Your Certification Journey Starts With a Single Step

Sunday morning I woke up to find a foot of snow in my driveway; time to break out the shovel!  I dressed up warm (the thermometer read -9°C / 19°F), grabbed my shovel, and opened the garage door… and was flummoxed.  Where should I start?  There was a wall of snow all along both sides of the garage that was equally deep right to the foot of the driveway, some thirty-five feet away.  I stood there for a minute and weighed my options, and then I put the shovel to the snow and scooped up my first shovelful.

Thirty minutes later I had cleared off the top third of one side of the driveway… I honestly never thought I would get that far!  Although the end was not quite near, I could certainly see how far I had come.

I drew a parallel between that progress and my IT certifications; I thought back to the first time I really looked into it, and realized that it was not as simple as saying I would take a few courses and pass a few tests, I had to plan out a course of action, and the starting point was oftentimes as complicated as the material I had to learn; which course should I take first?  What study materials and methods should I use?  When would I be ready to pass my first exams?  It was so nerve-wracking I occasionally thought about giving up… and it was nearly eighteen months before I would pass my first exam.

Sure, certifications are complex… it would likely be simpler if it was a linear path from start to finish, but that is simply not the way it works.  You have to really know what you are doing before you set out, and frankly that can be a daunting challenge, one that I am sure has prevented many people from setting out.

What should you do first?  You have to decide what it is you want your certifications for; if you want to be a developer or an IT Pro… and a dozen other decisions.  My advice?  put your shovel to the snow and scoop up your first shovelful; If you are not simply thinking of changing careers but have been working in IT for a while then chances are you know what you are comfortable with; look to see what certifications are available.  You might be comfortable with the desktop operating system, so a logical ‘first shovel’ may be one of the desktop OS exams – TS: Configuring Windows Vista (70-620), or even the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) exams (70-271 & 70-272).  They may or may not have much to do with what you want to eventually do, but they are a good way of learning what certifications are about.

The public newsgroups are replete with certification advice, and you can have your questions answered by passionate people who are either where you are or were once.  If you want to invest in classroom learning then most training centres will have sales consultants who can answer a lot of your questions as well.  If you are leaning towards e-learning then many of the IT vendors (Microsoft, Cisco, Novell, etc…) will offer some sort of e-learning options that are worth exploring. 

The point is that after a while you will discover what is right for you, what works and what doesn’t, and when you wake up one day you will realize that you may not yet be a Microsoft Certified Master, but you do have a couple of exams under your belt!

My driveway is clean today, but it is going to snow again this week and I am going to have to pick up my shovel again; just like that, certifications is something that is ongoing rather than a journey to an end.  The first certifications I achieved are now obsolete, but that doesn’t matter because I have replaced them with more relevant ones now.  However if I had not started when I did… when would I have?

When will you?

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