In-Person Training During a Worldwide Pandemic

I have been a trainer for twenty years. When I am in front of a class teaching, I am truly in my element. Like many of my colleagues, I make the stage my own. As I have taught so many others over the years, I use the whole stage. I make eye contact, I try to make every student in the room feel like I am speaking directly to them. It is just one of the tools in my belt that make me a good instructor.Tech Trainer

There was a time when I spent most of my time teaching, but over the last few years I have spent most of my time consulting. While that does not allow me to teach as much, it gives me extra credibility when I do teach.

Since losing my job because of Covid-19, I have been doing a lot of training. Unfortunately, also due to Covid-19, my classes have all been online. It just is not the same… speaking to a camera does not give me the same ability to connect with my audience.I have not seen a single one of my students; I have hardly heard any of their voices. It is not the same… I still enjoy it, but I feel disconnected. I am sure my students feel the same way I do.

I hope my students are still learning, but unlike in-person training, I know that many of them are not giving me their full and undivided attention. If they are in their office, then coworkers ask them questions, pull them into meetings, and are even tasked with customer support during the class. Those at home are doing the same, as well as dealing with children, spouses, pets, and whatnot. All this to say that there is no real way that they can maintain their focus. In most cases I know they are learning enough to pass their exams because I get a lot of emails thanking me… but is that the full experience? Is the exam the only goal? If so, then they are satisfied. I like to deliver more.

Next week, for the first time in a very long time, not only will I be teaching a live audience, I will be flying out to do so. I am reticent about the airplane… but I am excited to be able to be live in front of my audience again. Knowing that I will be able to connect with them, to make the stage my own again, to walk among my students and to connect with them… that for an extrovert trainer is like catnip. I have already started planning out my wardrobe, and the fact that I have a brand new laptop means I have spent time making sure I have all of my cables and accessories that I will need in order and ready to go. My Logitech remote for PowerPoint, my Juiced Systems BossDock USB-C docking station (for extra USB ports and HDMI video ports), and my travel mouse are all going to be in my carry-on bag, ready to set up in the training room.

On the first day of class, I will be wearing a suit and tie. On subsequent days I will likely wear slacks and a button-down shirt. I will be teaching military personnel, and while I doubt they will be in uniform, I will be among my own again… I want to look and feel my best.

I do not expect it will be happening often for the time being, and at the end of the week I will be flying home to resume my work-from-home remote routine. While I do not have my next engagement signed yet, I am sure there will be something, and I will be back to working in polo shirts and slacks, staring at my Logi 930C 1080P web camera. Maybe, if I am ambitious, I will finally set my office up to be able to stand and teach. Just knowing that I will have one in-person engagement to break up the remote Teams-Zoom-Adobe monotony will broken up for one week is a great relief.

Of course, knowing that my in-person engagement will take me to Tampa for the week, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, my favourite steakhouse in North America, and some of the best cigar lounges in the country, does not hurt one bit!

I will come back to California and self-quarantine… but next week is going to be a great time!

If Anyone Could Do It…

There is an old saying: Those who can, do… those who can’t, teach.  We will get back to that in a bit.

I work in an industry where ongoing training is a part of life.  If I had rested on my laurels when I got my first few senior certifications, I would be searching the Help Wanted ads looking for a job as a Windows 2000 Server administrator.  And so, over the years I have attended countless training sessions, as well as self-study, in myriad technologies and versions of said technologies.  It is because of this ongoing learning that a prestigious company in the U.S. decided that I was worth speaking with, and why they brought me to California from the Great White North.

public-speaking2In over twenty years in the IT field, I have had some wonderful trainers… and I have had some duds as well.  When I decided to become a trainer myself, I spent countless hours practicing and preparing to deliver the content that others would hopefully use to advance their own careers.  While I doubt I was ever the smartest person in any room when I was teaching, I did my level best to make sure I knew as much about the material I was delivering as was possible.

I came of age in the industry just about the time that Microsoft got serious about eliminating the ‘Paper Certifications,’ which essentially meant that it would no longer be easy to just read a book in order to pass an exam… you would not only need to study, you would need to have hands-on experience.  I heard the stories of course, and I wanted to make sure that my students never looked at me and said: “It looks like he’s never touched the product, he just read the book.”  That was one of my worst fears.  Second to that was the clause in many training contracts that stated that if I did not get a minimum score on my instructor evaluations, the company would not have to pay me.  When you are living hand to mouth, that is a scary thought.

I came into training almost by accident, and I have a man named Rory to thank for it.  He came to Montreal to speak at an event that I was hosting for the Montreal IT Professionals Community.  After the event we went for drinks at Hurley’s Irish Pub where he made the suggestion.  In August of 2006 I was approved, and embarked upon a journey that would take me to five continents and scores of countries to share my knowledge.  That I became a trainer may have been an accident; that I was good at it was not.

After my bar mitzvah and some extremely uncomfortable Public Speaking assignments in high school, the first time I delivered any sort of training to a group of people was in the military… as squad leader and then platoon leader, I delivered numerous types of training and intelligence reports to groups of people from five to fifty in size.  I never thought of that as public speaking, but I suppose it was.  That is why, when the security company I was working for after the army needed to get people certified as trainers by the provincial government, I was able to honestly list among my accomplishments these various training sessions.  The first time I was asked by the company to deliver a three-day training session to new agents I was scared… but because I was a last-minute replacement to stand in for a sick instructor, I did not have a lot of time to worry about it.  At the end of the session I breathed a huge sigh of relief… and probably walked into the office the next morning with a big s^#t-eating grin on my face.  There is a true sense of pride when one has delivered a class, and received top evaluations.

