Sysadmin apprentice cert route query

JMLansdellJMLansdell Registered Users Posts: 1 ■□□□□□□□□□
Hello TE, I'd first like to say that it's nice to meet you all. Over the interwebs. and whatnot.

You could call this a borderline careers advice request, but I'm going to outline what my scenario right now is exactly, and ask a few questions to keep things as nice and simple as possible.

I'm currently the primary IT contact and Systems Administrator for a ~60-user large financial services broker. I started work here through a Business Administration (completely irrelevant to my job role) apprenticeship, upon which I have only just completed.

I have roughly 4 months experience as the independent systems admin (since our head of IT was laid off, leaving the cheap labour) - we run on a Windows Server 2008 domain, on Exchange 2007, though the end-clients are all running XP pro.

I deal with everything our domain controller is used for, so AD, DNS, DHCP, etc, our exchange server, though most of my comfort on exchange management is EMC/OWA.

We're on a VOIP-fed IP phone system which I also manage, but that's more to give you a rough idea of the weight of my job.

However, I'm on £10,500 a year to do this and I'm simply looking to use my wages to self-certify myself without going through a training provider. My current plan is to work towards an MCITP: SA once I pass my driving test, and then MCITP: MA.

However, my main motivation for getting certified in the now is to receive job offers for more salary than I am on now, which I can relay to my exploitative employers and present an ultimatum, as cynical as that sounds. As a result of this, I'm not ruling out the possibility of, before or after my Server 2008 certs, doing a few desktop support certs, such as A/Network+ and/or MCDST if I find them to be useful starters.

That said, my passion and experience lies in Sysadmin, regardless of how much desktop support may be involved given we have no other IT staff on site, and the competence of our end users.

So, time for some actual questions - otherwise this thread would just be my life story in a wall of text. ^^;

I'm pretty comfortable administrating a 2008 server, and 2007 exchange. However, I've played no part in creating our network. As such, I feel that most of my study would be filling in blanks and re-visiting what I already know. Would I be able to get away with buying the source material, reading up, using works hardware to affirm what I know, in conjunction with some VMware, and then sitting the exam - or would you absolutely advise against self-study for any server cert without your own test lab? If so, hell, I don't mind paying for a decent PC, maybe the server 2008 disc and using VM ware to simulate.

Secondly, certs themselves. Would anyone in my shoes go for something other than SA+MA first, if their workplace had the same infrastructure? My reasoning is that because I am experienced in both messaging and main server admin, it'd make sense to do both - but I've never completed an IT cert before and for all I know, there may be better options for someone in my shoes. For example, doing A/Network+ first, or something.

My main concerns right now are whether or not I'm somehow making a dumb first move cert wise, and what I'd have to do to produce a test lab sufficient for server cert training.

Thanks in advance,
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