The End of An Era… Again.

MCSE(rgb)Around 2005-2006, when I was running the Montreal IT Professionals Community, Microsoft announced that due to a lawsuit from the Quebec Order of Engineers, Microsoft would be eliminating the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) designation in the province of Quebec.  As a community leader I rallied against that; my position was that it would create unfair competitive disadvantages to our IT Pros who would not be able to compete with outsiders who did have the credential.  My position was (and remains) that if Microsoft and Microsoft Learning are going to award credentials, they had to be a uniform set of credentials around the world.  Two professionals with the same skillset who have passed the same exams should have the same titles, whether they live in Montreal, Los Angeles, or Uganda.  The New Big Blue reexamined their position, and shortly after making that decision they announced that they would indeed eliminate the MCSE program around the globe.  MCITP(rgb)_1324_1314_1315_539Thus, with the release of Windows Vista and then Windows Server 2008 (along with the SQL and other technologies at the time), Microsoft Learning introduced the Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP) certifications for job-based certifications… along with the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credentials for task-based certifications.

It essentially took one generation of technology for Microsoft to revert to the old acronyms… from Windows 7 and Windows Server 2012 onward, MCSA now stood for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, and MCSE stood for Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.  Why nobody at Microsoft Learning a few years earlier thought to replace the word Engineer (the offending word in the MCSE title) with another word that began with E still escapes me, but there it was.  MCSE was back.

microsoft365-enterprise-adminstrator-expert-600x600This morning, Microsoft Learning announced that once again, the MCSE (and MCSA) credentials are going away… and for those of us who have pursued any of the new, ‘modern’ certifications, it was easy to see that this was just a matter of time (see article).  According to this blog post published today by Alex Payne, GM, Global Technical Learning at Microsoft Worldwide Learning, “…all remaining exams associated with Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) will retire on June 30, 2020.”

The blog goes on to say that only the exams are retiring, and that the credentials themselves will remain active for two years after that;  this means that on July 1, 2020 all MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer) credentials on your Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) Transcript will be moved to the “Inactive” section.

I earned my first MCSA credential on  May 27, 2005, and have held various MCSA and MCSE credentials for nearly fifteen years.  When they were taken away the first time I was upset.  Today, while I am also upset, I guess I understand.  Microsoft Learning is evolving, and their credentials are too.

With that said, universities have done a great job of evolving over the last few hundred years, and yet they still offer Baccalaureate programs, as well as Masters, PhDs, and Doctorates.  Are these the same today as they were a hundred years ago?  Of course not.  They have been able to keep the title while evolving the skills required to achieve it.

Of course, Microsoft Learning is not a university, and a certification is not a degree.  However, for those of us in the trenches… as well as for those myriad customers who often rely on a set of credentials to know what skill set they need to hire, it might behoove MSL to once and for all standardize their nomenclature, rather than ‘evolving’ every few years.  If they did that though, what would I have written about today?

Microsoft 365 Certified

In mid-September, the recruiting department of my company introduced me to the man who would become my manager at my new client.  He told me he reviewed my CV, and did not see Microsoft Office 365 listed on it.  I told him honestly that while I have worked with the technologies before, I never felt it was one of my areas of expertise.  With that said, if he accepted me for the position we were discussing, I would focus and make sure I got the relevant certifications.

At the time, I did not know exactly what was meant by Microsoft 365, so when I started the new role, I was in for a bit of a surprise.  It seems that the Office 365 certs that I would be pursuing were actually Microsoft 365 certs, and that Microsoft 365 comprised both the modern desktop – Windows 10, which would extend to include a good knowledge of both operating system and application deployment technologies (so I would get to dust off my knowledge of System Center Configuration Manager and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit), management technologies (Config Manager and Intune), and the cloud side of the house, including all of the server components of Microsoft Office (Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, OneDrive for Business), Azure Active Directory, Azure Advanced Threat Protection, and a bunch of others facets used to implement and manage a modern (and secure) desktop and application infrastructure.

I should mention that there was a time that I was really involved with Microsoft Learning, and I knew practically everything there was to know about the certification program… at least, for the infrastructure side of the house.  I was never too involved in the dev side of things.  I fell out of that habit when I ceased being a MCT Regional Lead, back in the fall of 2013.  That may not sound like a long time, but in dog years it is 42 years, and in IT years it is nearly an eternity.  I found out that nearly everything was different… and that is not a bad thing.

microsoft365-fundamentals-600x600Back in the spring, I took my first Microsoft Azure exam, the Azure Fundamentals exam AZ-900.  I wrote about that experience in this article.  When I went to look at the Microsoft 365 certification path, I discovered that there was a similar exam, MS-900: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.  While it was an optional exam as far as my certification path went, I decided it would be a good way to get my feet wet.  I spent a few hours studying for a couple of days, and then I passed it.  As with the AZ-900 exam, I finished it extremely quickly. 

Energized by my initial success, I decided to go back home and hit the books… and with my manager’s encouragement, I worked feverishly to pass the next four exams, which included:

exam-md100-600x600MD-100: Windows 10.  This one was also theoretically optional for me, as I had already passed both 70-697 and 70-698.  However I did not want to take any shortcuts, and I know it had been nearly two years since I sat those exams.

exam-md101-600x600MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops. This would be a little more challenging, as it would require knowledge of many of the on-line tools that I might have used and managed, but was not fluent in.

When I first started getting certifications, there was a simple path: After passing a single exam, you became a Microsoft Certified Professional.  After that… well, you had a long way to go to earn your next certification, which was Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), and which required six more exams to pass.  And then one day Microsoft Learning announced what I thought of then as an intermediate certification – the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA).  The MCSA only required four exams, which meant that after the original exam, I only needed three more for what I thought of as a ‘senior’ certification.

microsoft365-modern-desktop-administrator-associate-600x600While things have changed a lot since then (apparently you now get a new logo for every exam that you pass), I see that Microsoft Learning has stuck with the concept of ‘intermediate’ certifications.  With these two exams under my belt, I was now Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator.  This is what they are calling Associate certifications, which I suppose is about the same as the MCSA that I earned so many years ago.

Of course, I was far from done.  Once I had those two exams passed, which were essentially Windows 10 focused, I had to go on to the exams that were mostly focused on the cloud technologies.

exam-md100-600x600MS-100: Microsoft 365 Identity and Services was almost (but not entirely) all based in the cloud.  Like it’s partner exam, you need to know all of the cloud services, but you also need to know on-premise features such as System Center Configuration Manager (Current Branch), as well as Active Directory, and even though they are not supported in Azure AD yet, you needed to know Group Policy, and when and how it would be used.

exam-md101-600x600MS-101: Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security spent a lot of time focusing on managing devices and security from the cloud, as well as protecting a company’s data.  There was a bit of a focus on what devices were supported, including Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as Android devices.  You not only needed to know how to deploy them to the managed environment, you also need to know how to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA), conditional access, and how to segregate data on a BYOD device so that users who use the same device for both business and personal could not accidentally share sensitive corporate data.

