One year ago this week, some 20 students diligently studied network engineering at a small Midwest college. After almost a year of training and six exams, 18 of the 20 were left standing. Following 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 “John” has to say about his experience, which he credits with providing a substantial increase in salary and rekindling his spark for the IT industry.
Enough certification hype. This article is part of a series examining the real-world difference an MCSE certification can make. 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.
Had you told me …
If anyone told me what kind of business I was getting myself into 20 years ago, I would have run out the door screaming. All I wanted from the beginning was a “normal” job that I would absolutely love, a job that I could not wait to get to. Oh well, I guess I will have to settle for the “love” part.

Throughout my career in field service, training has always been an integral part of the experience. The manager would “do you a favor” by sending you to class, which was like getting a mini-vacation, but it was usually for filling some business need. These vendor-specific classes were always for the benefit of the company, and they usually disseminated proprietary information that was not transportable to another company.

The advent of networks changed all that for me. I had been looking for a niche in the industry that would be exciting and cutting edge. Being an ex-CNE, I was a little skeptical about attending a small college, plunking down almost 10 grand, and obtaining yet another questionable “certification.” I knew after 20-some years of working in the field that I’d had enough and was ready for a change. I just didn’t know how much my life would change by pursuing the Microsoft MCSE certification.

I worked for a service company while I attended evening classes at the school. Three nights a week, four hours a night. Rain or shine, crises at home or work, the class went on. Miss a class, and you had to work like a dog to make it up.

Want a job?
One day I happened to take a call across the state on some Sun equipment. I struck up a conversation with the VP of IS for this e-commerce company. I told him about the training I was pursuing and a little about my background. He offered me a job on the spot, which had to be the shortest interview process I have ever gone through. As it turns out, many of my classmates had similar experiences.

I desperately wanted out of the field in which I was currently working, so I accepted the position without question. Although I had to commute three hours a day, I was excited to be doing something—anything—different from what I’d been doing.

My job title changed a few times during my employment, due to my Solaris and Microsoft background. My title became “UNIX/NT Administrator.” I remember some of the admins I met, and I remember they didn’t have a life. My suspicion that the same would happen to me came true as the first couple of weeks in my new position unfolded. I was soon working 14- to 16-hour days and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Even though the new job put tremendous pressure on my married life, I was completely immersed in the corporate lifestyle: Work long, work hard, come back again tomorrow, and do it again. That three-month stint really opened my eyes. I thought working long hours at bizarre times of day was only for field service. But I found out this is the norm for the industry.

Would you do it again?
I’m now working closer to home for a consulting company. The MCSE certification was an entry requirement for my position. Without the training and experience I developed in the 10-month program, I couldn’t have secured my new position.

Are you earning more money?
The work is varied and involves differing customer environments. Definitely an excellent training ground for an ex-field engineer who was beginning to lose hope in his chosen profession. The work experience I earned while attending the AATP program got me interested in training for Cisco certification (another cert!), so I have attended a few classes for routers. All this has occurred in the space of the six months since I got my Microsoft certification. After three job changes and a substantial increase in pay, I must admit that this has been one of the most interesting years in my working life. The last six months have also been the most satisfying on so many levels.

Was it worth it?
Has the MCSE certification changed my life? Definitely! All in all, I would have to say going after my MCSE certification has opened up many opportunities that would not have normally presented themselves. It also helped me shed a dull, boring job, and propel me into a line of work that has me excited again.
Next week, we’ll talk with one of “John’s” classmates who’s living the American dream as a systems engineer.If you’d like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.