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Be better than your MCSE: Messaging credentials for deep-dive learning

If you want to excel at Exchange, it's time to go beyond Microsoft certifications and learn more about the inner workings of Exchange.

In today's competitive market, you aren't alone in hoping to stand head and shoulders above your colleagues sporting Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications. Achieving MCSE is definitely something to be proud of, whether in Exchange 2013 or in other Microsoft technologies. But the sad fact is that too many "paper MCSEs" exist with experts who don't expand their skills beyond those required for the certification exam, which devalues the accomplishments of hardworking IT pros.

If you want to really excel at Exchange and take your learning to the next level, it's time to get down and dirty with the inner workings of Exchange. Until recently, enterprising Exchange administrators and consultants had a top-level goal to aim for the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM). Microsoft Learning discontinued this program, so if you're still eager to learn more, you might wonder where to even start.

In this tip, we'll go through the basics of where to find the right information to take you up to and beyond the real skills you need as an MCSE. We'll also set you on the road to becoming an Exchange expert.

The value of MCSE: Messaging

We constantly hear that the cloud is the way of the future, and while that's true in some sectors, it's certainly not true across the entire IT industry. With Exchange in particular, Office 365 might be making great progress to help some organizations embrace the cloud. But the reality is that the number of on-premises Exchange deployments eclipses the deployments that have already moved to or are planning to move to Exchange Online. Email is a critical service in many businesses, so having a reliable Exchange infrastructure expert to manage it remains vital.

The value of the base-level MCSE: Messaging is as important as ever. Those who work hard to achieve MCSE: Messaging in Exchange 2013 have a real understanding of how to implement and manage an Exchange 2013 infrastructure. As such, the first step on the road to exceeding the basic MCSE requirements is to properly study for and pass the MCSE: Messaging exam.

Preparing for the MCSE: Messaging exam

This tip's focus isn't on the MCSE for Exchange 2013, so it's important to understand what you really need to know if you're going to pass this core Exchange certification. You need to make sure you know the content not just well enough to pass, but well enough to put the tested skills into practice.

Learning via Microsoft's official courses is a good way to get up to speed on this knowledge, but be wary before spending the money and booking the course. Great trainers are fantastic, but will the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) teaching the course know more than just the courseware? If you plan on using classroom training to learn about Exchange Server 2013, make sure your trainer knows the subject well and can answer questions if things aren't clear.

If you're not looking for face-to-face courses, consider one of the many computer-based training companies that employ MCTs, Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) and MCSMs to deliver custom courses. These companies often come highly recommended because you can take the course in your own time, usually from an expert in the technology.

If you're not looking to spend any money on training, take a look at Microsoft Virtual Academy and Microsoft Jumpstart courses. Delivered by a mix of Microsoft employees and MVPs, these videos squarely aim at the exams.

To complement your training for MCSE, you'll need to invest in some lab equipment to make sure you've got somewhere to tinker with Exchange. For less than $1000, you'll be able to pick up components to build a suitable lab server for the home comprising of a Core i5 CPU or better, 32 GB of RAM and a reasonably sized solid-state drive running Hyper-V.

Going beyond basic MCSE: Messaging knowledge

After getting some base level of knowledge and real-world knowledge to complement your MCSE: Messaging skills, it's time to go beyond that. It's said that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a subject. This means if you work with Exchange every weekday, you might master it after five years -- by which point the next version has already been in the wild for some time. It's important to look at how you can quickly master the parts of Exchange you need to know.

Depending on your role, Exchange requires different types of skills. If your role is supporting and managing an infrastructure, this means a focus on a different area for designing and implementing Exchange. This is necessary even though there's a lot of crossover between both types of roles.

Many Exchange admins fall short by focusing on just the areas of the product their organization uses. For example, if the company you work for uses virtualization, you'll more than likely have completely missed out on JBOD. And if your company uses JBOD, then you might not have a lot of experience with backup products. If you're learning about the product to further your career, make sure you fill these gaps in the same way you learn about Exchange 2013 -- even if your organization might not yet be using it.

Click here for part two, which covers eight advanced Exchange topics you should know about to continue with your deep-dive learning plan.

About the author:
Steve Goodman is an Exchange MVP and works as a technical architect for one of the U.K.'s leading Microsoft Gold partners, Phoenix IT Group. Goodman has worked in the IT industry for 14 years and has worked extensively with Microsoft Exchange since version 5.5.

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