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My Personal Certification Story

By Jason Zandri

Taking computers from a hobby, to a job, to a career has been an interesting journey for the relatively short period I have been doing it and not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new. Given the speed of change within the industry, I doubt that will ever change either and I’m glad.

I bought myself my first computer in May of 1995 at the suggestion of two friends. Mike was a full time computer professional and Dave was an avid gamer who I worked with at the power plant, but both suggested I would love it.

I was wishy-washy about laying out nearly $3000.00 for a brand new computer system and didn’t purchase one “intentionally.” Had I really been smart about it, I would have waited for Mike to go with me to get one, since he was the computer pro. I had recently filed for divorced and was down and out and walking through a large retail outlet around the time of my 26th birthday when I decided to go for it on impulse.

I bought a brand name model system 486/66, with Windows for Workgroups installed on it, which as it would turn out, was one of the late 90’s worst brand name computer system hardware manufacturers. (Let’s just say they made Pretty Bad computer systems and leave it at that.)

And thus the story really begins.

Having to have Mike consistently help me over the phone from his apartment troubleshoot the system led to me getting more and more confident in what it was he was having me do. I decided to lookup some books on computer hardware around Christmastime 1997 when I purchased a new Pentium 200 system. During my investigation I found out about the A+ certification run by COMPTIA. I asked Mike about it and he really didn’t have much information on it, but he did point me to the COMPTIA web site.

By this time, I was helping friends and members of my family with their computer systems for things like memory upgrades and peripherals and I felt that if I was going to buy books to learn more about computer systems and hardware, I should buy books that centered on the certification. The secondary idea that I had at the time was the company I was working for, the major power producer for southern New England, was posting jobs for technical support people. I thought that if I could hone my skills and abilities and gain this certification, I might be able to move out of the power plant and into the corporate center where jobs in the computer field were centered for the company.

For the better part of 1998 I studied the materials in the A+ books I had purchased and continued to do more and more side work for family and friends and now customers of a small part-time business I started doing for things such as computer repair and upgrades. In the fall of that year I took and passed both parts of the A+ exam and obtained the certification.

Since I wanted to keep going, I looked toward the Microsoft field of exams as I began to polish up my resume for my employer. Since I was unsure about the Microsoft Certified Professional program and I wasn’t really “in the field” as of yet, I took a look at the exam that corresponded to Windows 95, as I was most familiar with it. My friend Mike again helped me as best he could by asking around where he worked, but most of the people who worked with him at the university had college degrees and not certifications, so again, the best he could offer at the time was direction to the web site.

In the meantime my employer had thrown me a curveball. Human Resources had rejected all three of my applications due to the fact that I did not meet the minimum education requirements of the postings. Since I didn’t want to be discouraged at the time, I told myself it was because the job was higher level than the hardware certification I had recently gained. I told myself I would fair better after landing the Microsoft Certified Professional certification.

I purchased a study guide for the 70-064 Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Windows 95 certification exam and read it from cover to cover while building, tweaking, and trashing and rebuilding my home system. Three months later, in the second week of January of 1999 I obtained my Microsoft Certified Professional certification (MCP) on Windows 95 and applied for two newly posted level one jobs at my company.

Human Resources cut me down again. Not the hiring manager for the department, but human resources. Worse yet, they returned my receipt copy of my application with a rejection notice. (Efficient, yet cold.) I was a little more determined this time. I felt that I have proved (if to no one else, myself) that I had taken the company’s (and my own) initiative to “improve yourself, in all ways, both in your current job and beyond it” by taking on these tasks of the past year on my own. I was adamant now. I wanted the hiring manager to tell me I wasn’t qualified, not someone sitting at the human resources front desk.

Because I worked a rotating shift job I was able to go to corporate headquarters during their “9 to 5” workday and ask to speak with someone. The conversation that I had spoke volumes to their attitudes and direction in both the Human Resources department and the company as a whole.

