Letter to the Editor

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Gaining Networking Experience
I am a recent college graduate in Computer Information Technology, and I am currently employed in online tech support. There is not a lot of opportunity to learn networking here, so I am seeking employment in that field. My dilemma is that employers want you to have some experience in networking before they will hire you. Where can I get experience in the corporate environment doing networking without having any experience? I learn the best by hands-on experience, but my current job does not give that experience. Do you have any suggestions on getting experience so that I can pass my certifications and get a better job? Any advice would be appreciated.

Matt Flom
Naples, Fla.


Editor’s Note: We asked Ed Tittel, certification guru and technology editor for Certification Magazine, to respond to Matt’s question:


“You are correct in observing that the need for experience in getting certified and finding work creates something of a catch-22 for entry-level people. It’s also correct to ask, ‘How can I get experience when I have no experience?’ I can suggest several time-honored methods for doing this.


“Home Lab: This is especially important when preparing for certification exams, when you’re going to want to set things up and tear them down repeatedly while learning about installation, troubleshooting, configuration changes and so forth. You can buy a couple of PCs for less than $1,000 these days, or use a single PC with multiple virtual machines linked together by a virtual network (using VMWare or Microsoft’s Virtual PC/Virtual Server products). I urge you to do this, no matter what else you do in this list.


“Volunteer Work: Check in with local charities, schools, churches and even your former college to see if they allow volunteers to help out with IT stuff in general, and networking stuff in particular. Somebody in your vicinity—and there are lots of ‘networking our schools’ initiatives underway all over the United States—not only will accept your help and participation, but also will be grateful to receive it.


“Unpaid Work: If you have friends, family or others you can lean on for help and support who work in networking, see if you can join them to help out on the job on an unpaid basis. As long as you can get a letter explaining what you did, for how long and under what circumstances, you’ll benefit greatly from this. This kind of thing occurs more than you might think, especially when companies go through upgrades, migrations and other sweeping IT environment changes.


“Temporary Work: Talk to local temp agencies, and see if they place workers in entry-level tech support or network technician jobs with little or no experience. Here again, you might find opportunities for short-term gigs without necessarily finding long-term ones right away.


“The more experience you get, the more good it will do you—but only if you document it. At a minimum, this means a brief written description of what you did, who can corroborate it (with contact information) and a summary or overview of what this means to a prospective employer. If you keep a log or journal of your ‘experience-gathering’ activities, that should provide everything others will need to know about your prior work.”


Assessing Value
I am a current subscriber to Brainbench, and it was good to see it in the top 10 for vendor-neutral certifications in “Certification Top 10 Lists,” by Ed Tittel. (Editor’s Note: See http://www.certmag.com/articles/templates/cmag_feature.asp?articleid=487&zoneid=9.) I talked with someone from a training company, and they claimed that any test you take from Brainbench does not carry any weight with employers. Is this true or not?


Johnny Hopkins
Charlotte, N.C.


Editor’s Note:
Actually, I don’t think it’s fair to put complete faith in the statement, “…any test you take from Brainbench does not carry any weight with employers.” That’s because a substantial part of Brainbench’s business comes from employers who pay them to administer tests for employee candidates and for current employees whose expertise and knowledge must be checked across a broad range of topics, disciplines and tools.


Developer Careers
I wrote applications programs in Fortran for about 10 years, and I have a degree in physics. Since 1980, I have managed a small company with no further IT experience, and I am at retirement age.


I am interested in pursuing a career in IT in the area of VB.NET. I am not interested in any sort of management role, just problem-solving, so in this difficult time for IT personnel, with some 600,000 unemployed, what do you realistically think my job chances would be if I learned VB.NET on my own or obtained a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certification in VB.NET?


I would prefer contract work, but being an employee would have its benefits. Having proposed this question to various training centers, I am assured that if I do indeed pay them $7,000 for an MCSD, I will be overrun with offers from every Fortune 500 company in existence, begging me to accept their signed blank checks in return for my technical wizardry. So much for the biased options!


Whatever your answer, I only ask that it be realistic and honest.


Katy, Texas


Editor’s Note: We asked Ed Tittel, certification guru and technology editor for Certification Magazine, to respond to Ron’s question:


“Job opportunities for developers are suffering in general from two profoundly negative effects: the economy is either down or slow, depending on whom you believe, but either way job opportunities are limited; and development jobs in particular are moving offshore at an alarming rate because Ph.D.-level programmers in India or Russia cost 25 percent of what qualified, degreed (but not Ph.D.-level) programmers cost in the United States.


“Given those two situations, do you want to spend $7,000 on an MCSD? I’d only recommend that course of action if you can find some funding from a grant program, an employer or some other source of ‘free money’ to get the classroom training I presume those costs include. Otherwise, you can learn everything you need to know by buying study guides, Exam Crams and practice tests (at an average cost of about $265 to $300 per topic, including a single shot at the Microsoft exam involved) on a per-topic basis.


“If indeed you have to fund this entirely out of your own pocket, I’d also urge you to investigate current job openings in your geographical area (or whatever area you’d like to live in once you’re ready to change jobs) for VB.NET developers. If you can’t find at least a handful of potential positions you think you might like, it may be time to rethink your strategy—either to working as a consultant instead of an employee, or perhaps to refocusing your efforts on some other area of technical specialty. You might also consider going after the Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) first, then finding a job where you can get some earnings going, and work on finishing up the MCSD thereafter.”

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