While it took a lot of studying, I was very happy, after having passed this last exam, to receive an e-mail that read:

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I have received many of these e-mails before… but this one had something that I had never received: three stars.

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Yes, if you look at the modern Microsoft certifications, they progress from the Fundamentals level (one star) to the Associate level (two stars) to the Expert level (three stars).  thinking back on many of the other certification logos I have had, I have to admit, I like these.  Don’t get me wrong, the certification logos were once really snazzy, but over the years the logos went from:

This:      MCP_SE_c

To this:      mcse

To this:      Microsoft-Certified-Solutions-Expert-MCSE-Server-Infrastructure-logo

…yeah, they spent a lot more on style in the old days, and I’m not going to lie… I may like the original MCSE logo, but the most recent iterations of them were somewhat lacking stylistically.  So the new ones, with the multi-coloured shield design is like fresh air breathed back into the program.

So at this point, I will probably take a bit of a break from the certification track.  I do not know what will be next, but I suppose the most likely candidate is going to be something Azure related… but it is not going to happen right away.  I have spent a lot of time studying and preparing for these exams, and my client has been very understanding.  Now is the time for me to get to work, putting what I learned studying for these certs to good use!

Juju Revisited

jolly-rancher-pieces-assorted-5lb-16It is hard to believe that thirteen years ago I sat down at the Java U café at the corner of Queen Mary Rd. and Circle Rd. in Montreal and wrote an article about superstitions.  It was called Don’t Mess with Juju! and it was one of the most popular articles that I wrote that year.  At the time, I had sat fourteen Microsoft certification exams, and my record was 10/14… not bad, if I do say so myself.  I wrote about how I never wore a Microsoft-branded shirt the day I was sitting an exam, and I always had a package of Jolly Rancher hard candies on the desk when I did.

Thirteen years have passed since that article, and while I do not know for certain how many people read it (I moved my blog from the original platform to WordPress in 2009, and I have no statistics from the old site), I do know that when I did publish it (and for a couple of years thereafter) it generated a lot of conversation and jokes.  When I wrote it, I was living in Montreal; I have since lived in Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, and then Ottawa (Ontario), and am now living in Los Angeles.  I have successfully passed over fifty certification exams (48 of them from Microsoft), and while I am not willing to disclose how many I have failed, suffice it to say that the ratio of failed:pass is much worse than the 4:10 that is was when that article was written.  A lot of water under the bridge… and a few times my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

In September my company introduced me to the man who would become my manager at my new client, and he asked me if I knew about Microsoft Office 365, and why, with all of the certifications I have, were none of them in that technology.  I told him if he accepted me for the position we were discussing that I would gladly put my nose to the grindstone, and within a few months I would have Microsoft 365 certs.  After a bit of a hiatus from exams over the last couple few years (I passed none in 2016, one in both 2017 and 2018, and one earlier this year) I set my mind to it… and in the past three weeks I have sat (and passed) four exams on the topic.

This morning I was driving to Beverly Hills to take the latest of them, and I thought back to the Jolly Ranchers.  I have been trying to remember when I stopped bringing them to my exams… and why?  I remember buying them to take with me when I was living in Oakville because I remember Gingit (my wonderful Basset Hound / Pug who left us earlier this year) once found them, and enjoyed the whole pack of them.  I know I sat one exam while I was in Japan in 2015, and I doubt I would have been able to find them there… although I probably tried.  I doubt I could have had them for any of the on-line proctored exams that I took, chiefly because they insisted on a perfectly clean desk. 

I have taken two exams at a testing centre in Glendale, where I know they would have barred me from taking them in… the testing coordinator insisted not only that I put my phones into a locker with the rest of my stuff, but he insisted on watching me turn them off (not silent mode… OFF) before I did.  He and I do not get on at all, and I would rather drive the hour through LA traffic to get to Beverly Hills than go back there, when I have the choice.

My worst era for exam results spanned the time from January, 2014-June, 2017… if I could wipe that entire time period from the record, my pass:fail ratio is much more impressive.  Were I a Spanish cubist artist, that would be my blue period… the sixteen months following my separation from my now ex-wife, when I was down, depressed, and full of despair.  While nobody really understands the ways of the universe, I am doubtful that a pack of hard candies would have made the difference during that spell.

If my exam transcripts are any indication, things started getting much better for me shortly before I met Liza… which I suppose means that Liza was part of that ‘things getting much better’ trend… Post hoc ergo propter hoc… I do not know if she was part of things getting better, or if things got better because of her… of my current 7-exam passing streak, I only passed one of them before I met her… and five of them since I moved to Los Angeles to be with her.  Whichever it it, life is good now, and I am back to passing exams.

I am still one exam shy of my Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert credential, and if things stay on track, I will sit the last exam before the end of the month.  I do not know how well I will do on the exam, but there are two things that I do know:

  1. The evening I pass the exam, I will come home (or go to the lounge) and smoke a fine Cuban cigar to celebrate; and
  2. When I do take the exam, there will be no hard candies on the table.

Jolly Rancher CherryAm I superstitious?  To a degree, I suppose I am.  I don’t know of a single combat soldier who wasn’t… to one degree or another.  I do know that in a lot of ways, we make our own luck.  I spend hours and hours studying and cramming for these exams; I take the time to read each question carefully, I read and consider all of the options, determine which are obvious distractors, and then decide which is the right answer.  To this day, I have only had a perfect score on one certification exam, but that doesn’t matter… with certification exams, every pass is graded the same way, so good enough is always good enough.  I do remember what it was like, way back in my early days of certification exams, taking every extra step to hopefully get over that pass/fail line.  Today, rather than going out of my way to find a pack of Jolly Ranchers, I’d rather spend those extra few minutes reviewing my material.

…and while it was not because of all those candies that I gained all of my weight, I am sure they did not help!

Azure Exams: Different?

Since I started working on Microsoft Azure certifications, I have noticed a lot of things that are quite different from what I am used to.  for instance, the single, non-technical AZ-900 exam does give you a certification (Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals).

azure-logo-300x200

Okay, I passed that exam… but when I went to start looking for courseware for the technical exams – namely, AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment, things looked different from what I was used to… and I am not sure if I like it or not.

For a minute, it looked like Microsoft Learning had gone back to the heady days of requiring multiple courses to pass a single exam.  Well, in fact, that is what they did… but in a much more rational fashion.

