Welcome! This column is the first in a series of articles that will focus on IT-related training and certification issues. With a focus on Microsoft’s certification program, I'll provide you with information that will assist in your training and certification efforts.

Tired of Paying that $100 Testing Fee?
One thing Microsoft trainers and aspiring MCSEs have in common is their dislike of having to pay $100 for each certification exam. Until recently, you didn’t have a choice of testing vendors--your only option was to take a live test at a Sylvan Prometric authorized testing center. However, you now have the choice of taking certification exams through Sylvan or Virtual University Enterprises (VUE). By offering you a choice, Microsoft has also given you the opportunity to save money.

If you're traveling down the path to certification, I recommend that you consider joining the Institute for Network Professionals (http://www.inpnet.org). By becoming a member in this organization, you can save $20 on every Microsoft certification exam that you take at VUE testing centers. Membership plans vary and include an unadvertised 6-month student membership for $59. The 6-month membership will primarily appeal to MCSE students (many of whom complete their six certification exams in this timeframe).

In addition to providing substantial savings on the certification exams, the Institute periodically provides its members with CD-ROMs packed with great products. The most recent CD-ROM offering includes a licensed version of Symantec’s Norton Utilities 4.0 for Windows 95/98, along with trial versions of several other software products. The CD-ROM also includes more than 30 networking tutorials and 90 technical papers.

Online Hardware Training
There’s no question that systems engineers need to understand server and network hardware components. Microsoft recognized this need and created Exam 70-058, Networking Essentials, as one of the six required certification exams. This exam has a broad focus, and according to Microsoft’s Exam Preparation Guide, test takers must:

  • Define common networking terms for LANs and WANs.
  • Define the communication devices that communicate at each level of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model.
  • Describe the characteristics and purpose of the media used in IEEE 802.3 and IEEE 802.5 standards.
  • Explain the purpose of the network device interface specification (NDIS) and Novell Open Data-link Interface (ODI) network standards.
  • Select the appropriate media for various situations. Media choices include:
    • Twisted-pair cable
    • Coaxial cable
    • Fiber-optic cable
    • Wireless
  • Select the appropriate topology for various Token-Ring and Ethernet networks.
  • Select the appropriate network and transport protocol or protocols for various Token-Ring and Ethernet networks. Protocol choices include:
    • Data Link Control (DLC)
    • AppleTalk
    • IPX
    • TCP/IP
    • NFS
    • Server Message Block (SMB)
  • Select the appropriate connectivity devices for various Token-Ring and Ethernet networks. Connectivity devices include:
    • Repeaters
    • Bridges
    • Routers
    • Brouters
    • Gateways

The scope of Exam 70-058 doesn't include a depth of understanding of the hardware components that exist inside servers and workstations. For those seeking a greater understanding of computer hardware components, how they function, and how they are configured, the Internet provides several sources. One free resource is a Web-based course titled "Hardware Fundamentals v2.1" by Brian Brown (http://cit.evitech.fi/ hf100/ default.htm). Give it a try, and if you find other Web sites, let me know.

Microsoft Online Seminars
Another source for free online training is Microsoft’s Web site. Visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet/seminar/ and see for yourself. Seminar offerings include:

  • Open Communications University Online—This walk-through presentation demonstrates how easy it can be to configure Windows NT Server 4.0 to provide secure remote access and VPN services.
  • Planning and Implementing a Microsoft Exchange Migration Path—This group of seminars provides detailed information on deploying and migrating to Microsoft Exchange. Get the knowledge you need to ensure a successful rollout in your organization.
  • Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0, Delivering Scaleable Management for Windows-based Systems—SMS 2.0 lowers the cost of deploying and configuring software in Windows-based environments through comprehensive planning, deployment, and diagnostics tools. New features include software metering, Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance checking, network tracing, and server health monitoring functionality.

In addition to these three areas, Microsoft provides 13 seminars in its TechNet Quarterly Briefing Series. These seminars provide more than 12 hours of online training. Although Microsoft targets some seminar content toward product sales, all the seminars contain valuable technical information designed to provide you with a better understanding of how the product works.

Companion Certifications
In the August issue of Windows NT Magazine, I have an article titled "Companion Certifications for MCSEs" that details an extensive list of certifications you might want to consider obtaining to complement your status as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). Whether it’s Cisco, Intel, or other vendor certification, the fact that you have obtained dual certification status might make you stand out during the job interview process.

I speak from experience in this regard. The fact that I hold other certifications was an important factor in a hiring committee's decision to recommend me as a successful candidate for a college instructor position I was offered last month. With the number of MCSEs reaching six figures, you need to differentiate yourself from the MCSE masses. Additional valued certifications provide you with an opportunity to achieve that differentiation.