I’ve been meaning to write about my experience at MCSE bootcamp – something I’d never previously experienced, because I’m a UNIX admin; but I never get around to it. Yesterday and today my certificates and lapel pins started arriving from Microsoft, and I took that as a sign that it’s more than time to get to it.
I really think the most valuable part of certification – for us techies – is that it sets a baseline of skills. We all tend to be really good at the stuff we use a lot and may know next to nothing about really good basic tools that we don’t happen to use in our environment. A reasonably good certification exam generally requires that you know or learn enough about the applicable toolset that if you have a new problem in your environment, you know which tools are likely good solutions. I wanted to get my MCSE because my Windows skills were particularly uneven – I didn’t really get to do much Windows work at my last job, even though we were a very mixed shop, because my Unix skills were so good that there was always plenty of Unix work where I was clearly the best person for the task, and the only time that was the case with Windows work was when no one else was around… I decided to go to boot camp because when I looked at the costs of self-study (including building a lab), boot camp was probably going to be slightly cheaper AND it wouldn’t allow me to procrastinate.
I picked the Ambilogic bootcamp for 3 reasons a) they had classes that fit my schedule, b) I’m training a service dog and they had classes in a state where service-dogs-in-training have full access, and c) it was cheap. Those aren’t exactly the requirements I would suggest to use when looking for quality, but they were the requirements I was stuck with and I figured at worst, I’d get access to a lab, study partners, a reason not to procrastinate, and test vouchers. As it turned out, the Ambilogic bootcamp was fantastic. Part of the reason Ambilogic’s bootcamp is cheaper than most of the other ones is that you can get just the MCSE, while most companies seem to do only the MCSE with specializations – usually Security and also include the Security+ exam. I already had my Security+, and the way Ambilogic picks electives, that means that by choosing the MCSE track, I was able to apply my Securiy+ certification and get the MCSE+Security. Even if it hadn’t worked out that way, I really didn’t see that I needed the security specialization, I’ve got plenty of security experience and certifications.
My instructor, Rich, was great. He struck exactly the right balance of understanding what we were doing and knowing the answers for the certification exams. Frankly, in any GUI, the answer to “why do we do this this way” turns out to be because the GUI designers made it so that is the only way you can get a functional result; not something related to background knowledge of a protocol or standard or even how applications, computers, or operating systems work and Rich kept us out of those kind of discussions altogether. I’ve mentioned before my pet peeve about how Windows curriculumn often talks about how we are going to do this really really hard thing, and then it turns our the programmers figured out the hard part and you are just the technician inputing facts about the local environment. Rich completely avoided that, and in fact, often emphasized how easy it was to do or understand something. Another thing I liked about Ambilogic is that instead of the usual 10 to 12 hour class days, we only met from 8:30 to 5:30 – if that, most days we got out early or started late to allow for some much needed extra lab or self-study time. Not that I had tons of free time, we all pretty much went to class and went back to our hotel rooms and studied. But there was time to get 8 hours of sleep a night and take a break to go for a walk or watch TV or something when you were getting burnt out and not get futher behind. There was another group doing a different companies MCDB boot camp using the same hotel and conference center we did, they went from 8 to 8 or 9 and then had homework as well – I wouldn’t have survived that; as it was, when I was done I was so burnt out I just wanted to go home, even though I’d originally thought about taking a couple of days to sightsee.
At any rate, I went, I worked hard, I focused on understanding the Microsoft way, and I passed all my exams, filled most of the gaps in my Windows knowlege, and got my MCSE in 9 days. I’d highly recommend Ambilogic and I’d go again (although if I do, I’m going to plan a few days of sightseeing first!) Interestingly, the people in my class who focused on memorizing the facts to pass the exam had the most trouble, followed by the people who were trying to understand every detail of what we were doing. (it takes more than 9 days to learn operating system theory; I’ve been studying that for my entire 13 years as a sys admin and I still have a lot to learn…)