Courses Required For AZ-100:

  • AZ-100T01: Managing Azure Subscriptions and Resources
  • AZ-100T02: Implement and Manage Storage
  • AZ-100T03: Deploying and Managing Virtual Machines
  • AZ-100T04: Configure and Manage Virtual Networks
  • AZ-100T05: Manage Identities

Five courses… but that is not entirely accurate.  They are each about a day long; yes, they are separate courses, but the sum total of these (5 courses = 5 days) is the same amount of learning you would have done for a legacy course… say, 10215: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Server Virtualization.  Five days of learning for one exam.

I will be honest, I am not sure that I like this methodology… for myself.  For people looking to get certified, whose companies want to send them for that full week of training, this can get tricky: imagine a training centre that offers some of these courses, but not all of them; they might offer one of some of these courses, but not in order, not on consecutive days or consecutive weeks.  It might be cumbersome.

With that said, I understand that certifications are not the sole purpose of learning.  Someone who is going to be responsible for managing virtual machines but will never touch virtual networks or identities, having to sit through the five day course in order to learn what they will need for their job is also cumbersome and inefficient.

The good news is that there are courses, both in-person and on-line, that will cover what you need… whether it is the one or the other.

As someone who wants to go out and get certified, I know that I will be downloading the material for all of the courses… and yes, I am going to offer my company to teach some of internally.  There is no way that they would say ‘Yeah, let’s take all of our consultants off their contracts for an entire week to learn everything they will need to get an Azure certification, but might not need to do their jobs.

So… is this way better than the old way? I don’t know… but I am willing to try it out and see.  How much of the material that I need to pass the exam is in the five courses? How much overlap is there between the five courses?  Is it enough?  We’ll see.  I look forward to sharing the results with you as I discover them.

Azure Fundamentals

Last week my company launched a certification challenge. Yes, they would be rewarding employees who passed certification exams, but they also asked if I would be able to teach a class. My pleasure… but before I teach it, I’d like to pass the exam.

I decided that the best way to light a fire under my backside was to register for the exam… which I did, and I gave myself two weeks to prepare. I sent my team a notice that on Tuesday the 26th I would be in late.

A huge benefit to being a Microsoft Certified Trainer is that I can download any Microsoft courseware, and go through it at my own pace. I downloaded the materials for AZ-900, and realized quickly that there were no labs… on-line or otherwise. For those of us who learn better from doing than from reading, that could be daunting. No matter, I started going through the materials.

By Friday afternoon I was halfway through the material – it is a one day course – and decided that if I could spend 5-6 hours over the weekend, I would be ready to sit the exam Monday (instead of the following Tuesday).

Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) is an entry-level certification that covers the basic cloud technologies... but don’t be fooled, you had better read the material!

There was another method to my madness… this was going to be my first Azure exam, and I had no idea what to expect. I knew the process of on-premises solutions exams, but public cloud? It might be different. For the cost of an exam (which is covered by my company anyways) I would either pass… or not, and be able to re-sit the exam next week.

For a non-technical exam, it was a bit challenging; not because the questions were hard – some of them were very simple – but as someone with 80+ exams under my belt, a lot of the questions had me getting into the heads of the question writers. I don’t know if that helped or hindered me, but on a couple of questions it made me second-guess my answers.

Having to know about geographies and such was not a surprise; having to know about civilian, government, military, and other certification authorities was a surprise. I am grateful that as I got bored on Sunday I did not pack it up and go for a cigar; rather I ordered another cup of tea and a biscotti, and soldiered through the last module of material. I am reasonably certain that had I not done so I would be writing a very different article (without the certification logo).

The bottom line: can you pass this exam without ever touching Azure? Maybe. I am not an expert by any means, but I certainly have quite a bit of Azure experience. Can you pass this exam without knowing about all of the Azure components and what they do, what they are for? Unlikely. Make sure you know all the tools, as well as the subscription levels and support agreement types.be certain you know what you are charged for… and when.

I walked into the exam room at 10:05am and walked out with a respectable passing score at 10:29, besting my best time ever on a certification exam by two minutes. The 26 minute exam was a Windows Vista exam I think. I strongly recommend not trying that… take your time, read the questions, mark as many of the, for reviews as you can (and there are a few sections you cannot go back and change). I was given 85 minutes for the exam, although only 60 minutes for the actual questions (there were just shy of 50 questions). Pass or fail, I am always in and out in a hurry… but I think that the time allotment is appropriate for anyone whose mother tongue is English.

Overall, I am not impressed with this exam as a certification exam, but the world changed and I have to adapt. Microsoft doesn’t ask me about technology trends, and it has been years since Microsoft Learning asked my opinion about cert exams. And so here I am, taking Azure exams. This was my first; it will not be my last. For a guy who is Senior Windows Engineer for a large data centre, these exams are irrelevant to my career… for now. But everything changes, and I am getting ready for the future. How about you?

Golden Exam?

I have a spreadsheet that I keep in my OneDrive that tracks the certification exams I have taken.  Over the years (starting in December, 2011) I have written a great many of them, Mostly for Microsoft but also a few VMware exams sprinkled in there. 

MCP LogoMuch has changed since I wrote my first exam (which, incidentally, was 70-215, which I failed the first time around).  I have an envelope that contains most (sadly not all) of the score reports from those exams, and looking back at the first one and comparing it to the latest one I see a lot of differences (aside from the fact that I passed my most recent exams).  The logos have changed, the report formats have changed, and for the online proctored exams there is a picture of me (in case I forgot what I look like).

One thing that has not changed since I passed my first exam (March 31, 2003) is the elation (and relief!) I feel when I see the words ‘Congratulations, you passed’ at the end of the exam.  It is one of the reasons I never loved taking beta exams, for which you would have to wait to receive your score report… often several months.

This week I took an exam that was, to me, completely unnecessary.  Exam 698: Installing and Configuring Windows 10 is a required exam for the MCSA: Windows 10 certification… unless you have a particular Windows 8 certification, at which point you only need to take Exam 697: Configuring Windows Devices.  I passed that exam last year, so I did not need Exam 698.  However, I am leading a study group this week, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about with regard to the exam.  I sat down at my computer Tuesday morning and passed it.  I then went back to work and did not give it another thought.

This morning I was cleaning up my paperwork, and I opened the Certifications spreadsheet to update it with my latest.  It turns out that is was the fiftieth exam that I have passed.  (We will not mention the number of exams I have failed).

Fifty exams is not a record by any means.  I know people who have likely passed a few hundred exams in their time.  For some, it would be a tremendous number.  For others, it would be a drop in the ocean.  For me, it is what I have done… and because it was that special number I will take a moment to be proud of myself… and then I will get back to work.

