Monday 22 December 2008

Free training 70-652: Hyper V

From TechNet flash

Prepare for Exam 70-652 for Free ($159.99 value) <>

This collection of five two-hour courses helps you develop the skills necessary for implementing and managing Hyper-V in an IT environment; as well as, creating and managing virtual machines and hosts in a virtual environment.

Use promo code 9350-Y2W6-3676 to receive your discount. Please note, you must use the link above to take advantage of this offer.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Ctrl+. keyboard shortcut not working (RESOLUTION)

I have been rebuilding my machine and installing Vista and VS 2008 and all the rest of the tools I use for my daily life.

One of the things that I love about VS 2008 was the resolve usings smart tag and the ctrl+. keyboard shortcut.

Now this mysteriously vanished once I installed a couple of different tools such as F# (which turns out was the culprit)

Firstly I used the VS 2008 macro editor to list as the keybindings that are in use. Macro was found here and found that it was linked to OtherContextMenus.FSIConsoleContext.CancelEvaluation which is an F# keybinding. A quick google led me to a this blog post which details how to fix the issue.

In VS2008
  1. Click Tools -> Options -> Keyboard
  2. Type "View.ShowSmartTag" in the "Show commands containing:" entry field
  3. Hold down "ctrl" and press "." (dot) in the "Press shortcut keys" entry field
  4. Click "Assign"
This will fix the Ctrl+. issue.. Thank god for that!

Wednesday 17 December 2008

2 Free MS Press eBooks

MS Press have released 2 of their eBooks online for free.

They are Undertanding IPV6 and Writing Secure Code for Vista

Freebies are always nice!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Microsoft Second Shot Offer

Second Shot now offers two incentives to get certified! (Offer to Expire Soon!)

Today, Second Shot provides the benefit of a free retake if you fail any Microsoft Certification exam.

From now until December 31, 2008, you will also be rewarded for passing the exam too!

If you pass your first exam, you can now use the Second Shot offer to enjoy 25% off a different exam!

The Offer – 3-easy steps :

1. Register for Second Shot offer and sit for the exam by December 31, 2008.

2. If you fail the exam you will receive a free retake exam that can be utilized until June 30, 2009

3. If you Pass, you will get 25% off a second exam. You have until February 28, 2009 to utilize the discounted exam.

Note: If you pass the first exam but fail your 25% off second exam, you will not get a free retake on your second exam.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

MS Press Training Kits errata and corrections

It happens, books make it to the publisher with mistakes in them. And those mistakes effect you more, when you are using them as a training manual. So it is common that there are corrections and ammendments made to these.

So here is a list of possibly the most common ones for the MS Press training kits for exams

Developer Exams

Server/Admin Exams

If you go here and type your exam number you will probably find the corrections if they exist.

Monday 8 December 2008

Why certify?

Its probably one of the most common questions people ask me. Why do I need a certification?

The answer is dependent on the side of the IT house you are in. If you are in the Infrastructure/Admin side, you will probably need one, whereas developers don't generally need to certify but that is a generalisation and I will explain about that more further on in this post.

One of the things with the Admin guys and certifications, is that the certification system has been a bit too successful.

People who pay the bills, like having people with a vendor guarantee, i.e. cert are minding their servers and core services and making sure that they are working 24/7. Looking at any job advert for an admin role and you will see acronyms such as CCNA, MCSE and VCP.

These are all certifications considered nearly standard for a mid to senior system admin. Personally I consider the mix of CCNA and MCSE to be one of the best for system admin.

It is also the progression of education and people wanting to have something that differentiates themselves from the crowd.

Now, why don't developers certify?

Developers are on the creative side. This means that they can bring a sort of portfolio with them. So employers can take a look at existing work and evaluate based on that. Not as easy with system admin guys as they are usually working on systems that people don't readily want others knowing about.

But it is becoming more of a requirement that developers also certify. More and more, the requirements as listing different certifications as very desirable. Thus increasing your chances of being successful in your job applications.

And there it is, the answer to why certify? To increase your chances of being successful in your job application or to give you a better shot at a better job.

