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Higher level certs with only Help Desk exp
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I don't think having the higher certs is what will keep you from being hired for those higher positions, it will be the people that have the certs AND the experience beating you out.
As long as you keep your expectations in check I don't think there is anything wrong working towards the MCITP:EA while you look for greener pastures.
An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made.
If it's as rough as you say to move up where you are you may need to do a lateral move in order to get a chance to move up. Even desktop support sounds like a lateral move when looking at what you do where you're currently employed.
Have you tried getting to know some of the system admins and network admins and letting them know that you're interested in moving up?
No longer work in IT. Play around with stuff sometimes still and fix stuff for friends and relatives.
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I haven't done hirings myself, but I have sat in interviews and been the wing man in tier 1 and 2 interviews, I have also seen people get promoted and others stay static for 10 years, (In the helpdesk).
There are more variables than I care to admit but here are some off the top of my head.
1. Charisma: Just like a politician, either you have it or you don't. A lot of the people who get promoted are attractive and at the very least easy on the eyes. I know in Korea and other countries in the east they require your picture on the resume. If you are ugly you are out. I am not saying that for the states, but to a certain extent it's like that.
2. Nepotism and/or inside connections: This is a really big one. I have seen people come into the service desk and then 3 months later land a system admin job. Most of the time these people know someone other times they smooze really well. Example: Play golf with senior members or some sort of network connection outside of work. I know a guy who is a scratch golfer started playing with some middle level IT guys and some execs and he was promoted 6-12 months later. Call it a coincidence if you would like.
3. This is related to number 2. Particular skill set, or viewed as a special talent. In a former post Turgon described this perfectly. All it takes is one person to identify this special talent and you can be bumped up quick. Unfortunately you are going on year 2 and evidently nobody feels that way about you. Don't worry I am in the same boat.
Those are 3 ways I have seen individuals promoted. Of course hard work and continual growth and initiative is another that can get you moved up. Unfortunately most people who are in the tier 3 type positions don't leave and when they do the company hires outside because they can get experienced employees for cheap. Companies are no longer willing to train an employee for a new job set even with credentials/certifications in that particular arena. eMeS made a great point in another post. There are so many certifications that they are losing their value. The bottom line is experience and if you don't have it, there is a very slim chance of moving up.
One suggestion I would like to make. Every helpdesk is different and yours sounds like a very technical one that requires a decent amount of knowledge. I too work in one of those, I never ever punt tickets, I call tier 3 groups and work with them to resolve them unless the process requires escalation. I would think deep and long about the skills you are obtaining. For instance I don't deal with servers but I do a lot of router and switch troubleshooting. It's just part of the job dynamics and I am studying Network + and then moving onto Cisco specific certifications. Even though my networking experience is that of a level 1.5 tiered NOC, I am still gaining experience and continuing to learn that particular skill. That skill coupled with some certifications in the specific area should give me a decent chance at landing a higher level network job. My passion has always been databases, but let’s be honest, who is going to give a helpdesk employee a chance in one of those group.