When I was in college, I worked for an IT shop. I went around and fixed machines, and did the basic tech support type of stuff you expect to do when you're in school. However, I knew that I definitely didn't want to do tech support for the rest of my life. I started learning about the system administration side of the house, and what I could do to progress my career in that direction. Essentially, that lead me to certifcations. In this case, it was the certification route for Windows Server 2003.
A MCSE, or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, in Windows Server 2003 is a HARD certification to get. Essentially it's a group of 7 tests. You have to earn another certification along the way (MCSA, Systems Administrator). I studied hard, and lived in 2003 virtual machines. My goal was to learn the material as well as I could, and prove myself as a professional. Eventually, I passed my 7th test and earn my certification. This was a personal achievement of mine, because there were several collegues of mine who could barely pass the 2nd test.
I look at certification as a double edge sword. A good majority of people with certifications are paper professionals. They've been able to read and study the material, and retain it long enough to pass a test. These people would look good on a resume. "Oh you have a MCSE, you must be a great person to hire." Later, we discover these people have no clue what they're doing as they have never used any of their information except for answering questions on a test.
I graduated from college with my Computer Science degree and moved into the development field. The knowledge obtained from earning my MCSE has helped me in many situations, even if its simply describe to my system administrator what my needs on the network are. Since all my work has been .NET centric, and I've been heavily involved in the .NET communities, I decided that I wanted to go from my application developer certifications. While the track isn't nearly as extensive as my MCSE was, I'm looking forward to learning something new with each test.
For those interested in the test I'm studying for, it's the 70-536: Application Development Foundations (or .NET 101). Luckily, I'm starting this journey at the same time as my good friend Joel Cochran. I found it was very important to have a "study buddy", or someone to keep you on track and to bounce questions off of. You're 200% more likely to pass with a study buddy than not having one.
What certs do you have? Any recommendations to other people going for their certications? Let me know if you love them or hate them!