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

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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!

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:

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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…

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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).

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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!

I’m back in the (WServer) News :)

imageOne of my favorite publications about the Windows Server ecosystem is WServerNews.com, which I get delivered to my Inbox every Monday morning.

Several weeks ago the Editor of WServerNews (Mitch Tulloch, who refers to me as The Other Mitch), posted a question earlier this summer from a loyal reader asking about his career path.  He asked the community for their opinions to pass along.  I read the question, and pinged Mitch to tell him that I would be responding.

I sat down to write a quick response, and fifteen hundred words later I fired off my email response.   Mitch replied back ‘Wow, way too long to post into a comment, can we publish it as an editorial for a future newsletter?’

That newsletter was published today.  I think my answer will be helpful to many, so please feel free to check it out! –M

Read the editorial by clicking here.

Certification Questions from a reader

I often get questions from readers and followers about different aspects of the IT Pro world.  If the answer is a simple one- or two-liner then I answer directly, but when the question is complex and the answer could benefit others I like to share that with the blogosphere.  This week I received this question:

I have a lot of IT experience but I am just now starting to accumulate some certifications. I am in a program now after work that ends in January 2014 where I will earn A+, Net+, MCSA Server 2008, and CCNA. I then plan to take 20417 to get MCSA Server 2012 and then MCSE Private Cloud. I hope to have all this done by the end of 2014. Is there a high demand for SCCM/Private Cloud certified individuals? Does SCCM seem better than VMWare ESXi or vSphere? Would you recommend that I also learn a Citrix equivalent virtualization? Thanks for answering my questions.

Firstly I am always glad when people with ‘a lot of IT experience’ decide to pursue certifications.  I have said many times that certifications demonstrate that you have respect for your profession and are willing to not only learn the right way to do things, but also to quantify that by taking and passing exams.  If you do not know how strongly I believe in certifications then frankly you have not been paying attention.  So congratulations on taking the first step!

Everyone learns differently, and while I am not usually a fan of programs that promise a plethora of certifications at the end I am not going to dismiss any method of learning.  The important thing is that you are doing it!  I don’t think that anyone has ever told me that they plan to get their MCSE: Private Cloud and their A+ certifications in the same paragraph, but that is also the choice of the learner; if the program that you are enrolled in starts with A+ then by all means man do it!

I suppose the real questions for me are as follows:

  1. Is there a high demand for IT Professionals certified in System Center Configuration Manager?
  2. Is there a high demand for IT Professionals with the MCSE: Private Cloud credential?
  3. Are Microsoft’s Private Cloud certifications more valuable than VMware’s assorted certifications?
  4. Is there any value to learning Citrix virtualization?

All four of these are valid questions, and I will gladly answer them in turn.

1) Is there a high demand for IT Professionals certified in System Center Configuration Manager?

System Center Configuration Manager 2012 is one of the most important solutions that many IT Professionals can learn.  The certification (TS: Administering and Deploying System Center 2012 Configuration Manager) is certainly a valid one, and anyone with experience (and certifications) in Configuration Manager are definitely sought after.  However it is important to realize that System Center 2012 is actually divided into seven components, and ConfigMgr is only one of them.  Frankly you did not mention it anywhere else in your question, so I can only assume that you made the common mistake of referring to System Center as Configuration Manager.

2) Is there a high demand for IT Professionals with the MCSE: Private Cloud credential?

The MCSE: Private Cloud is to date the certification that I am most proud of.  It requires candidates to first pass three exams to earn their MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then two more exams – Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (246), and Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (247).  All of these exams are tough, and passing them requires dedication, learning, and most of all experience with the products involved (including Windows Server 2012 and six of the seven components of System Center 2012).

As private and hybrid clouds are certainly where companies are heading, these certifications will put you in good stead to earn a good living.  I do not know a lot of people who have these certs who are out of work, or who are not earning a good living.

3) Are Microsoft’s Private Cloud certifications more valuable than VMware’s assorted certifications?