Certification Salary Results in

Once again has produced its Salary Survey which details based on responses from questionnaires the salaries of different certified individuals.

The top 5 earning certs were (and all pulling in over 100,000USD per annum)
The country with the highest salary for IT, Norway. And Vietnam the lowest. But you need to take into account cost of living indexes as well!

The MCSD came in as the highest earning MS certification whereas the MCDST was the lowest. And it seems that the MCPD was missed altogether.

Main thing was that as a lot of people are expressing that being certified is paying off with those being certified being paid higher than those that are not.

This can all be taken with a grain of salt however as it is based on whoever applied so it may not be completely inline with actual figures.

Friday 5 December 2008

I'm an MCP!!!

I’m an MCP, and I have a webcam!

Are you Microsoft Certified? Got a webcam?

Then declare your MCP pride!

1) Record a short video of yourself that starts with the statement, “I’m an MCP, and…” (finish it any way you like)

2) Upload it to youtube (or dailymotion, or your other favorite video site)

3) Send your link to Monica Kilwine ( by December 19

If your video is selected, it’ll be seen on the Microsoft Learning website worldwide, so get creative, and start bragging!

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Free training from Microsoft

Not a lot of people know this but there is actually free training on the MSL website. Now I have blogged about different ones, but I would be only making up posts blogging about the rest so here is the full list

It covers such topics as Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Hyper V, Forefront, ASP.NET and many more.

So what are you waiting for, check it out!

Free Skills assessments from Microsoft

There are some free skills assessments on the Microsoft Learning pages. Have a look and see if you pass the test!. They are great way of giving you some practice at exams.
SQL 2005 based

SQL Server 2005 for DBAs

SQL Server 2005 for DB Devs

SQL Server 2005 for BI Devs

Visual Studio 2005 (.NET 2.0)

Web Development with VS2005 & VB.NET

Web Development with VS2005 & C#

Also there is a free training module for VS2005 and .NET 3.0 here

Free SQL Server 2008 training

There are a couple of clinics for SQL 2008 which will help you. Best of all they are free

Clinic 6188: What's New in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 for Enterprise Data Platform

Clinic 6189: What's New in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 for Business Intelligence

Clinic 6190: What's New in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 for Database Development

They are mainly a whats new but also a good first look if you have not used SQL 2008 yet.

Tips for 70-431: MCTS SQL Server 2005

Exam 70-431 (MCTS SQL Server 2005) is one of the more popular exams and one of the certifications that always comes high in the list of most desired certifications.

Note: I originally posted this guide on Boards.i.e. sometime ago but I reposting it again with some more information.

It is a mix certification requiring the hats of both an admin and a developer which makes it a challenge.

A couple of things still apply. You should take a read of this post which gives you ideas on what you should be doing to get yourself in the head space for this exam. Also have a look at the exam matrix for this exam.

Now this is also one of the few exams where you can say that it contains both questions and simulations! Once it has been mentioned in a public live meeting we can say it as its not covered under NDA! So this is one of those rare times.

A word about simulations. It is possible to get full marks in the questions and not so good in the simulations and still fail because you didn't demonstrate the knowledge. Don't let this deter you, as for most people the simulations are easier than the questions because they provide a visual reference.

You can pick up a simulations demo here which is a good thing if you haven't tried an exam that contains them.


There are 2 very good ones. The MS Press training kit book and the Sybex Training Kit book

You will probably need one if not both. Now, no book will fully prepare you for the exam, so its a good idea to get some hands on practice for this.

To do this download a copy of the SQL Server 2005 trial and a copy of Windows Server 2003 trial and create 2 (yes 2!) virtual machines with them. You can create one and copy it and then rename the server from within the virtual environment.

If you have picked up the MS Press training kit it comes with a 180 day evaluation of SQL Server 2005 Enterprise.

Now why on earth do I need 2 machines. This is so you can practice things like setting up replication, log shipping and database mirroring. It will also get you used to using the UI more so that you will be better prepared for the simulations.

Will the express editions do. Not really. Some of the higher end functions are not supported on these versions so you will loose out. Have a look at the product comparison here

Also if you are working with the Development edition, it is the very same except for the licensing.

