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Certifying Your Desktop Support Skills

  • October 8, 2004
  • By Steve Rowe
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In an age of downsizing and outsourcing, one may be curious whether there are any desktop support positions left. Fear not! The job of desktop support technician is still alive and strong. You may have to join an outsourcing company to find work in some areas, but as long as corporations have PCs and Macintoshes at workstations, there will be a need for someone to support these machines and their users.

Why Desktop Support as a Career?

Desktop support is certainly not the highest paying realm of IT. Many salary survey reports show desktop support personnel making between $40,000 to $50,000 a year. In many cases, this salary range isn't in the same league as other IT positions. However, many who work at desktop support find this to be extremely satisfying work. As a desktop technician, you are in constant contact with others and you are, many times, a hero to your customers when you fix their problems and get them back to a functional level. You are also the key component to keeping all workers in your organization functional. In today's corporate environments if towers, laptops, PDAs, cell phones, pagers, and so forth don't work, your company doesn't work.

How Does One Become a Desktop Technician?

In the past, anyone who had some experience with fixing computers or a home computing hobbyist could get jobs as a desktop technician. This, however, has changed as job markets became tighter. Experience as a desktop technician in a corporate environment is vital, but one can receive a set of certifications that can validate their knowledge levels as being ready to join the ranks of desktop technicians. The most widely known certification is CompTIA's A+ certification. However, Microsoft has recently added a new certification that, along with A+, can solidify one's desktop support knowledge and prepare them for a career as a desktop support technician.

The MCDST

The MCDST certification is one of the newest certifications from Microsoft. MCDST is short for Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician. According to Microsoft, the MCDST certification is intended to prove that you have the skills to support end-users and troubleshoot desktops running the Microsoft Windows operating systems. To get this certification, you are required to pass two core exams, the 70-271 "Supporting Users and Troubleshooting a Microsoft Windows XP Operating System" exam and the 70-272 "Supporting Users and Troubleshooting Desktop Applications on a Microsoft Windows XP Operating System" exam. No elective exams are required for this Microsoft certification. This article will focus on the first exam, the 70-271 exam. Next month, we will dive into the 70-272 exam.

Exam 70-271—Supporting Users and Troubleshooting a Microsoft Windows XP Operating System

The preferred audience for this exam is anyone who supports Windows XP Professional in a corporate environment or Windows XP Home Edition in a home environment. Along with experience with either XP version, candidates should also understand the support of applications typically associated with an XP desktop, such as:

  • Microsoft Outlook Express
  • Internet Explorer
  • Microsoft Application Software (in particular, Microsoft Office applications)

Candidates for the 70-271 exam should also understand Active Directory and how XP interacts within workgroups. Lastly, Microsoft will expect the candidate to understand computer support over the phone, at the desktop, and via remote support services found in the Windows XP operating system.

Along with working toward an MCDST credential, passing the 70-271 exam will also earn you a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) status.

What Is on the 70-271 Exam?

The following matrix describes the contents and objectives the 70-271 exam will require you to have mastered by exam day:

Objective Skills Measured Explanations
Installing a Windows Desktop Operating System
  • Perform and troubleshoot an attended and unattended installation of a Windows XP operating system.
  • Perform an upgrade from a previous version of Windows to Windows XP.
This requires you to be able to successfully perform attended and unattended installations. You must be able to troubleshoot installs that either don't start or fail during installation. This section also requires you to perform post-installation OS configurations for individualizing systems for users and adding service packs.
Managing and Troubleshooting Access to Resources
  • Monitor, manage, and troubleshoot access to files, folders, and shared folders.
  • Be able to connect to local and network print devices.
  • Manage and troubleshoot offline files. This includes granting access to and synchronization of these files.
Here, you are expected to understand and be able to set NTFS file and folder permissions. The exam also requires you to know how to implement file encryption. You need to also know how to create shared folders and how to set permissions on shared folders existing on NTFS partitions. The exam requires that you can manage and troubleshoot local and network printers with Windows XP. Lastly, be able to configure, troubleshoot, and synchronize offline files.
Configuring and Troubleshooting Hardware Devices and Drivers
  • Configure and troubleshoot storage devices, display devices, Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), and I/O devices.
This section is pretty straightforward. Here, you need to be able to configure hardware and the resources it uses within XP. Also, you will need to know about disk partitioning and how to support XP volumes.
Configuring and Troubleshooting the Desktop and User Environments
  • Configure the user environment, support for multiple languages or multiple locations, and local user and group accounts.
  • Troubleshoot security settings and local security policy, local user and group accounts, and system startup and user logon problems.
  • Monitor and analyze system performance.
This section requires you to be able to configure an XP user environment. Setting up user language(s), locations, groups and accounts, as well as setting up local security policies are topics you must master. You will also be required to know how to monitor system performance and be able to understand the information that XP is telling you.
Troubleshooting Network Protocols and Services
  • Configure end-user systems by using remote connectivity tools, Internet Explorer, and remote connections.
  • Troubleshoot TCP/IP, name resolution issues, remote connections, Internet Explorer, and end-user systems by using remote connectivity tools.
This objective requires you to know how to troubleshoot DNS, WINS, TCP/IP, and IE. You also must understand how to configure and use remote connectivity tools for support purposes. Within XP, one can remotely administer a user's desktop, and this is a critical support tool XP offers.

If you are new to computer certifications, it is imperative that you stay in touch with the exam vendor's objectives list. The previous matrix has information from Microsoft's official site for the 70-271 exam. This does not mean this information will not change! Always be sure to periodically check your exam's vendor's objectives list for the most up-to-date objectives and exam expectations. You don't want to get to exam day only to realize that you had been preparing on incorrect exam objectives! For the MCDST exam, be sure to check out www.microsoft.com/mcdst for the most current objectives list for both the 70-271 and 70-272 exams.

Where Do I Sign Up?

If you are ready to take the MCDST exams, there are two groups you can choose from to register for and take your MCDST exams. The following list gives you their information:

  • Pearson VUE: VUE testing centers can be contacted via the Web at www.vue.com.
  • Thomson Prometric: Prometric exam centers can be contacted via www.prometric.com.

Either test center will register you for the exam and you will choose either a VUE center or a Prometric center (depending on which group you choose to do business with) near you where you can take the exam. Microsoft exams typically cost $125 to take. If you fail an exam, you must repay to take the exam. A hint for those interested in certification exams is to scour the Internet for groups offering certification vouchers. You can purchase vouchers from some places at a minimal cost that will help save you significant amounts of money on your exam costs, whether it be the first time you take an exam or the fifth time you take an exam.

Conclusions

To sum up our discussion of the 70-271 exam, desktop support is a rewarding career venue. Yes, it does not typically earn as much salary as other IT career fields, but it does pay fairly well in most places and you get to work directly with people and help them solve their computer problems.

If you plan to pursue an MCDST certification and you will be taking the 70-271 exam, do note that there are plenty of good study guides out there. It is often best practice to purchase more than one study guide. Yes, it is more money from your pocket. Yet, the reason for suggesting this to you is because most who do study for IT certification exams do use more than one study resource because no one book covers everything perfectly and it is good to get different viewpoints from multiple authors. Along with your study guides, be sure to take lots of practice exams to help you build your knowledge-base level and your test-taking confidence. Study hard and best of luck on your MCDST endeavors!






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