A Very Unofficial MCSE List FAQ

Those who have seen it will note the heavy influence of Chris Baker's unofficial grc faq. The first time I read that, I couldn't stop laughing. (By the way, it also has a lot of valuble information about newsgroups in general and Internet security in particular, and is highly recommended. I actually tried to write Mr. Baker, as I was afraid that I had imitated his style too closely, but the email address given on the web page seems to no longer be operational.)

Picture by Demian Meyer based on an idea by Scott Robbins--all rights reserved

IMPORTANT NOTE: As you'll note, this is called A Very Unofficial MCSE List FAQ. It does not have the approval of the MCSE list administrators, or anyone else.

Q: Who are you and why are you making this FAQ?

A: I'm Scott Robbins, MCSE, MCP+I and CCNA. Although I started as a Paper MCSE, I think I'm at least a posterboard one now. On a good day, even a pressboard one. I work as a Network/Systems Admin/Tech Support at a garment company. I think my official title there is, "The Computer Guy," as in, "I have to hang up now. The computer guy is here to fix something." The purpose of this FAQ is an effort to stop the wheel of repetitive occurances. There are certain topics that are frequently, and redundantly discussed.

Q: Ok, what is the story on Microsoft retiring the NT4.0 track? Are my electives still valid? What electives should I take?

A: Hold on Skippy. That's three questions. Most of this information is covered on MS's website. (The above link is correct at time of writing, but may change.) Basically, it comes down to this--if you've passed NT4.0 Server, Workstation and Server in the Enterprise, you are eligible to take the 70-240 upgrade exam. If you pass it, you still have to pass a core elective, and two additional electives. The abovementioned link has links to which electives are retiring, and which are still valid. The popular TCP/IP and IIS4 exams are both being retired, so if those are your current electives you will need to take two more. Proxy2.0 and Exchange5.5 are still good, and seem to be gaining in popularity. If you have passed your core exams, you still have until December 31st, 2001 to complete your MCSE NT4.0 certification. However, that certification will be retired as of December 31st (again at time of writing--there is always the chance that MS will extend the deadline, as they did for completing the 3 NT4.0 exams, however, the reader is better off not gambling on that.) The Exam Notes site also has a good description of what is going on.

Q: I want to set up my home network to use for practice. What is recommended?

A: I'm hoping that I can get list member Deb Shinder to rewrite her recommendations. You will of course, be limited by your own budget, but I think that, especially if you are going to be studying for the Win2K cert that you should have at least one computer running Windows 2000 Server, and one running Professional.

Q: Can I get good practice using two computers and a KVM switch?

A: Yes, if space and money limitations exist, as they do for many, you can still get excellent practice with two boxes and a KVM switch.

Q: I'm less experienced than that guy. What's a KVM switch?

A: It stands for Keyboard Video Mouse switch. You use it to control two (or more) computers using a single keyboard, monitor and mouse.

Q: I've asked my question three times and no one answers? What's wrong with this list?

A: Keep in mind that many people on this list are extremely busy. They help when they can or when they have time. Please remember, no one is obligated to help you--they do so out of their own generosity. Therefore, when you do not receive answers, it is not rudeness on the part of the list--it is that those who might have been able to answer you have other obligations.

Q: I ask questions and people keep sending me to Technet? What's with that?

A: Hopefully you are pursuing certification with the aim of working in the IT field. You will find that no one can know everything, there is simply too much to know. If you are going to be supporting MS products, then you have to learn to use Technet for you will definitely, sooner or later, be confronted with a problem that you have never experienced or even heard about. Now, before you get into the field, is the time to learn to use it. These people who suggest that you search Technet are not being cruel--they are simply making a point that if you wish to be an IT professional, you must at least start by trying to find the answer yourself. If you think people are cruel here, try some of the Linux mailing lists--if someone hasn't at least made an effort to find the solution themselves, some more experienced Linux users can be quite cruel.

Q: I've tried looking on Technet and still can't find the answer. Won't someone help me?

A: If they have time, there are many people who will. Again, remember it is not their obligation. If you are lucky, Dee will post an answer, explaining how she searched for you.

Q: What's a Dee? (This question is a direct quote from the list.)

A: Dee is a person (though Tom Shinder thinks she may be a search robot) who has made an art of searching Technet. You are well advised to read anything she posts, even if it's not related to what you are working on at the moment. It will help you learn how to use Technet.

Q: I'm really new to this. What is Technet?

A: Technet is located on Microsoft's web site at http://www.microsoft.com/technet. It is a collection of knowledge about MS products, and will almost always have the solution to your question.

Q: What are braindumps and why does everyone hate them?

A: Braindumps are test questions posted on the web by people who have taken an MS (or other) test. These people will post the questions they received, along with the choices they were given as answers.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a great resource. Why do people dislike them?

