Originally Posted by JohnBradbury
I tend to agree from what I've learned from my own experience. I learned a lot by putting my hands on the product and using it. By the time I started my certification journey I knew enough to know approximately what a business network would be like and what some of the needs would be from an admin's perspective. Putting together a lab based on my experience and then setting up desktop environments for users, network security, setting up AD, breaking it, fixing it, letting things break due to their own instability, fixing it again, learning to use the text-based tools to do repairs and change settings taught me a lot. Much more than I could have ever learned from any exam-based book.
It's still not the same as being in an actual environment though as the complexity just isn't the same. But, it did give me a lot of insight into what things looked like and how they basically acted.
I also have to say though that I didn't stick to exam books. I built a library of books on the different aspects of things I studied. I covered just about everything from the basic fundamentals of networking--i.e. packet encapsulation, TCP, UDP, IP, DNS, DHCP, etc...--to how AD works to the command prompt, VBScript, etc.... I covered the gamut of the routine things an admin has to do every day, and I have the library of books to prove it.
I'm now doing the same with Linux, open source products, and the open source scripting languages. I already have 40+ books in these areas to go with the approximately 100 books I have on Windows-based stuff. On top of that I have a subscription to Safari Online that I use daily.
I study fundamentals a lot. I pay more attention to them than I do the implementation specifics because if I know how things are supposed to work, then I can figure out an implementation much easier, and be far more confident. Knowing how things "should" work is always an advantage.
I know some people who only want to know enough about a subject to make a specific implementation of it. By that I mean they want to follow a recipe, use a cookbook approach. The problem with this approach is when things break. Then you're lost, and have a no idea as to why something broke or how to figure out how to fix things. My fundamentals knowledge has allowed me to troubleshoot things about which I know very little about specifics. I just know how things should work, and when they don't, I can give reasons why they probably aren't working.
I've amazed the guy I'm working for now with some of the diagnoses I've made about things which I tell him I know very little about. I'll figure out problems that he can't, and he's the one the put the system together and used it for the last few years. However, he put it together by cookbook. I troubleshoot it through fundamentals.