Keith Mayer has written a step-by-step guide for those interested in pursuing the MSCE: Private Cloud certification, including the 70-246 exam “Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012.” You do have to visit his blog post entitled “Get Certified on MCSE Private Cloud with this FREE Step-by-Step Study Guide” and click the “Pay with a Tweet or Facebook” button (and then Tweet about the offering, or share it on Facebook), but that’s not very much at all to ask for a well-constructed guide into Microsoft’s free study materials for this certification.
What you get from Mr. Mayer is a PDF document that walks you through the 70-246 exam, including objective domains, and pointers to videos and study materials on Systems Center 2012 (the foundation for the exam). He also explains how to set up a private cloud lab, using a private cloud evaluation installation that MS makes available. It also provides links to the Unified Installer that makes lab set-up possible, and a user’s guide to run you through installation and set-up. Much of the material provided consists of links to TechNet documents and materials, to help candidates prepare for specific exam topics and related objectives. And as you might expect, a lot of this stuff ties directly to the TechNet Library’s coverage of System Center 2012 tasks and activities, including implementing workflows, working with runbook automation, implementing service offerings, creating and managing workflows, and so forth and so on.
In fact, Mr. Mayer walks readers through the complete exam objectives, with detailed references for each element of each objective. This amounts to a nicely-curated set of links into the TechNet materials on System Center 2012, along with links to the video recordings of MS’s Jump Start training for the MSCE: Private Cloud, plus various guided labs and additional course materials available from Microsoft (Course 10750A, a 5-day ILT course that covers “Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012”).
If you’re interested in the new MCSE and in Microsoft’s take on private clouds and System Center 2012, these materials are worth a visit. Check them out!
This morning, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the Employment Situation Summary for July 2012. It’s either a dark cloud with a silver lining, or a silver lining with a dark cloud, depending on how you’re inclined to look a it. That said, the silver lining is indisputable if still too modest to presage any kind of rapid turnaround in overall unemployment.
The silver lining is that some economists expected that dismal monthly job growth rates under 100,000 would continue this month, continuing the running average for April, May, and June of about 75,000 new jobs added in each of those months. The actual number reported was 163,000, more than double the last quarter’s run rate, and trending more toward the 200,000 – 300,000 per month needed to make any kind of dent in overall unemployment, and to help put the long-term unemployed and discouraged workers back on somebody’s payroll.
The dark cloud is that the unemployment rate actually edged up by one-tenth of one percent, from 8.2 to 8.3 percent for July (in the three months with those dismal jobs-added counts, it had managed to stay stuck at 8.2 percent the whole time). This is sure to provide ammunition for both Republican and Democratic candidates in the various national, state, and local campaigns now underway, none as fierce or vocal as the ongoing face-off between Misters Obama and Romney. Neither side can use it entirely against the other, so both sides will look for aspects that make their guy look good, and the other guy look bad. The fallout should come fast and furious, and be interesting to watch.
The Information sector, as covered in Table A-14 of this report continues to show signs of improvement, too. The number of unemployed information workers in July 2011 was 237,000 which translated into 7.6 percent unemployment for the section. By July 2012, the number had dropped to 190,000 which corresponds to a 6.7 percent rate of unemployment in information instead. Likewise, Table A-13 which provides data by occupation, shows that Professional and related applications have improved from 4.6 percent unemployed in July 2011 versus 3.8 percent unemployed in July 2012. For office and administrative support occupations, rates dipped from 9.4 percent to 8.3 percent (I’m guessing that IT professionals are probably represented in both of these categories, and possibly others besides).
But one thing remains quite certain: slow growth mode appears to dominate forecasts for the foreseeable future.
In the latest issue of its Global e-News newsletter (Issue 99), training and certification prep firm Global Knowledge touts “Eleven Skills Every IT Pro Needs to Succeed.” The story’s author, Randy Mueller, holds Microsoft and Certified Ethical Hacker credentials, and also works as an instructor on the Global Knowledge faculty. I agree with most of the eleven specific items he recommends in his list, including (please note: items 4 and 6 in the following list are omitted on purpose, so I can disagree with their inclusion in a following paragraph):
1. Virtualization and VDI: there’s no denying that virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructures are taking over IT operations, even in small and medium sized companies.
2. Cloud: I read this morning about a CompTIA study that indicates that “IT departments are … on the edge of major transformation…” where “…the option for cloud solutions … is opening the doors for IT professionals to perform new tasks, or at least perform old tasks in new ways.” The cloud really does change everything, apparently, including IT!
