Now What? — How I Earned the MCSE-W2K
Now what? In my first Now What? article, I said that I would discuss each of the certifications that I have earned in my career in IT. The second major vendor certification that I tackled in 1996 was Microsoft's MCSE and MCT. To be honest, I have avoided writing this article because of my love-hate relationship with Microsoft. I have known the value of the MCSE since 1996, but have cringed every time Microsoft has upgraded its product line. You see, I have not just earned the MCSE; I have earned the MCSE three times over: NT 3.51, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. Each time I have had to take 67 exams to prove that I know something about the platform. Some would say, "Why bother if you are not a fan of Microsoft?" Simple! The value of the MCSE is that HR folks are programmed to respond to it in a positive manner. The MCSE and all the Microsoft certifications open doors. The Microsoft certifications are aggravating, butgive the devil its duethey are a source of income.
I began writing this article on October 11, 2001, the day Microsoft changed its mind about retiring the NT 4.0 MCSE. As I received the e-mail announcing that Microsoft had again changed its mind, I opted to put this article on the sidelines again until I could say something positive about the MCSE. What I have decided to do in this article is tell you how I earned the MCSE-W2K in June 2001. I earned the MCSE for NT 3.51 by sitting in traditional instructor-led courses. I earned the MCSE for NT 4.0 by self-study. I was going to go the self-study route for the MCSE-W2K with a target completion date of June 30, 2001, but this spring I was invited to sit and review a Microsoft MCSE bootcamp. What I want to describe for you is my experience in a 16-day Windows 2000 bootcamp.
I need to preface my comments by saying that I was invited by the principals of the two companiesthe bootcamp providers that were working in partnership in June 2001to sit in the bootcamp. All fees were taken care of by the providers. I supplied my own textbooks. The two bootcamp providers were Mountain View Systems of Bellevue, Colorado (http://www.mntview.com) and Focus Learning Systems of Tallahassee, Florida (http://www.focusls.com/). I had contracted with Focus Learning Systems as a Novell instructor, but had no knowledge of the type of bootcamp instruction that was offered by Mountain View Systems.
Mountain View was presenting its bootcamp format at the Focus Learning Systems site, and because that site is close to my home, it seemed like a good idea to experience Mountain View Systems classes without a large travel expense. Mountain View and Focus Learning Systems have since dissolved their partnership, and are each providing bootcamp training that is uniquely their own. The bootcamp that I experienced was a collaboration, and will be presented as such. I will refer to the partnership in this article as "the bootcamp providers." I was not influenced in any way by the principals of Focus Learning Systems or Mountain View Systems.
The bootcamp that I attended is advertised as an experience that "will make sure you're completely ready to take on Windows 2000 in the workplace." The W2K bootcamp that I attended in mid-June 2001 was an "UnBelievable" 16-day experience. It was grueling, demanding, exhausting, comprehensive, memorable, and without a doubt worth every drop of anxiety that it generated. I was asked by a few of my friends what the MCSE bootcamp was like. The only life experience that was comparable was a year-long Hebrew class that I took during a one-month intercession while I was in seminary many years ago. All I did for those four weeks was eat, drink, and sleep Hebrewthat was all there was to life. I was successful then, although there were some bumps in the road, and to this day (some 20+ years later), I can still read and write Hebrew. In the same manner, I earned the W2K MCSE in the most rigorous yet productive 16 days of my professional IT career. I expect that what I learned in June 2001 will stay with me for many years to come.
I will say at the outset that I was unsure whether I would be successful over a 16-day/7-test bootcamp. My preconceived hypothesis before the bootcamp was that I would pass most of the exams, but that I would have to work hard after the bootcamp to really learn W2K. This is what I discovered.
1: Is There any Preliminary Reading that I Need to Do? What is the Registration Process Like?
Before beginning the bootcamp, I registered on-line. The registration was straightforward and very easy to negotiate. I could also have registered by telephone. Several payment options were available, including payment by purchase order or credit card. I received notice that my registration was accepted within a day. If a student is local to one of the training sites and does not need to stay at a hotel, the price of the bootcamp is less. Students who take their bootcamps in Tallahassee stay at the Marriott Towne Place Suites, which is across the street from the learning center.
