Road To MCSE: The Winners Edge

Friday Sep 29th 2000 by ServerWatch Staff

Over the last few months weve had a lot of people new to the industry (but with a fresh new MCSE) ask us how to get their first job. Many of them come to us almost in panic because they havent been able to find a job. They are disconcerted because they cant seem to make a dent in what they have been told are 'gold rush' times, where good jobs are a dime a dozen and all you have to do is put your hand in the pot of gold that is the job pool, and grab a piece of the big fortuna.

Thomas Shinder

Over the last few months we've had a lot of people new to the industry (but with a fresh new MCSE) ask us how to get their first job. Many of them come to us almost in panic because they haven't been able to find a job. They are disconcerted because they can't seem to make a dent in what they have been told are "gold rush" times, where good jobs are a dime a dozen and all you have to do is put your hand in the pot of gold that is the job pool, and grab a piece of the big fortuna.

On the other hand, we have more than a few students that have come to us telling about their new jobs, where they are making fifty or sixty thousand dollars a year, and that they never would have been able to make that kind of money if it weren't for their entry into the IT business.

Thomas Shinder

What's the Difference between High and Low Performers?

What's the difference between the students who tell us about the unbridled success they've had since entering the IT industry and those students who are worried about never finding a job of any kind?

I won't tell you that I can predict the future, because if I could, I'd be in Las Vegas right now. However, after teaching MCSE and related courses for the last five years, I have noticed some fairly reliable patterns among the students. And I can tell, with a fairly high level of confidence, which students will end up making the big fortuna, and which ones will be working for tuna sandwiches.

These students are not the ones that you would think of as being the "best" students in the class. This is the case if you think of the "best" student as the person that reads all the chapters ahead of class, has filled out all his worksheets, always get all the labs done right the first time, and scores the top grades on all the quizzes and exams.

By this definition, the success stories are not the "best" students in the class. However, they do fine on exams, sometimes get the labs right the first time, and they get to reading the material before the end of the course.

Thomas Shinder

The Winner's Academic Characteristics

The students that do well in their career paths do show some identifiable characteristics in the classroom environment:

  1. They are very curious about the operating systems and applications they're studying. They click on every button, they right click on everything, and constantly experiment with things they no nothing about. However, in the process of exploration, they end up learning quite a bit.

  2. These students don't stop using computers when class is over. They have one or more computers at home, and they use them all the time. They tend to download every piece of shareware and freeware they can in order to access how programs of various types work, and what they will do to their operating systems. They typically don't read a manual or a help file unless they can't figure it out on their own, which they spend quite a bit of time doing.

  3. These students try out stuff that I talk about in class that isn't included in the book. For example, I'll tell them how they can set up their own web servers, how to create web sites, and how to register domain names. The vast majority of students, even the classically "good" ones, just ignore this information because its not part of the official curriculum. However, our success stories think the Internet is really cool, and go try these things for themselves.

  4. Most importantly, these students ask questions, and lots of them. Often, the questions have little or nothing to do with what we might be covering in class at the time. They know how to use TechNet and drill me on what the "book" says, versus what I say, versus what TechNet says.

So far, I've focused on primarily academic and procedural issues. These things determine how technically competent the student turns out to be. However, technical expertise is only half the battle to career success.

Thomas Shinder

The Winner's Edge

What seems to be even more important than the amount of knowledge the successful students has is the student's attitude. Although you've heard it before, the oft-quoted phrase "attitude is everything" is as true in IT as it is in any other profession, maybe more so.

The successful student's attitude reflects what I see as the Winner's Edge? What are the characteristics of the person with the Winner's Edge?

