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The best Windows IT career skills tips of 2013

IT pros can improve their career skills with the year's top content covering certifications, career development and systems knowledge.

The difference between a good IT professional and a great IT professional lies in the amount of work they're willing to put in to improve their qualifications for their current jobs and overall careers. There are a number of steps IT pros can take to make these enhancements, but the basic areas of improvement -- certifications, career development and systems knowledge -- rarely change.

To mark the end of an eventful year in the world of IT, we compiled the best content of 2013 to give pros some idea of the different ways they can approach improving their IT career skills. This content was among the most popular with our readers, and with good reason. We feature content that covers specific steps IT pros can start taking to help their careers, as well as examples of the kind of systems knowledge they should strive to have.

Free certification prep: the only thing better than cheap prep

This tip looks at the MCSD: Windows Store Apps certification, which has three exams admins must pass. But there are a number of options to prepare for the exams for free. Contributor Ed Tittel says Microsoft offers these free prep materials because the best way to put apps in the Windows Store is to have people "plugging away at Windows App code." Microsoft is pushing its free Jump Start training sessions in Microsoft Virtual Academy while free e-books help IT pros prepare for the MCSD certification.

The latest developments in Microsoft certifications

If you haven't said goodbye to Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist or Microsoft Certified IT Professional credentials yet, do so for the sake of your IT career skills. These credentials have been replaced with revamped versions of three popular certifications: MCSD, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). Tittel calls the change a "calculated move" to reinvigorate important low- and mid-tier Microsoft certifications.

Be a leading IT problem solver in four steps

No matter how good IT pros are, there will always be problems that come up. But contributor Kevin Beaver says there are two options for how to react to these problems: you can play the blame game, or you can start working on an answer. The four steps to work on problem-solving skills are simple. It's also important to realize that the ability to solve problems is one of the most important IT career skills IT pros can have; those who can't solve problems have to be constantly supervised, which hurts their chances to move forward.

The biggest IT career mistake that holds people back

IT pros may think the biggest mistake of their careers has to do with not knowing enough about the systems they work with. This is important knowledge to have, but they're wrong. The biggest mistake is not taking the time to improve their communication skills. Why? "Geek speak" and technical jargon is helpful, but if IT pros can't move past it, their credibility is hurt. But there are simple ways for IT pros to work on improving their communication skills to keep themselves from hurting their own career.

A closer look at changes to SharePoint 2013 features

Technical knowledge is one of the most important IT career skills to have, so IT pros should take the necessary steps to find out as much as possible about the systems they work with. They'll likely have had experience with SharePoint, but experience or not, they can learn more about the features in SharePoint 2013. This information is good to know in organizations that already use SharePoint 2013, but it is also helpful in organizations looking to upgrade to SharePoint 2013. Contributor Brien Posey looks at what's new, what's gone and what changed.

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