On Sept. 30, 1999, Jack Wallen, Jr. answered your questions and discussed how membership in professional organizations could help your IT career. Here’s the transcript. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting .

On Sept. 30, 1999, Jack Wallen, Jr. answered your questions and discussed how membership in professional organizations could help your IT career. If you couldn’t join us then, check this issue’s Bookmarks page for future meeting dates and topics. We hope to see you soon on our weekly live chat.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity

Moderator: Welcome to this week’s Guild Meeting. Today, Jack Wallen, Jr. is our guest speaker. We’ll be discussing professional organizations and how they can help you.

JW: Hello. welcome to this week’s chat at the TPG forum. One of the main topics I want to focus on is the education that professional organizations offer to the industry. What is the real benefit (or is there one?) to a member of the IT field joining the various groups? What I would like to begin with is where the industry is and how it keeps up with current trends. It’s obvious that we’re in an industry that moves forward faster than most other industries. for an IT professional, remaining stagnant is akin to professional death.

Q: How are Professional Organizations useful in keeping you up-to-date?

Q: Mostly they don’t, but they make a nice line on your resume.

Q: I agree. I’ve only found these organizations useful occasionally.

JW: let’s take a look at something like the USENIX Association. There are organizations, like USENIX, that offer a good deal of education.

Q: This is true, but USENIX isn’t really a formal professional organization. It’s more of a knowledge-sharing collective.

What is a professional organization?
JW: Any given organization is going to be “useful” only for a percentage of the time. I guess we would have to define a professional organization. Anyone want to take a stab?

Q: A group of like-minded individuals with a common pool of interest.

Q: I am a member of the IEEE, the AIAA, the SAE, and several other engineering societies, as well as MSDN, etc.

JW: All of them are very solid educational organizations.

Q: In order to be a professional organization, they need to be formally organized and recognized in the industry.

JW: What you just described covers many organizations that don’t fall under what most people would consider “professional.”

Q: But have they helped you get a job?

Q: Yes and no.

Q: Gotten you a raise?

Q: They have aided me in my technical knowledge, and they help on a resume.

JW: so, are you saying that professional orgs have to be of a “like” mind and help you get a job?

Q: Most likely, you’ve spent untold amounts of money to qualify and now “zip.”

Memberships are tax deductions, or let the company pay
Q: Actually, I don’t spend anything.

Q: Professional memberships are tax deductible.

Q: As are subscriptions to industry magazines.

Q: Now, that’s a benefit!

JW: That’s a good point. An IT professional joining an organization is certainly in the company’s best interests.

Q: Right. Normally your company will pay for it.

JW: Although the orgs may be free to join, think of how much you’re spending on education—nothing is really free.

Q: Because they believe that having a member of the society is a sign of prestige.

JW: exactly. to a company, having an MSCE employee is going to look (and feel) better than not, so they’ll foot the bill.

Q: And I’ve found it to be useful in obtaining an interview.

JW: but what about the education? for those who belong to professional orgs, what were the direct benefits, the immediate benefits to you and to the company?

Certifications: What are they good for? Absolutely nothing?
Q: But other than that, the MCSE is basically useless.

Q: Regrettably, it’s probably the truth.

JW: I’m not saying that I agree or disagree, but why do you think the MSCE is useless?

Q: Jack, the benefit to my company of my being an MCSE is basically nil. The benefit to my company of being technically certified and a member of a group of security professionals is significant because they can advertise it.

Q: It’s good for marketing value.

Q: There’s continued emphasis on furthering your knowledge base?

JW: and as far as that’s concerned <shameless plug here> the Red Hat certification.

Q: I haven’t seen it.

Q: It may be useful in the long run, but it’s a non-starter for now.

Q: I agree, it’s becoming akin to the shingle on your lawyer’s door.

JW: Do you think you learn more about MS products in a self-taught environment or with the cert training?

Q: Jack, I’d say I learn better teaching myself, but some don’t.