The main goals of using the software are

1. It will get you familiar with the UI
2. It will reinforce the stuff you have learned in the book.
3. You should be able to do most of the topics from the exam matrix
4. You will start seeing some of the common problems that happen when doing certain operations and learn to troubleshoot them.


Couple of things to remember

1. Least principle.. The idea behind this is that it is always the least permissions or least administrative or least performance impact. Keep this in mind. This means that the solution should only use the permissions necessary to perform the task. Or require the least amount of changes to achieve the goal or impact the system the least.

2. Differences between the different RAID levels, their performance and also how to distinguish the different ones from their numbers and names.

3. Security! Know it! Its seems obvious but understanding the implications of security and security principles is a bit thing for all MS software.

4. If there is an option between new and old tech, new tech nearly always wins. MS tend to use their exams like advertisements at times, showing the benefit of the newer stuff. So as a general rule of thumb its new tech over old.

Casting call for MCPs & MCTs

Casting call for video on the value of Microsoft Certification

We are looking for a diverse group of well-spoken Microsoft Certified Professionals or Microsoft Certified Trainers, aged 21 or older, to appear in Microsoft testimonials.

The testimonial shoots will last between two to four hours and take place in the greater Seattle, Washington area in January 2009. Travel expenses for accepted applicants from outside the Seattle area will be paid for by Microsoft, and lunch will be provided to participants as payment.

A pre-interview is required and can take place over the phone. Applicants will have had a positive experience with Microsoft Certifications, and can tell us why they chose to get certified and how being certified impacted their career journey. Please send your picture, current job position, and a brief description of your Microsoft Certification experience to Monica Kilwine for consideration. Electronic submissions only.

Monday 1 December 2008

Exam tips for 70-528..ASP.NET Web Applications MCTS

This exam is aimed at ASP.NET Web Developers who are using the 2.0 version of the framework. So, by the name you can guess that it requires quite a bit of knowledge of the IIS, the ASP.NET web.config file and also standard web protocols.

The ASP.NET exam is a bit varied; it is not just concerned with how to develop ASP.NET web applications but also how to deploy them. This is what sometimes catches people in this exam as it expects you to know how you would publish your application to the web once you have it developed. And what are the reasons you would use a particular tool over another.

So with that in mind, you should take a look at the exam landing page, which details what is expected for this exam.

So what should you be doing?

Take a look at this post and it should help you test your readiness for the exam. If the exam landing page looks ok, have a go at one of the practice exams from and see how you score. This will give you a good idea of where you are in relation to passing the exam.

After that, you should have a copy of Visual Studio 2005. As this exam is aimed at the 2.0 framework, it is better to use the specific tool for it rather than using Visual Studio 2008. Even though VS2008 supports multi targeting of the different frameworks, it has additional tools and functionality not in 2005 and the exam was designed around that.

Now the following is a question that I am sometimes asked in relation to VS2005 and this exam. Are the Express Editions sufficient to use for understanding the UI and tools? And I always answer, I don’t know as I have never actively used any of the Express Editions to any great extent. So I can’t answer with any certainty if all the tools are included in those editions as compared to the Pro editions.

Next thing I would be doing is getting hold of the 180 day trial of either Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 and installing it in on your virtualisation software of choice. Having this will allow you to test your deployments and also remote debugging etc. If you use Server 2008, you will need to configure some extra bits such as IIS6.0 compatibility so that your web apps will work.

Also you will need a book. I used the MCTS Training Kit from MS Press and supplemented it with information from MSDN and blogs where I saw the need. One of my tricks here was to download the exam matrix to an Excel file and add links to different topics when I needed them so that I would have them on file. Unfortunately I have lost that excel file, but I will recreate it and publish it when I can.

The main key points you need to take away before you sit the exam would be

Understand the web.config

  • Security using IIS and web.config, also with ASP.NET applications and the implications of using the different types
  • The web deployment tools supplied with VS2005
  • Web controls and how to implement them
  • Master Pages, implementation, use, reasoning etc.