About a week before the bootcamp, I received several documents from the bootcamp providers by email. The documents included a map of the Tallahassee area, some sales information, a 14-page survival guide outlining the bootcamp process (including essential information regarding meals and schedules), and a detailed TCP/IP study guide with a heavy emphasis on subnetting. These documents addressed most questions I had before arriving at the center. The TCP/IP study guide was included to make sure that all students had an adequate understanding of the TCP/IP protocol stack that is used throughout the W2K courses and tests. The TCP/IP study guide was well-done, and offered good examples and exercises to assist students with TCP/IP issues and subnet masking scenarios. Because I have taught TCP/IP in the NT 4.0 days and for Novell, I just glanced over the material when I received it. No other preliminary reading was recommended or required. I found that comforting because it did not interfere with my work schedule before sitting the bootcamp.
2: What is the Learning Environment Like? What Is the Living Environment Like During the Bootcamp? Is There Time for Anything Else but W2K? How good are the Setup, Classroom, and Instructor? Do They Really Know the OS and How to Use it in a Production Environment?
The learning environment for the bootcamp was easily accessible and comfortable. My class initially consisted of seven students. One student was only sitting through the first five days of the class. One other student left after the second exam. Five of us completed the 16 days, with the MCSE-W2K. Of the five students, three work in large production environments, and two of us are Microsoft Trainers. The classroom could easily accommodate 16 students. Each student's workspace consisted of a full 30"[ts]60" desktop, which is plenty of space to spread out, have multiple books on the desktop, and not feel squeezed for space. Each student had access to a PIII600MHz Dell Optiplex with plenty of memory and hard drive space, and a 17-inch monitor. Each student computer was initially configured with two partitions: a C drive with Windows 98 that was used for testing and a D drive with W2K Professional. We each installed W2K Server on day 4 of the bootcamp. Between each pair of students, there was a 17-inch central monitor that was directly connected to the instructor's computer. This made demonstrations, labs, and configuration examples very easy to view and follow. There were no hard-to-see LCD panels or Proxima projectors. Everything a student needed was available on his/her desktop.
Additionally, students had high-speed DSL access to the Internet to do research and check e-mail. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. At times, I found myself researching a concept over the Web when I should have been paying closer attention to the instructor's demonstration. The classroom network was a 100MB Ethernet network. Access to the Internet was provided through a Proxy server. The instructor used two servers for the first 13 days of the bootcamp and three servers for the last three days. For the first 13 days, a domain controller and a member server were used for all facets of the bootcamp. For the last three days, an NT 4.0 server was added to the mix. The classroom setup worked flawlessly during the whole track. At one point, the class wanted to experiment with a DNS configuration that caused a loop. The instructor explained the reason for the loop and how it occurred, and coached us in ways to avoid it and fix it. The coaching was done using open-ended questions so that we would have to deductively reason our way through the process. We were not just given the answer. It was a little frustrating, but we each learned a lot about what we had done.
The instructor for the entire bootcamp was an experienced NT 4.0 and W2K instructor. It was clear from the opening bell on day 1 that this instructor knew how to teach and knew the W2K OS. He did not use endless prepackaged PowerPoint slides. Rather, he presented the material focusing on concepts and real-world tasks. Every presentation was clear and succinct. More than half of the bootcamp was spent doing directed labs. We did not do curriculum-based labs. He walked us through configuration and troubleshooting processes as we would encounter them in the workplace. That generated many tangential questions that were patiently explained. Several of my classmates who were involved in large production environments asked questions relevant to their workplace. Our numerous questions put us behind the published schedule. But every time we would ask if we would finish, we were assured that the questions that we were asking were welcome, and we would have no trouble finishing. My classmates and I never felt rushed.
A normal bootcamp day, 13 out of the 16 days, consisted of class from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Students could come in early for breakfast. Students were either taken out to lunch, or lunch was brought in. Students were on their own for dinner. For every 75 minutes of class time, we were given a 1015 minute breaktime enough to regroup. The center was open in the evenings if we wanted to come in to get some additional hands-on practice. I did not go in after class. I reached a point that I needed time away from the classroom in the evenings. I spent another two to four hours in the evenings after dinner studying the day's material. Toward the end of the bootcamp, I spent more time studying in the evenings. I found that as I reached days 12 and 13, it took more work to learn the material than it did earlier in the bootcamp. I described it to a friend of mine like this: "I was leaking Microsoft toward the end." In short, I had about two hours per day that I could say was mine. The rest of the day, about 14 hours, was spent either in class or preparing for the next day's class. It is very easy to get distracted by outside interests during the bootcamp, especially when you get exhausted and overwhelmed. Those that do are generally not successful. I did not intend to be a negative statistic.
