How Much is Too Much?
How much training should be performed on the job?
- By Greg Neilson
I spent roughly 250 hours last year training,
most of which was self-training. Is this way out
of line with what everyone else is doing? I’m
an MCSD and a software engineer. I think I should’ve
doubled my training time, but my boss says we
can’t afford that much non-billable time.
I obtained my MCP+Internet and MCSE last year
and would like to obtain my MCSE+Internet and
MCDBA. I also have to upgrade my certification
to Win2K and will take the Exchange 5.5 exam.
Should I upgrade first or take the three exams
to achieve +Internet and DBA? I want to give this
certification rat race a rest.
Greg Neilson says: David, it’s really
up to you to manage your education plan. Regardless
of whatever your employer is able to afford, to
be a good consultant you’ll always need to supplement
it with learning on your own time.
Having said that, the rate of change in IT seems
to be accelerating all the time, so you need realistic
education goals. You can’t try to learn everything
The thing is, once you have a firm grip on the
basics of any new technology, you’ll constantly
be learning as you actually apply all of this
knowledge to client projects—that’s why we value
experience so highly. There’s nothing wrong with
this, although—given this is on your client’s
dime—you need to be able to move fast enough to
put into practice the things you are learning
while undertaking assignments.
When you put yourself in your boss’ shoes, you’ll
see that they’d prefer you to be out there billing
every hour possible—not attending classes. Not
only is this a loss of billable hours, but the
cost of courses is significant. It isn’t unreasonable
for your employer to think that, since you were
hired as a competent professional, you should
be able to undertake some self-study as needed.
Employers typically don’t have a problem paying
for books (although you should check first), and
usually they’ll plan for you to take anywhere
up to five or 10 days of classes/conferences each
year. It’s up to you, in managing your own education
plan, to decide which courses or conferences provide
the biggest bang for your employer’s buck. After
all, in some cases you’d do just as well to read
a good book instead of taking a class, but there
are some advanced classes or specialized conferences
that can give you an advanced level of knowledge.
Faisal, you mentioned something many of us say
to ourselves—“I want to give this certification
rat race a rest.” Whenever I tell my wife that
these are the last exams I’ll be taking, she just
laughs and doesn’t bother responding. I’m afraid
that—given the career choice we’ve all made—continuous
learning is a fact of life. Passing the certification
exams is just a matter of being able to demonstrate
that we actually learned something along the way.
I’m tending to agree with Steve about your plans.
You can’t possibly master Win2K, Exchange and
certify as a SQL Server DBA within one year. Well,
let me clarify that—maybe you can find a way to
prepare for and take all of these exams within
a year, but there’s a great deal more you need
to know to become useful and proficient in any
one of these areas. For example, at the moment,
I’m completing my updates for my Win2K MCSE. (I
have completed the Accelerated Exam and am taking
a design elective in the coming week.) It’s true
that in the process, I’ve learned a great deal
about Win2K, but it’s also true that I’ve a healthy
respect for what I don’t know. And then here comes
Windows XP coming down the pike…
At this point, I advise you to steer away from
an Exchange 5.5 exam. The Exchange 2000 exam is
here and fits in logically with the AD knowledge
you’ll get when updating your MCSE. Also, if you
want to specialize in Exchange, why are you looking
at the MCDBA program? This is a totally different
field. In this case, you’d be able to do anything—tuning
SQL queries, determining what indexes are required
and tuning SQL Server and the Windows NT/2000
operating system. A great career option, no doubt,
but I think you need to decide whether you follow
the Exchange or the DBA path in the short term.
Over time, you can learn both, but—for now—you
should choose which direction you want to head.
Either would be a good choice.
Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).