This is a tougher question.  I have been a VMware Certified Professional for several years, and based on this cert I could earn a good living.  On the other hand I see more companies moving toward Hyper-V, and as I stated people certified in Microsoft are not going hungry.  However here’s the thing: The vast majority of vSphere installations in the world rely heavily on Microsoft technologies because the operating systems and application servers are all Windows-based.  Because of that the MCSE: Private Cloud cert would still be beneficial to administrators in a vSphere environment, whereas the VCP would not be valuable to an admin in a Microsoft-only environment.  With that being said, VMware still has a huge install base, and knowing their products will never hurt.  Also when it comes time to migrate from vSphere to Hyper-V a working knowledge of VMware will only benefit you!

4) Is there any value to learning Citrix virtualization?

The answer to this question is, of course, it depends.  What do you want to work on?  According to the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant of x86 Server Virtualization published in June Citrix is really not focusing on the server virtualization business the way they once did.  With that being said, if you are interested in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) then it is hard to go wrong with Citrix.  It is important to know that Citrix partners heavily with Microsoft on VDI, and knowing both will be hugely valuable.

Conclusion

Certifications are great, and having a plan is important.  I always appreciate questions like this because frankly people never know what they don’t know.  Questions demonstrate an individual’s recognition that they are not omniscient, and that seeking guidance is a good thing.  Frankly I wish i had done so when I started on my path to certifications – had I done so I likely would have hedged my bets and gotten some Cisco and other certs in addition to my Microsoft ones!

Good luck and go get ‘em… I look forward to hearing your thoughts at the end of this part of your journey!

Microsoft Certified Career Day!

Our industry moves fast! There was a time when if you learned a system you e set for a long time.  Now Microsoft is releasing operating systems every three years (client AND server), and the management tools are constantly evolving.  A carpenter who takes a year off work may be out of practice, but will remember his way pretty quick.  An IT Pro who is out of the loop for that long has a steep learning curve to step to… just to get back to where he was.  Automation with PowerShell and System Center Orchestrator is increasing the ratio of servers to administrators, and that means that people who once thought they had a secure position may be fighting for their jobs, or even find themselves looking for a new one in a market where there are hundreds of others in the same boat, fighting for the same jobs.

In a world of ones and zeros, how can we stand out from the crowd?  What can we do to make ourselves worth more to a IT potential employer than the rest of the pack?  Experience is great, but once you are out of work it is hard to build while pounding the pavement.  What can we do to increase our value and marketability?

GET CERTIFIED!  Certifications demonstrate not only that you have the respect for your profession to learn to do things right, they also give you the chance to show that you are up to speed on the latest technologies… even when the company you were working for wasn’t.  Are you an MCSE? Great! But hiring managers now understand the difference between an MCSE on Windows Server 2003 (2000? NT4??) and an MCSE: Private Cloud.  If they are looking for someone to lead them into the future they are not looking for someone who only knows the past.  That is why we as IT Pros are constantly updating our certs, even at a cost of $150 per shot.  It is not usually for our current company, but rather for our next one.

Microsoft Learning is hosting an on-line certified career day on March 12, 2013.  The day will begin with a live, interactive panel discussion with IT managers and industry experts who will discuss how the cloud is redefining IT recruitment and the growing need for up-to-date certifications. 

The panel will be followed by an exclusive interview with special guest Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow. Next, attend the technology focused sessions with Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 product group experts.

Attendees of Certified Career Day are eligible to win an Acer tablet with full Windows 8. Event capacity is limited so register now!  Click here and you are on your way!

msl

Want to be an MCT? Start Here!

I had a conversation this week with someone who was asking me about becoming an MCT.

I know I am a good presenter, and I know my stuff… what do I need to do to become a Microsoft Certified Trainer?

Becoming a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) was, for me, a turning point in my career.  It opened a lot of doors, and made a lot of things possible for me.  I remember hesitating for several months, because I did not think that my most advanced certification at the time (MCSA) was sufficient… and there was no clear guideline that I could find to confirm it.

