% fortune -ae paul murphy

Advice for the MCSE: go back to school

If you're reasonably smart, work on the Wintel sales or support side in IT, and are in a financial position to pull it off, the very best thing you can do right now is to go back to school.

There are a number of good reasons for this - and I want to raise some of them for discussion this week.

Number one on that list is a simple reality: everything changes, and by betting against industry wide change you're leaving yourself, your family, and even your community hostage to Microsoft's continuing commercial success.

Right now, of course, Microsoft looks like it's forever and it doesn't take a lot of brains to see that aligning yourself with an obvious winner helps you, and millions of other MCSEs just like you, haul home the cash.

The trouble is that marketing phenomena which look like they'll go on forever fairly often hit a cliff and disappear virtually overnight; especially if the only thing holding them up is people's beliefs about other people's beliefs. The commercial value of the belief that supporting Microsoft pays because everybody uses Microsoft software depends on itself - i.e. on other people sharing those beliefs.

When people don't like the emperor, it only takes a few dissidents to bring the walls down: witness Hillary Clinton: three months ago she was inevitable and pulling in hundreds of millions in campaign pledges - but now the illusion's been punctured, the campaign's broke, and she'll probably lose her senate seat the next time out.

Not many people like Microsoft - and there are better alternatives: Linux on the server side, MacOS X on the user side.

Is it going to happen tomorrow? Probably not, but it will - and when it does a lot of today's MCSEs will be caught out: essentially unemployable in comparable professional roles without significant, unanticipated, and uprooting personal change.

So buy yourself some insurance: find something else that you might want to get really good at, and go back to school until you're ready to do it. Education, remember, is never wasted: learning is the ultimate no lose bet - so you'll be better off either way: if the Microsoft market continues strong you'll be able to move up market, and if it faults you could find yourself interviewing former MCSEs whose choices left them unprepared for change.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.