6 Study Tips for IT Certification Exams

Being an IT professional means I need to stay current with technology. The trick is you can’t stay current with everything. You can be someone who has general knowledge about a lot of things, but you also need to have specializations. In the IT field, being the go-to person for a few different topics is a good thing. Many times, we are required to demonstrate our proficiencies by passing certification exams. In general, IT certification exams are difficult. While there are some exceptions, if all the exams were easy then certifications would be worthless. Each certification has its own requirements. For some, you are required to pass more than one exam. Other certifications can be done in one test, while others require a class.

Over the past year, I have had to renew or upgrade certifications from Microsoft, Citrix, and other product lines. The exams I have taken were challenging to say the least. Studying for them was even more challenging.

Here is what I do to prepare for the exams:

  1. Read. Read the online manuals and get a book as a study guide. Reading about the topic is where I get the majority of my information. Once I have read about it, I can utilize the product hands-on.
  2. Build a test lab. Nothing will prepare you for the exams better than experience. For both Microsoft and Citrix, I built a test lab utilizing virtualization technology. In some cases, it was the virtualization technology I was studying for. The virtualization host for my lab was my laptop. The laptop has a four core processor, 16GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. As long as I pick and choose which VMs I have on at one time, this has proved to be more than enough resources. In fact, I have used VMWare ESX, XenServer, and Server 2012 Hyper-V at different times on this one host. When studying for Citrix, I utilized XenServer. For my VCP exams, I installed VMWare ESX. For Microsoft, I used Hyper-V on Server 2012. At one time, I even used Windows 8 on a desktop PC for my hypervisor when I needed my laptop for something else.
  3. Gather information on the exam topic. When the requirement is one exam for the certification, there can be a lot of topics crammed into one test. I have actually found it easier to study for certifications that have multiple exams when the topics are spread out.  Going to the provider’s site and looking up the exam will give you a list of topics on the exam. Both Microsoft and Citrix give you a lot of information on what their exams encompass. Blogs and articles on the web will help narrow things down even further.
  4. Install and configure the products in a lab environment. This is one place to get your hands on experience. Installing the product and configuring will cover many of the questions on the topic. Next, create scenarios where you are using the product. For instance, to study for DNS on the Microsoft exams, I installed a domain controller which automatically installs DNS. I then created another server that I just installed DNS on. I practiced replication tasks between the DNS servers and performed other operations that were listed in the exam material.
  5. Review online tutorials and training videos. This one might be a little more difficult to do because it can be expensive. I utilized an account on Pluralsight to watch courses related to the exams. Using my labs, I followed along and performed the tasks that were done in the training video. If you cannot use something like Pluralsight, check out YouTube.com.
  6. On-the-job experience. Utilizing the technology at work really makes me familiar with a product and is probably the best way to get to know a product line. I did not put this higher on the list because job experience covers most of what will be covered, but it could never covers all the topics on an exam. However, I have yet to find a product where every feature or every facet of a feature is utilized in any environment. For those features and even the ones I have utilized, I still need the other methods to become more familiar with the product.

My study methods may not work for everyone, but I think they’ll help. Find what works best for you. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. And good luck on your next certification!




Sr. Network Consultant




© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

A Message to Recent IT Graduates

recent graduates - Visha AngelovaI received a phone call recently from a student at CalTech.  He was doing a phone survey as part of a project for one of his classes.  The questions involved projected company growth, (are you hiring or firing) and what kind of direction the company is going in.  He asked about Virtualization and ERP database systems, and whether or not we use them.  Most of the questions were to be expected, but one in particular caught my attention:  he asked for a few examples of how a ‘noobie’ can find a job in the IT world today.  This got me thinking.  I’ve been working in the IT industry for about 16 years, and I have held a few different jobs.  It took me a few years to find what I really wanted to be doing.  To quote David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?”

When I graduated, it was at the very beginning of the Dot Com boom.  At that time, finding an IT job wasn’t hard.  Finding the job you wanted to do, took some patience and hard work.  Even though the job market is quite a bit different today, some of the advice I received back then is just as good today.

Attitude is everything.

Arrive at least five minutes before your boss.  Stay at work until five minutes after they leave.

Put your time in.  No one starts exactly where they want, and it takes awhile to get to where you want to be.
Pay attention.  Help and advice will come to you, sometimes from places you didn’t expect.

Get rid of the ear/nose/eye piercings.  Your buddy the chemist might find a job with a ring in his nose, but not you.  Tattoos are okay, just wear long sleeves.

Buy a suit.  Hold off on upgrading your iPhone, and instead put your graduation money into something that will make you more money.  Wearing a nice suit to your job interview says a lot about you.

Cut your hair.  Justin Bieber is a criminal, and so is his stupid haircut.

Learn how to network with people you know.  Facebook can be your friend here, but your Uncle Frank knows a guy who knows a guy who can help you find a job too.  Give him a call.

You will most likely NOT get the job you want when you first start out.  Find the guy that does the job you want to be doing, and shadow him.  Try to convince him to mentor you, whether he wants to or not.  Your mentor may never like you, but he will respect you and show you everything he knows.

Whatever job you get, do your best at it.  Work hard, put a lot of effort in, and your boss will notice.  Before long, you will have the job you always wanted.