While this is not meant to an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea of what you should be looking at when you are studying for this exam. There are other aspects to the material which needs to be given sufficient time but the points above are standard parts of the whole of the toolkit that are expected in any ASP.NET developer.

More information on preparing for your exams can be found here and also some information on doing the exam (here)

Friday 28 November 2008

Exam tips for 70-536

Ahhh exam 70-536 .. .NET Framework - Application Development Foundation. The only exam I have ever done more than once. Three times in fact. And not because I failed it, it was part of the upgrade exams from MCSD/MCAD to MCPD which I did way back.

It is a bit of strange one this one. It is one of the exam requirements for a whopping 15 different certifications. These include the MCTS and MCPD certifications on 2.0 and 3.5

So if you want to get certified on .NET 2.0 and/or 3.5 you need to have passed this exam. And you only need to pass it once.

So where do you start? Well I would suggest that you take a look at my previous post on preparation for this exam.

Now information directly related to the exam.

If you are already certified on .NET 2.0 (MCTS or MCPD) then you don't need to read this as you already the requirements for any of the 3.5 exams.

Now if you are not certified on 2.0 or 3.5 yet but would like to, then read on.

The exam itself covers the base of the .NET Framework. You know everything that it is inside the System namespace. That is where this exam is aimed. Do you know your foundation stuff.

The blurb from the exam landing page suggests that you have 2 to 3 years experience on any version of the .NET framework. Does that mean you have to have it?. Nope. Its only a suggestion, but its to ensure that you don't have a massive amount of learning to do to pass this exam.

Recommended reading. I liked the MS Press training kit though do make sure that you check the errata pages (list). You will probably need to supplement this with some reading from MSDN, Blogs and the like though the book does go through a lot of what you need to know. It may not explain it as clearly as I would like but at least if I didn't understand it, I could always pop onto the web and get more information. Before you rush off and buy it read the next bit first

Other information: Microsoft have a nice training series called the MSDN RampUp which is a free online training course for .NET. Now its free but that not all. You also get a few goodies when you finish the training. You get
  • 25% off the cost of the 70-536 exam (and a free retake)
  • 50% of 2 eLearning course (5160 and 5161)
  • 30% off the MS Press training kit listed above

So its good value and a great place to start plus the bonus stuff is very handy!

At TechEd 2008 in the US there was a session on the exam hosted by Trika (who was at the time at MS Learning) and Susan Ibach which gives some great tips. You can get the slide deck here and the live recording is here. Both are very good resources!

About the exam. We are very limited in what we can actually discuss. And that includes the format of the exam. The passing mark is 700 out of 1000 and there is no set amount of questions though on average it can be around the 45 mark. You will be told how many questions on your exam when you take it.

Tools you need. For this exam it is not essential to have the Pro edition of Visual Studio as this exam is version agnostic but other exams need you to know some of the tools. You can see a comparison of the SKUs here.

Good idea to have it installed either locally or on a virtual machine so that you can play with the code and see what all the command line tools do.

UPDATE September 2009: Added a series of posts on 70-536 that have links to the MSDN in relation to the objects. Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

That’s about it.. hope it helps

Sitting your MS Exam

So previously I did a whole post on preparing for the exam, what about sitting it.

You have booked your Second Shot, booked your exam paid your money, now its down to the crunch. What on earth happens now?

If this is your first exam be sure to take a look at the Exam Question Types demo. What this is, is a collection of the common exam question types. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with them so that it is one less thing that is new to you when you do your exam. And if its your first exam at a particular level e.g. Pro again take a look at them.

So by this stage you should have a confirmation mail about your exam with the test centre details, your exam details (verify that it is the correct one!).

Onto to arriving at the testing centre. Depending on your testing centre they may have different requirements. So this will be a general overview of the most common practices.

Arrive in plenty of time. Some centres require you to be there at least 20 minutes ahead of the exam scheduled start so that they can get your checked in etc.

Now the following bits are important. Go to the bathroom! Seriously. Some exam centres aren't too good with bathroom breaks and you don't want to be concentrating on that while trying to work out the answer to a question now do you?