How is it that I was able to do so well my first time out?  Simple… it was not my first time out.  Yes, I had the army… that was good training after a fashion, but I had something else: After the army, I spent two years trying to be a stand-up comic and an actor.  If you think delivering technical training might be tough, whether it be in the field of security or of computers, then let me tell you… it is child’s play compared to standing in front of a group of (usually drunk) strangers who have paid for you to make them laugh.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is called trial by fire.

I have a confession to make.  I was never a very good actor, and I was never a very good stand-up comic.  People who have never tried it say all the time “I’d make a great stand-up comic… I am so much funnier than those guys!” do not realize that there is a difference between in a group of friends funny – in a conversation, for example – and standing up in front of an audience with five to ten minutes of prepared material that you wrote funny.  Oh by the way, before you decide that you are going to try to cheat and do it with someone else’s material, remember that in the day and age of the Internet, there is a very strong chance that someone in your audience has already heard it.

You have read through your material, you think it is hilarious.  Now stand up there in front of the crowd when they disagree, and are staring at you like you just served them with a summons for jury duty.  I might have come across more uncomfortable situations in my career… but not many of them.

public-speaking1It may sound weird that it is (or can be) easier to deliver a five-day technical training class to a group of IT professionals than it is to stand in front of an audience who are all out to have a good time for ten minutes.  What you have to remember is that the five day class is based heavily on slides, scripts, and technical demonstrations (that were usually provided by someone else), interspersed with hands-on labs that the attendees are doing in between.  The truth is that the IT professionals want to learn, and you have the resources to deliver that learning.  They chose you, or at least they chose the training centre that hired you.  They need what you have to offer.  They are going to listen to you because they likely need what you are teaching them to perform their jobs or to advance their careers.  The audience at a bar chose the bar, but you are competing with television, movies, the Internet, Netflix, concerts or the radio, theatre, and myriad other forms of entertainment that they could have chosen, and if you are wasting their relaxation time then you are going to hear about it.

You may be asking yourself by now: “Why do I bring this up? What possible connection does stand-up comedy have to technical training?  The answer is simple… and not.  Technical training and stand-up comedy are two forms of public speaking… and if you cannot do the latter, you won’t be much good at the former.  Yes, the professionals attending a technical class may need to be there, but as a technical trainer, I have a number of extremely important jobs:

  1. Impart my knowledge on the attendees; and
  2. Keep my attendees’ attention for the duration of the class, whether that is one hour or one week.

It is likely that every IT professional has sat through a boring presentation in their career.  That could range from a simple fifteen minute session, a boring lunch-and-learn, to the five day class with the worst of tortures… a boring presenter.  Too many people believe that to be a good teacher, the most important thing is to be a subject matter expert… and admittedly that is truly important.  However, an expert without the requisite communication skills, whose voice drones on in a boring monotone, who reads the slides to the audience and who might occasionally take a short break for questions, may not be a punishment worse than death… but it could easily be considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Geneva Convention.  The responsibility of a trainer is not only to impart knowledge, it is ensure their audience is interested, engaged, and hanging on their every word.  It may not be the only reason so many people seem to prefer self-learning to classroom learning… but it is certainly a big one.

In the classic British Broadcasting Corporation radio serial Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the world was introduced to a form of torture called Vogon Poetry.  Vogon Poetry is said to be the third worst poetry in the galaxy, behind only the Azgoths of Kria, and Paul Neil Milne Jennings of Essex, UK.  In the radio serial, as well as in later books, movies, and television series, the Vogon captain (Prosthetnic Vogon Jeltz) has the heroes bound from head to foot while he recites his poem “Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly.”  They were then given the choice between being hurled into outer space to die a painful death… or telling the reader how good the poem is.  While they eventually do compliment the poetry, you can tell that it was a very difficult decision indeed.**

Sitting through a class with a boring presenter can be as mind-numbingly painful as Vogon Poetry.

I do not know if anyone has ever actually died from it, but there is a popular term in the industry: Death by PowerPoint.  How many people have sat through a training class of such a boring trainer that they have considered faking illness or gnawing off their own leg to escape?  We have all been there, and it is the duty of the presenter to keep us engaged, interested, and yes… entertained.

I began this article with the adage that “Those who can, do… those who can’t, teach.”  It is of the utmost importance that technical trainers be true subject matter experts, thus disproving this adage.  However they must also have in their toolbox a series of other skills and tools that will help them in their jobs:

  • A good speaker’s voice.  It is vital that one knows how to use their voice, and is aware of it at all times.  They cannot drone on in a monotone and expect their students to stay awake.
  • A good attitude.  Even the least aware attendee will see the difference between a trainer who wants to be there, and one who does not.  If the presenter does not want to be there, the students will not either.
  • A willingness and ability to answer questions.  A good class is more of a conversation than a soliloquy.  The trainer must not only take questions as they come, they must also invite and encourage them.
  • The ability to be wrong… or unsure.  The most important lesson I ever learned as a trainer was how to say “I don’t know.”  The second (though equally important) most important lesson was to follow that statement with “…but I will find out for you.”  This lets students know that you are human; it also lets them know that you are not just spewing information at them, but that you really understand it, and are willing to grow.  It is also important for students to trust that you are not making the answers up… I have seen that, and it is never pretty.
  • Clean and neat appearance.  If I am proof of anything, it is that you do not have to be slim and good-looking to be a successful trainer.  However, and without exception, I have always made sure to be shaved, showered, and dressed appropriately for my classes… including one week-long session in Malaysia where I had to bring two shirts to class every day because it was scorching hot and deathly humid, and neither the air conditioning nor the ventilation was doing their job.
  • Preparedness.  We have all seen images of the absent-minded professor.  What did he have that we do not?  Tenure.  A good trainer must be ready for class at the beginning of class.  Check that… thirty minutes before the beginning of class.
  • Stories.  When a trainer reads the slides and goes through the demos, it can be clear that he knows what he or she is doing… but if there is one lesson we all need to remember it is that there is a big difference between book knowledge and real-world knowledge.  When a trainer says “When we did this at my client, these were some of the issues we encountered, and these gotchas are things you might come across” it shows that they did not just read the book… they’ve lived it.
  • A willingness to make mistakes, and to make light of it.  The Demo G-ds are always watching, and it has happened to every one of us that we are demonstrating something we have done a thousand times, and it just all goes wrong in front of the class.  Keep your cool, and try to work out what is going on… make a joke of it. “Wow, that’s what happens when I put on the wrong socks in the morning”” or “I really wish I had listened to that fortune cookie!”  You will figure it out… as long as you stay composed.

