One year ago this week, some 20 students diligently studied network engineering at a small midwest college. Following 10 months of intense training and six exams, 18 of the 20 were left standing. After 12 hours of lab work a week, endless independent study, and an $8,000 tab, the big question is: Did these students receive their money’s worth?

That class graduated in August 1999. Now, six months later, we’ve touched base with a few of the grads to learn how their new skills and training are paying off in the real world. Here’s what “William”has to say about his experience, which he credits with helping to build a career.
This article is one of a series examining the real-world difference an MCSE certification really makes. How does it work? We talk to IT pros six months after they’ve earned their cert, and we ask them the questions you want answered. “Are you earning more money, was it worth it, and would you do it (complete an MCSE training) again?” Have a Cisco, Novell, Red Hat, or other certification you’d like to write in about? Don’t be a stranger; send your comments here.
Be careful what you say about this MCSE. While he has less than two-years’ industry experience, he’s on the fast track—and he’s only 21.

What has the MCSE done for you?
In just a few words, I can say that it has changed my life forever. I completed the Microsoft-sanctioned class, complete with academic credit. While attending the 10-month course, I was able to get a part-time job, which later became a full-time job with increased pay. For me, choosing to become an MCSE was the best decision I could have made. In fact, it’s triggered a snowball that just keeps rolling, getting bigger and bigger as it goes.

After working a year for the college I attended, I learned more than I ever thought possible. Much of the credit goes to my director. He helped me in more ways than I can begin to explain. He was also my MCSE instructor.

Now he’s my boss, mentor, and friend. He taught me everything I needed to know about networking. He pushed me to go farther and reach for more and to never be happy with just knowing what you know.

Has the training helped you professionally?
I have found that my skills are in very high demand. Companies are always looking for good IT people, and having that MCSE certification seems to put you at the top of the list. Considering I had less than a year’s experience and no other certifications prior to taking the MCSE tests, I would say that it has done wonders for me.

Choosing to become an MCSE, in most cases, is a career decision that some people are hesitant to make. The way I see it, if you like to work with computers, and you enjoy problem solving and using your head for more than just carrying your hat, then you just can’t go wrong.

However, you can’t expect that, just because you became an MCSE, the world will fall into your lap. You make it what you want it to be, if you truly like your job. Then it will take you as far as you are willing to go.

How has MCSE triggered a “snowball effect?”
After I received my MCSE, I earned MCT, A+, and Network+ certifications. I have decided that I want to up my skills once again, this time by getting Cisco certified.

I believe that having both your CCIE and MCSE places you in even greater demand for top-paying computer-networking jobs.

The one downfall about choosing to work in this field is that you must always keep up-to-date with technology. You’ve got to keep up. This isn’t the type of field where you can just get your MCSE and let it carry you through the rest of your life.

If you really want to make big bucks and go further in your career, you must keep sharpening your skills and stay as current with technology as you can. Before you know it, you may wake up and find that your little boy or girl is teaching you how to route a TCP/IP packet across the Internet.

What advice do you have for others seeking certification?
If I have any advice to give, it’s this. If you do decide to take a course, make sure it’s right for you. Some people may not need to take a nine-month course, while others may need all that time to really learn and understand the concepts.

Also, there are a lot of MCSE and IT people out there in the job market. However, I believe only a small percentage really know what they are doing, so it’s still an open market for those of us willing to go out and be the best we can be.
If you’d like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.