I have students and colleagues who as I write this are preparing to sit their first certification exam.  I am so proud of them.  Why?  Because I remember how stressful it was for me.  Pass or fail, they have taken that step, and that is something to be proud of.  Good luck friends!

To Recertify, or NOT to Recertify… THAT is the question.

I was definitely a proponent of expiring certifications when the topic came up.  Why?  Because my value as an MCSE was diminished by others who held the same title… from Windows NT.  By making professionals renew their certifications we obtained the ability to differentiate between someone with current value and skills and knowledge and someone whose knowledge and skills were obsolete.

I am not saying this position is coming back to bite me, only that I am probably at a cross-roads, and I have some decisions to make.

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I got this e-mail recently.  I actually got two of them that were nearly identical, with the one line differentiator:

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Okay, so I have to decide whether to renew my VCP credentials.  It is not an easy decision – not because I have not found value in being a VCP (I have).  However I have not spent as much time in the past couple of years working with large scale VMware environments, and I don’t know if I would have the time and resources needed in order to study for and pass the exam.  It is a tough choice (not on the VCP4, but for VCP5).

I am not only on the line for VMware though… I remember when I earned my MCSE: Private Cloud certification with Microsoft Learning.  It was cool to be among the first to earn what I consider to be a very prestigious certification.  Seeing the words CHARTER MEMBER along the top was not exactly new to me, but I still took great pride in it.

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Fast-forward three years (slightly more, as the renewal exams were not ready in time) and I notice, when looking at my MCP page, the following ugly note:

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Of course, if we look back to the beginning of this article, I would be a hypocrite if I really thought this was an ugly note… it is just the reality, and if I want the renewal to apply to others so that my certifications retain their value, obviously I have to renew as well so that everyone else’s certifications retain their value.

The question is though… would I pass the required exams if I sat them today?  The answer is, unfortunately, probably not. 

I have a couple of options. 

  1. I can make the decision to allow these certs to lapse.  I will always be a ‘Former VCP and Former MCSE: Private Cloud.’
  2. I can decide to buckle down and study, preparing for the exams.

The long-time faithful readers of my blog will know that I have said before that you should not study for exams (see article).  I said ‘The best way to know technology is to use it, and if you read the recommended pre-requisites for most exams they say that you should have a minimum of two years experience with the technology.’  Well I already proved that I knew the technologies – I proved it by earning the certs in the first place.  However over the last three years my career my priorities were different, and I took extended breaks from using the technologies the certs apply to.

Does that mean I am done?  No… when I said I took a break I meant it, and I am currently working on a number of projects, some involving VMware and some involving Microsoft’s Private Cloud.   While I know that for the Microsoft certs I will need to take a recertifying exam, for the VCP I found the following on their FAQ:

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Well at least they don’t beat around the bush.

On the VMware side I now have just under two months to prepare (if I am going to), and on the Microsoft side I have until the end of October.  Will I do it? On one? On both?

I don’t know if I will recertify on VMware… Exam prep is tough, and I frankly do not think I get the same benefit out of it that I do Microsoft.  That is to say, I do not think that there is an opportunity that I would lose if I said ‘I was a VCP-DCV, but let it lapse.’  Most of my clients are just as happy knowing that I am proficient in VMware, even if the cert has lapsed.

Microsoft is a different story.  Don’t get me wrong – my reputation with regard to Microsoft technologies is pretty solid.  However if I let that cert lapse I do not know if I will be able to renew my MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) for 2016 (I just renewed it for 2015, but we have to think ahead).  You never know what requirements they will ask at renewal time, and every senior certification on my transcript is a step in the right direction.

With that being said, according to the Certification Planner on the Microsoft Learning portal, I am a single exam shy of earning both my MCSA: Windows Server 2012 and my MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure, and one more exam short for my MCSE: Server Infrastructure certifications.  (411 and 413 for those who are counting).  To recertify for MCSE: Private Cloud I need to write exam 981, which is essentially an upgrade exam (based on the exam objectives for 246 and 247).  If you type the term “Upgrade Exam” into the search box of this blog, you can read about how unpleasant those can be.

With all of that being said, I passed them once… I should be able to pass them again… I think, hope, pray.  Fortunately, I have two things going for me: 1) There is a Second Shot Free offer currently available, so if I fail an exam I can retake it at no cost… well, at the cost of another half-day off of work. 2) As an MCT I am entitled to a 50% discount off my exams.

I haven’t decided which way I will go… in theory, four exam passes will give me five key certifications:

  • VMware Certified Professional: Datacenter Virtualization
  • MCSA: Windows Server 2012
  • MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Server Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Private Cloud

Since MCSE: Private Cloud is no longer offered, I wouldn’t mind holding onto it for the sake of nostalgia.  The other MCSEs? Well, none of them would hurt to hold.  As for the MCSA… Yeah, I am sure there are a bunch of you who are surprised that I don’t hold that one.  When I came back from Japan last year it was my intention to sit a bunch of exams, and I did… but many of you know that my head was very much elsewhere, and what with my personal issues my head just wasn’t in it… I have been one exam shy for a long time, but I do plan to go get it.

So I guess during the writing of this article I have talked myself back into a certification mode… who’s with me? Smile

Certification Exams: Is there a value to failing?

Although it is not something I am proud of, I have failed a number (the exact number is quite secret!) of certification exams.  I am not proud of this fact, but the reality is I have taken a number of exams that I have been unprepared for, and that is a sure-fire way to come up short.  I have always (not true… since becoming more enlightened, maybe!) felt that if I was going to shell out USD$125 to fail an exam (Actually, the first two were at USD$100) I should at least walk away with something… the consolation prize should not simply be a sheet of paper telling us that we failed.

So then what can we gain from failing?  We can learn what we need to concentrate on in order to actually pass the exam.  Let’s say you are a desktop deployment specialist for his company.  You are responsible for the deployment of systems across the country, which you do using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2008 and System Center Configuration Manager 2007.  Your manager informs you that there is a new deployment exam available (70-635) and that the new department policy is that all deployment specialists must obtain the MCTS: Business Desktop Deployment to be eligible for promotions or bonuses.  You schedule the exam, and as you sit there taking the test you realize that you do not know a lot about Windows Deployment Services, managing images for multiple languages, driver groups, and MDOP.  Crud, that makes up about forty percent of the exam, and lo and behold you fail.

You could hang your head in shame as you walk away from the testing centre… or you can go back to your office and learn what you are missing; you can set up a lab environment to deploy images in French with Windows Deployment Services; you can implement driver groups, and learn everything you need to know about MDOP, and you can go back to the testing centre a few days or weeks later and retake the exam… and pass.