There are probably thirty more tools and skills I should mention… but you get the picture.  Getting up in front of a technical audience is not easy, and it is something you should prepare for.  It is something that takes great pains to try to do… and years to get right.

So why is it then that so many companies feel that the right place to cut corners is on trainers?  Why is it that organizations, rather than looking outside and bringing in professional trainers who not only know the material but also know how to present it, would rather entrust the job for internal training to one of their internal IT professionals?  I have seen both of the following examples:

  • A company has decided to adopt a new technology; rather than hiring an outside trainer (or sending their people out for training), they approach one of their people who have worked with similar technologies – often just a generation or two removed from the new, but not always – and ask them to learn it before the rest of the group.  Once the professional has done so, they are delegated the task of training the rest of the team, often through a series of articles or lunch-and-learn sessions, but occasionally by way of full day (or week) training.
  • A company has an employee with a particular expertise that they feel would benefit others in the company.  They have that employee, who often does not have any background in training or public speaking, deliver training on a particular subject, but do not offer them any soft-skills training.

I did not do extensive research for this article, but as I prepared to write it, I typed the words “Worst Fears List” into Google.  Two of the top four sources that were returned above the fold listed ‘fear of public speaking’ as #2 (link) and ‘social phobia (fear of public speaking) and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)’ as #3 (link).  A third site listed ‘fear of public speaking’ as #13 (link)… listing fear of spiders, snakes, heights, open spaces, dogs, and thunderstorms higher.  Sorry public speaking, you’ll have to do better next time.

So: if public speaking is one of the top fears that most people have, why would companies not only expect most people to do it without any prior training, but to do it so well that the attendees (their other employees) would see it as a real benefit to their job?  Isn’t that like telling someone who joins the army on Tuesday to jump out of an airplane while facing enemy fire by Saturday?  “Hey Fred, I know you don’t like snakes, but here’s a python… get chummy with it!”  Fears should be understood, and throwing kids into the deep end of the pool is no longer an acceptable way of teaching them how to swim.  (If you are my age or older, that is likely how you  learned it… but we were also spanked and sent to our rooms without supper).

There is, however, a happy medium… something between hiring outsiders, and having unprepared insiders deliver the training.  Public speaking can be taught.  The ability to deliver engaging and effective training can be learned.  It is not only a question of helping the individual overcome their fears, it is about doing that… and giving them the skills training to know how to do it… and then helping them with practice exercises so that when the time finally comes for them to deliver the class, they will know what they are doing.  Even with all of this preparation, most new trainers will stumble… but that is why Major League Baseball has the minor leagues, and why medical schools have pre-med.

How would we do this?  Simple… hire an expert to teach it.  It is great that companies offer technical training to their employees… but if they really want to help them succeed in the world, and especially if they want those employees to be able to effectively deliver technical training, then offering public speaking classes – soft skills training – would be a good place to start.  If your company does not have the budget to do that, you could look into public classes like Toastmasters… but they seldom offer technical trainer training.

Teaching, like any other skill or vocation, needs to be learned.  However, being thrown into the deep end can thwart a career.  There are two similar adages that could apply, depending on one’s personality type:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”

Some people will give it a shot, fail, and they will try again.  They will get back onto the horse, lessons learned, and do it better the next time… and the time after that, and so on…

“If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.”

Other people will try it and fail… and never again get up in front of an audience to speak… not a technical training session, not to deliver a toast at their best friend’s wedding.  They will realize how justified their fears were, and they are never going near it again.  That might be too bad, because you never know how good someone could be until you give them the encouragement and the tools to keep getting better.  If you don’t believe me, ask my first wife, who divorced me because she decided I would never make a living as a computer consultant.

“If you think experts are expensive… try hiring amateurs.”

This is another quote that I love… outside trainers cost more money, but they are usually worth every penny.  Your staff learn what they need to learn, and nobody walks away discouraged because of a bad trainer… including the bad trainer.

Not everyone has it in them to be a good technical trainer.  It is hard, it is demanding, and it can be scary.  Those, by the way, are three reasons I am not a cardiothoracic surgeon (although there are myriad other reasons as well).  Like that sort of surgery, many will try, and even with the proper training and preparation, many will fail.  Public speaking is a top fear for a reason.  However, if you do think you might want to give it a shot, I have plenty of advice to give… but start by writing five minutes worth of jokes, and then signing up for Open Mic Night at your local comedy club.

** If you have not read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, shame on you! Correct that immediately.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

It’s Good to be Back…

Okay, I never really left… but it was touch and go for a bit.  After having made the payment yesterday, I woke up Friday morning to an e-mail that I have now received eleven times.

Thanks for renewing your MCT membership!

While it is not quite the twelve year anniversary of my earning this distinction (I first achieved it July 21, 2006), it is the eleventh renewal.