3: What Is the Difference Between the Bootcamp Method and Traditional ILT Instructor-Led Training? Is It Just a Brain Dump? Is the Focus on Objectives Used in the MOC or the Live Test Objectives? Are MOCs Used and Relied On, or Are Study Guides, Teaching Aids, and Test Preps the Primary Teaching Tools?
In traditional Microsoft ILT, an instructor presents a prepackaged Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC), using a variety of PowerPoint slides, lecture, videos, and defined labs. There is a lot of fluff and wasted time in ILT. Most MCTs in this situation follow the curriculum to the page. Classes are normally five days in duration. The objectives presented in the MOC do not always map cleanly to the live test objectives. In fact, as both a student and instructor, that is my biggest complaint with Microsoft. Students can pay large fees to sit an ILT using a MOC, and leave the course not being able to pass the corresponding test. The reason is that the trainer and training provider strictly adhere to the course material, to the point that some instructors simply read the book to the class. They avoid issues and concepts that are not specifically addressed in a MOC, while at the same time covered in the live exam. The trainer and training provider point to another Microsoft course, in which the pertinent concepts are covered. That stinks.
In the bootcamp method, there is no time for fluff. Concepts, job skills, and the live test objectives are the driving points. In the MCSE bootcamp, we used the Microsoft Official Curriculum as a tool for discussion. The MOCs for course 2152Implementing Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and Server, 2153Implementing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure, 2154Implementing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory Infrastructure, and 2010Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Migration Strategy were provided to the students for the seven exams. (I purchased the necessary Instructor Guides before attending the bootcamp.) A study guide was provided that addressed the major points covered on each exam. Some practice questions were included with the study guide to familiarize students with the format of question types. These guides were very helpful. The MOCs were not used as a crutch. We did none of the labs designed by Microsoft, nor were any of the PowerPoint presentations used. Rather, we did directed or call-out labs that presented the concept under discussion in a relevant manner. Presentations that needed to be graphically represented were done with a white board. I found the directed labs to be a great reinforcing tool. Objectives that were not covered in a given MOC, but were covered on the exam, were thoroughly coverednot just referenced.
These 16 days were not a brain dump. Every concept was thoroughly covered. We were not given live test questions. In fact, on day 1, the instructor told us that there would be no feeding of test questions and answers. The Microsoft NDA is well respected. The existence of brain dumps was acknowledged. Brain dumps and the current commercially available practice tests were not used or encouraged because many of the Internet brain dumps and commercially available practice tests have erroneous information. Students brought in questions from brain dump sites during the bootcamp. The instructor fielded those questions, but did not spend a lot of time on them.
4: How Much NT 4.0 Knowledge Do I Need to be Successful in the Bootcamp? What Type of Person is the Ideal Candidate for the W2K MCSE Bootcamp? Are Non-MCSEs (Novell CNEs) Successful?
Before entering the bootcamp, students are interviewed by one of the principals of the bootcamp providers. The oral interview is a brief 10-minute discussion. The interviewer wants to know whether a student has a strong background with NT 4.0 and networking. Students are told that there are a number of references to NT 4.0 material during the 16 days. So NT 4.0 MCSEs with experience are the best candidates for the current bootcamp. The W2K MCSE bootcamp is not designed for career-changers. The W2K bootcamp is designed for IT professionals who either have a strong background with NT 4.0, including the MCSE, or have a strong networking background, which includes Novell and UNIX professionals. Those who enter the bootcamp with such a background are generally successful in earning the W2K MCSE in the 16-day format. I was told that exceptions have been made in the past, which allowed people in who did not meet the background requirement. Those folks struggled throughout the program. One of the people in my class held the MCP and was, for all practical purposes, a career-changer. He struggled for the first week, and left after the Server exam. Another classmate had a very strong Novell background (a CNE-5), and had some experience with NT 4.0. He did a fantastic jobpassing every exam on the first attempt.
5: What Classes/Tests Are Offered Toward the W2K MCSE? How are the Classes and Tests Scheduled and Administered? How Do They Handle Students Who Have Passed a Few of the Exams Before Attending the Bootcamp?
I would be testing on Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Administering a W2K Network Infrastructure, Administering a W2K Directory Services Infrastructure, Designing a W2K Directory Services Infrastructure, Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network, and Proxy Server 2.0.