A: Well, for one thing, it is considered cheating. When you were in school, did the teachers show you the exact test questions before the test?

Q: Err, no. I remember when we broke in and...oh, never mind.

A: Yeah. Never mind.

Q: You said, "For one thing..." Does that mean there are other things?

A: Yuppers. Firstly, when you take a Microsoft Exam you agree to a non-disclosure policy. This means that you're breaking the agreement if you reveal exam questions and answers. Secondly, just because a brain dump states that a particular answer is correct, doesn't mean that it is. You are risking, especially if you simply memorize brain dump answers, memorizing the wrong answer. Lastly, if you simply memorize answers without studying the material and understanding it, when you work in the IT field, you will frequently find yourself at a loss. Without experience, (and even with it) this will happen anyway, but you will wind up embarrassing yourself more than you should.

Q: Are you saying that I will make MCSE's look bad?

A: This point came up on the list recently--I read on some forum or another--I can't remember where, therefore am unable to give the poster the proper credit--that MCSEs without experience are not competing against the people who have spent years working with computers in a production environment, with or without certification, so much as they are competing against others like themselves. That is, we who have passed the tests but have little real experience, save for breaking and remaking our home networks are competing against each other for entry level, or slightly above entry level jobs. Therefore, if you gain your MCSE by simply memorizing braindumps, get a job and are quickly let go because you bluffed your way into it, when I, who made an effort to really learn the product, and stayed up till three in the morning trying to fix my home network, apply for the newly vacated position, the people who hire are going to scrutinize me more closely than they might have before. Therefore, you are not hurting other IT professionals as much as you are hurting aspiring IT professionals. Is that clear?

Q: Not really. You sound like a sanctimonious hypocrite.

A: Well, yeah, but I'm married.

Q: Oh sorry. I understand now.

A: That's ok. If you think I sound like a hypocrite here, you should see me explaining to my wife why I didn't bring her a cup of coffee from the deli when I was downstairs.

Q: You're getting off the subject.

A: Yeah, sorry, ok, I'm better now.

Q: Glad to hear it.

A: Thanks.

Q: Along similar lines, why is the list so adament about people buying and selling Trancenders and other exam prep materials on the list.

A: Although I have never heard this from the list owners, I know that Transcender, for one, is very hard on people trying to resell their software. It's possible that if the list allowed such transactions, Transcender might take legal action. This is only my guess, but I think it's a shrewd one, because I'm a clever person. (Note: Since this was originally written, one of the list administrators stated that my guess is correct. I told you I was clever)

Q: And modest too.

A: Yes, and modest--can't forget that.

Q: While on list rules, why are people so against posting in HTML

A: Several reasons. Firstly, HTML can carry viruses and worms. The kak worm that was so widespread for awhile never would have gotten off the ground if people didn't use HTML.
It's also inconsiderate to people who use text based mail readers, such as Pine. Have you ever tried wading through all those HTML tags to get the gist of a message in a text based mail reader?
It also wastes a lot of bandwidth. An HTML message that might be 90k in text will be as much as 300k in HTML. Not everyone has high speed connections and in many places people still pay for each minute they're connected--so you're costing them money, not to mention the extra unnecesary load on the server.

Q: I didn't think I was posting in HTML, but I got flamed for doing so. How do I turn it off?

A: Ok, it depends upon your email client. Most of them, for some obscure reason, favor cosmetics over efficiency and security, and have it enabled by default.
In Outlook Express go to tools/options/send. You'll see that there's a box saying HTML. Uncheck it and check plain text. Also, uncheck the box that says reply to messages in the format that they were sent.
In Outlook it's in Tools/Options/Mail Format. There's a dropdown textbox that says HTML. Click the little arrow and you'll have the option to select plain text. I haven't found a way to fix the default, however, of replying to messages in the format that they were sent.
In Netscape, the last time I looked, (I haven't used it for awhile--in Linux I use Konqueror as web browser and Sylpheed as my email client) it's under Edit/Preferences/Mail & Newsgroups/Formatting. Move the little dot in front of use HTML editor to Use Plain Text Editor.
In Eudora it's under Tools/Options/Styled Text. There's an option to send plain text only.

Q: I did all that, but it's still coming out as HTML

A: Some Exchange Servers turn everything that goes out of them into HTML. If you're the Network Admin in charge of the Exchange Server, there are settings that you can change. (Sorry, don't know what they are) If you're not, then I'd suggest you send an email to the list Admins and ask them if they'll make an exception in your case.

Q: Alright, I got my MCSE, and even though the school that charged me $1,000.00 to sit in a class where the teacher lectured from a textbook had ads that said I'd be earning as much as lawyers and doctors, I can't find a job.

A: Well, I'm sure there are lawyers and doctors who can't find jobs either.

Q: Hey enough of the sarcasm, alright?