A lot has changed in the past twelve years… in my life, to the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) program.  The least of the changes is the cost per year – we all complained when the cost jumped to USD$800 per year, and a lot of my brethren decided the benefits was no longer worth the cost.  Fortunately for them, Microsoft Learning created the MCT Alumni program.

Personally, while I consider the cost to be excessive, I still feel it is worth paying.  I have worked with several my clients because I was able to start by training their staff.  When I have free cycles, because I am able to teach Microsoft Official Curriculum courses, I can reach out to training centres (and brokers) around the world to offer them my services.  As well, there is a cachet to having the title.  ‘Hey, that guys is an MCT… he must know something.’

Until a few years ago, I was extremely involved in the MCT Community.  I was an MCT Regional Lead from 2012-2013 (see article); I volunteered as a proctor and facilitator for hands-on labs at events like TechEd and Ignite; I wrote myriad articles helping people to understand their certification paths.  All in all, I did what I could to help make the program better.

I have stepped back from all of that, as I have stepped back from most if not all of my community involvement overall.  I will always be proud of what I did, but I felt it was time for others to step up and take over.

MCT_logoMy MCT is not like that; while there is an MCT Community, I consider my MCT a vital tool in my professional toolbox.  Being able to teach courses, having access to the Microsoft course ware library and on-line labs for my own professional development, all of these are worth the price of admission right there… even if my company was not willing to cover the cost (which I am grateful that they are).

When I was an independent contractor, being able to train was a key component of my business.  Between my time as a contractor with Microsoft Canada (I could not have been an Evangelist if I had not been a trainer) and HP (I spent several months contracting to them, teaching System Center), as well as teaching courses through both Microsoft and other Learning Partners, I made a pretty respectable living.

Now that I am working with Cistel, I will likely spend most of my time consulting, implementing, reviewing, and so on.  But that does not mean that I will not occasionally be called on to teach courses, both internally and for our clients.  In the year since I started contracting with them before joining them full-time, both scenarios have happened.

While I enjoy consulting, I also truly enjoy teaching.  It is great to build and upgrade and improve upon systems, but it is also great to teach others to know and understand concepts, technologies, that they had not previously known.  Being with a company like Cistel, I have the opportunity to do both… as long as I maintain my Microsoft Certified Trainer status.

If you have ever sat one of my sessions – whether a class, a seminar, a user group presentation, anything – I am always happy to hear your thoughts, and just to stay in touch.

Thank you all!

Mitch Garvis, MCT

MCT_Logo New

Changes for MCTs

You may not have heard the complaints about the Microsoft Certified Trainer program… you may not be involved or interested in the program, or you may live on Mars.  However if you are an MCT, you have heard a lot of complaints over the past few years.  I have done my best to keep my issues with the program private, but I know that many of my MCT peers are much more vocal than I.

As the MCT Regional Lead for Canada last year I spent a lot of time speaking with the people responsible for the program, especially as they made efforts to revamp the program – certainly the first time they have done so since I joined it in 2006.  A lot of the changes that we (MCTs) have been asking for have been introduced recently… not all, but many will be widely welcome by the wide community of active MCTs.

Alumni Program

You may notice that I referred to active MCTs.  That is because a lot of MCTs do not train anymore, and many more exclusively train non-official courseware.  That may be for many reasons and I will not judge them.  However if they are not active trainers, they do not need to be active MCTs.  Because of that, Microsoft Learning Experiences have introduced a new program: MCT Alumni.  This is for people who were MCTs, but no longer teach official courseware. 

How does Microsoft Learning Experiences (MS Lex) determine if you are active or Alumni?  It’s simple… if you don’t teach any Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses in a program year, you become Alumni.  While you must still pay dues to remain an MCT Alumni, it is about 1/8th the cost of the annual MCT dues (for IT professionals & Developers) – $49 for those who join the ‘Charter Class’ of MCT Alumnis – on or before June 30th, 2014, and $99 per year for those joining after that date.

The advantage to the MCT Alumni program is two-fold.  For inactive MCTs they can remain connected to the program for a much lower annual fee, while still retaining many of the benefits.  For active MCTs they can differentiate themselves – I teach current technology and am current in my skills.  Both sides benefit.

MCT Fees

Incidentally, for the first time that I know of, the yearly dues for MCTs will also be going up.  Starting July 1st, the New MCT Fee(for IT Pro & Dev) will be $1,000, and then $800 per year.  This is new in two ways – there was never a ‘new MCT’ fee before, you simply paid your dues, which were $400/year (and have been since I joined the program).

Software Benefits

For the last few years MCTs have been given a free TechNet Plus subscription.  Unfortunately the TechNet team ended that program (we will still have our software rights from the last year through September, 2014).  There was a huge uproar from the MCTs, and while Microsoft MS Lex told the MCT Regional Leads that they were working on a replacement for that program, it was not announced until very recently.

Going forward, depending on the type of MCT you are, you will get one of the following:

MCT Software & Services MCT Developer Software & Services
Software downloads through MSDN Software downloads through MSDN
Office 365 Visual Studio Ultimate
$100 Windows Azure credit per month Office 365 Developer Subscription
  Visual Studio Online Advanced
  $150 Windows Azure credit per month
  Windows and Windows Phone developer accounts

As far as I am concerned as an IT Pro Trainer, I expect I will have everything that I need with that level of benefits… and much more.  A couple of the Dev MCTs I have spoken to are jumping for joy that they will be getting Visual Studio Ultimate and Online Advanced.

Exams

One of my favorite MCT benefits has always been the exam discounts.  I have, to date, written 68 Microsoft exams.  Let’s say that twenty of them were beta exams and maybe another eight were from vouchers I got for whatever reason, that means I have still paid for forty exams.  Although it has changed over that time – the original exams were $100 then $125 and now $150 – let’s say the majority of them cost $125.  That makes $5,000 worth of exams.  The 50% discount we get as MCTs makes a huge difference!  Unfortunately the down side to that is that you had to call in and speak to a rep, rather than simply registering on-line.

