So you've decided a career as a system administrator is for you. There are two paths to the same destination: You can work your way up from the desktop to the server room, or be lucky enough to be in the role from the get-go.
Sometimes a simple coincidence of "right place, right time" is enough. In most cases, however, hard work is the key to success.
Hands down, the most direct path to success in the server room is knowledge. This might come from on-the-job experience, like hanging around with the server crew when you have a few minutes to spare from your help desk or desktop support role, or it may come from self-study by brushing up at home and going through textbooks while studying for a certification exam.
One of the biggest issues candidates encounter when focusing on the certification path is the tendency to be more concerned with learning what they need to know to pass the exam rather than taking the time to really learn the material. If you take the proper amount of time to learn the material you've reviewed and apply it in practice or in a practical situation — i.e., on the job — passing the exam is surmountable challenge.
When learning the material, whether you opt to take formal certification training or learn on your own, bear in mind that down the road it isn't going to matter what the (passing) score on your certification exam was or how many times you needed to take the exam to pass it. What will matter, when you need to figure out why the bridgehead domain controllers will not replicate information between sites, is whether you can resolve the issue yourself or help drive it to resolution.
There are many experienced individuals in the field who do not have a single certification to their name. At the same time, there are many certified folks who are incapable of getting a coffee order straight.
Certification in the Windows World
One of the biggest issues candidates encounter when focusing on the certification path is the tendency to be more concerned with learning what they need to know to pass the exam rather than taking the time to really learn the material.
Let's assume your specialty is Windows and you've opted to go the certification route. There are a number of ways to go about planning a path where one gains knowledge, gets experience, and becomes certified.
Certification is a quantifiable endorsement, and while there is no one best certification path, some are better recommended than others.
We recommend those just starting out on the certification path begin with CompTIA's Server+ Certification followed by two Microsoft's certification exams: Exam 70-215, which covers Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server; and Exam 70-290, which covers Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment.
The CompTIA Server+ certification is a vendor-neutral credential that certifies the knowledge of individuals who successfully complete the certification examination. It is recommended for those with 18 to 24 months of experience with server-related technologies, but that is not a mandatory requirement. It is also not a mandatory consideration to have completed the CompTIA A+ certification as a prerequisite; however, at least comparable skills and knowledge are required.
Studying the subject content for the CompTIA Server+ certification will help you establish a solid foundation of skills and knowledge to eventually perform advanced-level administration of server issues and underlying technology, including installing server hardware and accompanying operating systems as well as configuring, upgrading, and maintaining the same. Advanced troubleshooting and disaster recovery for these types of mission-critical systems must also be learned.
[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] Whether you decide to pursue this certification exam after learning the material through self-study, classes, or on-the-job-experience is entirely up to you. The most important takeaway is learning the material. Additional information is available on the CompTIA Web site.
Certification is a quantitative endorsement, and while there is no one best certification path, some are better recommended than others.
Should you decide not to pursue the CompTIA Server+ certification or review the underlying material (although it is highly recommended), or if you have already done so and are looking to move on, the most logical next step in a Windows world is to undertake the Windows 2000 Server and Server 2003 certifications.
[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] When I recommend two technologies, in this case, 2000 and 2003, I often get additional questions for clarification as to why both, especially when someone's work environment consists of only one technology. I believe both are necessary because it is important to not limit yourself to the current technology in your environment for several reasons.
Obviously, if you are using the older technology, you will eventually move to the newer one. It is always better to be ahead of the curve than behind it and playing catch up. But, even if your environment is completely migrated to the newest platform, you are just getting into gear as a new or junior server administrator. Not only does it behoove you to gather as much knowledge on the similarities and differences between the two, but you should also keep in mind that your next opportunity may be one where the older technology is predominant. You will be undereducated to handle it if you concentrate on only the currently deployed server operating system.