I spoke with several MCTs, including some who worked for Microsoft Learning.  The clearest guidance they could give me was that you needed ‘a senior certification’ in order to qualify.  However nobody could confirm what that consisted of.  I later surmised that it meant any cert on supported technology that was higher than a simple Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)

Today there is a list of requirements listed on the Microsoft Learning website (http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/mct-certification.aspx), along with a list of benefits, and a link to the program guide and application process.  However I noticed that the list seems to be short… it has not been updated with the latest certifications.  So to help out, I am going to add a few certs to this list, and if anyone at Microsoft Learning gives you guff about it, just tell them I said it was okay Winking smile -M

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Master

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator: Security

  • Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician

  • Microsoft Certified Microsoft Certified IT Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Specialist

  • Microsoft Office 2010 Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Specialist

  • Microsoft Certified Business Management Solutions Professional

  • Microsoft Certified Master

  • Microsoft Office 2007 Master

  • Microsoft Certified Architect

  • Please Note: The Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) is not on this list.  I do not know if that is by design or by error, but I hope one of my DBA friends out there can help to clarify for us!

Clarity: MCSA vs. MCSE: the what and why

This article was originally published in June, 2012. Due to the relevance and current interest in certifications I decided to republish. -MDG

When I found out that Microsoft Learning was (again!) revamping the certification stack, I thought to myself that after all these years it might be time to stop chasing certifications.  After all, when they created the MCTS/MCITP model I had to essentially start from scratch, and if they were doing that again it might not be worth the effort.

Let me clarify that statement… Certifications are extremely valuable and necessary to an IT Pro, but at a certain point you have proven yourself… I have by now passed over 35 Microsoft exams, and expect that by now people know that I am established.

I stated in an article earlier this month that certifications are not for our current job, they are for your next job.  Unfortunately, as a contract worker, I am always working for my next job.  That means that I always have to maintain my certifications current, or at least I cannot let them get stale… Once I became an MCITP: Enterprise Admin on Server 2008 I might have gotten away with not taking my exams for Windows Server 2012… but because the new generation revolves around solutions rather than products I expected I would need at least my MCSE: Private Cloud… then people looking at my credentials would know I knew at least Windows Server 2008 R2 and System Center 2012.

Cert StackI like the way the new certification ‘pyramid’ is designed.  The ‘junior certification’ is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, which is product-focused.

As I stated earlier, the requirements for an MCSA: Windows Sever 2008 are the same requirements you previously needed for the legacy MCITP: Server Administrator.  It is three exams, and you are certified.  I assume that when Windows Server 2012 comes out there will be a new MCSA for that platform, and I have no early insight into what that will look like, nor how many exams will be required.

My point is this though.  Now that the junior certification is now three exams deep, it is going to be harder for people to claim the title.  When I first got certified any exam you took earned you the title Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).  I knew people who passed one exam, and coasted on that certification for years.  Heck, I was one of them for about a year… at least the first exam that I took was for Windows 2000 Professional, and not a sales-related exam, which gave you the same MCP title.

That problem was supposed to be resolved in the next generation, the MCTS/MCITP era.  At the beginning there was talk that not every exam would earn you that MCTS certification, and I believe that on the dev side there were a couple of those.  However on the IT Pro side there was never an exam that did not give you a cert… so when I passed three exams to get my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator cred, I had three certs, including two MCTS and the one MCITP.

I was asked this morning by Veronica Sopher of Microsoft Learning what I thought of the 70-246 exam, and my first response was it was ugly.  However that was my way of saying that it was tough, and that it tested your knowledge of a lot of different products in a relatively small number of questions.  In truth I am glad that it was as tough as it was (now that I have passed) because it means that Microsoft is trying to make earning your senior certifications more difficult, which means that you will really need to know your stuff.  A step in the right direction, no doubt!

As for the Master level – the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master – I assume this is still going to be out of my grasp, until I decide to take a job running the infrastructure for a major international company.  I like what I do, so I don’t know that is in the cards.  However If you are an MCSM (equivalent to the former Microsoft Certified Master / MCM) then you are certainly recognized as a very top expert in the technology.

If the MCSM is anything like the old MCM then you not only have to know the technology, you then have to spend several weeks in Redmond on the Microsoft Campus learning from the product team, and then have to pass a series of exams and boards.  There is a reason they are called Masters… it is not for the faint of heart!

I appreciate Microsoft Learning’s revamped certification plan.  It makes it harder to ‘just get by’ and easier to distinguish IT pros by the exams they have passed.  I think it’s a step in the right direction, and look forward to seeing what other MCSE tracks will be revealed as the next generation of Windows operating systems launch later this year!