That, I discovered yesterday, has changed.  Woohoo!  I called to register a bunch of exams, and instead of him looking up the MCT discount code, I was told to go on-line and request one (per exam).  In fairness to MS Lex, this change was made nine months ago, but as I mentioned in a recent post I did not write any certification exams in 2013.  So as I sat on the line with the rep from Prometric, I dug on Born to Learn and found the link: http://bsf01.com/microsoft_vouchers/mct_portal.aspx.  I registered for and received four codes within seconds.  All you have to do is provide your name, e-mail address, and MCP ID – and yes, it does check to see if you are an MCT or not, so don’t try this if you are not Smile

Incidentally, an added benefit of these vouchers that nobody had told me about – the voucher is also good for a free re-take if you fail your first exam, (second shot).  Having failed a ridiculous number of exams (albeit many of those were beta exams) I am glad to have this safety net.

Conclusion

It is now 2014 and I am no longer a MCT Regional Lead – spending most of my time outside of my region made that decision necessary.  However I still care about MCTs and the program, and am glad to see that Microsoft has evolved the program – the first time in over twenty years that I know of.  It may not be perfect, but it is certainly a very good start, and you can’t please everyone.  I for one am satisfied, and I suspect the majority of MCTs will be too.

If you are dropping from the program this year I hope you stay as an MCT Alumni… I am looking forward to speaking with some of them and hearing their thoughts on the program!

MCT Regional Lead

It was a great honour to be selected as the MCT Regional Lead for Canada for the inaugural year of that program (See article).  I like to say that the MCT Regional Lead program spent the first year figuring out what it was going to be.  I was thrilled to be a part of that.

MCT(rgb)The year was a tumultuous one for MCTs… the retirement of the TechNet Subscription program (article), the retirement of the Microsoft Certified Masters (MCM) program, and all along people learning the ropes of the new certifications (article 1, article 2).  It was a thrilling ride, and I am glad that I was able to answer so many questions.

As the term came to a close, I was asked to stay on for the next year but I declined.  I did not decline to shirk the community, but rather because I have accepted a long term contract overseas, and am now spending most of my time in Tokyo, Japan.

As such I am happy to announce that Microsoft Learning Experiences (MS LEX) has opted this year to have five MCT Regional Leads for Canada.  Myungjin Jeong, Steve Jones, Benjamin Niaulin, Marcos Nogueira, and Paul Twigg will be the RLs this year.  For Benjamin and Paul it will be their second year; for Marcos as well, although only in Canada – he was the RL for Portugal last year.  I want to welcome Myungjin and Steve to the team – know the five of you will all do a great job.

I want to thank you all for your support over the past year, and look forward to working with you again sometime soon.

I also want to thank Veronica Sopher and Melissa Bathum for the year, and wish Karen Juhl all the best in the new hot seat 🙂

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TechNet Subscription for MCTs: Extended!

As you know on July 1st Microsoft announced that it would be ending the TechNet Subscriptions (TNS) that so many of us rely on.  As the MCT Regional Lead I have fielded several complaints about this issue.  Last week I reminded you all that August 31, 2013 would be the last day that MCTs would be able to activate the TNS that they are entitled to from their benefits, and that these subscriptions would expire at the end of the MCT Year (see article).

This morning Microsoft Learning announced that eligible subscribers with active accounts will receive a free, one-time, 90 day subscription extension. This adjusts the date of the MCT TechNet subscription deactivating to June 29, 2014.

Of course, if you have another subscription from a different source, I assume that date will be extended too!

You can read the release by clicking here.

While I am not prepared at this time to share any other news with you, MCTs who are paying attention will have heard rumours about something else going on for them.  Watch for an announcement soon!

MCT Regional Lead: Step Up!

This is a message direct from Veronica Sopher, the MCT Community Manager.  If you are an MCT who is interested in becoming more involved you should read it and click to apply! I have done it for the past year, and would love to see some fresh faces! –MDG

Call for Applications: MCT Regional Leads, Round 2

Veronica SopherHi everyone! Can you believe it’s been a year since Melissa Bathum and I started the MCT Regional Lead program? We have been honored to work with all the current Regional Leads (RLs), and thrilled to see so many more applications pouring in from all over the world. This program is working and growing because of your active participation, whether you’re serving as RLs or rallying around them.

For those new to this, the MCT Regional Lead program was created to identify community members in each major marketplace worldwide to serve as a representative in their regions, a point of contact for other MCTs, and act as a liaison with Microsoft Learning and various Microsoft business groups. Our goal is to develop a team of global leaders who can drive stronger connections within their local community. We are interested in hearing from any current MCT located anywhere in the world, focusing on any technology, new or old (in tenure), who is both passionate about being an MCT, and interested in working within their region to get their communities active in training and events. For more details, please read Melissa’s call-for-application post last year.

Want to get involved? Now is the time to act. While the application form on MCT Central is open all year, the cut-off date for the next round of selection is coming up soon! We will review this batch of applications with a focus on expanding the program to ensure representation from all over the world. See a country or state without a Regional Lead? Know a fellow MCT who would be a good fit? Tell them about this!

Here are the key dates:

  • 2013 MCT RL application deadline: September 7, 2013
  • Application Reviews: beginning September 9, 2013
  • Notifications of selection: via emails by September 30, 2013
  • Official welcome of the new RLs: October 4, 2013 (during our Quarterly Update!)

Submit your application via MCT Central by September 6, 2013. Get more details here.

