Hands-On Expertise Leads to Certification Success

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Name: Chris Crayton

Certs: MCSE, MCP+ I, A+ and Network+

Home: Sarasota, Fla.

Position: Network Administrator, Protocol

Words To Learn By: “At the end of the class, take the certification exam. Don’t wait and do everything at once.”


For many, obtaining a range of certifications is the key to success in the IT industry. One of the biggest challenges is deciding what certifications to pursue and passing the test. For Chris Crayton, getting certified was the furthest thought from his mind when he started his IT career. “I had worked in the industry 12 years before getting my first certification,” Crayton said. “I progressed in my career by picking up manuals and learning hands-on, on my own, which is the best way.”

Unlike many who are starting out in the IT industry, Crayton was able to take the practical approach to learning before ever showing his face in a certification classroom. It took eight years of working in the IT industry before he received professional network training, and even then it was only to learn how to use the NT Server and integrate it with Novell 3.1. Then, he opted to get certified. Back then, getting certified sounded like a sales gimmick to Crayton, and it seemed far from an opportunity to advance his skills and become marketable in the industry. “I always said, ‘I’m a hands-on guy, I don’t need that,’ ” he explained. After all, for a large portion of his career he owed his success to self-taught training and his ambition to continually increase his knowledge and skill.

Crayton was only 19 when his career in computers started. While he attended Monroe College, a community college in Rochester, N.Y., he was offered a job as computer operator at Eastman Kodak Company. He says his good grades as a computer science major and his job track record got him in the door at Kodak.

Starting out, he had a basic job as a computer operator. He ran IBM mainframe systems and was then promoted to program controller, where he was responsible for coordinating mainframe operations for 4,000 programmers and coordinating the input and output of jobs into the mainframe system. He later became a PC technician for Eastman Kodak’s credit union, ESL Federal Credit Union (Bank of Kodak).

After receiving applied knowledge from working at Kodak, it was time to move on. Crayton had spent almost nine years with the company that gave him his first computer job. After his family left Rochester and moved to Sarasota, Fla., Crayton followed them, to stay close to his family as well as to pursue more training in the IT world.

Given that today’s industry demands certified technicians, Crayton’s ultimate outlook on certification had to change. He observed this new trend in the IT industry and realized that “everybody in the industry wanted the certifications,” he said. When it came to his work, Crayton wasn’t accustomed to outside training. Despite his apprehension of getting certified, he took night classes at Keiser College ahead of applying for jobs in the Sarasota area.

He received his first certification, the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), when he was 31 years old. His long career of developing his own techniques through hands-on experience had paid off. He found that he was breezing through the exams. “I passed 13 exams in a six-month period,” he said, “almost perfect scores.”

After years of resisting certification, Crayton could say with confidence that his self-taught training along with his certifications were responsible for his career advancement. The combination of skills and knowledge gained through self-paced learning as well as certification would later have a huge impact on Crayton’s career.

While completing his certification training for his Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), he was hired by the college he was attending as a networking instructor. Today, he has the MCSE, MCP+I, A+ and Network+ certifications. Even though he enjoyed teaching Windows NT, A+, Network+ and Introduction to Computers to future IT professionals, he left the college a year later. “Anybody knows that you can’t be good hands-on if you stay in the classroom—you have to get back out,” he said. But he still continues to tutor students. He said he’s led more than 4,000 students to certification.

After leaving college, Crayton accepted an offer from Protocol, an electronic resource management company, as a network administrator. There he supports close to 10 servers in 20 different states and Canada. He says his primary site is in Florida, which has 400 users and 60 different third-party applications.

Other than when he’s at the health club, Crayton’s an IT man at all times. With all of his success in the industry, he’s left no time for a social life, and he only gets three to four hours of sleep a night. He admits that there have been times that he’s been asked to go to a movie or bowling and he had to pass because he was off building servers or doing outside work. “In order to be good at this in today’s world,” he said, “whether it’s Web development, whether it’s engineering, probably 100 percent of your life is dedicated to that, if you’re any good.”

Crayton said that since the IT industry is so demanding, anyone who really wants to stay on top needs to be completely dedicated to constant learning. “It’s not like learning a trade that never changes,” he said. “This changes all the time—I’ll be learning when I’m 80.”

With little time outside of computers, Crayton found a career-related hobby in writing technical reviews. Writing reviews led him to writing his own book, “A+ Adaptive Exams” (Charles River Media), which received five stars on Amazon.com. He and his book contributor, Darren Toback, both took the MCSE certification track together. Crayton and Toback employed their “techniques of both studying and picking out topics for a particular target exam,” and Crayton believes that there’s a method to passing certification exams, which he also covers in the book.

Crayton says students often ask him, “What’s the most important thing I should do toward my career? Is it education, hands-on or certification?”

“The correct answer to that is D, all of the above,” he said. “It’s all of the above at the same time.” He advises students to take each certification exam at the end of the class, after getting the hands-on training. He often tells students who have taken his class, “The best thing you can do is offer your services. Go to your local government, register yourself as a small business, get a business card, do work for your family, churches, whatever, for minimal if not free to get your name around. You have to start somewhere, and that’s where I started.”

Now at age 37, after 19 years in the industry, Crayton is planning to write more books and pursue more certifications. With security being the critical trend in the industry, Crayton plans to obtain his security certifications. “You have to keep on top of security or you won’t have a network, “ he said. “Companies that have put disaster recovery and security at the bottom of their budgets are going to suffer dearly in the future. Those two priorities—disaster recovery and security of LAN as well as WAN—that’s where people will have to invest their money or they won’t have a business.”

Tanisha Blakely is editor of electronic media for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at tblakely@certmag.com.


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