Getting Certified: Things have really changed!

This article was originally published to The Canadian IT Pro Connection.Boy has it been an exciting year… Microsoft’s busiest release year ever!  On the IT Pro side we have System Center 2012 (a single product now, but truly seven distinct products for managing your environment!), Windows Server 2012, Windows 8… we have Windows Azure (which for the first time is really beginning to show true relevance to the IT Pro and not just the devs), and of course the new Office (both on-prem with Office 2013, and in the cloud with Office 365).  There is of course Windows Phone 8, Windows Intune, and the list goes on.

With all of these new versions out many IT Pros will be looking to update their certifications to remain current, while many more will be looking for their first certs.  For the first time in six years Microsoft Learning has completely changed the way you will be looking at certifications going forward.  If you are like me (and so many others) and do want to get certified in the latest and greatest, then you will need to know what is out there, and how certifications have changed with the newest product cycles.

Solutions-based Certifications

In the last few years Microsoft Learning focused on what they referred to as task-based certifications (MCTS) and job-based certifications (MCITP).  However IT Pros started to see more and more components in learning and exams that were not actually in the product – so for example an exam on Windows Server might have included a question on the Security Compliance Manager (SCM) and System Center.  Although it made sense to the SMEs writing the questions, the unprepared found themselves facing questions that they couldn’t answer, and a resounding chorus of ‘we didn’t realize we would be tested on that!’ was to be heard across the blogosphere.

This year the new certifications have been revamped to be solutions-based.  That means you are not focusing on a role or a product, but rather on the solution as a whole, which will very often include technologies not included in the product, but that are complimentary to it.  Microsoft’s Solution Accelerators are a good example of this.  The Solution Accelerators are a series of free tools available from Microsoft and include the Security Compliance Manager, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Microsoft Virtual Machine Conversion toolkit, and others that are free downloads and may not be required knowledge to everyone, but every IT Pro should know about them because they really do come in handy.

Additionally you are going to see a strong interdependence between Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and Windows 8.  After all very few companies have only one of these, and in fact in any organization of a certain size or larger it would be rare to not find all three.

Of course it is also likely you are going to see questions that ask about previous versions of all of these technologies. ‘Your company has 25 servers running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and 5000 desktops running Windows Vista Business Edition…’ sorts of questions will not be uncommon.  This will make some of us scour our archived memory banks for the differences between editions, and may seem unfair to IT Pros who are new to the industry.  Remember that every certification exam and course lists recommended prerequisites for candidates, and 2-3 years of experience is not an uncommon one.  To that I remind you that you do not need a perfect score to pass the exams… do your best!

What was old is new again

In 2005 Microsoft announced the retirement of the MCSE and MCSA certifications, to be replaced by the MCTS/MCITP certs.  During a recent keynote delivered by a guest speaker from Redmond I heard him say that this was actually Canada’s fault, and unfortunately he is partly right.  The Quebec Order of Engineers won their lawsuit regarding the usage of the word engineer in the cert.  While it may have made their lives better, it complicated the certification landscape for a lot of IT Pros and hiring managers who never quite got used to the new model.

SolAssoc_WinServ2012_Blk SolExp_PvtCloud_Blk

In April, 2012 Microsoft Learning announced that things were changing again… we would again be able to earn our MCSA and MCSE certs, but they would now stand for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.  In fact they thought it was a good enough idea that although they were intended as next-generation certs, they would be ported backward one generation… if you were/are an MCITP: Server Administrator or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 you immediately became an MCSA: Windows Server 2008.  You were also immediately only two exams away from earning your MCSE: Private Cloud certification.

associate-blueMicrosoft Learning bills the MCSA certification as ‘the foundation for your professional career.’  I agree with this because it is the basic cert on the operating system, and from there you can jump into the next stage (there are several MCSE programs available, all of which require the base MCSA to achieve).

Of course now that Windows Server 2012 has been released, so too has the new certifications.  If you want to earn your MCSA: Windows Server 2012 credentials then you are only three exams away:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 20410
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 20411
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services 20412

Instead of taking all three of these exams, you could choose to upgrade any of the following certifications with a single upgrade exam:

MCSA: Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

The upgrade exam is called Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012, and is exam number 70-417.

expert-blueMicrosoft Learning calls the MCSE certification ‘the globally recognized standard for IT professionals.’  It demonstrates that you know more than just the basics, but that you are an expert in the technologies required to provide a complete solution for your environment.

