Breaking In: Success Stories from New MCSEs
Maybe you have an MCSE, or maybe you're working on the title. But equally important (if not more so) is experience. How do you get it?
- By Joseph Phillips
- January 01, 2000
Dave Kyle is nervous. After 20 years working
for Newport News Ship Builders in Virginia, Kyle has decided
to change careers. He, like thousands of others, is trading
what he’s done for a living thus far for a career
as an information technology guru. Who can blame him?
With the flood of technology news, gadgets, and reports
of 18-year-old millionaires, it’s hard to resist
heading into the technology sector.
When Kyle began this journey, he knew it wouldn’t
be easy. “When I first started studying, I thought
I was brain-dead. The last time I studied anything was
in college. This is a whole different world—a lot
harder than I thought it would be.”
“I started with Networking Essentials and it threw
me for a curve at first, because I hadn’t had any
practical experience in the field,” Kyle explains.
“But I stuck with it and kept going with the material.
I just kept studying; I waited until I was ready and got
a 933 on that exam.”
Kyle starts his day at 3 a.m. for a few hours of studying
NT Server before heading off to the shipyard. Lunch and
breaks are occupied with protocols and Server Manager.
After work, well, it’s back to the books. His wife
has been very understanding of his decision. “She’s
very supportive—considering I have to divide my time
with work and study. My family is important to me.”
What’s Kyle so nervous about? He’s 43, has
a job he loathes, and is on his way to join the ranks
of MCSEs. “You can read articles and they make it
sound like the sky is the limit,” Kyle explains.
But here’s the question that comes to my mind: Is
the market saturated? Or will it be saturated soon? Will
employers be very selective and look for certification
plus a number of years of experience? Are guys like me,
well, are we out of luck?”
Sound familiar? Are you like Dave Kyle? You wake up only
to realize it’s Monday; time to invest another week
of your life in something that you don’t really want
to do? Spend every spare moment hunkered down with self-study
material? Trade vacations at the beach for MCSE classes?
You try to explain to your kids, your friends, your ever-loving
spouse, that things will be better once you’ve earned
that MCSE. And then you secretly wonder if you’re
trying to convince them—or yourself.
If that’s you, read on. You’ll find three encouraging
stories of those who dared to go for it—and made
Moving Out of the Military
Randy Hinders, systems administrator and computer trainer,
was once eligible for food stamps. He’s now an MCSE
working for Donet ISP in Dayton, Ohio, and things have
changed for the better for this former military police
After high school, Hinders decided college wasn’t
for him. He followed in his dad and brother’s footsteps
and entered the military. He got involved with satellite
and microwave communications—a good foundation for
networking—and later plunged in on his own with computers.
Two years in Korea, a stint in Germany, a wife, and a
baby later, Hinders found himself re-enlisting as a military
police officer. But his plans didn’t stop there.
“I knew then that I wanted to get involved with computers
in a big way. I started getting my records straight, made
sure things were in order so I could show prospective
employers that I had some experience with computers.
“I kept imagining an interview where they’d
say, ‘You played with guns in the Army, not computers.’
So I made certain that they could see I did have some
experience. And then I started in on my MCSE.”
“When I had six months left in the Army, I started
sending out both traditional and online résumés. I probably
submitted about 1,000 [of them] before I found the company
that was right for me. When I got back on U.S. soil, I
had two interviews lined up the next day.”
And his family? “They weren’t surprised that
I went into computers; they were surprised that I gave
up 8.5 years towards retirement, especially my dad. He
thinks I still should have toughed it out; but we look
at my career now and it’s a different story.”
“Nervous.” That’s how Hinders sums up
his first day working as an IT professional. “I was
used to yes sir, no sir. This is what you’re going
to wear and where you’re going to be. Now I had to
make the decisions myself. I had to dig in the closet
and dig out the suit. In the Army, everything was green—it
In addition to his role as an administrator at Donet,
Hinders helps other professionals on their way to an MCSE
in his role as a Microsoft Certified Trainer. “I
tell my students to focus on what they want their primary
job to be. If they want to be an Exchange administrator,
they have to know it all—know the nuggets others
“They’re going to go into an interview and
the interviewer is going to ask those difficult, real-world
scenarios, and they have to know the answer.”
Hinders offers this advice for those seeking to change
careers: “Don’t be afraid; be weary, but don’t
An Internet Consultant
Mary Polley-Berte was down in the mouth for 10 years—as
an orthodontic assistant. “I did like the job,”
explains Polley-Berte, “but you get to a point where
you question where to go from here—and the answer
Polley-Berte recalls that as the years progressed, her
fondness for the job started to sour. “Your days
are filled with hating your job and thinking, this is
it? This is what I’m going to do for the rest of
my working career? And the answer was no—this is
not enough. And that’s when I decided I needed to
explore other career opportunities.”
Polley-Berte decided to enroll in community college classes
and from there returned to school at Boston University
for her technical training. “My husband was very
supportive. He knew I wasn’t happy and was bored
with my career; but I knew that if I really wanted to
make a go of this, I needed to get some type of training.”