3. Interoperability (networking): making dissimilar heterogeneous platforms, components, and tools “play nice” on modern networks is the cornerstone of what IT professionals must do best today.
5. Wireless: Indeed, most networks already include wireless domains already, and those that do not will surely add some, as newer and faster wireless technologies like 802.11ac and 802.11ad make their way into the marketplace.
7. Security: IT pros have to be security-savvy themselves, and promote as much security awareness in their user populations as they possibly can.
8. Imaging: IT pros must be able to build, manage, deploy, and troubleshoot a library of desktop and server operating system images as part and parcel of what they do, often in conjunction with item 1 (virtualization and VDI).
9. Helpdesk or people skills: I’m not necessarily sure that IT staff must put in a stint at the helpdesk, but it’s essential for them to know how to communicate and interact with users, even when they’re unhappy or hostile, and have the skills needed to help them when help is needed, or requested.
10. Troubleshooting: This ability is truly what separates the pros from the dilettantes, and requires careful observation, documentation, and problem or fault analysis, followed by equally careful and deliberate application of discrete and understood fixes, repairs, or work-arounds. A key component of the IT skillset, no matter what specialized or general subject matter it may also involve.
11. Automation: Mueller’s original heading reads “PowerShell (and other scripting)” and talks about “automating many common administrative tasks.” I agree that a working knowledge of automation is a good thing for all IT professionals, but for those outside the Microsoft world, PowerShell won’t do them much good. I think he also errs in not mentioning the many excellent GUI automation tools (such as OpalisRobot, for example) that can help to automate point-and-click based interfaces as well as command-line stuff, too.
I may quibble with some of the nuances in 9 of these 11 items, but I don’t really want to argue about any of them. I do, however, think that what Randy includes as items 4: Database Administration and Business Intelligence and 6: Disaster Recovery may be a bit over the top. DBA and BI stuff is rightly the focus for a subset of IT professionals who have the right backgrounds and platform knowledge to work those niches. I don’t think that every IT pro necessarily needs to dig into these areas, nor are some of them even likely to get the chance. And while disaster recovery and business continuity are indeed important aspects of the IT services portfolio, I think Randy goes too far when he says that “IT Pros must be able [to] plan, test, and implement a disaster recovery (DR) plan.” Indeed, many or most of them will get involved with implementing, should that ever be required, but many of them will neither work on planning or testing such elaborate and expensive scenarios and staged incidents.
If you ask me, I would rather see Randy include an item on “soft skills” instead of database and BI stuff. By soft skills, I mean verbal and written communication skills, plus people and project management skills. Likewise, I think it would have been more appropriate to subsitute “basic Web and Internet skills,” including basic understanding of HTML, HTTP, Web servers, and online content and information delivery for the disaster recovery elements expressed in item number 6. I would argue that Internet and Web savvy are much more universally-applicable and necessary skills for ALL IT professionals to learn, than the important but more specialized items that they would replace.
On July 5, I wrote a blog post here entitled “Repeat After Me: ‘Slow Growth Mode,’” wherein I laid out John Challenger’s analysis for that condition in the US economy based on employment growth. Last Week, the US Commerce Department confirmed this apprehension with a report that the US economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.5 percent for the 2nd quarter of 2012 (April through June), mostly as a reflection of ongoing pullbacks in consumer spending. An AP report on this information also states that “growth at or below 2 percent isn’t enough to lower the unemployment rate,” which confirms what Challenger observed in his earlier employment observations this month. Given that many economists expect little or no change to these low/slow growth figures for the rest of 2012, and possibly into 2013, there’s not much relief in sight, either.
For the past three years or so I’ve been advocating a “hunker down, stay put” approach to IT employment. This means “if you’ve got a job, don’t leave it unless you have a firm and better offer in hand.” Alas, it also means that if you don’t have a job in IT right now, it’s not going to be getting easier to find one any time real soon. This makes things tough for the annual crop of college graduates, to be sure, but even harder for IT professionals at later stages in their careers who find themselves out of work owing to layoffs, staff reductions, or for various other reasons. In fact, the more money you need to make, the harder that makes it to find another job if and when you might be forced onto the job market.