Questions? Please feel free to comment under this post on MCT Central, or via email if you prefer. Thanks in advance!

Veronica Sopher
Community Manager

How Do I Become an MCT?

Recently I wrote a piece on the Benefits of Being a MCT.  I got an interesting comment from one reader that they keep moving the bar.  I know that I have spoken with this reader before, and she lamented the extreme costs associated with becoming certified, especially in North America.  She also asked if it was still the case that you have to be certified for at least a year before applying for the MCT.  Although I had never heard of this requirement it did sound plausible, and I decided to investigate.

I’m afraid that she is right… the requirements have been changed a few times in the years since I became an MCT.  Unfortunately (from my standpoint) they have become far too lenient… but that is a conversation for another day.

Of course it makes sense that the requirements change – certifications change as the products and solutions evolve.  When I became an MCT I did so on the basis of being a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) on Windows Server 2003.  As that is no longer current technology I assume it would not qualify me for the program… or would it?  I don’t know; as I stated, the requirements keep changing, and the bar has been set pretty low of late.

For a complete list of requirements (and benefits) you can visit the page on Microsoft Learning’s website.  This page outlines the benefits, requirements, and the application process.  I remember going through the process in August of 2006, wondering if I was going to be accepted, and thrilled when I was.  In fact I am still thrilled… the MCT designation has done wonders for my career, and it can do the same for yours!  Go ahead and apply… it will be the best Four Hundred Dollars you spend this year! 🙂

Benefits of Being a MCT

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk about the benefits that MCTs receive from Microsoft.  This conversation comes up every now and again, often because changes are being made or Microsoft Learning is reevaluating the benefits.  The most recent flare in the discussion was caused by the July 1st announcement that the TechNet Subscription program is being discontinued; it is not that Microsoft Learning is taking away the benefit, it is that the entire program is being retired

Right away the blogosphere, Twitter, and every other communication portal started blazing with conversations like ‘What will replace the TechNet benefit?’ and ‘Why are we no longer valued as _______’ (fill in the blank with the appropriate word/phrase).

This reaction to TechNet started me thinking about what I value being a MCT and what I see as benefits of being a MCT. Is it about stuff? No.

With that being said, while I understand that MCTs (Microsoft Certified Trainers) are only human, and as such they are inclined to take what they can and even try to get more, I also think that some of us are missing the point.

Once upon a time there were prerequisites to become a MCT, and once you had met these requirements you paid your yearly dues (currently $400/year) and BAM – you are a MCT… they would send you a certificate and a wallet card (I think they may have sent you a pin in the early years), and that was it.

A few years ago there was a big discussion group convened by Microsoft Learning on how they could add value to the MCT Program for the MCTs.  One of the big requests was either a TechNet Subscription, or some other way to access the software/systems on which they were expecting to train.  From that conversation the TechNet Subscription benefit (to MCTs) was born.  GREAT! We were all happy.

Now Microsoft has eliminated the TechNet Subscription program.  To be fair, it has actually been tomb-stoned and not actually eliminated.  That means that anyone who has one will be able to use it until their yearly subscription expires – for MCTs who get the subscription as a benefit of their membership in the program that means it will end in March of 2014.  Is Microsoft Learning scrambling to fill the void left now that this benefit will no longer be available?  While I have no inside knowledge, I suspect the answer is No.  This is not a criticism of Microsoft Learning, it is just an acceptance of the realities.

So does this mean that the MCT credential is diminished in value?  No.  No way, no how.  We have to understand the difference between the value of the program/credential and what Microsoft Learning gives us for being part of the program.  Believe me, these are two very different categories.

What ARE the benefits of being a MCT?  Well, for one thing you have the respect of your peers and customers.  You have the right to teach Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses, as well as to download these from the appropriate portal.  You are given access to forums (there are private MCT forums within Born To Learn).  There are conferences, there is early access to material and exams.  You have access to a MCT Regional Lead in your geographic region who is responsible for voicing your concerns to Microsoft Learning.

While I do not often work for Learning Partners, when I did it was easy for me to earn the yearly dues back in a single day – I do not know any MCT who charges less than $400/day, and many of us command quite a bit more than that.  For any given week I can peruse a dozen emails from training brokers, as well as contract offers in the private forums, and find a gig that suits me and earn a good living doing so.  Ask any unionized worker if he (or she) can say that…

Even when I am not teaching, my consulting clients know before they hire me that because I am a MCT I am very well qualified in the technologies that I work with.  I may have several dozen certifications to my name, but the only one that appears on my business card is MCT.  Of course it doesn’t mean that I know every technology that any MCT might know, but it is a good indicator that when I do speak I know what I am talking about.

Don’t get me wrong… I like the ‘stuff we all get’ too.  However any MCT who says that ‘we need the software to know the technology that Microsoft Learning wants us to teach’ I will flip it on its head… MSL needs you to know the software, yes… but it is your responsibility to know that software, and it is not MSL’s responsibility to provide it to you in order to learn it so that you can teach it.

I have said for years that the best trainers are consultants and IT Pros who implement and use the technologies that they teach.  Anyone can read slides, it is the real-world knowledge and understanding of the solutions that make good MCTs as valuable as they are.  I know that my audiences almost always appreciate hearing my real-world stories, knowing that they can read the book on their own.  They don’t need me to teach the words on paper because they already have the words in their books.

It is time for MCTs (and Microsoft Learning for that matter) to realize that we are not staff teachers for them whereas it would be incumbent on them to give us the technologies that we need to know.  It is time for all of us to accept that if we do not already know the technologies then we probably should not be teaching them.  I am not saying that this is always the case. 