I got the standard, “you do not have the minimum qualifications for the job” defense when I told the woman about all the strives I had made in both my past nine years with the company and in the past two years working on the side and most recently with obtaining the two certifications. I even showed her the personal track I had outlined for myself, intending to gain the entire Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification by years end. I also stated that I wasn’t going to “corner cut” by using the 70-064 exam I had passed. I intended to do it by starting off after the 70-073 Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Windows NT4 workstation exam.

The woman looked at me as if I had lobsters coming out of my ears. She had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, and yet, she was the one rejecting my application before the manager was ever getting the opportunity to see it.

Irritated, I asked, “what do I need to do, who do I need to speak with, to be able to arrange a time to speak with the hiring manager”

I was told, unequivocally, that if anyone did not have the minimum qualifications for the job posting, it was her job to rubber stamp the applications and send them back.

She then tried to soften the blow to me by suggesting that if these postings were something that I truly wished to pursue within the company, that I might want to consider taking a night class to gain the required degree.

That was the last straw for me. It was one thing, perhaps, for this person to not fully understand the certifications I had gained, but I was incensed that she was clueless to my current situation.

I asked her, “Do you know what my current job is here at this company?”

She only answered after glancing at my resume. “Power Plant Equipment Operator”

I then asked her, “Could you quickly give me a five second, ten-thousand foot overview of my job description and what it entails?”

She actually could not, at least not off the top of her head. So I helped her out by explaining that I was working to keep power flowing to the power grid, so that a portion of our 1.7 million customers could have electrical power. I also explained that it was a 7x24x365 operation and that I worked a rotating shift along with every other operations employee at the power station, including the shift supervisors, and that it was just like that at all ten of the power stations in our system.

“So tell me,” I asked “How should I go about these night classes that you suggest? Would you care to inform the Plant Supervisor that I wish to embark on some night courses as part of the “Improve Yourself” effort that the company was sponsoring and that I would need to be on day shift only for the next couple of years?”

She was quiet, but I wasn’t through.

“If you don’t even know enough about the jobs that are posting and the status of the applicants that are putting in for them, who are you to make the decisions of who gets the interviews and who doesn’t”

“That’s my job. This is what I am supposed to do. I am one of the managers of Human Resources”

I told her that she wasn’t qualified for her job if she couldn't describe my current position and realize that I couldn't take the course of action that she had suggested as far as "improving" myself and I walked out of the Human Resource office.

I went home, posted my resume on an internet job board, and ordered an Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Windows NT4 workstation exam guide from an online retailer.

Two weeks later I had received four phone calls, three interviews, and one job offer, which I accepted.

After nine years as an employee for this one company, the last seven of which were joyless, I found myself looking forward to going to work for a change.

I was going in with a two week notice.

Since that day much has changed, both personally and in the technology field.

I did gain that MCSE by the end of the year. I also changed jobs three more times. My current resting place? I am a Technical Account Manager for Microsoft Corporation.

I have never yet set a technical book down for very long. I have continued to learn new things, both in the technology field and outside of it, every single day.

I now earn more money than I would have had I stayed at the power plant, even if you figure all of the overtime in. I sleep at night, for the most part, server emergencies aside.

I have obtained some other certifications, mostly other COMPTIA ones, a Novell CNA on 4.1 and a small handful of third party ones.

In every single job change, I have had more than one job offer and almost every hiring manager, in both jobs I accepted, ones that never were offered formally to me and even the ones I declined, commented on my personal determination in continuing to educate myself. What a wonderful departure from what I had been used to in the past.

While the economy may have slowed, and job changes are less frequent for all, myself included, the technology changes do not. If I want to be part of the change, part of the future and not the past, I need to change with it.

I’ve upgraded my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification to the Windows 2000 track and I did it under the early achiever timeline.

I grabbed the new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification as one of the 5000 charter members, as it was only one additional test for me.

And I did it all because I wanted to, not because I had to. 

I do it for a career that I am happy to have gotten involved in, for a job that pays fairly well for the amount of work I put into it, all for a hobby that I absolutely love.

Until the next time, remember,

“You're finished as soon as you stop trying.”

Jason Zandri