Conventional wisdom is that is takes up to 1 month to find a job for each $10,000 of annual salary you wish to earn. I’m guessing that in the current economy that time interval may have doubled — or more — particularly for those at the higher end of IT pay scales. The notion of a “living wage” or “just wage” for a family of 4 dictates that at least $60,000 of income is needed just to make ends meet for most American families. The math says that somebody making that wage would take 6 months to find a job in a normal economy, and a year or longer to find a wage in a weak economy like our present one. Add to that interval as out-of-work IT pros seek to replace typically higher incomes and you’ve got a hardship that can weigh heavily on affected families. It’s hard enough for families to shoulder the burden of maintaining a cash cushion of 3 to 6 months, as most financial professionals recommend. I’m guessing that even though more savings than that may be needed to bridge any unemployment gaps that should occur, many families can’t afford big enough cushions to get them through such gaps without financial damage. This really hurts, and spells yet another threat to retirement savings for mid- to late-career IT professionals who find themselves out of work in this economy. Ouch! That hurts!!!
In June and July of 2012, I blogged several times about the new, reinvented MCSE (it’s Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert this time around, rather than Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). In “Microsoft Private Cloud Exams Now Live,” I prefigured the program thanks to the first batch of Server 2012 exams that are now known as MCSE: Private Cloud. A week later, I blogged for PearsonITCertification that “MS Announces New MCSE Credentials for Windows Server 2012.” Then, at the beginning of July, I added some musings on the shape of the new overall Microsoft MCSE/MCSA/MCSD program for Tom’s IT Pro in “Reflections on Changes to Microsoft’s Certification Programs.” Clearly, I’ve been noodling about where these new MS certs are concerned, and watching things unfold carefully.
A recent article from Michael Simmons for GoCertify.com entitled “Reboot Successful: Microsoft’s New MCSE certifications” got me thinking on the new offerings once again, and also reminded me of some interesting aspects that I’d either underplayed or overlooked myself:
- First, the new MCSE come with an expiration date. MCSEs need to recertify every three years like clockwork. Changes to exams that occur in the meantime will force them to re-initialize their knowledge and skills. Given a recent major version release cycle of about 3 years for Windows 7 and 8, this probably also means regular platform changes will be automatically included.
- Second, the word on the street is that MCSE exams are becoming more difficult by deliberate design: you can find an interesting video on exam difficulty from Liberty Munson, Microsoft’s lead psychometrician and the person in charge of exam development and quality control. MS is working hard to keep their exams more challenging and more relevant to day-to-day problem diagnosis and solution.
- Third, topics for the MCSE are more clearly delineated and differentiated. Instead of a general Server orientation and possible Security specialization, MCSE now clearly differentiates among server, desktop, private cloud, database platform, and business intelligence subject areas. This should help candidates pursue areas of greater interest to them, and employers to find IT professionals with better-defined skillsets to meet their needs.
All in all, I still very much like what I see with these new credentials, and the way they’re designed and organized. The general IT public apparently feels likewise, because new MCSEs are being minted at a pretty rapid rate. It will be interesting to see, in fact, if the uptake of these new credentials causes Microsoft to resume regular release of their “certification count,” a practice that ended in the mid -2000s as the MCTS and MCITP began to take over for the prior generation of MCSE, MCSA, and so forth.
It must be something in the air recently, but I’ve gotten half-a-dozen emails from readers asking me to explore the old familiar “school vs. certification” conundrum. For most people, career advancement or development is subject to limited time, money, and energy. Naturally, they want to invest in what will produce “the best return.” And often, they come to me with the attitude that because certification often offers a quicker and more tangible immediate pay-off, certification must also be better than college education when it comes to career preparation, development and advancement.
Not so, says I. For one thing, it’s not really an either-or proposition. In fact, for most employers, it’s a “both-and” proposition — that is, employers want people who are both certified and have at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, if not something more advanced. For another thing, college and certification often teach different kinds of things in very different ways. Granted, what you learn in earning a Microsoft, Cisco, or VMware certification is likely to be more relevant to what you do on the job when you work with Microsoft, Cisco, or VMware platforms and tools. But college is as much about learning how to learn as it is about learning something or anything in particular, and learning is something that IT pros must keep doing throughout their careers if they want to stay in the field. If they want to excel in the field they must also excel at learning, in organizing and formulating what they’ve learned, and in many cases passing some or all of that knowledge onto others as well.
