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Self-study for certification is a good option for an IT pro with plenty of hands-on opportunities.

Dear Molly: I have been in the IT industry for about 10 months now as a helpdesk tech. I have a molecular biology degree, but decided to transfer from manufacturing to the IT department within my company, which consists of my manager and me. I maintain more than 150 computers, printers, and scientific instruments. I am also setting up servers and maintaining networks up to a certain level and am practicing at home by setting up my own personal network. Should I get some books and study for the MCSE certification on my own? I can’t afford the $8,000 to $10,000 for training courses. I would have all the resources to get hands-on work because my boss trusts me to work with the servers. What do you think? Should I wait to get even more experience or do you think I might be ready?

Molly says: I think that you sound like a good MCSE candidate, but you might want to look at CISCO certification before you make a final decision. As for books, find the largest local bookstore and hang out for a while in its computer section. Spend at least an hour looking through the different books on MCSE and find a few that fit the way your brain works.

You should also check out the MCSE training kits from Microsoft–you get a better discount buying Microsoft books from Microsoft than from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Make sure to check out the section that talks about the MCSE itself–including the certifications that are being retired soon.

I don’t think you can lose in trying self-study. You’re going to invest at most a few hundred in books and a few hundred in test fees. Worst case scenario is that you crack the books open a few times, take the exam and flunk. Well, so do people who pay thousands of dollars to take the training courses. What are you waiting for?

Molly Joss also writes the monthly Career Advisor column for ComputerUser magazine. Ask a career-related question at [email protected]

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