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You have the MCSE - should I be impressed?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007 in Technical Articles (Views: 2794)
A classic blog, wanted to bump this up...

You're an MCSE, now what?

I think the feelings I've had for this topic have changed so much over the past few years it isn't even funny... As I have completed one professional milestone after another, one certification after another, one thing really sticks out in my mind - how much good is a professional certification these days, and what value does it really add?

This question comes to mind after seeing yet another reason why my job as a systems engineer will be valuing somewhere close to minimum wage in a few years. I know the places existed, but never ran into one personally - which is called "the boot camp".

Boot camps in the world I live in produce the finest soldiers on earth, capable of performing all of their basic duties, preparing them for more detailed assignments (as they all go their seperate ways on graduation).. After seeing these techie boot camps at work, I see a bunch of graduates who can't even remember the word "MCSE" or pronounce it "MSCE" or worse, can't tell you a whole lot of what they learned on their way to graduation and becoming an MCSE...

How do I feel about this? Well, I suppose it's more or less the whole dilemma you would face in school - one student pours their heart and soul into something and passes the class, whereas another student cheats their way through... To quote the bully Nelson Muntz on the Simpsons when running for class president - "I don't have all the answers, but I do have all the answer keys"

So why am I soured to the whole idea that some people slipped by and have the same piece of paper I do? Well, there are several reasons...

1. Lack of credibility - I have so many times been asked in an interview "What makes you better than the last 10 idiots I talked to with the MCSE who didn't know their ass from their elbow"? A truly indefensible question... At this point, what the interviewer is asking is simple - "You've lost all credibilty with me, and unless you seriously wow me here with your answer, you have no chance at getting this job - keep in mind that whatever you say from here on is pretty much moot, since I've made my opinion of you.."

Can you blame these employers? For phrasing that question in that way, yes - it's open ended and really leaves you in an incredibly prone position... Of course, you could just end the interview with "you must not be a very good hiring manager, if you choose to interviiew people who are nothing more than a waste of time - and I'm sure you're judgement making on the job is equally as impressive"...

This question draws me to the offensive - and usually it's where I throw my weight and experience at an employer... Usually the words "Don't ever make the mistake of lumping me in with a paper MCSE" comes to mind. It also brings out the attitude of "you wanted to interview me to see what I was made of... I'll prove to be all you expected and then some..."

Case in point - they have cheated themselves. And any half way intelligent interviewer (including non-technical screeners should be able to sniff this right out)... Am I upset that these paper MCSE's get technical interviews? HELL NO!!! As a matter of fact, it just makes it all the easier for me to get to the finals of the interview process - let them look as dumb as they want... :)

2. Lack of respect - I've met many "MCSE" level engineers who I wouldn't want to have a technical conversation with - since the blank stare in response pretty much is the only reaction I'll get from them... "Book or Paper" MCSE's (as they are known) bring out the worst in me.... Part of it is the sense of outrage that I have about the sense of fair play and earning your keep professionally... Another part is how a lot of these paper MCSE's decide that they are worth every penny you are simply due to the fact they have the same piece of paper...

In my 19 years in IT, one thing I have earned is the right to judge the technical skills of those who I work with... I certainly don't know everything about technology, but my footing is solid on the fundamentals, and have mastered many of the concepts I claim to have mastered on my resume...

Often times, I find myself taunting or talking down to people who claim great knowledge, but can't tell you how the basics work... I've used the terms "come on book boy, or let's go Mr. MCSE", when basic things such as how to implement a GPO or assigning file permissions come into question. I almost wanted to ask what comic book someone got the idea of Windows 2000 BDC's from - this was a manager of mine who incidentally had the coveted MCSE...

3. They seem to be the loudest - I get a kick out of people who list every certification they have on their e-mail signature... Unless they are required to do so (and have yet to meet an employer who ever required this), usually this is more for personal bragging rights... I found the more people list, the less competent they usually are... Case in point - I know someone who has an MCP (real freaking acheivement, I know) - but their logo and certification is usually bigger than the text of their messages, and worse, this person in IT matters would barely outclass my dog in knowledge...

4. They are also the quietest... Big difference here between the "when Merrill Lynch talks, people listen" and the thunderous silence that comes from the paper MCSE during a meeting, or brainstorming session... The truth is, I don't talk much in meetings - don't have to... The one or two things I usually add are credible and help drive us to the goal.. The paper MCSE on the other hand, usually stays quiet or violates Abraham Lincoln's golden rule - "Better to leave your mouth shut and let people think of you as an ignorant fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt" (paraphased)

I suppose there could be a lot more to the aspect of what sours me, but I'll leave it at that...

Let's look at the reality of what a certification should be, and it is simple. A certified professional has a grip of the basic concepts of the topics tested on - they should at a minimum level be able to answer any basic or intermediate question, or know exactly how to be resourceful and find the answers to questions. A certified professional should also be prepared to stand up as the last line of defense and take ownership when "the chips are down"...

So what are some benefits to certification? Well, sure, there are the benefits of visibility and being more desired for interviews, but the biggest satisfaction in my own mind is just the thrill of the chase...

For example, I took about a full year to study for my 70-296 exam - and to me, my job/career is something I find interesting... Anything new I learn just keeps me wanting to learn more, and in studying for an exam, you learn a lot more than the material - you can get lost on a rabbit trail of other concepts...

I think of myself as an old-schooler... I worked hard on learning and developing my certifications by earning my scores... How did I do this? The old fashioned way...

* Alienating myself from my family

* Staying up and having many sleepless nights

* Nearly dying from caffeine poisoning

So back to the title - how should I be impressed? Don't tell me about your certs - prove that the skills you have are worth more than the paper your MCSE is printed on...

 

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