JW: that’s one of my problems with a lot of training programs: people learn in different ways. i test very poorly. What good is taking some tests going to do for someone who only knows how to learn “hands on”?

Q: The problem is that the MCSE training is nowhere near being comprehensive enough.

Q: It’s too narrowly focused.

A look at Cisco certification
Q: Cisco, on the other hand, has a very broadly focused training program, covering all aspects of networking knowledge.

JW: is there an organization that is “comprehensive enough”? universities? i’d say no to that, as well.

Q: If you’ll notice, Cisco certification almost doubles your earning potential.

Q: But it takes two years to get your CCIE.

JW: but right now, there’s such strong focus on MSCE (thanks to marketing), that the Cisco certs are in huge demand—so it seems.

Q: But I’ll agree that the rewards there are immense.

Q: I don’t have my CCIE, but the Cisco classes I’ve taken have been excellent and worth every minute.

Q: I can’t say the same for Microsoft, or most anyone else for that matter.

Q: Where did you take your classes?

Q: Various training centers. Learning Tree, Sylvan, Microsoft, etc.

JW: so, it seems that there is a consensus that cert programs are “iffy” in their immediate (if any) benefit to the self. They act more as a diploma for someone to say, “See what I have.” Am I correct?

Q: For example, I’m a Checkpoint Certified Security Administrator and Checkpoint Certified Security Engineer.

Q: The classes I took to get these certs were useless. They were actually worse than useless. If you took them and did everything in the class, nothing you did would work.

JW: but what about organizations that are more general in nature? there’s a local organization here in Louisville that focuses specifically on enterprise computing, and its largest benefit is the network of people it creates. What’s the value in that?

Q: A group of peers to tap for information and help?

JW: exactly. is networking alone a benefit?

Q: The networking aspects of professional orgs are certainly worth it.

Q: But the certification is extremely important for marketing purposes and for customer confidence.

Networking—the best benefit
JW: i find that much of the best education (and training) that I have received was from a networking environment, where I’ve met the people who could offer me the specific knowledge that I needed.

Q: I heartily agree, sir. I’m a Boston area resident, and have been fortunate enough to speak with RMS several times.

JW: not only that, but with many orgs (in the Linux community) you can rub elbows with the creators themselves. that in and of itself is an extreme benefit!

Q: Very enlightening conversations.

Q: Most of them were actually held during ham radio swapmeets and the like at MIT.

JW: to me it’s worth joining the orgs. if there were more orgs that focused on those aspects, instead of on what the marketers say we need, we’d be better off.

Q: That’s what we need more of: a willingness to share our knowledge.

JW: i think the IT profession has a lot to learn from the open-source community. and if the IT profession doesn’t open its eyes to the open-source model, it’s going to lose out! what we’re doing right now is a perfect example of enormous learning potential. let me show you what I mean.

Q: Once again, I heartily agree with you sir. But open source isn’t the be all and end all.

Q: No one thing is. It’s just a harbinger for change.

JW: i need to set up a large network, but I’m not sure which private IP address to use. Which is best?

Q: How large of a network, Jack.

JW: let’s say 150 machines.

Q: Then, I would use a 192.168 subnet with ipmasq.

JW: did everybody get that? with a simple question we all had the possibility to learn. A professional organization?

Q: Transparent, but still a valid point, sir.

JW: simple arenas such as this one are perfect breeding grounds for knowledge, and sites like TechRepublic are exemplary means for the IT industry to stay ahead without burying its head too deep in “what everyone else is doing.”

Q: In case anyone hadn’t noticed, I can be a pain. I’m kind of a contrary person. That in and of itself is an important aspect of professional organizations, however. To provide contrasting thought and new perspectives.

JW: certainly. If you belonged to an organization and everyone thought and felt the same, nothing would be taught or learned.

Q: The opposite of a fact is a fiction. The opposite of a great truth can still be a great truth.

You’re not an admin unless…
JW: look at what MSCE has done to the industry. It has put amazing importance on tests that really don’t “teach,” and now everyone thinks that, by passing the point and click tests, they’ll be systems admins.

