I have been doing various forms of UNIX system and network administration for 14 years. When I first became aware of the MCSE program, I ignored it. I had never bothered to get certified on any UNIX technology and could not see what purpose it would serve. Besides, this was not the way things were done in my experience. A UNIX administrator's credentials were based on the number of years of experience, programming skills, and a list of specific accomplishments. In the university environment where I worked, people who took vendor-specific classes and certification courses were looked down upon. You were expected to teach yourself or learn by example from more experienced people.

I approached Windows NT the same way. I made sure it was part of my job to set up and administer Windows NT systems. I created a small network of Windows NT machines at home so I could experiment without affecting anybody at work. I used my traditional methods of learning, including reading books, magazines, and mailing lists and newsgroups. I also went to Windows NT tradeshows and seminars to see who the players were. At the same time, O'Reilly started to receive book proposals for MCSE study guides. My initial reaction was to scoff at the idea, as this kind of publishing seemed beneath us. Tim O'Reilly pressed on with the idea, despite my reservations.

Given my attitude, why did I choose to become an MCSE? After all, I had managed to write a Windows NT book for O'Reilly and to author two courses on Windows NT for Microsoft, all without being certified. I started to get involved in our MCSE books out of curiosity. I began to hear more and more about how difficult (or easy) it was to become an MCSE and what certification would mean for my consulting opportunities. After thinking this over for a while, I decided I should answer these questions for myself by becoming certified.

I figured that a good way to proceed would be to try and restrict myself to using only O'Reilly training materials when preparing for the exams. I also wanted to test the O'Reilly series of MCSE flashcards as a study aid. I would use a "beta" version of the cards to study for a test, and then provide feedback to the author of the cards after taking the test. In this way I could verify that the O'Reilly MCSE training materials actually do work and get myself certified at the same time.

I did decide to use several resources other than the O'Reilly product line, including Transcender's exam simulations and the MCSE Braindump web site. I found that the Transcender exams were a reasonably accurate representation of the actual test, which forced me to revisit areas where I was weak. I found the Braindump site quite interesting because it has the latest information on a particular test. People attempt to recreate the entire test from memory immediately after taking it. I am sure that Microsoft is annoyed by this site. It blatantly tries to provide the actual test questions, which seems like a violation of legal language you agree to as part of the testing process. Be aware that most of the people who submit material to the Braindump site are just guessing on the answers, as they do not know for sure which ones they answered correctly (unless they got a perfect score). You still need to confirm the correct answer on your own.

My typical test preparation schedule included the following steps:

I think this experiment worked out quite well. I have obtained my MCSE and the O'Reilly MCSE books and MCSE flash cards were improved as a result. This process left me with plenty of opinions of what is right and wrong about the MCSE process:

Bad things

Good things

In summary, becoming an MCSE was a worthwhile experience for me. It led me in directions that I could not have predicted, and I learned more about Windows NT than I thought I would.