Recommend Best Microsoft Certification for Career Change


I have a good friend who is looking to make a career change.  Her current field of expertise is as an Education Consultant and Computer Technology Teacher.  She has an interest and background in technology and is thinking of obtaining a Microsoft Certification this year.  I am not familiar with all of the options and am looking for advice as to which ones she should consider.

On first consideration, it seems that one of the two training certifications (MCT or MCLC) would be right up her alley.  She may be better off in the long run to pursue one of the IT Professional certifications (MCTS, MCITP, MCDST, MCSA, MCDBA, MCSE, or MTA).

She has the opportunity to take a course at a very low price.  So cost is less of a concern.  I realize that first off she needs to pick an area that she is interested in and has some aptitude. I would like to be able to help her narrow the list down based on how long it takes to get the certification and what the current job market/demand is for the job.  

Given her personal situation, she would prefer a job that requires little travel outside her home city of San Diego.  Overnight trips to Northern California are OK, she just can't be traveling for weeks at a time.

Here are my questions:

1.  What are the hot areas right now?  Is it in security, database, systems, training or something else? Which ones are most in demand today?

2. Do all these certifications require the same amount of training, or are some easier/quicker to get than others?

2b. Related to the above is which certificates do not require any prior certifications?

3  Once you have a certification, how do most people find work?  Is it through a temp agency specializing in IT, or is it independently, or do you get hired full-time by a company?

4. Finally, any information on salary ranges or hourly rates would be greatly appreciated.

Ideally, it would be great if I could get answers from a few people on this.  Thanks so much for your help!  I know I am asking a lot and I wish I could assign 2,000 points to this question.

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1. All of the above. Almost everywhere in the country IT pros are in demand. That may change as more and more businesses virtualize and companies move business apps into the cloud -- a better iteration of the current cloud. But for now, security, infrastructure, DB, and coding are all hot areas.
2. Decide on number one first then choose the MCP route to take. I have my MCSE in 2000, MCITP SA, and a misc ent. MCT. All of those relate. If she chooses to be a DBA, she'd want to look at the SQL offerings. As far as what's easy -- none of them, but I suppose it depends on a person's skills. The MCT exams are adaptive and they can be difficult, especially the Pro level (MCITP) exams -- they are more abstract, best-case-scenerio oriented.
3. I have a strong recommendation here: if I was getting started from zero experience I'd cut my teeth as a junior tech, then move into light consulting, then heavy consulting. When I was consulting I was literally getting job offers every week. Now I work full time for a company as a sys admin and I'm pretty happy with it, but I remember the days on the road. Businesses care about results, period. When you get into consulting it's like you're on a constant interview and they see your work first-hand. If you know your stuff you'll definitely find a permanent position without even needing to bother with resumes or certifications even.
4. It depends on the area of the country, your experience, and what part of IT she settles on. In the south-east a sys admin makes somewhere between 60-80k a year. IT Managers can make more and they often work a lot more hours.
Oh, I missed 2b: check out Microsoft's certification site for each cert's breakdown:
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
1. I agree.  Security is big.  Databases are used EVERYWHERE.  Training is important - plenty of people are looking for it.  Systems is generic - do you mean administration?  There's a high degree of specialization nowadays - you have Exchange/Email admins, Database Admins, Web Server Admins, Active Directory admins, Network admins and depending on the size of the company and their network, they can be even MORE granular, like Firewall Admins, VPN Admins, etc.  A small business consultant can wear most if not all of the hats, but don't generally get to play with the higher end hardware/software.

2. Not at all.  It depends on what you want to do and how effective you want to be at it.  Today, I THINK I solved a nasty problem with printing crashing on a workstation... I did it by reviewing event logs, checking driver versions, and updating things.  To ME, this is first level support stuff.  The guy I did it for (I was subcontracted to it) said his SECOND level tech probably didn't check these things.  The more training and MORE IMPORTANTLY, EXPERIENCE the better you are and the more effective you are.

2b. Pass ANY Microsoft exam and you are Microsoft Certified.  The third tier requires multiple exams but strictly speaking, there are no pre-requisites for any exam in the first 3 tiers.  You can book and take them at any time.  

3. The two top tiers will demonstrate extreme skill and demand very high pay and SHOULD be respected by ANY IT manager/CIO.  The lower tiers (including the third tier) can often get you in the door/through HR, but any experienced IT manager should be able to quickly tell if you just studied to pass the exam or if you ACTUALLY know what you are doing.  In most cases, the first two tiers will be looking for entry level stuff (temp agencies would probably be a good place to start doing roll-outs and migrations) and the pay will likely be mediocre at best.  The third tier can go for mid-to high level stuff, but especially if you expect to find work, SOME experience is (I would say) necessary.  You could go off on your own, but that can be difficult - especially if others with proven skills are competing with you.

Basic certification - I'd expect a salary anywhere between $10-20 per hour. ($20-40K/yr).
Third Tier certifications - I'd expect $20-40 per hour (the higher end would generally demand proven skill) or $40-80K per year.
Fourth and Fifth tier certifications - I'd expect $40-75 per hour depending on the company.
Trainers can make money but I suspect unless you are WELL versed and certified in a variety of topics, you won't be able to do very well staying in one small geographic area.  

If your friend wants to consider consulting, I offer you my article on consulting fees and you might also want to take a look at the business model article as well:

Further, being a trainer requires certification in the topic you're training people in.  

Keep in mind geography plays a role - Manhattan, NYC will make a LOT more than Des Moines, Iowa

(The Tiers I refer to were posted in the link by newmath referring to question 2b)

I'll close with this - If your friend really enjoys IT work, she should find what about it is most appealing to her and learn all she can.  If she's been playing with IT and networks for years, GREAT - consulting MAY be a good option for her.  Certifications are NOT DEGREES!  Unless you spend time truly LEARNING this and EXPERIENCING it, it'll be a waste of time and money.  I know former IT people doing HVAC stuff or real estate stuff because they couldn't cut it in IT.  If you want SUCCESS, you want a passion for it... if it's just a job, look elsewhere... because experienced IT managers will do the same, in my opinion.

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MrChip2PresidentAuthor Commented:
Thank you both for AWESOME answers.  It was very hard to chose the "best" one.  I will pass this information on to my friend.
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