You cant bring a lot of stuff into the exam room, actually its nearly nothing. No laptops, pdas, mobile phones etc. There is a countdown timer on the exam in the top corner so you wont need a watch and depending on your watch they may ask you take it off.

Also food and drink. Some exam centres do, some don't. If in doubt ask. The are a couple of reasons for this, hygienic reasons, concentration (doing an exam while someone is eating pungent chips isn't good!) and finally for cheating. Yes, cheating. I wont go too deep into it, but it is a topic that MS are very aware of.

So, now the waiting is over. The exam is starting. The key to it is to read what is in front of you. You will be presented with an NDA you must agree to and the exam will start from then. Also if you are doing some of the development exams, it will ask you which language you want to do it in. Be aware you cannot change this once you confirm it.

You will see the number of questions and the passing mark. No one is aware of the question marking scheme and those that are cant tell you! So don't bother asking.

A handy tip for doing these exams is the following.

Read the answers first. Due to the fact that each question is in itself a small exam i.e. they don't relate to previous questions. So its important to check what they are are expecting before you read the question. It will focus your mind when you read the question to eliminate certain answers quickly leaving you with less of a choice. Remember there is a correct answer.

Keep an eye on your time and you will have a chance to review your question (though if its a test let you will only be able to review for that test let)

Best of luck and if it at first you don’t succeed there is always Second Shot

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Unit Test SPS without WSS

Bit of advertising but hey

Typemock are offering their new product for unit testing SharePoint called Isolator For SharePoint, for a special introduction price. it is the only tool that allows you to unit test SharePoint without a SharePoint server. To learn more click here.

The first 50 bloggers who blog this text in their blog and tell us about it, will get a Full Isolator license, Free. for rules and info click here.

MS Certified Master in MOSS

This one will be a bit of information and also a bit of a rant at the same time.

Microsoft has brought out two new additions to their elite level qualifications in the form of the Microsoft Certified Master: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 or MCM:MOSS and the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) in SharePoint.

Both of these very prestigious certifications require a high level of understanding of the product. Of course there are certain prereqs for each. In the case of the MCM it is the 4 current MCTS based on SharePoint technologies and a number of years experience in MOSS (2 years SPS2003 & 1 year on MOSS).

As part of this cert, there is a 3 week intense training regime comprising of hands on labs, written tests, lab tests and some a lot of work on the part of the candidate. It’s stressful, but it means to make a master of you.

All well and good. It’s a strong cert. Technology focused on both dev and admin sides, enterprise level functionality, best practices and above all deep understanding of the product.

To do all this, you must first fill out an application form with a non refundable fee and include your current resume.

If you are selected, it a program fee of USD18,500 for the course and 3 weeks in Redmond, completely offline due to the amount of time you will spend on this thing.

The MCA requires the MCM as its prereq and there is very little information on it at this time.

Now is the bit of a rant...

If you look at the certification stack that MS is currently using (here) you will see there is a track up from MCTS to MCA.

MS themselves describe it as

Microsoft Certification structure

Technology Series: Specialist certifications train IT professionals in implementation, building, troubleshooting, and debugging of a specific Microsoft technology.

Professional Series: Professional credentials validate the skill set required for a particular job.

Master Series: Master certifications identify individuals with the deepest technical skills available on a particular Microsoft product.

Architect Series: The Certified Architect program makes it easy for companies to identify experienced IT architects who have completed a rigorous peer review process.

So you progress from MCTS to Pro to MCM to MCA. That is the current roadmap. The jump from Pro to MCM is simply massive. It is akin to jumping from high school to PhD in one go.

Even the description of the Master cert, tells you how much they want you to know when you finish. And it’s only a three week course. So you better be just honing your skills in those three weeks rather than trying to learn a whole new set of skills!

I have always wondering why there isn’t an interim certification path to and of the Master certifications.. Apprentice maybe :) There are always 2, the Master and the Apprentice. Donald Trump/Star Wars would have a field day.

Now for the requirements.