A: Sarcastic? Moi?

Q: Je ne parles pas Francais

. A: Well, that's because you're young...you see, when I was in school, everyone had to learn French.

Q: Can you speak it now?

A: No, but I'm told I have a great accent.

Q: Stop trying to change the subject. How do I get a job?

A: Ok, there are several things to keep in mind. Are you applying for a senior network admin position, where they're expecting you to rebuild the server if it crashes, without having to stop and look up something? Are you trying to bluff your way into a job for which you have no real qualifications, and getting rejected by the technical interview?

Q: Well, err, uh

A: That's one thing. Another is, that you really have to take off the nose and lip piercing adornments when you go to your first interview.

Q: But, those lapel pins that MS sent me look reelly kewl.

A: Err, is that how you spell on your resume?

Q: What's wrong with my resumay?

A: If there are seven people applying for the job--one way candidates are rejected is through mispelled, horrible looking resumes.

Q: Misspelled has 2 s's genius.

A: See, that's why I didn't get some of the jobs that I wanted.

Q: I see. I'm reformed now.

A: That's a good thing.

Q: But..even with all my certifications, it seems the best job I can find is one at a help desk.

A: This topic frequently arises on the list. There's the vicious circle--you can't get a job without experience, but without a job, how do you get the experience? Help desk is one way to break into the field. If you're at all competent, you won't be there that long. You're learning more than you did at that school, and you're getting paid for it too.

Q: Did you start at a help desk?

A: No, I got lucky.

Q: You're being a hypocrite again.

A: Well, it's either that or sound immodest. I had a mentor who needed someone of approximately my skill level. I've asked him since why he chose me, and he told me because of my potential, people skills and work ethic. That's the truth.

Q: You're right--you are sounding immodest. Go back to being a hypocrite. Anyway, I work with computers, why do I need people skills?

A: Well, here's an example--the boss calls you in a rage, saying, "My printer isn't working." You rush up there and it turns out that it was unplugged, or not turned on.

Q: Boy, he's a pretty stupid boss.

A: That's your first mistake. Bad attitude. Keep in mind that throughout your studies, you learned that the physical level is the first place to look for problems. It really is part of your training to know that the first things you check are the plugs, is the printer turned on, is it connected to the computer. The chances are that you couldn't sit in his chair and do his job. He's not supposed to be able to do your job. That's why he signs your check, because he needs you to do it. He might have a customer screaming at him for a printed report and not even have time to look under the desk to see if the printer is plugged in or not. This is where people skills come in handy. Not only do you have to fix it, you have to do your best to make sure he doesn't feel stupid about it.

Q: I want him to feel stupid about it. Then he won't bother me next time.

A: Right. He might not. Of course, it might, next time, be something more serious and he won't bother you because he doesn't want to feel stupid. He might try to fix it himself and cause an even bigger problem. You might be better off if he calls you before he tries to fix it himself.

Q: Ok, I have great people skills. I was a very good customer service rep before getting my MCSE. But I'm still not getting any offers besides help desk work.

A: You may have to start at a help desk. You might be luckier and start as a junior Network Admin. You might even be able to, at your present job, say, "I'm a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. You know that I'm somewhat under-employed in my present capacity, and I wonder if I could start working with the IT department?" Depending upon your company, you might get a yes answer, and start gaining experience there. For better or worse, there is truth to the saying, "Better lucky than good," and also truth to it often being more of who you know than what you know. Start networking (pun intended.) Let everyone know you're looking for an IT job. Had my present job not come along, I might have been offered a job by a friend of one of my customers from my job as customer service in an office supply company. Your father's friend's cousin might be looking for an entry level IT person. You may have picked up a mentor in your studies who can introduce you to someone. It doesn't always happen right away, but there are opportunities out there.

Q: So, what is the best format for an IT resume?

A: Ask ten people and you will probably get ten different opinions. For what it's worth, you can view my resume. This was made based on advice of one of my mentors who does very well in the IT field and further polished by an IT company that was planning to present me as a candidate to a large financial corporation. Speaking Japanese was a plus in this case, therefore it is mentioned--for most positions I would probably leave it off the resume.

Q: Did you get the job?

A: The IT company who would have been my actual employer was ready to hire me. However, as it involved phone support in NYC for users in Tokyo, it would have meant night hours. At that point in time, I hadn't realized how difficult it was to break into the IT field so I withdrew my application. I got lucky, as mentioned above, however, had I known then what I know now, I wouldn't have turned down the job.

Q: I'm really confused about subnetting.

A: Use a subnet calculator--they're free from various places on the web.

Q: Will you be serious? I have to learn it for the tests.