She continues, “Boston University called us career
enhancers rather than career changers. And it’s true.
I’ve had years as a working professional and I didn’t
want to just discard all that experience—for what
it was worth.”
What did prospective employers think of Polley-Berte’s
experience, or lack thereof? “They knew what my background
was, and I didn’t try to hide it. A headhunter called
and said that they had a need for someone who had a programming
background—mainly an entry-level position. It involved
working with the Internet, and the salary was good, and
I could work at home two days a week—which was a
real value for me and my family.”
Although Polley-Berte hasn’t achieved her MCSE,
it’s in her plans. She believes that just getting
into the field and getting experience coupled with her
own studying makes her more valuable to her employer and
increases her self-worth. She offers this advice to other
“career enhancers” on the verge of making the
transition: Move now. Don’t wait, or you may regret
Polley-Berte sums up her current status: “I made
a big change. I made a good decision. I’m earning
more than I did previously, and I’m in a career field
that offers more growth and improves my personal life.
If you can feel fulfilled with the career choice you’ve
made, what more can you ask for? If you can find that
balance, to me, that’s success.”
Hands-on of a Different Flavor
Greg Frederick had a very cool job—in Antarctica.
“I worked in warehousing for about three years and
production control after that. Pretty basic stuff: moving
boxes, receiving, pulling orders, doing inventory. It
didn’t really have a future. You could only go so
far—not to mention the learning curve was non-existent.”
A Denver-based government contractor had an opportunity
for Frederick to do similar work in Antarctica. He spent
a summer there and contemplated his future. “Pretty
cold summer. When I was doing production control, I had
some database experience. From that, I knew I wanted to
get more into technology.”
When Frederick returned to the U.S., he enrolled in community
college classes but wasn’t moving as quickly as he
wanted to toward an MCSE. “I went into a six-month
program with Ameriteach; their program is designed for
folks who don’t have any, or very little, computer
Students are led through the core classes of the MCSE
track, with two electives. The course also includes hands-on
labs, building and designing a network, and support from
the trainers and fellow students. “In class there
were 16 people; half were in their 40s or so. There were
people who had a full career and now wanted something
different. We had people in sales, business, from traditional
office environments without much computer experience.
I think it was good to have a mixed class like this because
everyone brought a different perspective into each situation.
That alone helped my learning experience.”
As part of the program, students were ramped into internships
with local businesses. Students thus got the hands-on,
real-world experience employers crave, and the local businesses
got educated, proven students to use at their discretion
in IT departments.
Frederick’s internship, with Compnet, evolved into
his present employment. By then Frederick had completed
his MCSE, but things still were challenging, “I think
it was kind of humbling. You passed the exams and then
step into the real environment. There’s so much stuff
out there. It keeps you involved; it keeps you learning.”
What advice does Greg Frederick offer to others contemplating
this move? “The best way to get experience is get
in there and just do it.” Sound familiar?
The Brutally Honest Stuff
They did it—can you? Of course, you can. But are
your concerns the same as Dave Kyle’s? Is the market
saturated? Are you out of luck as an MCSE with no experience?
The answer is a resounding no—there’s always
room at the top.
- First things first.
Take inventory of your personal skills. What do you
have that others don’t? Whether it’s years
of financial analysis, years as a bank teller, or a
human resources officer, your working past counts. Take
that experience, combine it with your MCSE status, and
leverage that package as an asset. It works.
- Next, get over the stigma of
entry-level. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Try this: commit yourself to excellence in that entry-level
job. Learn all you can, can all you learn, and then
move up or quit. That’s right. Get better, get
smarter, then get gone.
- Then do it again and again
and again—until you’re happy with the
job you have. Quit whining, dig in, and get moving.
The big picture here is supply and demand. So here’s
something to pack into your career arsenal: Learn something
different. Learn something that others don’t know.
Make it your niche, your goal to know more about a product
than anyone around you wants to, and you’ll win in
the long run.
In the Meantime
As you work towards your MCSE and while you’re still
slaving away at your regular job, find ways to get experience
now. Seek out the decision-makers for non-profit groups
and volunteer your time as a computer guru. Tell your
neighbors and friends if they have trouble with their
computers, you’d be happy to help—in other words,
get your hands dirty.
Press the flesh. Seek out user groups in your area and
introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Listen
to what they have to say, collect business cards, and
then stay in touch with them. They’ll be able to
tell you what their company is looking for—it might
be someone just like you.
Form study groups with others who are moving toward
their MCSE at the same time. (You have set a goal with
a deadline, right?) Keep each other moving to pass the
exams in tandem. Use peer pressure and a competitive drive
to your benefit.
Everyone lives by selling something—and you’re
now selling yourself, so act like a salesperson. Believe
in the product; have confidence when presenting its benefits;
and don’t give it away.
For all the Dave Kyles in the world, press on, regardless.
If we can do it, so can you. See you at the top.