The first IT Pro MCSE cert announced focused on virtualization and the System Center 2012 product.  Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Private Cloud launched first because System Center 2012 was released earlier in the year, and the Private Cloud cert could use either Server 2012 or Server 2008 certs as its baseline.  If you already have a qualifying MCSA certification (such as the one outlined above, or the MCSA: Windows Server 2008) then you would only require two more exams to complete your MCSE:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10750
70-247 Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10751
70-6591 TS Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization 10215A

1This exam can be taken instead of exam 70-247 until January 31, 2013 to count towards the Private Cloud certification.

The next new-generation MCSE cert for the IT Pro is theMCSE: Server Infrastructure.  Like the first one the basis for this cert is the MCSA.  Unlike the Private Cloud cert, the MCSA must be in Windows Server 2012.  The required additional exams are:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414

Are you starting to worry that your current Server 2008 certs aren’t helping you toward your goal?  Never fear… the following certifications are upgradeable by taking three exams:

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

Which exams?  I’m glad you asked.  The upgrading IT Pro needs to take:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

In other words, you will be upgrading your pre-existing cert to MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then taking the remaining exams required for the MCSE.

The third MCSE that will be of interest to IT Pros is the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructurecert.  As with the others it requires the candidate to earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then take the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416

If you previously held the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 then you can upgrade by taking the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

There are actually five other MCSE paths, which are:

MCSE: Messaging

MCSE: Data Platform

MCSE: Business Intelligence

MCSE: Communication

MCSE: SharePoint

That I do not discuss these is not a judgment, simply they are outside of my wheelhouse as it were… If you would like more information about any of these, visit Microsoft Learning’s MCSE landing page.

The Unfinished Pyramid

You will notice that the MCSA and MCSE pyramids that we use are progressive… the MCSA has one level finished, the MCSE has two levels finished.  That is because there is another level of certifications above these, which is now called the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master.  This is the highest certification that Microsoft Learning offers, and only a few individuals will qualify.  It is a real commitment but if you think you are ready for it, I would love to point you in the right direction.  Personally I am happy with my MCSE: PC and don’t expect I will ever be a Master.

At present there are four MCSM tracks:

MCSM: SharePoint

MCSM: Data Platform

MCSM: Communication

MCSM: Messaging

It should be noted that of these only the MCSM: Data Platform is currently available; the others will be made available in 2013.

Also at the very top of the pyramid there is one more level – the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA).  There are currently four MCA certifications:

MCA: Microsoft Exchange Server

MCA: Microsoft SharePoint Server

MCA: Microsoft SQL Server

MCA: Windows Server: Directory

Achieving the MCA requires a lot more than just exams.  It is a long and grueling process which in the end will likely leave you drained, but with the highest certification that Microsoft offers.

I should tell you that these last two senior certs are not for most people.  They are only for the very top professionals with in-depth experience designing and delivering IT solutions for enterprise customers, and even then only for those who possess the technical and leadership skills that truly differentiate them from their peers.

Keep it up!

Several years ago Microsoft Learning tried to retire older MCSEs – Windows NT and such.  They were unsuccessful because had they done so they would have breached the terms of the original certification.  In other words, because they never told candidates in advance that they would retire them, they couldn’t retire them.  It is not uncommon for me to hear from someone who is an MCSE, but they haven’t taken an exam since the 1990s.  In fact the logo for MCSE on Windows NT is the same logo as for MCSE on Windows Server 2003, and those MCSEs will be allowed to use that logo forever.

In 2006 they made it a little easier to differentiate.  Not only would certifications be by technology (MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008) but they would, in theory, be retired with support for that technology.  So an MCITP on Windows Vista would not be able to use the cert past a certain date.  Unfortunately I found that people did not refer to their entire cert, they would simply say that ‘I am an MCITP!’  In other words, without some clarifying it was pretty difficult to determine what technology they really knew.  Additionally it is not uncommon for some pros to have several MCITP certs, making it quite difficult to list on a business card or e-mail signature.

