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April 19, 2009

Why Am I Passionate About Microsoft Training And Certification?

Don't think anyone can argue that I haven't been one of the biggest cheerleaders for training and certification, going on 13 years now.

I’ve been on record as being a big huge superfan of IT training and certification from my very first days in the IT industry. Long before I had a blog that was read by people all over the world, I told anyone who would sit still long enough to listen that if they wanted to have long-term success in the IT field, they needed to get some proper training, and become certified. Right here at the Funcave, I’ve hammered over and over the idea that IT professionals without knowledge and expertise are neither professional, nor destined for much success in IT. When people ask me which certification program has been the best for me, that’s an easy answer. Far and away, Microsoft’s training and certification program has paid the biggest dividends for me personally and professionally, both in the short- and long-term.

Here’s why…

Don't mistake the point of this graphic. It's really all about finding the key to the value that matters to and for you in both the short and long haul. That's what MS training and certification did for me. Sure, I had to put effort in...but it's paid off in spades, for both me and my family. 

Microsoft as a company has maintained its relevance better than any other company by which I’ve been certified. The other two companies I held certifications from waned significantly, so I simply let their certifications lapse. But I stayed current with Microsoft’s certifications. Simply put, the demands of my professional role, as it progressed over the years from a senior technician to network administration to IT Director to consulting engineer, required me to stay on top of the solutions that were most relevant to the companies for which I worked. And those have been the solutions Microsoft offers.

Self-study is key to everything when it comes to staying current, but sometimes there's no substitue for classroom training. 

Truly staying current requires much more than awareness of the latest buzzwords. To deliver solutions with the level of quality my customers expect and deserve, I need to be thoroughly versed in the latest solutions. That requires knowledge that can’t be gained any other way than through intense study and practice. And for those times I need to very rapidly get up-to-speed with something completely new, I have found I can always count on instructor-led classroom training at a Microsoft Partner with the Learning Solutions competency, using Microsoft Official Curriculum, to deliver the level of instructional and course content quality I need.

 That's not to say custom training doesn't have its place. But if you're looking to get industry-standard knowledge, custom training can be wildly hit-or-miss. Kinda like herding cattle.

That’s a huge relief. Twelve years ago I experienced first-hand the kind of “cowboy” training that some people have tried to pass off for other vendors, and vowed to never be burned that way again. The formal processes Microsoft has put in place, starting with its training and exam development and continuing all the way through to validating the various delivery methods, means that the Microsoft training and certification ecosystem really functions as an end-to-end solution that delivers results people can trust will live up to expectations.

What do you call a puzzle with one missing piece? Incomplete, that's what! As are your efforts at staying current and relevent in IT if you neglect to take exams and earn certifications proving your expertise. 

But no matter how I gain the knowledge, I still need to verify that level of knowledge in a completely objective manner. That’s why certification remains such a vitally important piece of the professional development puzzle. By passing exams and earning certifications, I can quickly and easily prove to people that not only do I possess the knowledge, but I also have the ability to apply and utilize that knowledge in a pressure situation correctly. It’s also proof that I, as an IT professional, understand I need to stay current in my field of expertise, and actually put forth the effort to make it happen. Prospective clients and employers can instantly tell that I place a lot of importance on being prepared and informed. I have yet to hear a single employer or client say “We’re going with someone else because you have just too much knowledge and experience for our taste. Sorry.”

Ah yes...the good ol' modem. Man, am I glad those days are over. 

There’s no doubt that a lot has changed about the IT industry since I first entered in 1995. Back then, the World Wide Web was basically a set of URLs that could exist in a single text document, none of which held anything of use for folks outside of academia. The way to get technical information was either via fax-back or private vendor BBS. And nobody in IT really talked or shared information with anyone else outside their own organization all that much.

I'm not kidding when I say that community was scarce. I'm not saying MS pioneered the idea of community or anything. But I do give their training and certification programs credit for getting serious about quality. I think that raised the bar for everyone, which raised the maturity of our industry as a whole. That was something that was sorely needed.

Despite all the other changes since then, the rise of community has been the single most important change in the IT industry that’s affected my career. Sure, the formation of community was helped by the rise of the Internet, but people opening up and sharing knowledge takes something much more difficult to create than even a shared global internetwork. It takes people being willing to admit when they have a knowledge gap and asking for that assistance. It also takes other people willing to share that information if they have it. There’s a complex awesomeness at work there that didn’t always exist. And a lot of that is a maturation not just of our industry, but also a maturation of the way knowledge is acquired by our industry. I honestly think that a good bit of that maturation can be chalked up to the example put forth over time by Microsoft’s serious approach to strengthen its training and certification programs.

More heads are always better than one, assuming those heads aren't empty. 

The secret to Microsoft’s success as a company lies in a very simple idea: the more informed minds that you can put on a problem, the better solutions you’ll get. That’s a simple economy of scale that no single company can replicate on its own. Microsoft has historically taken that approach in nearly every aspect of its business by cultivating different ecosystems and communities of informed minds: Partners, OEMs, developers, and of course IT professionals.

It's a valid question. What do you have, in the end, other than your knowledge? 

And that’s why training and certification really matters. As a professional, what you bring to the table is your knowledge, experience, and training. No matter if it’s for your company, your customers, or your peers, without any knowledge, experience, and training…what do you really have to offer?

Seriously...I know 3 year olds who act more mature than IT folks who insist that training and certification have no value. 

So if you’re still in the camp who thinks “Awwww fooey. That there trainin’ an exams an all that mess is for the birds. No one cares ‘bout that,” then I think you’re missing the point of a career in IT completely.

Good luck with that, and God help you.

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