As you plan out your career path, then, try to strike a balance between school and certification studies. Yes, you will need more and better certifications constantly to keep up with the pace of technology change and innovation. But you will also need the opportunity to learn and try things out in a non-critical, open, and more exploratory environment — namely school — to really get the most out of your learning experience. When it’s OK to make mistakes or even simply to noodle around for a bit, you will actually learn more and better than you will when your job or your business is on the line all the time. That’s why you may want to plan to take 2 to 4 years to finish up a bachelor’s degree, or an equal amount of time to chase down a master’s degree once you’ve earned your bachelor’s. You really do want a chance to explore and size up various subject matters to see how you like them (and how well your mix of skills, knowledge and experience maps into their domains) to help you figure out what’s new, what’s next, and what’s most interesting to you.
Sure, it will take time and cost money to follow this kind of dual track. But in the long run, you will be better off for the learning and experience you’ll acquire along the way. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride, while you’re at it!
Anybody who’s read this blog for any length of time (or any of my other cert-related blogs for Tom’s IT Pro or PearsonITCertification.com) already knows how often and reverently I refer to Anne Martinez’ GoCertify.com IT certification website. Simply put: it’s a rare gem of useful, current information about nearly every IT certification program known to man amidst an ocean of incomplete, inaccurate, and out-of-date information. In the past couple of days, Anne has granted me permission to share with my readers her ongoing quest for more cash-ola with which to run GoCertify, so she can continue to deliver the great news and information she’s compiled about IT certification programs from Access Data (A) to Zend (Z), and many points in-between.
The GoCertify.com logo and some of its banner info tell only part of the story
Over the past decade, I have come to rely on GoCertify.com as a thorough and comprehensive source of IT certification program and credential information, built upon a database with great search capability. I’ve used that database to look for credentials by vendor, by name, by category, and even by specific word searches in the certification name. I’ve used it as a primary source to compile my annual Security Certification Survey for SearchSecurity.com, my annual Networking Certification Survey for SearchNetworking.com, and to find and learn more about dozens of articles on Top 5 Certification programs for Tom’s IT Pro, plus various “Cert by Category” articles for PearsonITCertification.com.
I believe that GoCertify.com is an invaluable source of IT certification information, and entirely worthy of purchase or investment from somebody with the vision to see and appreciate what’s there — which I personally have aplenty — and the necessary cash to buy into or buy up this treasure trove of IT certification and training information — which, alas, I do not have in anywhere near equal measure. So spread the word if you want to keep this nonpareil web site available and healthy: GoCertify needs a buyer or investor. I’m sure something will come up sooner or later to get Anne the funding and resources she needs to keep up the great work. Perhaps with your word in the right ears, it could be sooner, rather than later. Thanks! If you’ve got a lead or idea to suggest, please contact Anne by e-mail.
Thanks to widespread adoption of virtualization technologies and high-speed networking links to distant data centers, it’s not as hard to sit down to take a lab exam as it used to be. But big companies that do “performance based testing” or “lab exams” still often require candidates to travel to a limited number of lab testing centers worldwide (Cisco operates about half-a-dozen of them for the CCIE lab exams around the globe, for example). Red Hat is another performance based testing outfit whose hands-on exams for the RHCE and other of its credentials are pretty well known. But right now, it has teamed up with Innovative Exams to deliver what it calls “remotely proctored exam administration” for various Red Hat exams (here’s a video of the offering and set-up).
The concept works like this: a candidate schedules an exam session for a date of their choosing at an available test center location, and Innovative Exams provides a hardened and highly secure computer with a built-in scanner (to check their driver’s license or other photo against what the camera “sees” when the prospective candidate sits down). It includes a big screen display, mouse, and keyboard, plus the PC case (base station), and makes a remote connection to Red Hat Training and Certification staff who oversee and manage interaction with the exam candidate on the scheduled day and time.
This kind of approach is pretty interesting, and there’s actually no reason why other vendors can’t follow suit for those kinds of hands-on exams that don’t actually require grabbing, installing, and configuring physical items of equipment. This could work very nicely for a great many performance-based or lab exams, including some from Microsoft, Check Point, Cisco, and others — Red Hat, too, obviously. But it’s unlikely to replace the CCIE lab exam any time soon, simply because it makes parsing a set of implementation or usage requirements, and then grabbing and configuring the right hardware to implement same, such a key part of its overall approach. Someday though, who knows? Nice idea!
[Thanks to Anne Martinez at GoCertify.com, whose 7/17/2012 Certification Watch alerted me to this new development in hands-on lab testing opportunities.]