Now Microsoft Learning has really made an improvement to this issue.  The new MCSE certifications will require that you show continued understanding of the latest versions of the technology area by taking a recertification exam every three years.  While there was some talk of this with the MCITP program it did not come to fruition.  Today however this recertification requirement is clearly outlined on the MCSE pages.

While recertifying may seem like a bother for some, as we discussed earlier it is something we choose to do every three years to remain current anyways.  For those of us who do want to always remain current it is nice to know that we don’t have to start from scratch with every new product cycle.  For those for whom remaining current is not as important they will always be able to say ‘I was an MCSE, but I let my certs lapse.’  It shows that they do know the technology, just not necessarily the most current version,  This should be sufficient for a lot of people who often tell me ‘my clients don’t need the latest, and are not going to upgrade every three years!’

What About Small Biz?

I spent several years specializing in SMBs.  The first time I took a certification exam I remember coming out of it upset about questions that started ‘You are the administrator for a company with 500 server…’  No I am not!  At the time I couldn’t even fathom what that would be like.  So when Microsoft Learning started writing exams for SBS I was glad not because I wanted to limit myself (I didn’t, and am glad of that today) but because I knew that there are lots of IT Pros out there who do work exclusively on smaller networks.

I do not know what will become of SMB-focused certifications now that Windows Small Business Server 2011 is to be the last SBS release.  I do not have any insight into whether there will be exams around Windows Server Essentials, but could envision a cert around the tying of that product with Windows 8 and Office 365.  I have not been asked, but it would make sense.  However I have heard from a lot of SMB IT Pros that certifications are not as important to them and their clients as we feel they are in the enterprise, and I accept that; the needs of the larger do not necessarily align with the needs of the smaller.  However only time will tell if Microsoft Learning will address this market.

So in the end, should I get certified?

I have long been of the opinion that certifications are key for any IT Professional who is serious about his or her profession.  It shows that they have the respect for their profession to be willing to prove not that they know how to do it, but to do IT right.  Certifications are not for IT hobbyists, or people who dabble.  They are for the professionals who earn their living in IT, and who wish to differentiate themselves from other candidates for jobs, contracts, or promotions.

Whether you have been working in IT for years, or are fresh out of school and looking to embark on a career in IT, there are likely scores if not hundreds of candidates who will be competing with you for every job.  Why not take this opportunity to distinguish yourself?  No matter how much some people will denigrate their relevance, I have spoken to many hiring managers who have confirmed for me time and again that they are a key indicator of a candidate’s suitability to technical positions.

What’s this new Cert? MCSA: Windows 7!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/09/12/what-s-this-new-cert-mcsa-windows-7.aspx.

In April of this year Microsoft Learning announced its new generation of certifications.  Many of us who had previously earned certain MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) credentials were automatically ported into a new certification category, the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate).  Depending on the MCITP you had earned, you would get a different MCSA.

There are two senior certifications for the Windows 7 desktop:

  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician

If you have earned either of these certifications then you already have received (or will shortly) an e-mail from Microsoft Learning informing you that you will soon be awarded the new MCSA: Windows 7.  Congratulations!

Now, the benefit to this is that when it comes time to earning your MCSA: Windows 8 you will only have to take a single upgrade exam (70-689).

If you would like to learn more about the MCSA: Windows 7 and MCSA: Windows 8 certifications, visit the Microsoft Learning page here.

I have long been a huge advocate of certifications; I have worked on many of the exams and courses, and have worked hard to earn the ones that I hold – not because I need them in order to teach the associated classes (although that was once a consideration), but because I strongly believe that certifications are proof that you have the respect for your profession to not only learn the right way to do things, but to sit down and prove it.

In 2012 Microsoft Canada held a series of virtual study groups for Hyper-V.  Across the country dozens of people studied together in groups, and dozens of them took (and passed) exam 70-659, earning them the MCTS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization credential.  With the launch of the new products and certifications I hope that we will bring these study groups back… as a benefit to the user groups, and as a way to get more people certified.  Watch this space for more information, and if you are interested in a particular cert let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help you out!

Can you convince your boss to let you get certified? UCA!

