This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Bojan Nenadic, Microsoft Career Factor Idol Winner – The Aspiring Microsoft Certified Master.
I was at TechEd in May in Atlanta Georgia and met with the Career Factor winners including offstage at the live reunion show for all eight career factor idols—you can find interviews with all eight in IT Manager Connection (Rabeb Othmani, Kevin Dicken, Neil Simon, Eddie Boles, Simon Davis, Steve Molkentin, Caroline Weilinger, and Bojan). I am happy to report that Bojan completed his certification.
Bojan was born on 1973 in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia). He learned to ski at age five and did his best to do it every year since (although latter years in Africa made that a bit difficult). At six, he started school, and two years after that got his first computer – the then awesome Sinclair ZX81. Thirty years later, skiing and computers are still his favourite hobbies.
He moved with his family to Zimbabwe in 1990 to avoid the looming troubles that came as part of the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. In Zimbabwe over the next ten years, Bojan completed his Advanced Level General Certificate of Education, a degree in marketing, and his first Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. Three of those ten years were spent in Cape Town, South Africa where he started work as a Microsoft Certified Trainer and consultant. Cape Town still ranks as one of his favourite places in the world (not least because of the proximity of the fantastic wine region). After meeting his best friend in 1999 and marrying her a year later, they left for London, England in July 2000.
Bojan has worked for about twenty clients in the UK, ranging from Internet start-ups to multi-national IT consultancies, covering most of the Microsoft Server products at one point or another. His career grew at a steady pace from support and administration to team leader roles, and finally into infrastructure and project lead architecture. Over time, Active Directory and Exchange came forward as his primary areas of expertise.
It is not success in his professional life that he is most proud of. That distinction belongs to his part in contributing to the lives of two beautiful boys – born in 2007 and 2009 – two years apart almost to the day.
When work is done and boys are in bed, Bojan still enjoys an occasional glass of wine, be it at home or at pubs with friends; and whenever possible, going on vacation that incorporates as much scuba diving or skiing as possible. Sadly, one of his other passions has fallen by the wayside. Both his and his wife's motorcycles had to be sold, as it was decided that was the responsible thing to do. Nonetheless, he still tries to take as many aspects of his life according to his favourite quote by writer Oscar Wilde: "Life is too short to be taken seriously."
Bojan, thank you for coming in today to share your insights and experiences with the audience.
A: "Thank you. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you about Career Factor and Microsoft Certified Master programs."
At age 8, how did your Sinclair ZX81 fuel your computing passion?
A: "That's an easy one. It was a sleek little thing with flat white buttons that required me to spend only 8 or 9 hours typing out incomprehensible gobbledygook in order to get the masterpiece that was a black on white display of the analog clock on my TV. Priceless!
Seriously though, for a young person to be in command of the TV set in such a way was something very special. I know it sounds silly, but the clue is in the number – it was 1981!"
Why are computers still one of your favourite hobbies?
A: "I enjoy the pace of change that computers bring. It's not just the mere power and speed of them, but also the ability to interact with others, get the information you need when you need it and have it given to you exactly how you want it."
What was the catalyst in applying for Career Factor?
A: "I had already been accepted into the Microsoft Certified Master program. But due to its intense nature, it required major logistical and financial commitments. Career Factor appeared to make all of those far easier to deal with, as well as to have some fun along the way.
In retrospect – it more than achieved all of it."
Can you describe your personal experiences for the challenges and process leading up, winning, and after winning Career Factor?
A: "I found out that I got a spot on Career Factor in the first half of December. Over the following four weeks (which also included Christmas and New Year), I had to arrange help for my wife (we have two young sons), ensure there was cover for work, buy the airline tickets to hop across the Pond and read about 2000 pages of technical material in order to prepare for the toughest course Microsoft offers, and then finally depart in the second week of January in order to spend three weeks in Redmond living and breathing Exchange.
And all of that was nothing compared to the course. Simply incredible. Attempting to ingest that much technical information has been described as attempting to drink water from a fire hydrant. But while incredibly difficult, it was also an amazing experience.
Now that it's all over, so to speak – it's fantastic. I get to talk about it, which is great."
How does social media accentuate what you are doing in Career Factor?
A: "It's all about social media. The website is obviously the focus. But traffic to is directed from various other services – in my case Twitter and LinkedIn, mostly. It's very gratifying to see hits on a new article jump when I tweet about it or update my LinkedIn status. Without social media, the whole exercise would have been dead in the water, I'd say."
From your experiences with Career Factor, what tips would you provide to experienced IT professionals to help them in their journey?
A: "Seek and accept assistance. MCM is a fantastic certification and program. The knowledge received, the highest level of professional networking behind it and the prestige of the acronym are excellent. But, without the support of Career Factor and interaction with all the site followers, it would have been a far more difficult journey.
Engaging colleagues is beneficial on so many levels and Career Factor made it very enjoyable for me. Find a way to emulate that for your own journey. There are many blogs, virtual conferences, workshops and exhibitions that can be of use."
What are the most exciting opportunities you are working on with Career Factor?
