker) and I read that if I get my MCSE I can make $100,000 a year."
Me: "Well (Bill, Bob, or Sue), good luck with that. You know I've been doing this for a while now and $100,000 a year jobs don't grow on trees. It takes knowledge
and experience to reach that level.”

"What kind of job can I get once I'm certified?"
It depends. What kind of experience do you have? If you have certifications and no industry work experience you should probably set your sites on an entry level help desk type position. In this case, your certification would demonstrate that you can learn and that you have a baseline of knowledge.

"Should I certify or get work experience first?"
You really need both. If you're already in the industry, work on certification to add to your marketability and skill set. If you don't have any experience, get some. Volunteer at your church or your favorite charity. Nothing says that you had to be paid for experience to count. They'll be happy for the help and you can put some real world experience on your resume.