Now the MCM MOSS doesn’t have a Pro level requirement. So the jump is even longer. 4 MCTS requirements only. I have 2 of them (both on WSS3.0), and wouldn’t consider myself within an ass' roar of the MCM (an Irish expression, ass being a donkey).

When you look at the MCM requirements for the SQL 2008 track, it is a lot higher. 7 years+ experience on SQL 7.0 and above. 2 Pro level certifications in the form of the MCITP: Database Admin and MCITP: Database Developer a total of 5 exams, 4 of which are Pro level.

It is similar for any of the other MCM level certifications. All of them require a professional exam or more.

I have enquired about professional level certifications for MOSS, both on the developer and admin sides of the house. I was lucky enough to be able to discuss this with Gerry O’Brien from Microsoft at PDC. We had a good conversation about it. This was before the announcement of the MCM for MOSS mind you.

But since that announcement it seems more and more necessary to have one. Purely to provide conformity to the certification roadmap, and also to give those who don’t want to achieve the master level certification, another certification to aim for.

While I am happy there is a now an MCM for MOSS, I am left wondering if it was fully thought out and was it rushed to market to capitalise on the increase in MOSS deployments and solutions worldwide.

Hopefully there will be a push to get the professional level certifications designed and out there and use them as the prerequisite for the MCM.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Preparing for your MS exams

I pop into a few online discussion forums here and there, the main one being the IT Certification forum on

A lot of the topics tend to be on the relative merits of different certifications, where to start etc. Some on are on how to prepare for the exams, the length of time to study and what to study. So to answer these questions I am writing this article on how I do these exams.

NOTE: This works for me, so your mileage may vary on this.

Usually I decide to do an exam when I have been working in the technology for a bit or its one of those technologies that I like working with and want to get more work in. And it also depends on the time of year too. No one likes studying in the summer!

My first step is the Microsoft Learning page for the exam to see what the exam will be based on. For example I am looking at doing the MCTS Team Foundation Server exam at the moment, based on my experience over the last couple of months, PDC and talking to the big guns in the TFS world. So in this case I went to the landing page for the exam which is here

Based on what I see here will define what I do next.

If when I read the requirements and see a whole load of gibberish, I might evaluate my position and decide to wait a bit until I have worked more with the technology. If its looking like I could actually do this, I head to my second step.

Which is, do I really want to do this exam right now?. What is coming up in my work/social/personal life? Do I have the time to commit to it etc. As I have said nobody likes studying in the summer.

So onto step three, guaging readiness. This is possibly the make and break stage for me when it comes to working out how much work I have to put in. Its very easy on the landing page to think I know all that stuff and I will give it a go no study needed!

I go to*) and purchase the test exam if its there for the exam I want to. I take it in test mode, and see how well I score unprepared. If I score high (in or around 90%) I retake the exam with a different question set and take the average. If its still about 90% I will schedule the exam for within a month so that I have a goal to work towards. Dont forget your Second Shot vouchers

If I dont score too well, there are two options.

I look at what I was asked and where I screwed up. If its a case of ok, should have read the question better or I knew that! why did I say X, then I will be able to do the exam, I will just require some more work. I dont book the exam at this point, because I will need to come back in a reasonable amount of time usually 2 weeks and re-evaluate my scores. Again same proceedure, if I score high enough I will schedule the exam etc.

If the questions seem like complete gibberish and I havent a clue what I was looking at, I will take that as a sign that I dont know as much as I thought and decide whether to study or whether I need more practical experience and time to prepare. Normally for me, I will decide to come back in a couple of months and try again.

Taking the practice exam at this stage is a great way to really see where you are at, in relation to the subject matter that is being examined. It is also a good wake up call if you thought you knew everything and the questions seem completely off the wall to you.

After figuring out how much work I need to do, its off to the web to find resources. This is usually blogs, MSDN articles, books and virtual machines to play with. I usually put the exam matrix in Excel at this stage and based on everything on it put a link, page number or task item against it so that I can see where to get the information for that particular item. Its just an advanced form of using a highlighter.

Now regardless of whether I have the exam booked or not, after about 2 weeks study and prep, I will retake the practice exam and check how I am doing. This is a good thing to do, as it hopefully(!!!) show that you are progressing and getting better scores in the exams. If you are going downhill by more than 5 or so percentage points, then see why. Be sure to read the questions kids!