The published agenda was straightforward and designed around a concept building theory. The first three days examined Professional and Server, with the Professional test offered on the morning of day 4. The remainder of day 4 focused on Server, with the test taken on the afternoon of day 5. The next two and-a-half days looked at Network Infrastructure, followed by the exam. Days 9 and 10 were devoted to Directory Services Infrastructure, with the Administration test taken on the morning of day 11 and the Design test on the morning of day 12. Security was the topic of discussion the evening of day 12 and the morning of day 13, and testing was during the afternoon of day 13. Days 14 and 15 focused on Proxy Server 2.0, with day 16 for the Proxy test and any makeup exams. The published schedule was adhered to for the most part. As I said earlier, my class asked many questions that caused the schedule to be modified as we went along.
Two of us had successfully taken W2K exams before the bootcamp. That caused no problem for those students or the class. Because I had already taken and passed Windows 2000 Professional and Proxy Server 2.0, and had Exchange 5.5 to my credit as an elective, I initially was facing four or five exams for the W2K MCSE. My assumption going into the bootcamp was that Microsoft would honor the Proxy 2.0 elective for a "limited" period. So I decided, before the first day of class, to take a new W2K elective: 70-244 Supporting and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Network. I decided to take this exam on my own and at my own expense because it was not a published option. My reason was simple: I did not want to have to take another elective in the near future if Microsoft decided to time-bomb Proxy 2.0. I decided to take the exam at the end of the bootcamp, without studying for it, based strictly on my background. In fact, the bootcamp providers were considering adding one of the new electives. The topic was opened up to the class, and we all thought it would be a great idea to roll out the new elective with our class. So instead of taking Proxy 2.0, we were offered 2010 Designing a Migration Strategy. We were told it would be new for the bootcamp process, as well as for us. (In essence, we were guinea pigs.) Every member of my class, including me, voted in favor of the new elective. If we flunked the exam on the first try, the second attempt would be covered by the bootcamp providers. It was a win-win situation. At that point, I put the decision to take 70-244 on a back burner. On days 1416, we were presented with the Migration Strategy material, not Proxy 2.0. No one was caught off-guard, and everyone welcomed the opportunity.
The bootcamp providers were VUE testing centers. All bootcamp tests were scheduled for the students. Seven tests were included in the price of the bootcamp. Testing was conducted at the students' computers in the classroom. The computers were booted into a test mode (Windows 98). After going through the normal sign-in procedures required by VUE, students cleared their desks and began the test. A VUE authorized proctor remained in the room to oversee the exam. Some exams were conducted in the morning, and some (which were killers for me) were done in the late afternoon and early evening. I did much better in the morning exams.
6: What If I Fail an Exam? What Processes Are In Place to Handle Failures, and What Will I Do If I Fail an Exam?
Time was built into the schedule in case students had to retest. One student flunked the Server exam, and left the bootcamp unexpectedly. One student flunked the Designing Security exam on the morning of day 14. He knew as soon as he finished what his mistakes were. He opted to retake the exam immediately while the rest of the class had lunch. On the second try, he passed with a 902.
The only other person who failed an exam in my class was me. We began the material for the new elective, Designing a Migration Strategy, on the afternoon of day 14. I was exhausted. The course material made sense, but I was having trouble paying attention. The whole class decided that we would finish going over the content on day 15, and take the exam in the late afternoon/early evening of day 15whenever everyone was ready. I studied late into the evening of day 14, and hit a mental wall on day 15. In fact, I was having trouble staying focused during the morning discussion. I knew when we broke for lunch that I did not truly understand the material because I was too tired. As it turned out, I flunked the 70-222 exam as everyone else passed. Everyone earned their MCSE-W2K by early evening of day 15. I took the exam again the next day, and barely flunked it again. The reason was simple: exhaustion and mental fatigue had set in. I waited Microsoft's two-week retake period, studied for less than one hour, and got a decent passing score. I knew the material; I had just burned out.
7: Will I Leave the Camp with the MCSE? What Is the Success Rate for a Mountain View Systems Bootcamp?
The instructor told the class during week 2 that the bootcamp success rate was 94%.
The five students that completed the bootcamp earned the MCSE-W2K on day 15. Just before I took the last elective that I failed, I decided to take the 70-244 Supporting and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Network exam when my classmates went to lunch. I knew that I was not getting the new concepts that we were covering in class for the Designing a Migration Strategy test that we were scheduled to take later that day. So, I reverted to my original plan. As it turned out, I passed the 70-244 exam with no problem. I never studied for it. I opted to take it based simply on my NT 4.0 experience. With that passing score, I officially earned the MCSE-W2K with the new electives. I was disappointed that I did not pass the 70-222 with my classmates, but I still earned the MCSE on day 15I just took a detour. After a little rest and Microsoft's two-week wait period, I also passed the 70-222. I was determined to leave the bootcamp as a W2K MCSE with my classmates.