English: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

One of the benefits I get from conferences like Microsoft TechEd is reconnecting with friends and colleagues that I only see at these shows.  David and I have been friends for a couple of years, and when we discovered that we were  both staying over an extra night we decided to splurge and drive a ways to Tampa for dinner at what is in my opinion the best steakhouse and among the best restaurants in North America – Bern’s Steakhouse.

Of course it is slightly over an hour’s drive each way, so in addition to the 2.5 hours we spent in the restaurant we had plenty of time to discuss all sorts of topics, some personal but many business and technology related.

David works on the Microsoft Windows team at Microsoft.  His current area of focus is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which is a subject that have been talking about to user groups for the past six months.  We definitely had a lot to discuss!

He was telling me that in a past job he ran an entirely VMware-based virtualization infrastructure, which makes sense because at the time most virtualized datacenters were running VMware.  He told me he thought it amusing that to this day a Google search of his name comes up with a presentation he did years ago at VMworld.

Speaking at VMworld is a very prestigious gig, on a par to speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd or MMS.  I would have thought that in order to be invited you would have to have at least a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) cert.  He told me that he wasn’t, and the reason for it was VMware Learning’s requirement that you take their course before you sit their exam, and since he knew the product well enough to run a datacenter for the City of Las Vegas, it was a tough sell to his boss to get them to give him the week off as well as pay for the class and exam.  It was not a battle he was ever able to win, so he never got VMware certified.

We started talking about his employer’s position, and that it was, after all, a reasonable one.  In the case of an IT pro who is already proficient on a technology, certifications are for your next job, not for your current one.

Some people are able to learn a technology on their own better (and certainly cheaper) than they could from a class.  Is this always true?  Of course not… it is only true of some of us.

If you know a technology and you have proven it in a production environment for your employer then although it may be reasonable to spend a couple hundred dollars on an exam that is done in an afternoon, there is little value in paying thousands of dollars for a course that takes you away from your job for several days to a week.

So if my previous statement is true, that certifications are for your next job, then what value should a company see in an IT education and certification budget and plan for its employees?

There are a number of answers to that question, and depending on the individual in question one of the following answers should help.

1)      An IT professional may know version X of a technology, but that does not mean that they will know version X+1.  For example, I am certified in Network Infrastructure on Windows 2000 and 2003, but I still studied for and wrote the exam for Server 2008.  Why?  It covers new technologies that most of us could not simply read about and then implement following best practices.  New roles and features such as virtualization, Remote Desktop, and IPv6 meant that I had a lot to learn.  A company who has technologists working on legacy products would benefit from a course that teaches the new technologies, as well as a good refresh to the old ones.

2)      When employees change roles – even within IT – education can prepare them for that new role.  I know plenty of IT pros who have been promoted out of desktop support into the server side, but knowing the one does not mean you automatically know the other.

3)      Certifications are the proof that you have the respect for your profession to learn the material the right way, and then take the time to sit down and write a test created by a panel of subject manner experts (SMEs) and prove it.  They are also a good way to learn where you are weak.  Whether you pass or fail the exam your score report (from a Microsoft exam) will let you know what aspects of the technology you are weak on, so you can go back and study those specific parts more.  The first exams I ever wrote (Windows 2000) simply said ‘Fail’ or ‘Pass’, which meant I never learned how close I was to succeeding, nor what I had to brush up on in order to do that.

4)      Technologies change, job roles change.  Over the past ten years desktop deployment specialists have had to learn components of Windows Server, Active Directory, Windows Deployment Server, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Windows AIK, and of course System Center Configuration Manager.  Individually some of these are easy enough to self-learn, but for most of us they take a good deal of learning to get right.  Hacking around in Active Directory or System Center production environments when you don’t know what you are doing is just a bad idea.  A class, especially one led by a leading trainer who is also a consultant and can discuss real life scenarios and experiences that can point out shortcuts and pitfalls to be aware of is often worth so much more to the company than the cost of the class.

5)      There are companies that require industry certifications by virtue of corporate policies or external regulatory bodies.  Although many certifications do not expire, they do eventually become irrelevant.  A professional who was hired based on Server 2003 certifications nine years ago was cutting edge, but as the infrastructure is migrated to Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012 those certifications are now meaningless, and with the changes in the industry (such as the advent of the Private Cloud) they may be required to recertify as an MCSE: Private Cloud (for example) in order to remain within scope of the policy or regulations.