I am ashamed to say that there are a couple of exams that I have failed and have not yet gone back to rewrite… with an emphasis on the word yet.  Most of the titles I have failed I have gone home, brushed up, and retaken successfully a few days (or weeks) later.  They are all things that do not apply to what I have been doing… but don’t worry, I’ll get to them!

It is simply a matter of attitude… ‘Why the heck would I have to know that?’ is the wrong attitude; if for no other reason, then you have to know whatever that is in order to pass the exam.  I know someone who failed an exam by fewer than twenty points – often a sign that he missed it by a single question.  He came out and said ‘I know what I got wrong… I’ll just retake the exam tomorrow and change that one question that I got wrong!’  He did… and failed by fewer than forty points – probably two questions.

Don’t waste it… if you find an exam tough, then you should be taking notes on the sheet they give you.  1) Windows Deployment Services.  2) Multiple Languages… and so forth.  Of course you have to surrender that sheet when you are finished the exam… but if at the very end you reread your notes, you should remember a lot of what you are missing when it comes time to study.

With Microsoft’s Second Shot Free promotion you can actually fail the first time for free… though I do not recommend this as a goal.  When you are prepared for the exam, register for it using the promotion, and then do your best.  If you fail, it costs you nothing to go home and study some more, and then rewrite it.  If you pass, then you get a pleasant surprise, a new certification, and a discount on your next exam.

Thomas Edison was once interviewed about the electric light bulb.  He did not get it right on the first shot… in fact it took him over two thousand tries and when asked he said ‘I never failed… I just learned two thousand ways how not to make a light bulb!’  Use that attitude when taking your next test.

… and good luck!

The Harsh Realities of the Exam Room

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how tough I found Exam 74-409 was in my article Another Tough Exam.  I also mentioned that Microsoft exams were meant to be tough, and going into an exam unprepared can (and usually will) come back to bite you.

Last week I decided to bite the bullet and try to take home at least three certifications in a single marathon day of exams… I was hoping to achieve my MCSA: Windows 8, MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and my MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure in a single bound by passing three exams:

70-416: Implementing Desktop Application Environments
70-417: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012
70-688: Managing and Maintaining Windows 8

The goal was lofty, but I felt I was up to the challenge.  I was wrong… but not terribly so.

Before going on I should mention that I am no dummy… I am just very busy, and taking the time to sit exams one at a time is a bit of a pain for me – I would rather, when I have to, simply write two or three in a single day.  Of course, this greatly reduces my chances of passing all of them, but because of the Microsoft and Prometric Second Shot Free offer for Microsoft Certified Trainers (see article) there is less of a risk – MCTs get a discount on the cost of exams, as well as a Second Shot.  My financial gamble on this day was minimal.  I have, by the by, passed three exams in a single day once… May 3, 2011 I passed three MCTS exams on Windows Server 2008.  If I could do it once, I could surely do it again.

Wrong.

Passing three exams in a single day was not easy, but they were all on the same general technology – Windows Server 2008.  On this silly day I went after three exams – one on Windows 8 (which I would have been surprised had I failed), one on Desktop Application environments (Windows 8 applications with a healthy dose of Windows Server, Remote Desktop Services, App-V, Group Policy, Microsoft Office, and several deployment tools), and one on Windows Server 2012…kinda.

Upgrade Exams

Thinking back to my early days of certification marathons, I remember hearing the horrors of Upgrade exams.  Essentially you are taking three exams in one.  The first Upgrade exam I sat was 70-292: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000.  My success with this exam could be summed up with the old adage: Third time’s a charm.  I passed it in June of 2006… over a year after my first attempt.

Although I did have success with the MCDST (Desktop Support Technician) upgrade exam 70-621: Upgrading your MCDST Certification to MCITP Enterprise Support I did not fare nearly as well on the server side – 70-648 TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSA to Windows Server 2008 and TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSE to Windows Server 2008 (both of which I sat as beta exams and, coincidentally, on the same day) were not my finest hours.  I decided instead to sit all of the exams for these certifications instead of going the upgrade path again.

In hindsight, had I thought of that when scheduling the exams, I would not have done it.  Three exams in one day is mentally tough enough… add to that one of them is actually three exams, and even I wouldn’t have done it.

I never got into a rhythm for the exam, and did not notice that it was not one exam as one block of time, it was actually three sections, each with their own sub-block of time.  Unfortunately I only realized this when, with ten unanswered questions on Section 1, a pop-up warned me that I had two minutes to complete the section.  Without reading anything I clicked through and selected an answer for as many as I could (four) before being forced to leave six questions unanswered.

Now that I knew this was the case, I managed my time for the remaining sections much better… but four blind darts and six blanks doomed me.

You did not pass the exam.

I do not remember the actual wording of it, but that’s what it said… I had felt pretty good going into that last ‘Are You Sure?! ‘ button, which is why I was heartbroken when it came up.  Damn damn damn.

Wait a minute… I did a double-take when I noticed that my score was below 600.  583?  No way, I know I did better than that, there MUST BE SOME MISTAKE!  I don’t know the procedures for challenging an exam result (nor do I know if there is such a procedure) but at the end of the day when I collected my score reports I was going to find out.

Okay, that was only one of the exams… the server exam, which I could re-sit next week sometime.  I got my mindset into the application environment.  It was a really tough exam, but I passed it with a pretty respectable score.  I then went on to the Managing Windows 8 exam, which after the ordeal of the two previous exams was like a walk in the park.  I am not saying that any end user – or an IT Pro who isn’t intimately familiar with Windows 8 – could pass without a lot of preparation, but I have lived Windows 8 every day of the last 2.5 years, and even though that last ‘Are You Sure?!button is always nerve wracking, I passed very respectably.

Okay, good.  At least I could hold my head high with the knowledge that I would walk away with two Windows certifications today… MCSA: Windows 8, and MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure.  Now I could go look at the score report and go give someone a piece of my mind!

Wrong.

First the good news… I am not as much of a Windows Server bonehead as I thought.  I did not realize that for the Upgrade exam each section is marked as a complete exam… the score report actually comes out like this:

70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012: 800
70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012: 583
70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services: 766

Aha… while the results of certification exams are really binary – Pass/Fail – I felt a lot better knowing that had they averaged out my score for the three exams I would have passed, and the abysmal score that displayed on screen was just that of the lowest section – quite obviously the section on which I only answered 2/3 of the questions.  Alright, I feel better about that, and now that I know, the next time I sit the exam I can manage my time properly (I’ll bet you if you scour my blog you will see that advice for exam takers) and pass with authority.

