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IT pros debate whether it's worth the effort to pursue a Microsoft certification. But in a job search, it can tip the scales in favor of one candidate over another.
For Exchange administrators, the 70-345 exam covers the design and deployment of Exchange Server 2016. The test poses installation and troubleshooting questions that range from mailbox database issues to data loss prevention setup.
Microsoft recommends test-takers have at least three years of experience with the management and design of Exchange Server and familiarize themselves with the integration of Exchange Server with Office 365 and Skype for Business. Admins should also have a strong grasp on PowerShell and comprehensive networking skills.
IT pros build credit toward a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification by passing the Exchange 2016 exam. However, Microsoft certification exams do not define IT pros. There are many "paper MCSEs" -- admins who don't know how to manage the products covered by the exams they passed. Conversely, others are well-versed in specific Microsoft products but never took a certification exam.
IT pros should ask themselves these questions before they opt to take the Exchange 2016 exam.
Will I benefit from passing the Exchange 2016 exam?
When I started my career as an IT professional in the 1990s, Microsoft exams were crucial. My first MCSE was a huge stepping stone in my professional development and helped me get a significantly better position. I can't say that every exam I took was completely relevant or made me a better IT professional, but they helped me get jobs. If you think a Microsoft certification exam will get you promoted, start studying. These tests are great for IT rookies.
For experienced IT admins? Not so much. I've passed the latest version of the Exchange Microsoft Certified Solutions Master exam, so I don't see much benefit in another Exchange MCSE test. The answer will vary depending on the trajectory of each admin's career.
How is this exam different from earlier Exchange tests?
Admins with experience on previous exams for Exchange or other Microsoft technologies might think they know what to expect. In many ways, the 70-345 exam is more of the same, but there are a few key changes.
First, there is only one Exchange 2016 exam, whereas there were two tests for Exchange 2013. The exam isn't harder, just more concentrated. There are fewer overall Exchange questions, but Microsoft removed the easy ones. In that regard, the margin for error is smaller.
Second, Microsoft Learning modernized its certification exams to make them more relevant to today's workplace. They have improved questions in the 70-345 exam in that they are more focused with fewer debatable answer choices.
Exchange 2016 certification study resources
There are plenty of good resources to help pass the 70-345 exam. There is plenty of free material, but some admins can better digest the information in the video courses, which cost money. Here are a few resources to study:
- TechNet: The Exchange 2016 section of TechNet is a must-read. It's not the most exciting resource, but it is essential for any decent Exchange administrator.
- You Had Me At EHLO: The Exchange team blog -- named after the old Simple Mail Transfer Protocol command -- provides relevant exam information. It won't directly map to exam questions, but it can steer you to the type of answers the exam wants.
- Pluralsight: Paul Cunningham offers a good study guide for the 70-345 test. It covers all you need to know to pass the exam. A Pluralsight subscription costs money but is often worth the expense.
- Microsoft Press: Paul Cunningham also cowrote the 70-345 guide and covers about the same information as the Pluralsight course. If you prefer to read rather than watch a video course, this book is an excellent choice.
Is on-premises Exchange even a thing anymore?
This is an important question for anyone who wants to invest their time and money to train for any technology.
Microsoft encourages businesses to move to the cloud, but that isn't an option for many enterprises. As long as demand remains for on-premises Exchange, Microsoft will develop the product. It's possible Exchange 2019 will require an Office 365 subscription, but admins would still need to know how to manage Exchange.
On-premises Exchange will likely remain in many enterprises for some time, at least through Exchange 2019. If your organization doesn't plan to move to the cloud, an on-premises certification brings value.
Do I need practical experience to pass the Exchange 2016 exam?
I've worked with Microsoft Learning to write certification tests, and while the current exams are now more based on the real world, admins can probably pass the 70-345 exam without in-production experience on Exchange 2016.
But preparation still matters. Most test-takers rush to finish Microsoft's test. Admins receive only 150 minutes for each exam. I recommend that IT admins build a lab and play with Exchange to maximize your familiarity with the platform.
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