Over the holidays, I got an email from a long-time IT professional who asked me for my opinion on whether or not he should jump back into the IT certification fray. Because his most recent credentials data back to the old Novell Certified Network Engineer (CNE) circa NetWare 4.0 and the old MCSE (back when it still meant Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, rather than MS Certified Solutions Expert) for Windows NT 4.0, I presumed he hadn’t bothered to update his certifications since the mid-1990s. This was later confirmed in the subsequent email exchange that occurred between us.
What happens when credentials age to the point where no easy upgrade path exists any more between “there” (the time at which those certs were earned) and “here” (the prevailing slate of certs from the same vendor)? Why, you must start over, of course! But it needn’t be as daunting or off-putting as it might at first appear, and here’s why:
1. Yes indeed, you will have to start from scratch to get back on today’s bandwagon. But as I observed to my correspondent, there are still plenty of things about Windows that remain in force, even given the 16-17 years between the release date for NT 4.0 (7/29/1996) and today’s date (1/9/2013). The “start from scratch” part really applies to the exams involved (he’s interested in MCSE: Windows Server 2012 Infrastructure, which also means picking up MCSA: Windows Server 2012 along the way; 5 exams in all), and to 50-60% of the skills and knowledge (much of which represents new stuff or enhancements, rather than outright replacements for older concepts and technologies).
2. Having already earned a CNE and and MCSE, my correspondent — and others like him — has already learned how to study for and take IT certification exams. This means he can concentrate on learning the material, with only a modest amount of learning bandwidth necessary to tackle and master the tools and testing environment itself, and not much need to learn and develop study and test-taking skills (though a refresher will occur quite naturally as a consequence of using and taking practice exams in the run-up to the real thing). This is an area where prior experience and activity really helps.
3. Given his ongoing involvement in IT for nearly 20 years, and his day-to-day use of Windows Server, my correspondent already understands much of the context inside which the Microsoft curriculum resides. Also, his experience with Windows Server versions through Windows Server 2008 means that already “gets” why the collection of skills and knowledge that the MCSA and MCSE seek to verify is important, germane, and worth pursuing and acquiring. This informed perspective beats the pants off the kind of viewpoint and understanding that a freshly-minted college graduate, or anybody else who hasn’t yet put some time into an IT job, can bring to the party.
Sure, it’s tough to start over: there will be a lot of time and effort required, along with some expense. But because he’s already been down the certification road before, and has also been around the block in IT positions a few times, my correspondent should be able to pick up and run with the new material faster and more easily than others who lack his background and experience could do. Same thing goes for other “older hands” who can bring the same kinds of history and exposure to the table. He’s going to give it a shot, and plans to take 6-12 months to get from where he is now to an MCSE: Server Infrastructure. If you’re in a similar situation, I urge you to consider a similar course of action — and study!