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June 27, 2013

Will you fail the MCSA if you don’t know PowerShell?

By command line keyboard

PowerShell is not new. When I first started to use Windows Server 2008 R2, I was wondering what that blue command prompt icon was doing pinned to my task bar. I even clicked on it and tried some familiar command like “dir” and “cd,” which worked fine, although the output looked a bit different from what I had been used to. Only when I started to learn Exchange 2007, did I find out that PowerShell 2.0 is not only a rich command line but also a powerful scripting tool.

Microsoft has been pushing and improving the use of PowerShell in all major products for a while and with the release of Server 2012, PowerShell 3.0 is being presented as the best way to administer the operating system. This may make a candidate pursing the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) worried that if they’re not proficient at PowerShell, they might not pass the exams.

Why isn’t there a PowerShell exam?

Many Microsoft products are being built on top of PowerShell, where the GUI constructs the needed PowerShell commands and runs them in the background.

Previously when I administered Exchange 2010, I used to admire the nice details at the end of a wizard, like creating a new mailbox where the wizard gives the PowerShell commands that Exchange will run to perform the task. Although I could simply run them, I liked to copy them for later use. Instead of going through the same wizard again, I would save time by manually changing some values in the command and running it. I also created an Excel sheet with ready-to-run commands to create multiple mailboxes, and gave that to joiner admins at our team. This improved the efficiency of the team, but I’m sure people with more scripting skills can make wonders out of PowerShell, and the internet is full of examples.

As PowerShell MVP Don Jones put it, “Microsoft does not certify tools; it tries to certify the ability to perform job roles.” There is no job role called PowerShell Scripter or script writer in IT, but there are roles that require a variable amount of PowerShell skills to be performed efficiently, one of which is Windows 2012 administrator.

Do I need to know PowerShell to pass the MCSA Exams?

Windows 2012 has more than 2,400 cmdlets that cover all types of roles and features in the operating system. Configuring a static IP address, DNS server address, renaming the computer or even joining it to a domain can all be done through PowerShell. You can even perform more involved tasks like creating a DNS Reverse Lookup Zone, a new user account in Active Directory Users and Computers, or Installing Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) and creating a new domain in a new forest.

Although PowerShell is an efficient way to perform such tasks, it is not the only way in Windows Server 2012. PowerShell 3.0 can’t do everything yet, so you still need to do a lot using the GUI or traditional commands. In that same token, MCSA exams cannot be all about PowerShell as the administrator role is not all about PowerShell yet. Actually, if you take a look at the objectives of exams 70-410, 70-411 and 70-412 or 70-417, you will notice that PowerShell is not listed as an objective for any of those exams.

I estimate that about 10 percent of MCSA exam questions are PowerShell related, although exam questions vary from person to person. I sure hope you don’t come into the exam so underprepared that 10 percent will make or break you. Remember, PowerShell questions are not a lost cause. Even as a non-programmer, I can find PowerShell cmdlets very easy to understand. PowerShell uses a simple verb-noun structure, and I assume that most people can easily guess what cmdlets like Get-VM,Get-MailBox or Set-DnsClientServerAddress do.

So, I don’t need to learn PowerShell yet?

Not quite. I have been delaying learning PowerShell for a couple of years now, but not anymore. Last week I started watching TrainSignal’s PowerShell v3 Essentials course after realizing that even some SQL 2012 administration tasks can become much easier if I use PowerShell scripts and even the registry can be queried and modified using PowerShell.

PowerShell 3.0 can be used to automate almost every aspect of the server like storage, clustering, RDS, DHCP, File Server, etc.  Any administrator who is too lazy and ignores such a power is shooting him/herself in the foot. The other day I was looking for a tool that recursively lists the subfolders under a parent folder and confirms if a certain user has access or not. Knowing that a user can be a member of a group that in turn is a member of another group, which has access to some subfolder down the tree, is not a simple task. Yet a simple PowerShell script can do it.

PowerShell has another major advantage: Its extensible nature allows different products and technologies to use PowerShell snap-ins and modules that add specific extensions. As a VMware admin, PowerCLI is a must-have skill, and what better way to learn PowerCLI than to start with a strong base in PowerShell?

Therefore, whether you are specialized in administrating Exchange, SharePoint, Active Directory or even VMware, knowing PowerShell will have a major impact on the quality and ease of the work you do. And who knows, although currently knowing PowerShell isn’t going to make or break your MCSA exams, it may in the next Windows release or the one that follows it. Don’t waste time and start learning it now.

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About the Author

is vExpert, VCP, 3xMCSE, MCITP, CCNP, ITIL v3 Certified and an MBA holder. He has 10+ years of diverse experience working in a large organizations in systems infrastructure support, leading corporate wide IT initiatives, organizing and conduction projects and social activities. For Ashraf, IT is a passion not a profession. He is self-motivated, persistent and full of positive attitude. Exploring new technologies, learning new knowledge, visiting new places and meeting new people are the things that drive him forward. He likes to write, share ideas and interact with different people. As part of his upbringing in the Jubilee School for gifted students (Amman, Jordan), Ashraf learned to understand, accept then debate all points of view objectively and respectfully.