Weigh Your Training Options
You want a career in IT, but how do you get the skills? It's time to look at your IT training options.
- By Doug Klippert
You may have come across ads on television, the
radio, or even this magazine touting the rewards
of being involved in the computer industry. You
have some experience, like the work and you have
an aptitude for the profession. Now it's time
to get serious. What's next? One path is to make
sure your IT skills meet the demands of potential
In this article, I look at optionsself-study,
official training centers, academic training,
and online learningthat can cost you a few
hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. These
options can be assembled in combinations that
fit your pocketbook.
Certified Technical Education
There are four training options. The first is
a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Center.
Microsoft sets these guidelines for CTECs:
- A CTEC must employ at least two Microsoft
- A CTEC must use Microsoft approved training
materials (called Microsoft Official Curriculum)
and maintain facilities that meet certain minimum
standards (that is, hardware and software for
- A CTEC must offer such things as money back
guarantees and instructor evaluations.
Microsoft monitors CTECs to make sure they maintain
these standards (these are some of the basic requirements,
but there are others). Still, it doesn't mean
you'll receive the same training at every site.
Before you sign up for $5,000 worth of classes,
ask about the qualifications of the instructor.
Have they taught this course before? After October
2001, MCTs will be required to have a premium
certification (MCSE, MCSD, etc.), but they won't
be required to take the course that they teach.
A rule of thumb is that CTEC courses cost about
US$200 per day. Depending on which courses and
exams you take, you can expect to spend about
$5,600 to obtain a premium MCSE certification.
Then add about $100 for each exam (you must pay
again if you fail the exam).
The classes, in almost all cases, are held over
a 5-day period. If you take the full compliment
of courses, you will be in class about 28 days.
If you're already employed, it's one way to get
through the material quickly. Most CTECs will
provide all the equipment and books and many will
allow you to use their machines outside of classroom
One major advantage that a CTEC offers over self-study
is a chance to communicate with peers in a live,
work-like setting. You'll be in class with fellow
IT workers where you can exchange "war stories"
and compare experiences in the certification quest.
Authorized Academic Training
Another training option, Microsoft Authorized
Academic Training Providers, are often associated
with an educational institution such as a community
college or a university. AATPs located in the
U.S. must be accredited through some of the approved
accrediting bodies (outside the U.S., there may
be other requirements). While a CTEC can offer
training to a company, AATPs can only offer training
to students enrolled in that school. AATP courses
are scheduled over a longer period of time. While
a CTEC can offer classes for eight hours a day
for five weekdays, AATPs can not teach more than
12 hours a week inclusive of lab time.
Fees at AATPs vary by school. One of my favorites,
Bellevue Community College, offers a fast-track
MCSE program for $5,995 including books and fees.
The course runs longer than what you'd expect
at a CTEC: four hours a day, five days a week
for about six months. The extended training period
allows the student more time to absorb the material.
At a CTEC, a five-day class will cram an awful
lot of material in a short period of time.
Self-Study (books and guides
If you think that you can learn the information
on your own, the cheapest way to study is with
self-study books. Microsoft Press, Sybex, MacMillan
Technical Publications, Osborne McGraw Hill are
just a few of the publishers (you can find many
more by searching the keyword "MCSE" on any book
site like Amazon.com
Microsoft also sell copies of its MOCs, which
is the same as you'd get in a classroom setting.
Neither the MOCs nor third-party books can be
counted upon to provide you with thorough training.
You should buy more than one-and from different
publishers-to cover all the exam objectives.
Many companies also provide sample tests to get
you comfortable with the testing process. These
samples don't cover the exact questions on the
tests, but they are phrased in a similar fashion
to simulate them.
Online and computer-based
Online training for MCSEs seems like a natural
fit in the IT world. Online training comes in
many flavors. Some sites do nothing more than
provide you with material to read off the screen,
while others come very close to holding your hand
through the whole process. Some sites also provide
extended support and mentoring after you've finished
the online course. Online training can be effective
for those who can't travel or take time off from
work to get training. However, online training
isn't for everyone and it's difficult to determine
if it would suit you (the jury is still out on
how effective online training can be). Just like
a CTEC or AATP course, you still have to take
the time to study the material.
If you embark on this path, find out what each
online training vendor offers for the price. A
good site will provide you with hardcopy books,
as well as electronic media. A good course will
give you access to the instructor and a way to
interact with other students while online. Some
companies will also periodically send students
e-mailed questions and words of encouragement.
Setting up a dedicated network in your home can
be expensive and time consuming. Many sites have
simulations to mimic the actions of a real network.
Options: How to determine
what you need
Now that you know the options, how do you figure
out what works for you. Ask yourself: What's my
Look over your past experience. How have you
best studied? Do you enjoy interacting with fellow
students or do you prefer to curl up with a book?
How much time do you have or can afford to spend?
The thought of going through a fast five-day CTEC
course may be appealing, but if your boss won't
give you the time off, a more leisurely six-month
schedule of night classes may work out better.
You'll find some CTECs (like TechTrain, which
is the company I work for) that offer a combination
of instructor led classes, Internet instruction,
self-study books, boot camps, personal advisors
and placement assistance all for about $8,000.
I found that a combination approach worked for
me. I bought a number of books and read them while
looking at the areas that Microsoft said it would
test. (You can find the test objectives for all
current exams at http://www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/).
I attended a couple of CTEC courses to be able
to use the equipment in a lab setting and to interact
with others who were also on the quest. I also
found that I need to hear an instructor say out
loud the words I've been reading for the material
to really sink in. Given more time and the opportunity,
I think I would have enjoyed the more leisurely
pace of the AATP environment.
Making the Right Choice
If you elect to use self-study, your choice is
simple and your gauge for success is passing an
exam based on the self-study materials you use.
If you choose a CTEC or AATP, remember that the
ability to teach is not something that can be
accurately until you're actually in the classroom.
If you can meet the CTEC instructor, you may be
able to judge whether your personalities will
compliment one another. If you can talk the CTEC
into letting you sit through at least part of
a class, you'll have one of the best indicators
whether this class is for you.
Also remember that, at the present time, the
instructor is only required to have received a
MCP designation for the course they teach. They
are not required to be a Microsoft Certified Trainer.
(This changes October 30 with the new MCT requirements.)
If you're considering an on line instruction
program, find out if there are any guarantees
and how long you will be allowed to participate.
Some studies have indicated a 40- to 50-percent
drop out rate for Internet-only classes. Simulating
a real class environment by providing a way to
interact with other online classmates and instructors
might be enough to keep your interest.
Choosing a training provider is like making any
major purchase. Care must be given to assure the
stability and legitimacy of the offer.
Doug Klippert, MOUS and MCSE, is an independent trainer who enjoys teaching people in far-flung parts of the world.