Chase Reitter
Network Consultant


Father’s Day Tech Support

I suppose when you read this title you might assume it would be about all the time you will get to spend tinkering and exploring your latest Father’s Day gadget.  I wish that was true. Since I have been involved in IT for 20 years I can tell you I really wish this was the case.  From my perspective, I think about how many family gatherings involve an in depth discussion of what I do for a living, Then, when I actually tell them, most people get glazed-over looks after about 30 seconds, and immediately shift the conversation to a personal story about their latest challenge with their own situation and technology.

Father's Day Tech How do I get this picture on my iPad?

Why do I have multiple contacts for the same person in my iPhone?  

Why do I get so much SPAM?

I have a new (fill in the blank with you device name) and it won’t stay connected to my home Wi-Fi.

How do I get rid of all these pop-up advertisements on my computer?

Do I need to buy a new PC and how much should I spend?

I have a suggestion for this day only: moms, it’s time to give the IT Dad the day off.  How about stepping in when you see Dad cornered, watching the food on the grill burn because someone has whipped out their smartphone and is asking a million questions?  No one likes burnt food or to have their special day consumed, answering an endless queue of personal support requests.

Moms should immediately start talking about things that Tech Support Seekers do not really care about and save the day for Dad.  Mention those new kitchen curtains, or how you still have not picked out a new paint color for the powder room.  If these do not work, you can always ask your own question, guaranteed to drive any free tech support inquisitor away… Can you give me a hand in the kitchen?

Most Dads I know like me, are more than willing to help out a family member, friend, or neighbor when they have a technology woe.  But not on Father’s Day. Let’s not make Father’s Day for the IT professional a Free Personal Support Day; give Dad the time to enjoy his one day a year off.

Of course, it’s back to the help desk on Monday.

Paul R. Cook




Paul R. Cook
Vice President, Network Services Group

Is an IPS Monitor Right For Me?

Recently, I started shopping for a couple of new monitors.  I wanted to replace the five year-old plasma screen monitors I have been using.  There is nothing really wrong with them mechanically, but they are starting to show signs of age and use.  Also, I have a small home office and two large plasma screen monitors tend to generate a lot of heat, particularly compared to LCD and LED monitors of today.  So, my first recommendation in the search for a new monitor is to not purchase any plasma screen monitors.

Why so many monitors?

I utilize a dual-monitor system with the display extended from the left screen to the right screen.  For those of you who have done this, you know there is no going back from this.  For those of you who have not utilized dual-displays, you really need to know what you are missing.  Consider that your display area is now effectively doubled.  How often have you bounced back and forth between open windows when on one display?  Now think about how nice it would be to have one application/window open on one screen while another application is open on another screen.  For instance, I have Word in full screen on the left monitor as I type this and on the right monitor my e-mail and browser are open without the windows overlapping or being compressed.  I am off topic, but I wanted people to know what they may have been missing.  These days, almost any system can handle dual monitors and it is not difficult to set up.  For those systems that do not have two display ports built-in, you can easily add one through a USB Display Adapter which can cost as little as $30. That does not include the second monitor that you still may need to purchase.  There are other ways to achieve the same goal.  Of course, the more money you put into the right solution, the better results will be.

Seeing through the sales terms

So, here I am looking for two new monitors.  Long in the past, active-matrix or TFT used to be the monitor buzzwords, lately the popular buzzword in monitor advertising is IPS.  I have been seeing many monitors on sale from various sources like electronics stores, office supply stores, and online stores touting that they are IPS monitors.  Go into an Apple Store or look into Dell offerings and IPS will be touted all over the place.  So what is this wonderful new IPS technology?  IPS stands for In-Plane Switching.  This brand-new, revolutionary display technology has only been around since Hitachi introduced it, around 1996.  Wait… how can this wonderful new technology have been around for almost two decades?  Well you can thank the world of marketing and advertising for that confusion.  Remember, I said it was a buzzword.  The latest buzzword does not always imply the latest fashion (or technology).  IPS is a form of an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) monitor.  There are, in fact, several different types of IPS technologies. They were all developed to improve mainstream display technologies of the past.  If you look on the internet, you can find many technical write-ups on IPS, so I will not go into it here.  What makes today’s IPS monitors great, is the fact that they can produce beautiful contrast and black levels at relatively inexpensive costs.  The picture in an IPS display can be distinct and vibrant.  So, if that is the case, shouldn’t we see more flat screen TVs using this technology?  No.  IPS is a great technology for displaying a still image or one that has relatively low movement.  However, IPS loses its edge as a display technology when you introduce motion graphics.  IPS still suffers from ghosting issues when displaying motion.  Also, response time from IPS is still not as fast as other LCD technologies.

What does this mean for you?

If you are looking to buy a monitor whose main function is to do business related tasks, home-office tasks, or graphics that do not involve a lot of motion, then IPS technology can offer you a fantastic display.  However, if you are someone like me who also uses his PC for entertainment, then an IPS monitor will not make you happy.  The ghosting or response from an IPS monitor will be disappointing if you play video games, watch streaming video, or play blu-rays and DVDs directly on your PC.  From someone who likes to play World of WarCraft on one monitor while the other monitor is showing something from Netflix, IPS is not the buzzword for me.




Sr. Network Consultant




© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation