More Free EBooks from Microsoft Press

You have to give Microsoft Learning (and Microsoft Press) credit… they have finally figured out that their parent company will make more money if they help people to learn their products, rather than charging them for the privilege.

When the Microsoft Virtual Academy went on-line we were all thrilled, and continue to be so as more courses become available.  However some of us still like having books that we can reference, rather than having to go through an entire course.  For that reason I am thrilled that they are offering a series of ebooks from Microsoft Press – written by some of the top experts in the field – for free.  Simply go to the site (here) and download them all… in either .PDF format, EPUB format, or .Mobi for Kindle.

Now here’s what they aren’t telling you, which they should.  You see, I don’t have a Kindle, I have a Kobo.  After all, I did spend several months consulting for the parent company, and I love the device.  If you go onto the Kobo site and do some quick searches, you will find that a lot of these books that are available for free from Microsoft Virtual Academy are also available as free ebooks from the Kobo store.  I was hoping this would be the case, so I went and checked, and sure enough I just downloaded a bunch of Windows Server and System Center books to my library, which I will now sync to my device.  Amazing!  I cannot attest that the entire library is available… but I downloaded five books on System Center and two on Windows Server, and none of the ones I was looking for were missing.

Now if you`ll excuse me, I have some System Center books I need to start reading! 🙂

Does Microsoft Learning listen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

MCSE Private Cloud… Not easy, but valuable!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Response to the Cost and Difficulty of IT Certifications

For her article posted yesterday (Microsoft Certification Exams Are Getting Harder) on TrainSignal.com, Kasia Lorenc interviewed Erika Cravens and Krista Wall on how Microsoft certification exams are getting more difficult. While I have not seen the new format, I welcome the challenge – especially if it means that new question formats will eliminate (or at least make more difficult) the creation and distribution of ‘Brain Dumps.’

Lewis Roberts, in his comment, agrees that it is good that the exams are getting harder, but does not like a few of the other discussed changes, as well as the recent price increase of Microsoft exams (from $125 to $150). He writes:

“Let’s not forget that Microsoft have quite recently revised the price upwards of all exams so not only will it be academically more challenging to get a Microsoft qualification, it will also be more financially challenging too. A bit chicken and egg for some budding IT professionals”

Indeed, Microsoft did increase the cost of their exams recently (for the first time in a decade). The cost is now $150/exam (VMware Certified Professional = $225), which is not unreasonable, considering a) the potential benefits to your career that are directly shown in earning potential versus b) the cost of creating certification exams, which has never been cheap and seems to be, from what I read into Kasia’s article, getting more expensive for Microsoft.

I understand that Mr. Roberts is upset with the possibility of having to take multiple exams to earn a single TS credential, but that is not something new; when the MCTS and MCITP certifications were launched we were told that it might happen… it just hasn’t yet. If it is going to start happening with the next generation, then it is something that we knew about four or five years ago.

The reality of certifications is that they are an indicator that you have the respect for your profession to learn how to do things the right way and are prepared to demonstrate that experience in an exam. Among my myriad certifications are several for legacy operating systems, and you never hear me discuss them. When I cite a certification it is because it is relevant to now. Anyone can start using Hyper-V and build virtual machines; my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator tells people – potential clients, students, and whoever else may be interested – that I can architect a virtualization solution based on Microsoft virtualization technologies and following industry best practices, and support both the technology and the business case. My VMware Certified Professional credential says I can do the same on vSphere.

Is the MCITP credential worth the $375 it cost me (I did them last year) to take the exams? Absolutely. Is my VCP credential worth the $225 it cost me for the exam, plus the $3000 it cost me to sit the course (which is a prerequisite to sitting the exam)? Yes it is… to me, because they are both professionally relevant. That means that I earn money based on those credentials, and as such they were investments. It is why I do not take exams on Microsoft Office or .NET development… I could probably study for it and pass the exam, but it would be a financial and time investment that would not pay off.

Certifications are supposed to be hard… otherwise they are meaningless. Despite what the Occupy <Insert City Here> crowd believes, we live in a world in which we need to invest time and money in order to get ahead. People don’t question when discussing university education that it requires a lot of time and several courses in order to achieve a single credential… so why would you be so upset when imposing the same requirements on technical certifications? It is simply the cost of doing business and yes, if you want a career in IT you need to pay those costs.

Like most of you I love passing certification exams… at least, as opposed to failing them. Sometimes I take exams and pass them quickly and effortlessly not because they are easy, but because I am really well prepared. I am satisfied with that. I remember taking one exam several years ago that was not like that… I passed because it was a mind-numbingly easy exam that was poorly written and designed for a 90%+ pass rate. I took no satisfaction in that certification and never discussed it with anyone.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.”

In other words, if it is worth having, it is worth working for. We do not value what comes easy or cheap, and if you want proof look at the attendance sheets for my presentations and courses… the ones that are free and sponsored by Microsoft or HP have a 25% no-show rate, while the ones that people have to pay for have a 100% attendance rate. If they were cheap or easy (or both) then who would bother?