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IT pros: MCSE no substitute for experience

Christine Herbert

SAN DIEGO -- The value of Microsoft certifications is as controversial as ever, but when it comes to job prospects in today's economy, credentials and experience matter the most, according to several IT pros who attended the MCP TechMentor Conference & Expo.

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    "Five years ago just about anyone could get a job with just an MCSE," said Keith Richardson, a system administrator for the Schumacher Group, in Lafayette, La. "But today, experience is what counts."

    Richardson, who is in a management position with hiring responsibilities, likens the MCSE to the bare minimum you need to get a start in the industry -- like a high-tech high school diploma. When he is looking to bring someone on board at Schumacher, he always puts experience ahead of titles. But his favorite job candidates are IT pros who have both.

    "I look for someone who has the credentials, but they must have a balance of solid, practical experience too," he said. He added that it is also important for high-level IT managers to keep their credentials current in order to understand the technology they use and earn the respect of the employees they supervise.

    But Richardson and other TechMentor attendees want the MCSE to be more than just a "paper" credential.

    Randy Taylor, a systems administrator for Kansas' Information Services and Communication Division, said that he has become jaded to the whole Microsoft certification process and will most likely not pursue a Windows 2000 or .NET MCSE in the future. His major complaint -- a market that is saturated with people who have passed tests but lack practical knowledge to back up their certification credentials.

    One way out of the problem is to make the MCSE harder to earn by adding real-world lab tests similar to what Cisco requires for its CCIE. That would purge the MCSE pool of "memorizers" -- people who focus on practice courses that closely match the actual tests. Mindy Sterling, an instructor at Texas Engineering Extension Service of Texas A&M University in Houston, said that those people become "calculated test takers, instead of someone who has really learned and absorbed the knowledge that is expected of an MCSE in the real-world."

    "To come out of the MCSE certification process without truly understanding and learning is a waste of time and money," Sterling said. "If someone isn't serious about learning the knowledge, then they shouldn't be going for the cert."

    "There is a big difference between learning and memorization," added Scott Lipman, Information Technology Manager at Cambrex Bio Science, Inc. in Baltimore. "And too many MCSEs have gotten that title because of the latter."


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