Certification - the key to success

April 2008

Three people having a discussionWhen I started my first job 10 years ago, I had no idea I would be working in IT. My degree was in German and Spanish and I was employed in 1998 to work as a purchaser for a truck dealer and trailer manufacturer, using my language skills. The company is based in Denmark, with offices in the UK (where I am based), Sweden and Norway.

Being a medium sized company we did not have an in house IT manager or systems administrator - we relied on a group of local IT consultancy firms, who were both expensive and often unavailable. 

One day my MD saw that I had a better than average knowledge of MS Excel and based on this alone, asked me if I would like to take over the IT within our UK branch - a small office of around 10 employees, on top of my purchasing duties. I would be the one to co-ordinate the local IT consultancy firms and if there was any small job needed doing, I would do it myself.

At the beginning, I was totally lost - spending hours on either thinking of how to solve the problems, or on the phone to our IT support companies. After a couple of years of this, I decided enough was enough - either I had to leave this IT role or go the other route, and learn it properly. I decided upon the latter, which was the best decision I ever made.

The irony with this is that I had sworn to myself after having completed my university degree that I would never study again. I had had enough of studying and was keen to concentrate on my career. Little did I realise that studying and above all learning is a part of your career, a big part, and that success within your career is not possible without it.

I looked at different ways to learn and become certified within the computer industry and thought what better way to learn than with Microsoft themselves? After all, all of our servers and desktops were Microsoft run (98 and NT.4) - so why not learn from the very ones who designed these systems?

I looked at the various qualifications and levels and being an ambitious person, thought I'd go for the very top - Microsoft Engineer (MCSE). Hey, if you're going to go for it, there's no point in doing things in halves. I looked at the staggering costs of learning how to become one however and became very discouraged - as much as £15,000 to learn how to become certified. My company were not going to pay that kind of money and I could not afford it.

Fortunately, I came across an MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) who was prepared to teach me depending on if he got a grant to do so from the British government. There was about a six month waiting time to find out but sure enough, we got it and got started. 

Windows 2000 was out at the time and so the natural path was to become certified in this. I carried on doing my usual job (including the purchasing) during the day and studied each morning and evening before and after work. Although this regime was very tough, it gave me the preparation I needed to take on the exams.

The exams themselves (seven in total) were tough - some I only just about passed - but I managed to pass them all first time. As I progressed through them one by one, a strange thing happened, I actually started to de-code and fully understand these previously confusing and complicated Microsoft systems.

I was getting better and better, as the whole system was starting to make sense and everything was starting to fit into place. By the end, I passed my last exam with ease. I was finally there. 

We no longer needed the local IT consultancy firms, as I was fully capable (and now in some cases more qualified) of doing the job. We still use them every now and then, for the big jobs, but all under my direction, as opposed to blindly asking them what to do.

Since becoming certified, I then was promoted to being responsible for the entire network of over 150 users - throughout the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, managing over 20 servers in five remote sites via Terminal Services/RDP. I run a help desk for all our employees and can solve (almost) any problem via remote desktop.

My salary has increased many times over thanks to the certification and I generally find it easier to learn anything now, as my mind is focused and is used once again to learning. I find my job far more enjoyable, interesting and rewarding and I am proud of what I have achieved. 

Becoming certified made me a more positive person - it gives you that feel good factor as you come into work and I now get a real buzz out of doing a good job at work and working with people at a high, qualified level.

I recently upgraded my Windows 2000 MCSE skills to the latest 2003 version and even had the courage to take on an SQL 2005 exam (which I passed with 100 per cent), as we also use this in house. I passed my MCSE 2003 exam also with 100 per cent and now understand the Microsoft systems better than ever before.

All of my latest exams were achieved with an added dimension - I was now a father. It is a real challenge to successfully carry out a full time job, study in the mornings and evenings and still find time to be a father (and husband) also, but after a few months I managed to re-adjust my routines once more and managed to find a balance between all three.

My latest achievement, passing the MCTS Windows 2008 exam with 100 per cent in December 2007, is my proudest moment yet. To be certified in a major worldwide product two months before it is even released is very rewarding and is the best preparation possible for the future. Learning with Microsoft, although tough, is also fun - the study materials (MS Press books, e-learning, etc) are very well written and cover all you need to know.

In fact, you do not even need to get lucky like I did in finding a good MCT to get started. Simply using Microsoft's own materials from your own home at your own pace is easily enough. As long as you have the self motivation, you'll get there.

Becoming certified was the best thing I ever did. It's not easy, especially whilst you try to manage a full time job and a young family at home. But it is the most rewarding experience I have ever had during my career and was even more rewarding than getting my university degree, as everything I am learning is directly relevant to my daily life. 

Everything I have learnt I have directly implemented into my company - sometimes the day after learning it. My salary has increased, I have saved my company money, and above all have given myself a real sense of value and self esteem.

I would recommend this programme to anyone thinking of moving into IT or anyone already in IT who wants to go further. There is still a general lack of IT skills throughout the UK and worldwide, which is one of the driving factors behind the UK government's new advertising campaign, Train to Gain, as they try to encourage people to improve their skills within the workplace.

And even if you're not in IT, I would certainly recommend studying and learning further within your career in general. The rewards are immediate and it just might be the best move you'll ever make.