About a week before the exam is scheduled, I will make sure that I have covered all the topics on the exam at least once, if not more and that I am confident enough to actually sit the exam. Last minute revision. couple of more practice tests to get myself in the headspace for the exams and I am done.

After that, its hoping that the effort is enough to pass the exam first time round.

Now with Second Shot, you can do the repeat for free, which is a great comfort. I always think if I dont pass, at least I got a good look at the live questions and can get a better understanding of what the examiners had in mind when they created the test. So if I fail, I can head straight back to the books and get a better understanding of the stuff I fluffed on.

So thats it, no mind bending secret, just good prep and some work. Like anything in life really.

(*) Microsoft regularly run a promotion called Partner Skills+ (PS+) which offers free exams when you are working for a Microsoft Partner. Check with your Partner contact to see if they are availible. Usually found on this page

Wednesday 15 October 2008

NNUG Stavanger Zip talk

I will be giving a quick presentation on the new generation of MS Certs specifically for developers at NNUG Stavangers meeting on the 07-11-2008.

Details here (in Norwegian)

Main thrust will be on upgrade paths from MCAD/MCSD to MCPD 2.0 and your options for MCPD 3.5, expected timescales, resources and hopefully if I can squeeze it in, some questions and answers

Monday 29 September 2008

Certifying the organisation

One of the the main things I have been working on in the certification side of things is getting the entire Microsoft development team here, certified. We had about 40% certified before we started on this program and now its nearing completion.

So how do you certify a team of developers? How do you make it work so that the people themselves push through all the work required to get certified?

What I found (and your mileage may vary) is that it is best not to make it into a competition but give each person their own seperate track and timelines so that they can work on the material at their own pace. As a competition type program, it can lead to unneccessary stress and people playing the system to win rather than achieve the knowledge and skills that come with certification.

I met with each developer individually, and we worked out between us what exams would be best for them, ie developers in the Windows arena were directed at the MCTS Windows Applications, SharePoint developers towards the WSS/MOSS certifications.

Once a suitable certification had being identified, a realistic timescale was put in place. This took into account things such as personal activities, holidays, current experience with the subject matter etc. Some wanted to push it out as far as possible, and in those cases it had to be reasoned back in. Mostly I didnt want people trying to study during holiday times, so most of the exams were scheduled to be taken before that.

Using the Partner Skills + offer (PS+) a lot of the people here took a couple of free sample MeasureUp exams to get a baseline on their skills. Unfortunately the offer is now over.

Now, in the background, I had arranged with the testing centre that my colleagues could email the tester and get a slot and that the bill would sent directly to the company. They didnt have to pay it directly and get it reimbursed. So that took a little of the hassle out. Also with the email they could just specify the exam number and their MCP ID if they had it and a day they would like. After that it was booked and they were ready to go.

The developers themselves worked on the material using the training kits, code samples and whatever else they needed to get the job done. Once they started getting 90% and above in the practice exams I encouraged them to book their exam, so that they would have a point to work for. This focusses the person on the exam and gets them into the mindset to do them.

Now.. the final thing. Nobody does these exams for the good of their health. There has to be a tangible reward of some sort. Some people link them to performance bonuses or give a cash bonus on completion. We gave everyone who passed with their agreed timescale a shiney new Zune (which arent readily available in Norway). Also there was the recognition by the upper management who had bought into the program which is an important factor.

The management team backed the program and made a positive impact into it. They provided the monetary support as well as giving good feedback when people achieved their goals. It went all the way up to the chain. This meant there was management recognition for the effort and accomplishment. This is a very important part of the process. Besides the team aspect of it, the acknowledgement of your effort and accomplishment is a good bonus. You also need buy in from your senior team if you have one. Leading by example the senior developers will encourage those around them to also do the exams.

Each developer was required to get only(!) one certification and once they had completed that they could decide where they wanted to go from there. We now have devs going on to complete their MCPDs and looking outside their own scope and expanding their knowledge.