The list can go on and on, but the simple fact is this: spending one million dollars is not a waste if you can prove that your return on investment (ROI) will be two million dollars.  If you are struggling to convince your employer/manager/director that they should be sending you for certification training, you simply have to show them what that ROI will be.  However remember to balance that with what it would cost them to replace you with a newer model with the current certs!  Experience and tenure are important, but the era of corporate loyalty is behind us, and I have seen too many times professionals talk themselves out of their jobs by telling their boss how much they have to spend on certification and continuing education.

Good luck!

Wanna be an MCT? Read on!

I cannot count how many people have come to me and asked how they could become a Microsoft Certified Trainer(MCT).  I have said many times that I consider it among my most valuable credentials, and well worth the yearly fee.  If you are one of those who would like to become one, then read on… especially if you are in the Greater Toronto Area!

Of course in order to become an MCT you need to be proficient in the technologies you are going to teach… so you have to have the senior certifications that align with the technology (MCITP/MCSA, etc…)

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who hold those certifications who cannot teach, and that is not a surprise… one of the greatest fears in people is the fear of public speaking, and training is just that.  Getting up in front of an audience is not easy.  Add to that you have to be able to clearly and concisely make your point – you have to know not only the subject matter, you also have to know the courseware, and the flow.  And don’t forget the importance of knowing how to use and project your voice.

So how does Microsoft distinguish between those who can and those who can’t (and sometimes there are those who shouldn’t)?  It is difficult, but one of the ways they determine eligibility is to check that people have taken and passed a CTT+ ‘Train the Trainer’ class.  The class is only taught by a very select few companies in Canada, and at that not very often.  So now is your chance… Trab Training, a CTT+ certified vendor on Microsoft’s pre-approved list, is offering the class in Toronto next month (June 26/27).  You can sign up at http://www.trab.com/form-reg.html, or contact them at http://www.trab.com/contact.html for more information.

While I did not take this class I have heard from several of Bart’s students that he is an excellent trainer, and they each have their MCT to prove it.  Please mention to them that you heard about this class from me, and when it is done please let me know any feedback you have!

Remember… if you want to be an MCT, you almost certainly need this class!

70-659 Vouchers Giveaway!

Hey folks my friends at TekSource Corporate Learning (www.teksource.ca) in Toronto have told me that they have just received nine (9) more vouchers for the 70-659 exam (TS: Microsoft Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization).  Knowing that so many of you were disappointed when Ruth (Technology Advisor, Microsoft Canada) announced that she was out of them, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer them up to you.

Now, there are some pre-conditions:

  1. First priority is going to go to members of the IT Pro Toronto Virtual Study Group (or any other affiliated study group from across the country).  They have done the work, and many were under the impression that we had promised them vouchers.
  2. Second priority will go to people who have attended any session that I have led or participated in.  That means a user group event, IT Pro Boot Camp, Tae Kwon Do class, Summit, anything… as long as I was there and recognized as a presenter or proctor.
  3. Third priority goes to Canadian IT Pros.  I know I support the community worldwide, but my first priority for this program has to go to Canada.  They are not geo-locked, but I will be checking! 🙂
  4. You have to schedule and take the exam before May 31, 2012.

So with that being said, if you want a voucher I need for you to do two things:

  1. Comment on this blog article to the effect of ‘I want a voucher! I want to get certified!’
  2. If you are a member of one of the study groups, send me an e-mail letting me know which one, who the leader is, and when it ended (or is scheduled to end).  That will of course put you to the front of the line.
  3. If you are not a member of one of the study groups let me know which session you attended.
  4. If you did not attend one of my sessions let me know where in Canada you live… and work or study!
  5. Check your e-mail!  If you don’t get an e-mail then I am sorry, you didn’t get it.

That’s it folks.  I will ask one more thing though… Commit to writing the exam before May 31.  If for any reason you cannot I do not want to see any of these vouchers (value: $150 US Dollars!) wasted.  Also please let me know how you did!  I am always very interested in the success of my students and readers!

Good luck… both with the contest and the exam!