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Borderline-careers advice thread

Discussion in 'Training & Development' started by JMLansdell, Mar 2, 2011.

  1. JMLansdell

    JMLansdell New Member

    Hello CF,

    I'll start by going over my background. I'm the standalone on-site IT contact for a small (just broke 50 users last week) financial services broker. My intention is for the first wall of text to help give you an idea as to the level of knowledge/experience I have. This'll help when I move onto the question of certifications/study methods.

    My job duties cover physical hardware/software/network troubleshooting, exchange administration, domain administration, IP phone system administration (standalone software from a telecoms provider with us by the name of Network-M - we're currently using the system through a call server on VOIP but that's looking to change shortly). You could say I'm the company's only systems administrator, a 19 year old with about 11 months experience, though I've only been the independant systems administrator for the company for about 2-3 of those months.

    The thing is...I started working here off the back of a Business Administration apprenticeship. I came here almost a year ago with next to no experience in enterprise-based IT. I expressed an interest, and was paired up with the Systems Administrator at the time. I was shown the ropes and over the course of the training, which technically, I have completed (despite having nothing to do with clerical business admin...), I've learned to administrate a network environment I played no part in creating. We use;

    1) A domain controller, which we also use for DNS, DHCP and FTP server - and a file store for audit logs and scripts - comfortable with this as I am, I have never structured or created a login auditing policy. I simply have the .csv created by the people who gave birth to the domain. Through use of this I've became comfortable with AD, DHCP, IIS (to an extent), and DNS also to an extent.

    2) An underspec'd exchange server which also houses the company network drive, the AD profile paths and document paths. I'm comfortable with EMC (as both servers are on 2007, however the base units all run on XP), services, and that's basically all I manage on Exchange.

    3) A Firebox X750e. Just a dedicated proxy-based firewall that, again though I haven't played a massive role in setting up, I feel as though I could. Gods know managing it is a peice of cake.

    4) Call server. Though this is bespoke for our provider and would hold no water with another employer, it uses a web-based UI that uses our local, private network IP (172.64.32, etc).

    5) Call recording server. Yeah...more IPS experience, I guess.

    6) A UPS and KVM switch that I've, for a change in regards to this thread, assisted in setting up with a contractor, giving me a decent amount of confidence to do such a thign again.

    7) DMZ via router, switch/patch panels, meh, if you've worked in a building this old school before you'll know what it's like to have a coms room on the same floor as your office.

    I digress. I've worked for them for 11 months. My redundant and irrelevant apprenticeship has expired and I've been nudged up to £10,500 to cover nat min wage. For the telephony, emails and domain administration you don't need me to tell you this is a rip. From here, I want to become certified in as many areas which are as relevant to my job role and the systems involved in my job role now, so that I can look for work elsewhere and use interviews/job offers to up my base salary.

    I considered the training provider Computeach, but have been put off by the discussion regarding training providers in general over forums such as this. I feel as though I could cover my base in less than the allotted time you pay these providers for, and for less money if I go through the self study route.

    In summary:

    19 year old, 11 months experience, not been independantly running everything for long but so far so good.

    I administrate our exchange server, DC/DNS/FTP/DHCP servers, phone system and firewall which is on a pretty strict internet browsing policy. I have a pretty decent understanding of how physical telephony works, and it's helped me troubleshoot issues in office moves (people trying to use copper connections from room to room, the receiving room being recently given a POE switch and as such the managers expecting the phones to work flawlessly in that room).

    While I administrate those networking landmarks, all of them rather - my job also covers a slight bit of desktop support. Basically, every little problem, sometimes it prevents one of the 50 staff here from getting their job done, sometimes it doesn't, they come to me to sort it. I've had to employ basic browsing skills, DOS/batch scripting, use of server-side tools to troubleshoot and client-side troubleshooting methods to pinpoint a problem (but anyone as ripped off as myself will understand that the same problem shares the same cause 99% of the time, anyway...)

    I feel as though I should go through the self study route and try for a server administration MCP. Problem is, I don't know which one. My old supervisor suggested the MCSE, even though we use Server 2007 and our units are on XP, not that it would make a difference, but David, the course advisor (ahem, salesperson) for Computeach recommended the MCITP: Server/Messaging/Enterprise admin in the long run based on my job role. I do, however, want to get certified in what I do. Not qualified in what I could be doing.

    In my opinion, study for an MCSE or a server-based MCITP would simply entail filling in the blanks of what I already know. I wouldn't have to buy any computers or servers for practice as I use them in my daily line of work anyway. The only problem is, I'm not 100% clear on the pre-resiquites/electives yet. But that's a matter of putting my RTFM hat on and reading over the guides once I pick a cert that's right for me. That's kinda where I need your help.

    So, in that case - surely all I would have to do is buy the books outlined in the guides on here, study, and when I feel I'm ready book the exams with Prometric?

    Would anyone recommend other options to people who are currently working in the field they want to get certified in? Though money isn't an issue as I have barely any out goings, I don't feel I need to pay Computeach £1,800 for a 14 month service I know nothing about the quality of first-hand.

    Is Prometric a trustworthy service for exam provision? And what other expenses would I have to consider? For example, do I need my own servers to practice from the books/source material with, or will work's DC/+Exchange server do?

    My main frustration with the current qualification layout is I feel as though I have to choose between a server admin and an exchange admin cert. I understand that in a large, worthwhile company, you have a messaging admin, domain admin and telephony admin usually, but I have a well-rounded confidence in both server/exchange and would like to make the more desirable/sensible cert decision my first one.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this, I understand it's a little long and rambly, but I as a person am a little rambly. XP

    Certifications: None
    WIP: None yet.
  2. BosonMichael
    Highly Decorated Member Award

    BosonMichael Yottabyte Poster

    That's a good thing - that's how you end up learning a lot. ;)

    There's not a Server 2007. There's an Exchange 2007, a Server 2003, and a Server 2008... but no Server 2007.