I was wrong about something else on this day though… Although I thought the prerequisites for the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure were my MCSA Windows 8 and the 70-416 exam, it turns out that the first prerequisite is actually my MCSA Windows Server 2012… alas, I would only be walking away with one certification today, and not two as I was hoping and expecting.  With that said, if/when I do pass my 70-417 Upgrade exam I will with one pass earn two senior certifications… and that ain’t all bad as they say.

Conclusion

The old expression says that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.  I got bit quite a bit by not following my own advice.  Fortunately Microsoft and Prometric have my back, and I can come back and re-sit the exam for free.  That is one piece of advice I did listen to – make sure you check for any offers such as the Second Shot before you register for your exam.  Although I have registered for several exams with previous similar offers, this is the first time I will need the safety net.  However just because you are confident does not mean you should be stupid… take any offer they will give you, and save your money.  I am glad I did!

Does Microsoft Learning listen?

I often tell people who are worried about taking Microsoft exams for fear of failing that I have failed more exams than most people have ever taken – to date over twenty failures, including one miserable exam that I only passed on my fourth attempt.

Don’t worry, I do pass more than I fail.  Something else that I often tell people is that there is a lot that you can learn from failing a certification exam – if you are only willing to learn from it.  Every time I fail an exam I try to remember the questions that have me stymied, and as soon as I walk out of the exam room I write down whatever I can remember so that I can look them up later on.  That is how I learned the ocsetup command.  In fact, that is how I learned a lot of the PowerShell cmdlets and command-line switches that I use.

Every exam – in fact, every exam question – gives you the opportunity to comment.  Unfortunately I am always reticent; I know that I don’t know everything, and frankly I used to be worried that if I commented that I thought something was wrong, I would be showing my ignorance.  This phobia doubled as a ridiculous assumption that someone at Microsoft Learning cares how much Mitch Garvis knows or doesn’t know… beyond the obvious pass/fail requirement of the exam.

I have heard people tell me that they don’t leave comments because they don’t think that people actually read those comments.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that someone does… most of the time that someone is a wonderful woman named Liberty Munson.

I first met Liberty in 2006, and have often referred to her as a witch – not because she is anything other than kind and warm, but because I am reasonably sure she can sit an exam on any subject matter in the world with complete ignorance on the subject… and pass.  You see, Liberty is a Psychometrician – an expert in exams.  Although I still don’t like commenting on exams, occasionally I have a question or comment about something on an exam, and I ask Liberty.

I took issue with a particular question on exam 74-409 (Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center).  I walked out of the exam with a sigh of relief at 10:45am… and at 4:30 that issue was still nagging at me.  I sent an e-mail about it and made my point.

Within an hour I got a reply from Liberty – I had not actually taken my issue to her, but rather to a friend at Microsoft Learning, who passed it on for me.  Nonetheless Liberty replied directly.  In the hour since I had sent my ‘complaint’, she had tracked down the exact question I was referring to, figured out who had written it, and gotten a response from the item writer.  While I completely disagreed with the response (it was not a right/wrong argument, rather a in-scope/out-of-scope argument), I was thrilled that I got the response.

Now here’s the thing… we can’t all e-mail Liberty every time we disagree with a question on an exam.  That is simply not how it works.  The best way to contact her if you don’t agree with a question is to click that Comment button on your exams.  You may not (read: will not) get a direct reply, but is the best way for you to help the Learning Experiences team to maintain the highest level of quality in their exams.

By the way, while I do not know this for sure from personal experience, my best advice is to never play cards with a psychometrician for money… it will never end well Smile

Gee thanks…

This is one of those situations I laugh at… because even great organizations like Microsoft Learning Experience is going to make the occasional mistake.. especially when it’s systems are all automated and unmonitored.

I received the following e-mail today congratulating me on passing my exam yesterday:

image

I was reasonably sure that I already had that certification, but just in case I logged onto the MCP Portal to check my transcript.  Sure enough…

image

Now here’s the thing… the e-mail is right, I never passed 70-247… but I didn’t have to.  If you passed 70-659 before a certain date then it replaced the requirement for the 70-247 exam… but if the automated system checks people who have passed the requisite exams as of today (and not as of June, 2012) then it is right… I shouldn’t have the cert.

I’ll chalk this one up to a funny system glitch… no action required Smile

Certification Planning

I maintain a spreadsheet of every certification exam I take – pass or fail.  Excluding the title line it currently consists of seventy (70) rows, dating back to my first failed exam in December of 2001.  I don’t remember when I started maintaining it, but it goes back a while, and consists of the following cells:

DateExam
TitleExam CodeTesting CentreResultApplicable Cert

Yesterday morning (January 15) I was happy to pull it open because I had just passed exam 74-409 (See article).  It was a bit of a milestone because it was the seventieth exam I have written in a little over twelve years (I sat my first exam, 70-215, on December 11, 2001).  It includes three that I have re-sat after having passed, a lot of failures (including one exam that I failed three times before passing!) and overall the good, the bad, the ugly – the pride and the shame, all in one spreadsheet, which includes a rule to highlight the word PASS or FAIL appropriately so that I can see streaks and trends.

As I will often do when I open the spreadsheet, I took a couple of minutes to see if anything jumped out at me… and sure enough, there it was.  In 2013 I did not sit a single exam.  It is the first year since I failed that first exam that I did not even attempt an exam in a calendar year.  In fact, since the last exam I sat was August 12, 2012 (71-414 – Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure), meaning it was a full seventeen months between exams – the longest gap/draught ever for me.

Does this mean I have been negligent in my career planning?  Not at all.  IT Professionals do not have to take exams on a set schedule in order to properly maintain their career paths.  However it is important that we make sure that our certifications remain relevant, and that will mean different things to different people.

Some IT Pros are content to ride their Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) on Windows 2000 (or NT!) all the way into the next decade.  Others want to earn every certification as soon as they can and remain at the head of the pack.  Somewhere between these two camps sit the moderate camp of people who get certified on every second version of a software or solution.

Is one of these positions right or wrong?  While I certainly feel that certifications become stale and irrelevant, how often you recertify depends on your career goals and needs.  I am glad that the new generation of Microsoft certifications actually do have retirement dates – IT Pros will have to recertify every few years or they will lose their credentials.  Microsoft tried several years ago to retire the MCSEs on Windows NT, but because they had not planned for this scenario from the outset they were unable to do so legally.  Simply put, people invested in their certifications and were not told up front that they would have an expiry date.  Now when you take a certification exam you know up front that your credentials will be retired unless you maintain them.

