After spending some time studying for the Microsoft MCITP exams I had time to really understand why their are held as a standard for system administrators. Microsoft has changed the exams to a much higher standard than before. Which makes me really wished I finished my MCSE back in NT 4.0 when I had the chance instead of now with 2008. :)
While it's hard and sometimes so boring, I do like that fact that I'm preparing for the next operating system and will be much more prepared for future roll outs. What does make it fun is playing with VMware Workstation, which I highly recommend for any system admin or person interested in computers to purchase a license. It's the best $200 I've spent on software besides my Photoshop license.
Also using the TechNet account combined with studying for the exams makes it much more fun. I can now play with any of the Microsoft catalog and try out applications before they are released to get an idea how they would work in a production environment. So far, it's brought alot of much needed excitement to a rather borning topic of Active Directory.
While I'm moving along with the Microsoft certification path I also looked at other certification paths as well. One certification which I never seriously looked at is the CompTIA A+ certification.
The A+ is heavily focused upon desktop support and common IT problems including hardware issues. It's non-vendor specific so this allows the exam to cover Windows pc, and Apple Mac but gives a person a good basics about IT troubleshooting. Honestly, when I went over the test questions I first thought to myself why were they so simple. Even a few questions how to replace the toner on a printer. It seems strange but the exam really gave some good questions to honestly fix a problem in the fastest method possible.
Since I had previous experience working and repairing computers at work and at home, I knew most (but not all) of the answers. For someone just starting in the field, I would say it's a good starting point.
Now there's a few important points I have to follow up with the A+ certification. Just because someone can pass a exam does not make them a good IT support person. Also the test, while pretty solid I think has a few flaws that it's so heavily based upon hardware technology that it's easily outdated. CompTIA has recently released the 2009 version of the test to update from 2006, but I still think memorizing details such as how many pins are on a socket 370 processor is not so important as some other skills.
Also keep in mind that the A+ certification is usually aimed as a entry level IT certification. This means it's focused for help desk, IT break fix tech, and even people who work at Best Buy or Fry's. In fact, I was at Fry's a few weeks ago and in the hard drive section they had a sign for installation, then in writing below "Fry's Electronics only hires A+ certified staff". It was pretty interesting and shows how popular certifications are getting mainstream.
So I'm going to study this on the side, I figure I can use the extra help for my hardware skills and never know when it might come in hand. Also some jobs actually require these smaller certifications for getting through the HR process.