Doing What It Takes to Get Recognized
Name: Brent G. Kenreich
Certs: MCT, MCSE, CCNP, CCNA, CCDA, Certified Banyan Specialist, CIW-CI, A+
Home: Columbus, Ohio
Position: Independent Consultant, Franklin Computer Services Group
Words to Learn By: “Practice. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t just get your knowledge from books; practice.”
Seven years ago when Brent Kenreich was preparing for his first IT certification, there wasn’t an overflow of resources to help him on his Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) exam. No prep books. No practice tests. No simulators. No exam objectives. No IT boot camps. For Kenreich, passing the test meant reading the NT Resource Kit cover to cover. It took some time, but that’s what he had to do.
Now, as a independent consultant from Ohio who has obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information Science from Ohio State University and 11 certifications, he can sincerely appreciate test-prep books but says that those seeking certifications or IT careers need to do more than just pass the test. He thinks that everyone in an interview situation should be prepared to answer the question, “What have you done besides pass the test?”
Back when Kenreich was preparing for his Cisco certification exams, he would tell prospective employers that he had four machines at home that he set up. He was able to sell himself effectively to employers because he could prove that he had more hands-on experience. “It’s not just something that I’m remembering out of a book,” he would tell them.
He recalls studying three to four hours after work in coffee shops near his house in Columbus, Ohio. “The people in the coffee shops around my house—we are on a first-name basis,” he said, laughing. After studying for hours, “I would end up with a whole list of things to try, ” he said. He would go home and attempt to build a network diagrammed from a page, which meant trying what he was learning with actual routers.
Even with the abundance of practice exams and self-test software available today, Kenreich suggests that IT professionals should have their own labs at home. “Find four or five old computers, set them up on a network and actually run through the scenarios that are talked about in the book,” he said. “Not only does it help you learn the material, it helps you remember it.”
His methodology of studying, which most likely was developed from his short time as a math major in college, is what landed him his first job as an MIS coordinator at the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, where he was the only IT employee. “Anything that had a power cord coming out of the back of it, I took care of it,” which made it a perfect first job for him, he said.
Kenreich’s best advice to anyone considering IT as a career is not to worry about money. “Pick a job where you will learn how to do things that will make you money later on,” he said. In the beginning stages of his career, Kenreich had the chance to do everything from setting up computers and maintaining servers to finding outside training for people and doing the training himself. In 1997, he went from a small 50-user network at the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice to a 1,200-user wide area network at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as a network administrator.
Later on, as a product manager for a $1.75 million network implementation and eventually as a senior Internet product engineer at UUNet, an MCI WorldCom company, Kenreich had access to routers. This allowed him to glide through all the Cisco exams. He passed the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) written exam and tried the lab exam, and it took four months to get all of his current certifications.
Being certified not only helped Kenreich’s career, but when among peers it makes people listen to him a little bit more closely. “If we are in a room and we have five different ideas, someone will say, ‘Hey, Brent passed the test.’”
Kenreich’s certifications also help by showing people that he’s someone who’s put in a lot of effort and that he’s willing to study and do what it takes to get recognized. Including a college degree, Kenreich’s professional certifications include the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), MCSE, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), Certified Banyan Specialist (CBS), CIW Certified Instructor (CIW-CI) and A+.
Along with respect comes trust. When Kenreich makes a diagnosis on a computer, clients know he’s not just making things up. “I know how these things work, here’s the piece of paperwork to prove it, and this is what I think we should do,” he says to skeptical clients. He remembers helping out at an architecture firm where someone had taken an old domain controller off of the network in Windows 2000 and hadn’t properly demoted it. It caused strange active directory problems. After a few people had been out to fix the problem and were unsuccessful, he came in and remembered the scenario from studying for a test and teaching classes. “It let me fix that problem fairly quickly,” he explained.
Before choosing to fly solo into the IT industry, Kenreich worked as a senior Internet product engineer, NT administrator and network administrator for operations in Ohio and New York. After developing relationships with people looking for IT help, he saw an opportunity to become an independent consultant.
“The more you can do before, while you have that permanent job, the better off you are,” Kenreich said. As an independent consultant, he’s provided Microsoft training and supported networks and computers for clients such as Bank One, Micro Center, ITEQ Corp., Zooga Inc., Oakwood College, Expert Computer Training, Barkan & Neff, Babbage-Simmel, Franklin Computer Services Group (FCSG) and several other companies in various states.
Kenreich is currently working with FCSG, which he describes as a collection of consultants who pass work back and forth to each other. “This collection lets me get a lot more work,” he explained, as opposed to finding it own his own. “It also lets me sell services that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to provide.”
In a world where diversity is significant, Kenreich has added flavor to his certification choices. With several certifications under his belt, as well as a second-degree black belt in karate, Kenreich is seeking certifications beyond the IT industry. “I see a lot of certifications coming in areas outside of computers,” he said, which is why he is studying for his Chartered Financial Analyst certification. “I think that somehow being able to show people that you have experience in their industry makes it a lot easier for them to hire you to do their computer work.” He hopes one day to be able say, “Not only do I know the finance, not only do I know the computers, I know both and you should hire me.”
Tanisha Blakely is editor of electronic media for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.