A: Give me a break, it's late and I'm sleepy. Ok, Ok. I found many explanations of subnetting to be overly complex. When I finally figured it out, it turned out to be fairly simple and I put up a web page about it. You can view that here. It also has a link to Paul Edwards' excellent page about about subnetting, and his page has a link to another good page--between the three of them, you should be able to figure it out.

Q: What's this binary stuff?

A: Uh, you don't know what binary numbers are?

Q: No, I was educated in America.

A: Hrrm--well, look it up somewhere. You really do have to understand the concept of binary numbers first.

Q: How did you learn them?

A: I was educated before it became fashionable to not teach anything in the schools.

Q: There you go again. Are u saying i dind't recieve an education?

A: When I was in school, we had to learn how to type, too. This includes things like learning how to use shift keys and the like. Uhh, your resume doesn't look like this, does it?

Q: Hey, English isn't my first language. Does this mean that everyone is going to make fun of my grammar and spelling?

A: No, not at all. I've been on this list for quite awhile and have never seen such comments. My rancor is reserved for those who have English is their first language. My wife is Japanese, and her English is far better than my Japanese, even though I've probably been speaking Japanese longer than she has English.

Q: Wow, you speak Japanese?

A: Yeah, impressive, isn't it?

Q: Not really.

A: Oh well.

Q: Ok, while we're on the topic of posting--I want to post something, but I'm afraid of looking foolish.

A: Well...it's been said that you can ask a question and feel embarrassed for a minute or not ask it and be ignorant for a lifetime. However, there are some things to keep in mind.
Firstly, as mentioned before, no one is obligated to answer your question. So, if they don't, don't get angry.
Secondly, many of the senior members of the list are teachers, and are used to seemingly foolish questions. However, before posting, you might try to find out the answer by yourself. It might be a simple question that using the Windows Help files might answer. Be as specific as possible--for example, writing, I have two machines that can't ping each other gives us little information with which to help you. Writing, I have two machines running Windows 98 and connected through a hub. TCP/IP is properly installed--I checked this by pinging All link lights are on, but they still can't ping each other, gives us more information, and enables us to help you a little more.

Q: Huh? What's What are link lights? I don't even know what you're talking about.

A: That's ok. If you're learning, people will understand that and will, 99 percent of the time, be happy to help educate you. If all you know right now is that you should have both machines connected to a hub, that's a start. People will start telling you what else you should know.

Q: I've found that I'm not ready for this list, and I'm trying to unsubscribe. I keep posting REMOVE notices, but nothing happens.

A: This is one of the things that an IT professional, or even a would-be IT professional should learn. In general, one removes themself from a mailing list by sending a message to a different address. Were you able to subscribe to the mailing list by simply posting to it?

Q: No, I had to go to another web page and do some other stuff.

A: Therefore, it's somewhat logical that to unsubscribe, you have to do something similar. Instructions were given you in the welcome message when you first subscribed. Did you read it?

Q: Err, no, it was kind of long.

A: Well, it's a good thing to learn in the IT world--take a look at the documentation.

Q: Do you still have the welcome message?

A: No, but, I know enough about mailing lists to know that that isn't the way to unsubscribe from a list. Also...and this is important if you're going to be an IT professional--you have to learn how to find out such things on the web.

Q: Hey, I'm a newbie, ok? That's why I'm asking these questions. Don't just smugly tell me you know how to do it--teach me everything you know.

A: Everything? But...that would take at least ten minutes.

Q: Ok, tell me what you would have done.

A: Alright. First, I would look at the address of the list. I would see that it's mail.saluki.com. So, I would start by going to www.saluki.com. From there, I see a link to Networking Professionals. Following that link, I find another link that leads me to the account management page, where I can subscribe, unsubscribe, and do a few other things.

Q: I've gotten a lot of help from people in the IT field, people who have become my mentors whether they know it or not. I feel there is nothing I can do for them. Do you have any ideas?

A: I think that those people who have become your mentors would be glad to hear it. Everyone likes to know that they helped someone. The other thing that you can do to pay them, and the cosmos if you will, back is to give your help to those who are following you. You may still be a novice, yet, as you travel along the road of IT (or the road to knowledge in any field) you have, no doubt, picked up some information yourself. Soon, there may be someone just starting out. When you can, answer their questions. I remember someone calling me on a Sunday afternoon and having me walk them through setting up their first home network. During parts of the conversation, I was thinking, wow, this is a nuisance. Then, I remembered how someone had walked me through it too. No doubt, it was a nuisance for him. Yet, he voiced no complaints, and when I apologized for taking his time, he said, "Don't worry about it, it's my pleasure." During the course of this Sunday conversation, the person I was helping apologized several times. I was able to say, and honestly, "No, it's my pleasure." This was a true statement. The reason is that I felt I was paying back both the person who had given up his time so long ago and the universe in general.
For me, doing such a thing is a way to pay back all those who have helped you.

( Comments can be posted to the list or mailed to me directly.)