My first certifications were on Windows Server 2000, and while some of the information I learned back then is still relevant, most of what we do today is completely new – IPv6 did not exist, nor did x86 server virtualization.  There were questions on my exam yesterday that included several aspects of System Center, IPv6, Hyper-V, Active Directory Recycle Bin, Live Migration, Virtual Machine exports, Volume Shadow Copy, Virtual Hard Disks, Fibre Channel, QoS, and NIC Teaming… none of which existed in any form when Windows Server 2000 was current.  Sure, I am still an MCSA on Windows Server 2000 (I only earned my MCSE with Windows Server 2003), but it is completely irrelevant… and nobody would hire me based on my complete understanding of a fourteen year old operating system.

On the other side of the scale, I am also a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Private Cloud.  I earned that credential in June of 2012 – three months before the release of Windows Server 2012.  I earned it based on my proficiency in Windows Server 2008 R2 and the then newly released System Center 2012.  Is that certification still relevant?  Sure… both Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012 are prevalent in production IT environments around the world.  Even if they weren’t, as they are essentially only one generation removed from the current ‘latest and greatest’ and while there are certainly huge improvements in the newer versions, they are still familiar enough that the one-generation-off is still recognizable and familiar.

Yesterday’s exam was only the third Windows Server 2012 exam that I have written, and because of the new certification model I do not actually have any Windows Server 2012 certs.  In order to become an MCSA: Windows Server 2012 I am missing the exam 417 (Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012).  Then to earn my MCSE: Server Infrastructure I will need to pass exam 413 (Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure).

image

In order to close all of these out, I seem to be four exams short.  While I am not sure I will be able to complete them all before I go back to Japan, I will be trying to do at least a couple of them.  Unlike yesterday’s exam though I plan to prepare for them.  While I consider myself strong in both Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, none of us know everything that they are likely to test us on.  I will try my best to not go into another exam unprepared.

imageAs usual, I will be taking you all along for the ride.  While I cannot take you into the exam centre (I don’t think we would all fit, and that would be illegal) but I will tell you about my experiences in each exam.  Hopefully it will help to give you the impetus to take your next exams.  Are you missing some?  Are you just starting out, or thinking of going down a new certification path?

If you aren’t sure where you stand, the Microsoft Learning Members Page has a new Certification Planner tool that can guide you toward success.  Since most of us don’t know off the top of our heads what exams are needed for what certifications, this handy tool will let you know how many exams (or other prerequisites) you are missing for each credential.  If you have even one prerequisite for a credential it will be listed there, and you can see what you are missing.  Check it out – you may be closer than you thought!

Of course, most IT Pros won’t need all of the certifications available… and chasing them is both time consuming and costly.  Trainers are usually going to have more certifications because they need the credentials in order to teach the courses.  That is why I started chasing them… and while I am no longer a full-time trainer, until I decide what I want to be when I grow up I am going to keep chasing them… you never know when someone is going to call on you to teach a class after all, and I like to keep my options open!

Check out the certification planner, and go schedule that next exam… yes, I am talking to you, Mr.Legacy MCSE, Mr. One-Exam Short!  Good luck!

Another tough exam…

As a subject matter expert (SME) on virtualization, I was neither excited nor intimidated when Microsoft announced their new exam, 74-409: Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center.  Unlike many previous exams I did not rush out to be the first to take it, nor was I going to wait forever.  I actually thought about sitting the exam in Japan in December, but since I had trouble registering there and then got busy, I simply decided to use my visit to Canada to schedule the exam.

This is not the first exam that I have gone into without so much as a glance at the Overview or the Skills Measured section of the exam page on the Internet.  I did not do any preparation whatsoever for the exam… as you may know I have spent much of the last five years living and breathing virtualization.  This attitude very nearly came back to bite me in the exam room at the Learning Academy in Hamilton, Ontario Wednesday morning.

Having taught every Microsoft server virtualization course ever produced (and having written or tech-reviewed many of them) I should have known better.  Virtualization is more than installing Hyper-V.  it’s more than just System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and Operations Manager (OpsMgr).  It is the entire Private Cloud strategy… and if you plan to sit this exam you had better have more than a passing understanding of System Center Service Manager (ServMgr), Data Protection Manager (DPM), and Orchestrator.  Oh, and your knowledge should extend beyond more than one simple Hyper-V host.

I have long professed to my students that while DPM is Microsoft’s disaster recovery solution, when it comes down to it just make sure that your backup solution does everything that they need, and make sure to test it.  While I stand behind that statement for production environments, it does not hold water when it comes to Microsoft certification exams.  When two of the first few questions were on DPM I did a little silent gulp to myself… maybe I should have prepared a little better for this.

I do not use Service Manager… It’s not that I wouldn’t – I have a lot of good things to say about it.  Heck, I even installed it as recent as yesterday – but I have not used it beyond a passing glance.  The same used to be true of System Center Orchestrator, but over the last year that has changed a lot… I have integrated it into my courseware, and I have spent some time learning it and using it in production environments for repetitive tasks.  While I am certainly not an expert in it, I am at least more than just familiar with it.  That familiarity may have helped me on one exam question.  Had I taken the time to review the exam page on the Microsoft Learning Experience website I would have known that the word Orchestrator does not appear anywhere on the page.

Here’s the problem with Microsoft exams… especially the newer ones that do not simply cover a product, but an entire solution across multiple suites.  Very few of us will use and know every aspect covered on the exam.  That is why I have always professed that no matter how familiar you may be with the primary technology covered, you should always review the exam page and fill in your knowledge gaps with the proper studying.  You should even spend a few hours reviewing the material that you are pretty sure you do know.  As I told my teenaged son when discussing his exams, rarely will you have easy exams… if you feel it was easy it just means you were sufficiently prepared.  Five questions into today’s exam I regretted my blasé attitude towards it – I may be a virtualization expert, but I was not adequately prepared.

As I went through the exam I started to get into a groove… while there are some aspects of Hyper-V that I have not implemented, those are few and far between.  the questions about VHDX files, Failover Clustering, Shared VHDX, Generation 2 VMs, and so many more came around and seemed almost too easy, but like I told my son it just means I am familiar with the material.  There were one or two questions which I considered to be very poorly worded, but I reread the questions and the answers and gave my best answer based on my understanding of them.

I have often described the time between pressing ‘End Exam’ and the appearance of the Results screen to be an extended period of excruciating forced lessons in patience.  That was not the case today – I was surprised that the screen came up pretty quickly.  While I certainly did not ace the exam, I did pass, and not with the bare minimum score.   It was certainly a phew moment for a guy who considers himself pretty smart in virtualization.