8: As a Trainer, Will I Learn Enough to be Able to Teach the W2K Materials?
Before the bootcamp, one of the major concerns I had was if I would learn enough to teach the W2K courses. I found that I learned more in the bootcamp format than I ever did in a traditional ILT class. As a trainer, I was able to see the complete picture of the MCSE track, not just a snapshot here and there. I can easily see the relationship of courses and technologies.
Since I entered the IT world as a trainer several years ago, one of my philosophies has been not to teach a vendor's course until I understood the whole product line. I never taught a Novell class till I was a CNE. I never taught a Microsoft course until I was an MCSE. The bootcamp format reinforced this philosophy. I feel that I left the bootcamp with a complete picture of the W2K operating system. With a normal amount of trainer preparation, I look forward to a busy schedule teaching W2K classes.
9: What Were Some of the High and Low Points of the 16 Days?
The main strength of the bootcamp method was the way presentations zeroed in on tasks that were needed in the workplace; skills and concepts needed for the exam while bypassing irrelevant, non-essential ideas. The thing that I found interesting was that the instructor had to be thoroughly versed in all aspects of the W2K product to successfully present a bootcamp, and cannot be tied to the MOCs. If the MOCs are relied on, a 16-day bootcamp would easily turn into a 30-day nightmare. My class easily finished within the designed schedule. As a seasoned instructor, I was impressed. Without a doubt, one of the best features of this bootcamp was the quality of instruction. It was superb.
Over the 16-day bootcamp, I had very few low points. The main one was failing the 70-222 exam. That hurt my pride, but I understood why it happenedI was mentally exhausted. Bootcamps are intense, exhausting, demanding, and draining. The other downside to my bootcamp experience was the nature of Microsoft's exams. We took three design exams over the last four days of the bootcamp. We were ready for them. But as you all probably know, the design exams are reading comprehension exams. All of the concepts come from the administration and implementation courses. Getting used to three 3+-hour exams in four days was tough. Fatigue definitely set in. The Professional, Server, Implementing Network Infrastructures, and Implementing ADS exams were not that difficult. But those last three were tough.
If you can get past those issues, it is a great experience. I wish that we had had a one-day break during the 16 days (somewhere around day 10). I think with just a little bit of time away from the classroom, the last few days would not have seemed so overwhelming to me.
10: Was this Experience Worth the Money and Time Away from Work? Was the Bootcamp Everything that Was Advertised? Can I Recommend it to My Students, Friends, and the Readers of InformIT? What Is the Overall Bottom Line?
To answer this question, I'd like to share some comments that my classmates made while we were on break as we were approaching the end of the bootcamp.
One of my classmates said that he had a chance to go to another less-expensive bootcamp. He came to this bootcamp for two reasons: He heard that the quality of instruction was outstanding, and this bootcamp had a reputation of having a 9295% pass rate. When asked if he would change his mind and opt for the cheaper training, he said "No."
Another classmate wanted to know when a CCNA bootcamp was scheduled. He was willing to rearrange his work schedule if a CCNA bootcamp was given soon after the MCSE bootcamp.
Another classmate told us that around day 10 the bootcamp seemed like it would never end. Now that it was almost over, and everyone was one test away, she was very satisfied.
Now what? With the bootcamp, I set aside 16 days of my schedule, worked hard, and walked away with the MCSE-W2K. With the proper background, the bootcamp was worth the price and worth the work. I found out why IT professionals are flocking to bootcamps to complete the W2K certification requirements. It is not the best learning mode for everyone, but it worked for me. It seems funny to me to pay someone to work me to exhaustion. It was no vacation, but I would definitely do it again. If you are not willing to become a monk for 16 days, with all processes focused on Microsoft, this will not work for you. If you are, and you have a good networking background, go for it. If you need to get the W2K MCSE out of the way, I suggest that you look into the bootcamp strategy, even though Microsoft does not endorse it. At least not yet. Maybe they will reverse that decision, too.
Let me know your thoughts about bootcamps and the MCSE. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the InformIT.com discussion boards.
Want to continue reading this series? Click over to Warren Wyrostek's page to see all of his "Now What?" and other career and certification articles.