Prior to its acquisition by Dell in May, 2012, SonicWALL already had the beginnings of a certification program for its Unified Threat Management (UTM) platforms underway in partnership with Global Knowledge (a well-known purveyor of IT education and certification preparation training). On July 10, Global Knowledge announced the release of a new second class in its SonicWALL related offerings entitled SonicWALL Network Security Advanced Administration. This 2-day class comes with a list price of $2,000 and culminates in an exam which, if passed, confers the Certified SonicWALL Security Professional (CSSP) credential.
This comes in addition to the Network Security Basic Administration class from Global Knowledge, another 2-day, $2,000 SonicWALL-focused class from Global Knowledge that includes an exam and can confer the Certified SonicWALL System Administrator (CSSA) credential. The CSSA is a pre-requisite for the CSSP, in fact, so it looks like SonicWALL has established the beginning of a true certification ladder here.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in preparing training and testing materials for other Dell certifications related to some of their switches as well. Those programs were more in-house focused with training, testing, and certification managed purely within Dell. It’s nice to see them partnering up with a training company to expand the reach and delivery of their curriculum and certification testing. I guess what I’d like to see next is an overarching curriculum and set of certifications to include their remote access and KVM products, switches and routers, deployment and management appliances, and storage offerings, as well as their security infrastructure elements. Then, too, it would also be nice if they established a relationship with VUE or Prometric to handle testing independent of training delivery. To my way of thinking, that’s the best way to guarantee objective and verifiable results for their training and certification efforts.
However, it looks like things at Dell, certification-wise, are taking some interesting steps forward. If you use SonicWALL products, you might want to check out the Global Knowledge training and certification offerings.
I’ve been poking around on the Web this morning, noodling about for sources of information on the best-paying IT certifications nowadays. There’s certainly no shortage of such information about — run this Google search to see what I mean, if you like — but what’s interesting is how so few of the reports on this topic of such great interest agree, either in their selections or in the compensation figures associated with them. In looking over half a dozen such items (of which this Global Knowledge piece “15 Top Paying IT Certifications for 2012” certainly pops up most frequently) I came to some interesting conclusions:
- Yes, there are numerous certs associated with six-figure salaries (more on this later, because it’s not at all correct to simply equate the salary and the cert).
- Project management (PMP) and business processes (ITIL stuff) remain pretty darn hot, as does security (CISSP, and its “merit badge” credentials).
- Architecture stuff is a great place to be (including Cisco and Microsoft architect-level credentials, but also independent architecture certs as well — see this PearsonITCertification article that Mary Kyle and I wrote last year “Senior-level Certification: IT Architect Credentials Can Open Career Doors“).
- Expertise can be financially as well as technically rewarding. There’s a whole slew of certs with Expert in their designations, including Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), VMware Certified Design Expert, EMC Certified Expert, the CCIE in all its many flavors, and so forth. All of these come with a surprisingly broad and deep requirement for skills and knowledge, with pay grades to match.
- Popular specialties offer high potential payoffs. Hot technology areas with senior level certs make a potent combination. That’s why high-level SAP, storage, business intelligence and data mining, mobile app development, cloud computing, and telco-level credentials for 40-plus Gbps networking technologies, backhaul, and so forth all command big bucks, as companies fight over those few individuals trained and experienced enough to qualify for such positions.
But there is a catch, and here it is: relevant, hands-on experience continues to count as much or more at the high end as do degrees and certifications. Simply earning a high-level cert may indeed require some levels of experience, skills, and knowledge. But because the kinds of jobs that such certs lead to command high pay, employers will also do lots of due diligence to make sure the candidates they choose to fill those positions actually have the kind of people skills, analytical and troubleshooting ability, and real-world “been through the fire and here to tell what I learned from it” experience needed to successfully add to their senior technical staff. You must be able to walk the walk, and prove it, as well as talk the talk.
There are no shortcuts to success. Somewhere along the way, you actually have to learn and do your stuff, and then be able to communicate about it successfully to others. Sure, chasing senior certs is a great way to climb up the career ladder. But please remember: there’s more to attaining IT success than collecting random bits of paper, or increasingly long strings of alphabet soup on your business card and resume. It also helps a LOT if you dig into work and subject matter that you really love, because that love will sustain you through times of trouble, and keep your motivation high to help you stay current on the ever-changing and always challenging array of subjects you’ll have to learn, use, and master throughout your IT career.