For some people, certification is a ticket to a higher paycheck, or a way to test themselves against outside standards to see if they measure up. For Joli Ballew, a Texas-based writer and trainer, it was a ladder to freedom from a career that was crushing her.
After ten years of teaching in the Dallas, Texas public schools. Ballew was more than ready for a change. “I just wanted to get out of the public school system,” Ballew says. “I had been through quite a bit over the ten years I taught and felt like I’d never be able to teach under those worsening conditions until I retired. In the fall of 1999, a turning point in my life, a student hit me while I was walking him to the office for fighting in my room. He was only suspended for a few weeks, and the administration tried to put him back in my class on his return.” At the end of that school year, Ballew tendered her resignation. Luckily for her, she had begun the process of earning her first IT certification process the previous January.
Since then, Ballew has acquired an MCSE, an MCT, and an A+ certification. Ballew says, “I started this trek in January of 1999, and by December of 1999 I had my MCSE and my A+. I didn’t have a job, but I didn’t care; I knew I’d find one. From January of 2000 to the present, I’ve used my knowledge and certifications to become a published author and college professor and change careers completely. I am often way out of my comfort zone, but I just keep pressing along.”
She is also a published author and trainer. “I have written for and continue to write for Swynk.com (Darien, Conn.), Syngress Media (Rockland, Mass.), Osborne (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, Berkeley, Calif.), and other smaller projects such as writing questions for BrainBuzz.com (Tampa, Fla.) and a little ghost writing for other Internet sites. I teach classes such as Intro to MCSE, PC Maintenance Basics, and PC System Troubleshooting. I plan to teach a class at Eastfield Community College (Dallas, Texas) this spring (2001) using the book I wrote, Windows 2000 Professional Test Yourself, for a test preparation class,” Ballew says.
As a current MCSE, Ballew faces the challenge of upgrading her certification to the new Windows 2000 requirements; she has already passed her first test on the way to Microsoft Windows 2000 certification. It was much more difficult than the previous exams she’d taken.
“When I went in to take the test, I was hoping for some sort of adaptive thing, you know, 28 to 30 questions, in and out in less than the time it takes to get to the post office and back. No such luck! The test was 50 questions, two hours, and was akin to reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Every question was a menagerie of many concepts, and for those of you that aren’t already MCPs or MCSEs, you may find this all a little overwhelming. I honestly believe that all of the concepts were covered, unlike the old tests where you may not see questions on even half of the material.”
Current Job: Self-employed writer and trainer
IT Certifications Held: MCSE, MCT, A+
Favorite Study Method: Read. Play with the product. Read some more.
How tough was it? Consider a question similar to the old Required/Not Required format with the Required Results consisting of about seven items and a Proposed Solution. According to Ballew, “this is where the answer format changes from the familiar Required/One Optional/Both Optional/Not Required to a list of all seven items in the answer. To get the answer correct, you have to check the box by each of the results that were met by the Proposed Solution. Perhaps the Proposed Solution met four of the seven, and you check five of them. That’s going to be counted wrong. As far as anyone can tell, there’s no partial credit!”
Ballew’s favorite study preparation is to read, read, read. She says, “For every class and every test, I began by reading the Microsoft Press books, then a Sybex (Alameda, Calif.) or Syngress or New Riders (Indianapolis, Ind.) book, and then a test prep book. I used the software, of course, and studied all the time.”
Ballew admits that certification didn’t bring the instant success she had hoped for. “I was making $31,000 a year as a veteran teacher and I wanted to make more. Even with an MCSE, I had no experience, and the offers I first received for a network administrator were right around $35,000. The titles were Junior Network Administrator, Trainee, and so on. I was disappointed. I thought they’d be knocking down my door since I had an MCSE, and that I’d get to choose between many companies, and that they’d be offering me at least twice what I was making as a teacher. Not so. That’s when I began looking at becoming a trainer. I was hired at a start-up company in February of 2000 making good money, and my boss even paid for me to become an MCT!” The moral of this story is, if your expectations aren’t met, do something to make them happen.
When asked for some words of advice for anyone considering joining her on the certification path, Ballew is very direct: “You have to start. You have to begin. Do it today.” Excellent advice for any endeavor, but especially so for the rigorous journey toward becoming certified.