A: "It's all about TechEd now. I have a schedule that I created for myself and that Career Factor has set up for us that requires me to have roughly 28 hours in the day. But it looks like it's going to be very exciting – filming, interacting with audiences, dinners, parties and so on."
What are your future career aspirations? What are you most passionate about?
A: "I’ve been in infrastructure architecture for quite a few years now. Leading more complex projects still interests me. In my field, that is mostly in the area of email migrations. It's still a kick to transform a company's messaging system in a period of a few months."
What drives your passion for Microsoft and Microsoft technology solutions?
A: "Microsoft has an incomparable array of technologies in its portfolio. There are very few IT tasks that cannot be accomplished using one or more of Microsoft's products. Using these products together allows for a great user experience, as well as for a streamlined process from the architectural design and service administration perspective.
Also the products do different things, but have great similarities in terms of general operation. Knowing Windows Server means knowing Windows Client, setting up file clusters is similar to setting up print clusters and so on. From an IT professional's perspective that means that leveraging knowledge of any one technology allows for easy career progression into another."
What are your tips, lessons, and best resources for those wanting a career in computing?
A: "Computers and IT in general are going to be a growing industry for many years to come. There are great opportunities, but similarly great competition. The only way to succeed is to keep developing one's own skills – traditional courses and exams, professional conferences, technical workshops – any and all must be used and the success and satisfaction will follow."
Why does Microsoft Certified Master certification fit into your career plan?
A: "It's a natural next step in the progression of my career. I have worked with various versions of Exchange on and off for the last 15 years. It was time to challenge the experience collected over those years with some deep technical knowledge provided by the MCM course. In return, I couldn't have followed the course had I not had extensive pre-existing experience. In simple terms, MCM enabled the next big leap in my career path."
What little known technical best practices can you share with the audience?
A: "There are precious few best practices that are little known. One thing though that I often see receives little attention but can often cause great problems, is having the server estate at an uncontrolled range of version and patch levels. It becomes so difficult to implement new or change current solutions. Very much related to that is an unrepresentative test environment. There is nothing worse than discovering issues when live deployment starts, even though extensive testing may have been completed and it turns out it's only due to disparity between the two environments."
What special technical tips can you provide in your current areas of specialty?
A: "Keep it simple. The best solutions are those that are standardized. For Exchange, that could mean using a single physical server with multiple roles (Mailbox/CAS/HT), and then multiplying the number of servers to scale to the right number of users for each location. It would simplify engineering, deployment, support and so on. Start with an 8-core server with direct attached cheap storage running all three major roles and complicate from there. It allows for a circular process where each addition has to be technologically and financially justified, ensuring that it only gets chosen if it truly is the best option.
Another simpler one – match server and client versions. If Exchange 2010 is on the back end, the preferred front end should be Outlook 2010. It's love at first Byte."
In all that you do, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions?
A: "Quality = Knowledge x Time. Since knowledge requires money and time is money, it means that Quality = money2. That bad joke is attempting to suggest that the biggest challenge is balancing the quality of a solution with the time and money it takes to implement.
The solution to that is to ensure that technology is implemented as fit-for-purpose, rather than based on personal desires or worse – limited skills."
Provide your predictions of future IT trends and their implications/opportunities?
A: "I always use a comparison to water and electricity. Just like we don't wonder if water is going to come out of the tap when we open it or if the light is going to come on when we hit the switch, we are going to stop worrying about the speed of the Internet and performance of computers.
Opportunities: having unlimited processor cycles available at a moment’s notice allows for some very imaginative stuff."
Please share 3 stories (something surprising, unexpected, amazing, or humorous) from your studies, work, or time with Career Factor?
A: "Unexpected: limo transfers to and from the airport. Made me feel very self-important.
Amazing: Having dinner at the same restaurant as Bill Gates on the last night of our course. We sent him a bottle of wine and got a signed business card in return.
Surprising: How such an intensive experience as the MCM course brought all participants together. From week 1 we were working in teams and we’ve even had sessions where the whole class worked on preparing for the final lab together. More than that, I have found new friends through this experience, for which I am very grateful."
If you were doing this interview, what 3 questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
A: "Oooh, opportunity to sound-off. Oooh-kaaay.
Q1: Do you think Career Factor was a success, both for you and for Microsoft?
A1: Absolutely. I have already benefited from completing MCM and I believe that sharing the whole experience through Career Factor will enable others to jump at the challenge.
Q2: If you did it all over again, what would you change?
A2: Preparation effort. I would have studied much more before starting MCM.
Q3: One piece of advice for anyone taking MCM?
A3: Learn OneNote. And type fast. It's the best way to take notes and take a lot of them."
What three lessons have you learned from your life experiences?
- "If an opportunity presents itself, take it.
- Give every chance your best. If things don't work out, there is a reason for it. You may not figure it out straight away, but there is always a reason. Perhaps, a better opportunity is around the corner.
- It's both what you know and who you know.
(I know it may appear to be regurgitated wisdom, but I genuinely believe in all of the above)."
Bojan, we will continue to follow your contributions with Career Factor and more broadly. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with our audience.
A: "Thank you, Stephen, for the very kind words and for this opportunity to talk about Career Factor and Microsoft Certified Master programs. I hope readers find it useful. All the best."