Q: If you can’t configure a router, you aren’t an admin.

Q: If you can’t install both client and server OSs, you aren’t an admin.

Q: And if you can’t hook up and troubleshoot a network, you aren’t an admin.

Q: You may be a skilled operator.

JW: we have so many organizations focusing on such tightly knit aspects (i.e., Windows NT), that they forget that, without hardware and UNIX knowledge, a true network can’t be achieved. they forget there are other needs (i.e., Windows, OS/2).

Q: But you aren’t an admin.

JW: so, which, if any, organizations offer such knowledge?

Q: Total administrative knowledge? No single org can give you that.

Join these organizations
JW: exactly. But what conglomeration of organizations can give you the best bang for your buck?

Q: You have to belong to several and read every article, magazine, and Web site every day.

Q: Is your objective knowledge or career advancement?

JW: if you were over a group of sys admins, which orgs would you require them to belong to, and which would you recommend? let’s look at both. first, think about knowledge.

Q: For knowledge, I’d say that everything can be done via online groups: USENIX, BugTraq, and MSDN.

Q: Those groups are the most important.

JW: How about career advancement?

Q: For career advancement, you should belong to the IEEE and have Cisco and Microsoft Certifications.

JW: but how many sys admins actually have the knowledge and ability to belong to IEEE?

Q: Jack, anyone can belong to IEEE, but in order to be on a committee, you need specialized knowledge and experience.

Q: SUN has a cert program, but it’s not very well known.

Q: I’d recommend it for people who are not experienced with UNIX.

JW: you mean recommending SUN for those with no UNIX experience? wouldn’t you think that going the Linux route would be a better way to understand UNIX?

Q: Not for your career, no.

Q: For knowledge, yes. Linux is the best way to explore and learn UNIX.

JW: because of the name, “SUN”?

Q: But for career advancement, SUN experience is more important.

JW: or because SUN is just plain better?

Q: Exactly. That may change over the next few years, but I think SUN will always be a major enterprise server player.

Q: Honestly, there are no Linux machines yet that can do what a SUN E10k can do.

JW: but there are very few machines that can do what SUN can. what about the Mac OS10 that’s coming out?

Q: OSX is a non started for enterprise networking. I think it will be the next big thing for graphics development and web design now that irix is dead, however.

JW: if you had the choice between hiring someone with a SUN cert or an MSCE, whom would you hire?

Q: SUN, in a heartbeat.

JW: because of the better understanding of networking?

Q: I know that someone who’s SUN certified could figure out the NT machine and would have a better grounding in networking.

JW: but could someone with an NT cert grasp a SUN machine?

Q: Probably not, if they didn’t have any other UNIX experience.

Q: Unless they were just natural computer people.

JW: so, the popular opinion is that, buck for buck, if you could have a single cert, SUN would be best? or do we go with what the industry thinks it needs?

Q: There are a few of those around.

JW: you mean people that speak assembler?

MCSE wins the mindshare
Q: Buck for buck, the MCSE will probably get you more interviews.

JW: the biggest problem I see is that the industry really doesn’t know what’s best because the industry is run by a corporation. I know many examples where corp said, “Do this,” although they had no idea of the consequences.

Q: Exactly. In the long run, the SUN cert will be more valuable, but the MCSE has greater mindshare.

JW: so…do we (IT pros) get the MSCE to get the job and then SUN to get the knowledge?

Q: I don’t know. I did it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

JW: why not?

Q: There was a lot of wasted time and wasted effort.

JW: so, for cert sake, the average Joe (or Josephine, if you will) should certainly get his foot in the door with MSCE? or Red Hat? 😉

Q: Exactly. And get as much UNIX experience as you possibly can.

JW: well, ladies and gents, I hope you have enjoyed your stay here in the forum and maybe even learned a thing or two. take care!

Moderator: This meeting is now closed. Thank you for joining, and we look forward to seeing you next week.

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