Good morning, everybody. We’d like to introduce a new author for the Microsoft Press blog, Andrew Levicki, who we’re thrilled has agreed to write for us regularly about his adventures as an IT professional. Andrew sent the following as a type of introduction. In it he pays us lots of compliments, and we’ve asked him to stop doing that! In the future, Andrew will write about whatever he finds interesting while working with technologies, while learning technologies and earning certifications, while doing whatever it is he does. The world’s his oyster, which he with keyboard will open.

Welcome, Andrew!

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Hi there! My name’s Andrew and I’ve been working with Microsoft products and technologies for the past 15 years or so. My first experience of managing an IT environment came at the tender age of 22. We were running a Microsoft Windows NT 3.51 server and Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.11 desktop clients. It all seemed so technically advanced and like I was at the forefront of technology, but looking back, some of the technology was limited compared to today’s standards, and the speeds we thought were quick for a local area network are considered slow for a wide area network now.

How things have changed since then! But what hadn’t changed until only recently, from those times, was that apart from my school exams I had nothing to show my peers and potential employers how good I was at IT. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming to be the best in the world here, but I like to think that over the years I’ve picked up some good troubleshooting tips here and there and have enough tools in my toolkit, so to speak, to do a pretty good job of fixing broken systems and implementing and maintaining new systems.

But nothing set me apart from anybody else on paper (i.e., my CV!) and I was never considered for jobs that stipulated “Must be MCSE qualified.” I was always able to demonstrate my skill once I got in the door, in the form of a technical test or a verbal quizzing, but it’s harder these days to even get in the door, especially in this tough economic climate.

So I decided to pursue Microsoft Certification. My first certification target was the Microsoft Certified IT Professional Enterprise Administrator (MCITPEA, which is kind of like the MCSE for Windows 2008). Because I wasn’t sure how hard it was going to be and because I have not had a great deal of exposure to Windows Server 2008, which forms the basis of the MCITPEA, I decided to attend an accelerated learning course, commonly called, somewhat unfairly, a “boot camp.”

Our instructor was excellent and I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that he had worked for Microsoft before. Before the course I bought the Microsoft Press Self-Paced Training Kit 4-book set that covered the four core exams of the MCITPEA. This provided great background reading as with the best will in the world, an accelerated learning course cannot cover every nuance of the subject. In fact, any course couldn’t hope to do that. At best, they fill in the gaps between what you already know and what is needed to pass an exam.

I did well on the course. From my first nervous Windows Vista exam (I got 95%, thanks for asking!) to my last exam on the course, the daunting IT Professional exam, I was using my Microsoft Press Self-Paced Training Kit books as a way of not only checking what was being presented to us but also reading around the topic if I wasn’t “getting it.” Also the CD that comes with the books includes practice exams and these were invaluable in preparing me for taking actual exams, getting to know the pitfalls (like make sure you read the question properly!).

Unfortunately, I failed the last exam on the course. Not by much, but a pass is a pass and a fail is a fail, so this was a fail. So I spent all my evenings for the next week studying my 70-647 book, “Windows Server Enterprise Administration” cover to cover and doing the practice tests and I’m pleased to say that I passed it the second time round. I also benefited from a discount voucher in the books, so it wasn’t prohibitively expensive.

Buoyed up by this success I decided to go back in time as it were and do the MCSE. Although the MCITP is part of a new generation of Microsoft Certifications, I still wanted to prove that I knew my onions with Windows Server 2003 too, which is still in use in many organisations of all sizes and I imagine will be for many years to come.

So I bought the Microsoft Press MCSE book set. I was able to pass the 70-290 exam, “Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment.” fairly easily and I’m now going through the 70-291 book, which covers the exam “Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure.” My plan is to certify as an MCSE and MCITPEMA (Exchange 2007 certification) by the end of the year. Microsoft and Prometric are running some kind of promotion where you can get up to 25% off the cost of the exams if you book and sit the exam by the end of 2009. So I now have my study plan for the rest of the year, ending in mid-December, by which time I will have passed (I hope!) 13 exams in just under 5 months! No mean feat, I think you’ll agree.

During this time, I will be jotting down my experiences and letting you know how I get on, so stay tuned. One thing I would like to share is that when I have passed an exam, I confess to looking forward to opening my email inbox to find the email from Microsoft saying congratulations on passing your exam. I then immensely enjoy logging on to the Microsoft Certified Professional members’ website where I view and download my transcript and certificates, which are signed by Steve Ballmer no less and colour co-ordinated! On a more serious note, I’ve found the experience so far has really improved my confidence in terms of knowing that my knowledge of Microsoft systems and general networking technologies can be proven. It also vindicates my career choice to my mother, who wanted me to be a rock star!

I’ve also made a connection on Twitter with Microsoft Press and with Orin Thomas, a very nice and helpful chap who happened to co-author two books that I read, which were the 70-290 and 70-236 book for the exam “Configuring Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.” He alerted me to some errata in one of the books and also congratulated me on passing my exams, which was very kind.

More importantly than anything else, probably, is the fact that I now have a much more solid knowledge of Windows Server 2003, 2008, and Exchange Server 2007 and intend to put that knowledge to good use when it comes to maintaining and developing the setup we have in my company. Whereas before I would definitely have needed outside help to bring in new systems, I am confident that I can undertake these tasks myself efficiently and right first time!

If you’re interested in Microsoft certification, Microsoft Press Self-Paced Training Kits, or have any questions for me or things you’d like me to write about, please drop me a line.