There will be MCTs who are career trainers and who do need to learn it outside of a corporate environment.  Those trainers will still have complete access to evaluation copies of the software that are completely functional and not at all hobbled… and they expire after 60- 120- or 180 days.  If you want to have a permanent infrastructure based on the operating systems and other software that you train then you should be willing to pay for it – after all, just like your MCT enrollment fee it is an investment in your career.

I am not saying (to paraphrase JFK) ‘Don’t ask what Microsoft Learning can do for you, ask what YOU can do for Microsoft Learning.’ Far from it.  The relationship between MSL and MCTs is a symbiotic one where neither can really exist without the others.  Our reliance on each other has nothing to do with gifts, it has to do with services.  We should be asking more of Microsoft Learning, but that should not be in the form of gifts, rather in better courseware. 

In return I think it is fair for Microsoft to ask us to be better MCTs.  We should always aspire to raise the bar, and in order for that to happen we as MCTs should demand that they (MSL) raise the bar and set higher standards so that even MCTs who meet the minimum requirements will be better than ‘just okay’.  We should demand that public speaking skills (and proof of same) be requirements for joining (and staying in) the program.

If MSL is going to require us to pay every year then isn’t that a good opportunity for them to review that we have met and continue to meet minimum standards?  I know MCTs who have not been in front of a class in five years, and yet they still retain their status and their privileges

Also what about real-world experience?  How many MCTs have not touched any environment outside of their classroom in years?  If we are going to tell our students that they should have a minimum of two years of experience on the product before taking our classes is it unreasonable to ask our MCTs have the same, or at least a minimum amount of ongoing real-world work?  The biggest complaint I get from people when it comes to MOC classes is not about the courseware (those complaints come most often from MCTs) but that their instructors understood the book better than the real world.  In fact one of the greatest compliments I receive on a regular basis is that I understand my students because I also consult.

By setting a higher bar for the MCT qualification we become more valuable, more in demand, and worth more in the market.  The value add is worth more than the benefits that people are asking for.  While I understand it is not a tangible that we can actually put our hands on, in the end it will mean fewer people who maybe shouldn’t be MCTs (for whatever reason) and therefore more demand for the people who should be.

So in short if you want Microsoft Learning to improve our benefits stop asking them for stuff… demand that they raise the bar for MCTs so that we are worth more, so that our credentials are worth more.  Tell them you want it to be harder to become a MCT so that being a MCT is more valuable.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow” –Thomas Paine

What does this quote mean?  Make it harder to get, and we will value it more.  More importantly our audience, our Learning Partners, and even Microsoft will value us more.  Frankly I would imagine that if there were fewer of us we might start seeing the return of some of those ‘tangibles’ because it would cost MSL less.

TechEd 2013: Call For MCTs!

Are you a current MCT? TechEd wants you!  The Call For Staff for TechEd, including Hands On Labs, MCT Ambassadors, and Certification Prep is open, and I am hoping to see a few Canadian MCTs throw their name into the Goblet of Fire!  Ok, it’s not a goblet, there’s no fire… but you do get your show pass paid for TechEd along with a cool shirt Winking smile 

If you would like to go to TechEd but think the price is out of reach, here is a great compromise… you work a few hours a day and your ticket is paid for!  Yes, you still have to pay your own travel and expenses, but that is a small price to pay compared to all of the learning and networking opportunities that await!

If you are interested in going please let me know as well, and continue to conversation on Twitter… we will be using the hashtag #CdnAtTechEd (as we did last year).  And stay tuned… the DPE Team just may have something in store for you down in New Orleans (and Madrid for TechEd Europe)!

 

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!

MCT Regional Lead

Today a new program was announced by Microsoft Learning.  The MCT Regional Leads will be a liaison between the Microsoft Certified Trainers in their region and MSL.  a call for applications went out in August, and the Leads were announced today.  Melissa Bathum and Veronica Sopher asked me to record a short video for the conference call.  Unfortunately that video was corrupted in transit, so they asked me to post the text of that video.  I am not editing the original text, what you are reading is the original text as I intended to deliver it to the call today.

Hi. My name is Mitch Garvis, and I am the MCT Regional Lead for Eastern Canada. I am a trainer and IT Pro consultant with SWMI Consulting Group, as well as a Virtual Technical Evangelist with Microsoft Canada.

When I first heard about the role of Regional Lead I tried to imagine what the needs and requests of a typical MCT in Canada would be. After a great deal of trying I came to the conclusion that you cannot generalize; an MCT in Halifax could not have the same type of career as one in Calgary, Montreal, or Toronto, or in any of the other cities across this great land.

In the same way that the career of MCTs could vary greatly across geography, so too were they likely to differ across technical areas of specialization and many other factors. I decided that if any one MCT truly wanted to represent the entirety of the MCT community across the country he would best be served by creating a national council consisting of trainers from different regions, from different technical specialties. It is the only way that I felt that any one person could truly represent the needs of an entire nation and do so equitably.

As the Regional Lead for Canada it is my intent to create such a council; I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to visit different regions across the country, and will try to meet with as many of my fellow MCTs as I can, and will choose one or two from different regions. This is not to say that any MCT cannot reach out to me, for if it is my goal to represent their voice to Microsoft Learning, I must be willing to listen to everyone. I hope that my fellow trainers will be comfortable enough to reach out to me and discuss any issues that they feel are important to them.

Just as Alberta is different from Ontario, Canada will be different from Ireland; the model that I plan to follow for Canada will not necessarily be right for other lands, and I expect that each Regional Lead will have to give a lot of thought to how their region can best be served. What we will all have in common though is a desire to represent our communities fairly and proudly.