  1. They have a can do attitude. These guys see problems and new situations as opportunities to learn something new, to expand their skill sets, and help them move to the next level. They have the attitude that all problems have solutions build into them, and that its up to them to uncover that built-in solution.
  2. They are team players. Not only do they work well with a team, but the team also works well with them. The rest of the team looks forward to working with them. They are often reluctant leaders, being thrust into the position by team members who recognize the problem solving and organizational skills these students have.
  3. They take the initiative. When they see a problem, they try to figure it out and fix it, even if it's "not their job". If they don't know how a particular operating system or application works, they do the footwork and figure it out. They comb newsgroups, the web, TechNet and colleagues on mailing lists (and even the phone) in their search for answers.
  4. They have a "The Buck Stops Here" philosophy. They aren't full of excuses on why they haven't got the job done, or why they didn't do it right. If the job's not done yet, or wasn't done right the first time, they'll tell you so. But you won't hear an excuse. Rather, they give you the facts, and continue the project with most celerity and with the highest level of quality they can provide. They take ownership of their work.

When I spot a student with these academic and personal characteristics, I know that student is destined to end up making a lot more money than I do within two to three years.

Thomas Shinder

How Can I Guarantee Failure?

What? Nobody wants to fail, but a lot of people unwittingly do things which guarantee that they will fail. While there aren't highly reliable factors like those I've identified for our success stories, there are a few things I've noticed that typically spell disaster for students that are otherwise technically qualified to do the work:

  1. They have a negative attitude. They complain about the operating system, their colleagues, the company they work for, about Microsoft, about Windows, their ex or their present, and just about anything else they can think of. If there's a negative slant, they'll come up with it.
  2. They are passive learners. They might read everything in the book and know it by heart. But they never test out what they've learned. They believe that the information they have gained from reading the book will somehow automatically lead to actual competence, in spite of the fact that I tell them that theory and practice are rarely related in this business.
  3. They get upset or frustrated when labs don't work the way the book says they should. These students believe that computers and software are supposed to work perfectly and as documented. They take is personally when a certain procedure doesn't lead to the expected result. Rather than investigating the possibilities why things didn't turn out right, they'll blame themselves, me, the book, or Bill Gates.
  4. They are not expert at using software. This is because the only time they use the computer is to do the practice exercises in class. They don't know how to use third party utilities, and don't know how to use any of the Microsoft Office applications, and they've never downloaded any kind of shareware or freeware. They struggle with the Windows User Interface, and the right mouse button remains a persistent source of bewilderment.
  5. They are not expert at using the Internet to solve problems. They avoid newsgroup like the plague. They don't subscribe to mailing lists or research web sites. Their idea of a search engine is Yahoo! And when they do use it, they type in a single keyword and are dismayed that there are 1,997,532 references called by that keyword.

In sum, they don't have the Winner's Edge.

Thomas Shinder

How to Get to the Next Level

If you're having a hard time finding a job, start thinking about the qualities the winners have and compare those to your approach. You might need make some changes. If you have a learning style that's leaving you in a dead end, try becoming more active. Play with the computer, try out new software and hardware. Never be concerned about breaking the computer. You're not a true IT Professional until you've destroyed a 100 operating system installations, and continuously have to fend off a braying spouse telling you its 3:00 AM and its time to go to bed, just when you're about to make that key breakthrough which will repair everything you've broken in the last 48 hours.

If its your attitude, then its time to get an adjustment. Talk to your trusted friends and family members and see what they've noticed. Become aware of the times you might unconsciously sabotage yourself with failure producing thoughts and actions. Remember the path to enlightenment begins with awareness, and ends with action. Write down an action plan that allows you to quash those self-defeating behaviors and replaces them with success oriented ones.

Finally, if you think you've got the Winner's Edge, and still can't find a job, you might have to work on your job acquisition methodology. The times I've heard the phase "I put my resume up on all the web sites and I still don't get any calls" is TNTC (to numerous to count). A resume on a website is not a baseball diamond. The "build it and they well come" approach doesn't cut it in this job market. You have to become an expert at the other kind of networking, your social network.

The good news is that anyone committed to change will accomplish their goals. So, if you're not where you want to be, take some time and get the Winner's Edge.

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