Now here’s the question… is the exam a really tough one, or was I simply not prepared and thus considered it tough?  And frankly, how tough could it have been if I didn’t prepare, and passed anyways?  I suppose that makes two questions.  The answer to both is that while I did not prepare for the exam, I am considered by many (including Microsoft) a SME on Hyper-V and System Center.  I can say with authority that it was a difficult exam.  That then leads to the next question, is it too tough?  While I did give that some thought as I left the exam (my first words to the proctor was ‘Wow that was a tough exam!) I do not think it is unreasonably so.  It will require a lot of preparation – not simply watching the MVA Jump Start videos (which are by the way excellent resources, and should be considered required watching for anyone planning to sit the exam).  You will need to build your own environment, do a lot of reading and research, and possibly more.

If you do plan to sit this exam, make sure you visit the exam page first by clicking here.  Make sure you expand and review the Overview and Skills Measured sections.  If you review the Preparation Materials section it will refer you to a five day course that is releasing next week from Microsoft Learning Experience – 20409A- Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center (5 Days).  I am proud to say that I was involved with the creation of that course, and that it will help you immensely, not only with the exam but with your real-world experience.

Incidentally, passing the exam gives you the following cert: Microsoft Certified Specialist: Server Virtualization with Hyper-V and System Center.

Good luck, and go get em!

Just in time… Second Shot Exams Are Back!

Why do I say Just in Time? Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 exams are coming out soon, and there’s a good chance that you may still have to write a few exams to earn your MCSE!

I don’t know if they are THE most popular promotions that Microsoft Learning offers, but if they are not then they have to be right up there…

SECOND SHOT VOUCHERS ARE BACK!

Simply stated: when you take an exam (for $150 per exam) you are going to be nervous… it’s a lot of money for something that is not a sure thing.  Now, I have written before about what you take away from failing an exam, but that is small consolation when you know you have to pay another $150 to retake it.

With Second Shot promotions from Microsoft, you have the peace of mind knowing that if you do fail the exam you get to take it again… for free.  How cool is that?

Now, the question I get all the time is ‘What happens if I pass the exam the first time? What do I get?’ Normally, you get a certification, as well as all of the time that you would have needed to study and retake the exam.  No, you cannot take a different exam for free if you pass it.

So how does it work? Follow these steps (C&P from Eric Ligman… thanks Eric!)

    1. Register to receive a Second Shot voucher for either a single exam or a certification pack (certification packs not only offer you the Second Shot, but also save you at least 15% off the single exam prices too).
    2. Using the Second Shot voucher number, schedule and pay to take your initial exam through our testing provider, Prometric, at http://www.register.prometric.com.
    3. Take your exam.
    4. If you do not pass your exam the first time, you may register to take the same exam again at no charge, via http://www.register.prometric.com. Provide them with the same Second Shot exam voucher number when registering the second time.
      • NOTE: Please wait one day after failing the exam to register for the retake, to allow for test results to be entered into the system.

How long is Second Shot available?

  • Second Shot voucher offer is available from August 27, 2012 to May 31, 2013.
  • Exam voucher expires on May 31, 2013 for single exams (with 070 and 071 prefixes), June 30, 2013 for academic exams (exams with a 072 prefix), and December 31, 2013 for certification packs

Which certification exams is Second Shot available for?

Looking for more info? Check these links out:

Good luck on your Microsoft certification path and enjoy the Second Shot offer for both your individual exams and exam pack purchases.

(Portions cut & pasted from Eric Ligman’s blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mssmallbiz/archive/2012/08/28/free-microsoft-exam-retakes-with-the-ever-popular-second-shot-certification-exam-offer.aspx)

MCSE Private Cloud… Not easy, but valuable!

This morning before I started teaching I came into the training centre early to sit an exam.  It is not the ideal way to take exams – I showed up at 7:30, knowing I had to start teaching at 9:00 – but sometimes it is the only way that you can make it work, and besides, pass or fail I am usually a quick exam taker.

When Microsoft Learning announced the new generation of Microsoft certifications a couple of months ago I was surprised to see just how much of what I have already accomplished would count toward my new certifications.  Any IT Pro who held the MCITP: Server Administrator (or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator) would already hold the new certification, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate.  Cool.  Out of the gate I already had a new cert!

The MCSA is a prerequisite to earn your Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Private Cloud, which in the immediate would be my next goal.  The MCSE would require MCSA, plus two more exams (70-247 and 70-246). mcse-private-cloud

The Private Cloud certification would be great, but nobody said it would be easy.  Fortunately I had two things going for me:

  • I was able to sit the beta teach for class 10751A: Private Cloud Configuration and Deployment with System Center 2012.  It was held the second week of April in Redmond, Washington, and I had a great time learning.  This class aligns with exam 70-247, which would become irrelevant due to my next point.
  • If you have already passed exam 70-659 TS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization then you do not need exam 70-247.

In other words, it looked to me that I was one exam short of earning my MCSE (again). Okay, I can live with that.  All I would have to do is pass an exam based on one product… which until recently was actually seven products, each with their own exam (or two).  Although I was competent in the older versions of some of these products, and even an expert in one or two, this would be a tall order.  I would probably sit this one out for a few months, while working on other things.  It was not a question of procrastinating, I just had other things to do… and at $150/exam, it seemed like a waste to spend the money if I didn’t know I had a good chance of passing.

Then I got lucky.  Microsoft Learning announced that attendees at Microsoft TechEd 2012 in Orlando would be able to sit the exam for free.  Cool!  On the one hand, I had absolutely no time to prepare; on the other hand, it was free, and I would be able to see the types of questions they would ask, and then better prepare for the exam.

I have said before and I will say again, it is better to know the product than it is to study for an exam.  I broke this rule for this exam, because while I ‘know’ it, I do not consider myself nearly proficient in it to pass an exam without studying.  However when you know how to read the questions, once you have seen the exam you will know what you have to study.  There were a lot of terms and processes I had confused in my head, and based on my first (unsuccessful but free) viewing of the exam I was able to go back, study those terms and processes, and knock the exam out of the park.

This morning, June 20th, I signed onto the exam computer and was nervous… the questions were still tough, and it was a very rigorous exam – asking questions on several components of System Center 2012.  When I hit the ‘End Exam’ button I was not at all confident, but I was certainly moreso than I was last week in Orlando, when the results were in line with that confidence level.  When the screen flashed its congratulatory message and told me my score, I was thrilled… and I was an MCSE again.

I have a lot more to do… as the score report states, the Sectional Results …’indicates your relative performance on each section of this exam.  We hope this information will help you determine areas, if any, for further development.’  I certainly have several of those, and will be spending a lot of my downtime over the next few months working on these.  However in the meantime I can take a deep sigh of relief, knowing that I have earned that elusive MCSE (again).