Being a bit of a fan of exams (!) on Friday went to a lovely little training centre in Wokingham and sat a couple of hours worth of exams, 070-680 and 070-685.  Thankfully I passed both and I can now report back on them, just like I did with the MTA exams.  The first thing to say is that these were, just as you’d expect, much harder than the MTA exams requiring both depth and breadth of knowledge of Windows 7 and how to deploy, manage and troubleshoot it.  Why are they worth it?  How did I study?  What’s next?

Microsoft Certifications are available for most Microsoft technologies and all skill levels

When I started my IT career just over 10 years ago I met a bunch of guys who had their NT4 MCSE and I also had a boss who knew his onions, the guys he hired with MCSEs knew their onions too, they didn’t just have the bit of paper.  They formed my view of why it’s important to be well trained and why it’s worth getting the cert.  What I learnt was that studying Microsoft’s products according to the official curriculum helps you flesh out all the facets and features of a product that you might not necessarily see in your day to day life.  Overall the biggest thing that certifications do is make sure you cover all the bases and widen your knowledge.

Some people expect that when they get a certification they should suddenly earn more money.  Wrong.  Some people expect that when you get a certification you should suddenly get a promotion.  Wrong.  It’s about how you apply the skills you’ve learnt to your business and add value, not about a bit of paper.  There’s one place that certs matter and that’s when you’re getting hired as a contract employee.  In my experience certifications get you past the junior recruitment consultants who vet CVs.  When you’re passed there you are back to how you’ve applied your skills again.

So why are they worth it?  Studying for a cert improves your knowledge and that improves the skills that you apply to your day to day life as an IT Professional.  I think of extra skills as extra tools in the kit bag, making me more capable in more situations.

Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of how I learn, every IT Pro probably has.  The way I do it is to grab a nice thick study guide, in this case I used MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-680): Configuring Microsoft Windows 7 by Ian McLean and Orin Thomas (review here tomorrow) and I grabbed it in eBook format from Safari Books Online downloaded it to my Kindle and took it away with me to Tenerife over Christmas.  There I proceeded to read it all, including all the bits I thought I knew.  As always in those sections I picked up new nuggets of knowledge that I’d never picked up before.  When I got back to the UK I sat down a couple of days before the exam and did all the exercises that I don’t do all the time…I use MDT quite a lot so I skipped those.  Finally I read all the chapter summaries over again in one sitting.  Essentially I was packing my brain with focused information about what I needed at a particular time.

I could not have done the exam with just that information.

If I hadn’t had experience to apply to the scenario questions in the exams there is no way I’d have made it.  In fact I didn’t think I had made it on either exam until I got the results.  The current crop of exams are really taxing.  They aren’t as taxing as the Windows NT to Windows 2000 upgrade exam but they really aren’t easy.

For me certifications are also a matter of professional pride and I don’t under estimate what that professional pride will drive me to.  I used to work in a team (of contractors) where certification was a competitive sport and that’s still with me.

So what’s next?  I’ll be doing Exam 70-686 next but I’m currently proofing some books and reading previews of others so it’ll probably be a few months.