I am honoured to have been selected from the many qualified candidates, and will do my best to deserve this honour by listening to my fellow trainers from across this great land, and representing their opinions and positions truly to Microsoft Learning throughout the year. I am excited for this opportunity and challenge, and know that in order to succeed I must know and listen to my peers, for this position is not for myself but for them, and thus my duty is ultimately to them.

On behalf of the Canadian MCT community I want to wish my fellow inaugural class of MCT Regional Leads the best of luck and success. As Microsoft Learning celebrates its 20th year we have heard loud and clear from our fellows that there are many things that they are doing right, and there are likewise things that can be improved upon. I hope that our communal goal is to achieve that – to improve the system for us all – for the trainers, for Microsoft, and for our students.

I look forward to working with you all to make that a reality.

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!

Renewing my MCT

According to my MS Learning Transcript I became a Microsoft Certified Trainer in July of 2006.  Unlike professional certifications, the MCT credential has to be renewed on a yearly basis, and on March 15th this year I renewed again.  It is actually fairly simple, as long as you haven’t done anything to mess it up.  You have to pay USD$400, but aside from that it is painless.

Four Hundred Dollars is not chicken feed… it’s a lot of money to pay to Microsoft every year, and I have had several friends and colleagues ask me if it is worth paying year after year.  The answer is unequivocally YES.

imageI am thinking about it now because in this morning’s MCT Flash newsletter there was a reminder that current MCTs have only three more days to renew their status.  I have never let mine lapse, but I do remember the paperwork and hassles that were involved in getting the credential the first time, and I do not want to go through it again.  I have spoken with a couple of MCTs who over the years have forgotten and let it lapse, and getting that corrected is never simple.

There was a time when I coveted my MCT above all of my other certifications, although I suppose that is no longer the case; it is not that I value my MCT any less now, but I have a lot of other certifications that I feel better demonstrate my technical knowledge, whereas the MCT really demonstrates my presentation abilities.

With that being said, unless my career takes a very unexpected turn, I will not let my MCT lapse… ever.  It means more than knowledge, it means that if I ever find myself between consulting gigs, rather than sitting dejected at home I can take a contract training at a CPLS… if I want.  It means that if I want to learn the latest technology I can go to the MCT Download Site and download the course and do it on my own.  It means that I have an inside contact to speak with at Microsoft Learning, and it means that people at Microsoft are more willing to listen to my concerns.

At an event I was at recently I overheard a colleague speaking with a mutual acquaintance and encouraging them to become an MCT.  I thought this was a terrible idea, and I told him (my colleague) so.  It is not because it is not a great credential; it was because I knew the person in question, and do not think they are worthy of it.  They do not have the confidence or speaking and presentation skills, not to speak of technical acumen.  If this sounds harsh, it is this simple: when people who do not deserve the credential are given it, they lower the bar for the rest of us, and thus lessens the credibility of the credential to others who may then see ‘Oh, if So-and-so earned it, maybe it’s not as hard as it once was.

There are a lot of loopholes that would let people become MCTs if they knew about them.  I even know of a few who have done so.  I never help anyone with these, because I have sat through too many classes (and heard horror stories from others who have done the same) with MCTs who had trouble stringing sentences together, or had no understanding of the importance of not only knowing the subject matter, but of making it interesting and engaging the students.

So with regard to the acquaintance who I do not feel should be an MCT, my recommendation is to start going to Toast Masters, get a lot of public speaking experience, and work hard on the technical side.  However if you are not comfortable speaking to large (or small) audiences… until that changes, you just shouldn’t be an MCT.

Good luck, and welcome back to all of the renewed Trainers!

MCITP: Server Boot Camp, Virginia Beach

It was REALLY last minute… on Friday I got a mass e-mail from a training provider scrambling to replace a trainer who had cancelled at the last minute.  By some miracle of scheduling I was available; after a few hours of back and forth e-mails I booked my flight for Sunday to be at the training facility Monday morning.

All boot camps are hectic.  The pace is often ridiculous… it is frantic to rush through 15 days of classes in 10 days, but with a group of students as good as these, who have met the prerequisites and have the drive and the discipline, then it can be done.  We completed the first course (6421: Configuring and Troubleshooting a Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure) in four days instead of five, and the students all wrote the exam Thursday evening and Friday morning.  All passed (one needed to use his Second Shot Free, but that’s what it’s there for!) the first exam (70-642) and earned their first certification (MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuration) and were psyched and energized to tackle two more courses over a six day period.

IMG_0647

It cannot be easy for them.  The pace that the curriculum dictates I maintain is frenetic.  They are all drinking from the fire hose, and many have been learning concepts that they will never have the opportunity to implement or work with in their day to day jobs.  However the morning of Day One they all answered the questions I ask of every class, starting with ‘Why are you here?’ They all have their reasons, and since their employers all sent them most of them revolve around ‘I need the certifications and/or training to keep my job.’  I respect that.

During the two week class two of the seven students have celebrated birthdays.  These were marked by the class going to lunch together, happy birthday wishes, and (very small) token presents.  Neither birthday boy/girl missed class because they were out partying or celebrating too late.  Several times over the fortnight smartphones have vibrated with messages of the world coming to an end back at the office… yet nobody took time off of class because they understand the importance of learning.  When labs break they work out how to fix them, or ask for help (first of their fellow students, then of me).  When concepts are unclear the fellow students help clarify.  It is wonderful to watch.

None of them have complained about the pace, none has shied away from homework and I have not once heard a complaint about the extended work days and early morning.  As Master Lee (see my previous post about Master Lee’s Joonbi Taekwondo) taught his new student last night, our ability to succeed hinges on our willingness to work hard to achieve our goals.  As Grand Master Kim makes us recite before and after class, Everything is up to my mind, Sir!

These students know all of that, and have the work ethic, and now the certification, to prove it!

Way to go class!