    Many people on here recommend starting out with the A+, Network+, and MCDST certifications. The A+ covers basic PC administration for both hardware and software. Network+ will test your networking knowledge. The MCDST covers administration of XP workstations.

    None of these certifications are required... they are simply to show an employer what you are capable of doing. If you could afford only one of those three, I'd probably recommend getting the MCDST before it retires in about 4 months.

    If you've been administering Server 2003, the MCSA and MCSE would be worthwhile. If you've been administering Server 2008, the MCITP on Windows Server 2008 would be worthwhile.

    There are no pre-requisites. Microsoft recommends that you have about 6 months of server administration experience before pursuing the server admin certifications.


    I wholeheartedly recommend self-study methods. I achieved all the certifications in my signature line through self-study and on-the-job experience.

    For Microsoft exams, you have no choice - Prometric is the only game in town. For CompTIA exams, you can choose between Prometric and VUE. Later, when you start administering Cisco devices, VUE will be your only option for Cisco certifications.

    It would be helpful to have the server OS installed on a couple of machines that you can mess with (rather than risk working on your production gear). However, it's not absolutely required that you do so. If you know what you should and shouldn't do on your live equipment, you should be fine. :)

    Nobody says you HAVE to work at a large corporation. Smaller companies are "worthwhile" too. There are plenty of good jobs where you can be the Man Who Wears Many Hats. At my last employer, I was the sole network and server admin for a 450-user healthcare company.

    Why would you have to choose just one? Getting certified on BOTH Windows Server AND Exchange will open up many different job opportunities with employers - some who need just a server admin, some who need just a messaging admin, and some who need someone who can do BOTH. If you limit yourself to JUST one or the other, you limit your opportunities.

    Welcome to the forums. :)
    Certifications: CISSP, MCSE+I, MCSE: Security, MCSE: Messaging, MCDST, MCDBA, MCTS, OCP, CCNP, CCDP, CCNA Security, CCNA Voice, CNE, SCSA, Security+, Linux+, Server+, Network+, A+
    WIP: Just about everything!
  3. dmarsh

    dmarsh Terabyte Poster

    Go for the MCSA or the equivalent newer MCITP track.

    MCSA is 4 exams, it covers XP, and server 2003, still good skills to have. There is one elective exam, you could make yours exchange.

    Prometric for some time has been the only MS approved testing provider, if you want to take a MS cert you have to use them, everybody does. Generally Prometric provide an ok service, they only vet test centres and manage a database. Test centres themselves can vary but most serve their purpose.

    There is no substitute for experience on a live network, however you should never use one as a lab or test environment.

    Do you seriously have no test lab? A small isolated network of machines at work for testing rollouts on etc ? If some of these machines are not in use you could set them up as you see fit as long as it does not impact other testing or rollouts.

    In either case I'd still create your own home lab, all it takes is a PC and Virtual PC, Virtualbox or Vmware Player / Server.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2011
  4. JMLansdell

    JMLansdell New Member

    Thanks for the helpful replies, guys. Incoming wall of text again.

    First off, thanks for the insightful response, and correction there, BM. Yeah, our server OS is 2008.

    I think, based off the sound advice I've gotten, I'm going to study for and take the 3 basics, A+, Network+ and MCDST first - just because they seem to cover what my job role entails daily, regardless of the scale of importance, and not just what's in my contract of employment, heh.

    Once I've done that, I can worry about MCITP: SA, and afterwards MCITP: MA.

    Yes DMarsh, I genuinely have no test lab whatsoever for the purpose of water-treading. Half our computers are probably stolen from the place we moved from via a 'perfectly legitimate insolvency' of business years ago, anyway. Luckily my labour currently is piss cheap and I can maintain employment long enough to contently certify myself. But you are right, doing so on live resources is a little, err...derpy - and reason #432 that I created this thread is because I haven't completely ruled out the possibility that I'd have to buy more than books and exam seats to do the certs properly. :)

    Roughly what resources would you recommend I pour into a test lab? If all it takes is a PC and open source VMware for the server certs, then hell. I'll just borrow one of these £5 Korean hunks of scrap metal from the store cupboard and make a new domain for it and the VM. My main concern regarding the test labs is, OS licensing, really. Mainly because I'm hardly clued up as to what I'd need to procure/license for an MCITP test lab, barring a 2008-bound server PC and a client-side unit. My home network is wireless with one telephone port upstairs. Not sure how I feel about using my price-intensive gaming PC (7 Ultimate, 64) for either. Probably just take a cheaper PC in the room with the router, get a switch in there and let the personal equipment continue to run wirelessly.

    That, coupled with the fact that I don't yet drive and I spend 8 hours a day at work in comparison to roughly 4 waking hours at home during the working week, gives me a bit of a conflict as to where most of my week study would go into anyway. Once I gather what, I'll pay for my own test resources so I can use them at work in free slots of time, and home during the weekends.

    Guess another issue is getting the server OS. But meh, all I'd need for MCITP test-fiddling'd be Server 2008 with a single CAL anyway, right? Think I have a copy of 7 at home for the client-side electives, but meh. I'd have to see to the licensing legalities.

    Sorry if I come off as a touch clueless in regards to self-cert or testing. That's sorta why I registered here to begin with. ^^;

    Once again, thanks.

    Certifications: None
    WIP: None yet.

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