Certifications: The benefits of Microsoft and CompTIA certs

In this series, expert Ed Tittel helps readers prepare for MCP exams and discusses what being certified with CompTIA and Microsoft can do for their careers.

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The following is a collection of expert responses to reader questions by Ed Tittel.

Ed Tittel

I have recently graduated in Internet Engineering (BEng) and wish to follow the Cisco networking path for Cisco Design (CCDP). Would it be advisable to attain my CCNA before searching for jobs? How much of an advantage will I gain being CCNA certified but with no real networking (only web-application development) experience?

Ed Tittel: You can't go after the CCDP until you earn a CCNA (and a CCDA as well, for that matter). But neither of these entry-level credentials is enough to help you into a job, unless you're lucky enough to find one that specifically requires either or both of them explicitly (happens rarely, but occasionally). Thus, you shouldn't let the absence or presence of these credentials stop you from looking for or accepting a job, though there's no reason why you can't start working on them as you begin your search.

I recently passed my A+ exams. Now I am planning for my next certification, but I am confused. I don't know which one I should take. I would like to teach computer applications, however I don't know if getting MOS would make me ready to teach application courses or a class. I would really appreciate your response.

ET: If you want to teach computer applications, specifically Office stuff, you might indeed want to pursue the MOS. But this is a collection of certifications that start at individual entry level qualifications, for Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, and Project, then go on to Expert, Master, and Master Instructor levels from there. You can find a complete matrix of all of this stuff at here, which will give you a good idea of what's involved in getting where you want to be. You'll have to take a sizable number of exams (at least a dozen, often more) and spend at least 18 months to work yourself into a place where you can qualify as an instructor. But because Office remains the most widely used office productivity suite world-wide, it's also a great place to focus your personal and professional development efforts, because it will open opportunities to you anywhere you might wish to work.

I currently do not work in the "computer world". I am in a position where I can receive five Microsoft certifications: A+, Network+, MCDST, MCSA, and Security+ for FREE! What benefits will I have in attaining these certifications? Also, in regard to salary, what can I expect as entry level and how important are having these certifications in the "computer world"?

ET: First a correction to your assertion, then some answers. A+, Network+ and Security+ are all CompTIA certifications, not Micrsosft certifications, though Microsoft does accept them as prerequisites for or to satisfy requirements in some of its credentials (including the MCSA). The initial letters "MC" stand for "Microsoft Certified," and are thus giveaways as to which items in your list belong to that company.

As far as benefits to be obtained from earning them, they're supposed to warrant you as somebody with reasonable, entry-level competence in PC technology, hardware, operating systems, and base applications (A+); in networking set-up, configuration, operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting (Network+); in basic systems and network computer and information security (Security+); in providing technical support or help desk service for Windows XP operating systems (MCDST); and for performing basic Microsoft Windows network administration support and services (MCSA). This is a pretty good collection of entry-level credentials and will probably help you land an entry-level system or network administrator job.

Because salary is very much a function of other education (such as degrees), prior work experience, geographical location, and the actual industry in which you go to work, it's hard for me to give you any kind of meaningful response to your salary inquiry. That said, a range of numbers such as high twenties ($26-29K) to mid forties ($42-47) is probably wide enough to put you within walking distance of the ballpark that you're likely to play in. You can get a much better estimate by checking the annual salary survey data at Certification Magazine or at Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine or at compensation research and analysis firm, Foote Partners.

Hi, I'm a recent graduate about to start studies for my MCP. Before that I would be doing A+, but I want to know which book you would recommend I use to study from for my MCP?

ET: There are many MCP exams you can take to pursue that credential, and which one you choose depends on your ultimate target credential, especially as it pertains to Windows Server 2003 (MCSA, MCSE, MCAD, MCSD, MCDBA, and so forth) or the forthcoming Windows Vista and "next-generation" credentials (MCTS, MCITP 'admin', 'database' or 'programming'). With over 50 potential exams to choose from, I am unable to recommend one specific book across the board. If you want to go looking for a specific exam that interests you, and post again to identify it, I'll be happy to make a more specific recommendation.

For the moment, I'll simply suggest an identification strategy to help you choose such a book for yourself. Using the Microsoft Exam code as a search string at Amazon.com or your favorite online bookstore, look for those titles that earn the best reviews and get the highest rankings as reasonably reliable indicators of what works and what doesn't. If you're still not sure, look for online forums that cover the exam subject matter (such as those at www.cramsession.com or at www.mcmcse.com and so forth), and ask for input and advice from the user community.

I am considering taking courses for the Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) program. I am a displaced programmer who has a Visual C++ certification and a UNIX C/C++ certification from two different universities. I also have the choice to take classes for an E-Business Solutions in Java Certificate. Which program do you feel will give me more bang for the buck, MCAD or Java?

ET: A very wise man once told me that the answers to all good questions begin with the same two words -- namely "That depend." Yours must be a good question, because its answer depends on what interests you most. Given that MCAD includes a C# track (which is sufficiently like C/C++ to shorten your learning curve considerably) and that Java is a relatively foreign language to those who know C/C++, it might behoove you to tackle the C# materials first to see how well you like them and to understand how well they fit your interests and proclivities. That said, the programming working world is pretty evenly split in terms of distribution, opportunities, and avenues for advancement between the Microsoft and Java development communities (which are indeed nearly mutually exclusive in many ways, though not entirely so). Thus, only you can decide which gives you the greatest rewards, including bangs for your bucks, by looking deeper and deciding where your interests really lie.


Ed Tittel is the Series Editor for Exam Cram 2, and a contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. He also follows certification topics for InformIT.com, and has written numerous books on MS certifications. E-mail Ed at etittel@techtarget.com.
This was first published in May 2006

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