Hi All, This is the first of hopefully many entries where we give our community members a chance to blog on their experiences, their learnings, perhaps different technical topics, etc. I'm very happy to once again introduce to you Jason Deskin, who you recall just days ago achieved his MCM: Exchange 2007. He volunteered to share the following with you which he wrote based on his experience. Without further ado, Jason - it's all yours.
The road to Master…
For those of you who are interested in what it’s like to attend a Masters rotation, read on. I’ll start by saying that the road to Master starts well before you enter the Masters classroom. It starts before you meet the required certifications and before you submit your application. Why have I decided to share this with you? Well, I know that one of the questions often asked is who is attending this training and what their background is.
My career started about ten years ago in 1999. At the time, I was doing Systems Administration work and playing around with messaging. In 2001, I took a Job with IBM global services where I quickly moved from a Messaging Administrator supporting IBM customers to a Messaging and Collaboration Architect. My job was to design new messaging infrastructures, transition customers to IBM and to provide an escalation point to steady-state support teams. You could say that Messaging became my core competency when I started with IBM in 2001; prior to that my focus was on server, workstation and Active Directory administration.
In 2006 I accepted a position with Microsoft Consulting (MCS), where I currently work. My projects have ranged from Notes to Exchange business case development to Enterprise Exchange designs and deployments. When I started with Microsoft I heard rumblings of a group of high-end Exchange Consultants/Engineers called “Rangers”. Ranger is a term that was used internally and it has since been replaced with Master. To make a long story short, after two and a half years of working for Microsoft, the stars aligned and I got my chance to attempt what is now known as Masters Rotation One.
Those who know me might say that I am a pretty confident guy. Masters humbled me! I’m getting ahead of myself though so let’s start from the beginning. The humbling began two weeks before Masters started when I received the welcome email which included the pre-read material. It suggested that the entire Exchange 2007 help file along with a pretty lengthy list of Technet articles be read to help improve the chances of success in the class. I immediately buried my head in the pre-read material and realized that I was in for a mountain of work.
Prior to arriving, expectations were set that there would be ABSOLUTELY NO working in class. This meant no cell phones, no email, no nothing – just Masters work. Etiquette expectations were set for the classroom so we were all aware of the significant investment everyone was making to be in the class, and nobody wanted to be the guy who wasted everyone’s time and money.
Day One – I arrived to a nice breakfast and Greg Taylor’s smiling face. The classroom was nearly full and I was thirty minutes early. Seats were pre-assigned and assignments were rearranged weekly to encourage branching out. At 8:00 the doors shut and Greg’s smile disappeared. It was time to get to work. Have you ever heard the term, “it’s like drinking from a fire hose”? Well, that’s what day-one was like (and every day after that). If you don’t know what I am talking about, try MCM or go and find a fire hose to drink from. Either one will work.
During the first day I realized that there were guys in the class who had been around the block a few times. This was not the place you wanted to BS. Chances are, one or more of your classmates would know and would set you straight. There were guys who had helped develop the Exchange Storage Calculator (if you aren’t familiar with it, you may need some more experience before trying MCM), and many of the student’s have popular blogs and are well known throughout the Exchange community. We had students from Brazil, the UK, Canada and the US.
During the first week, I was a lone ranger (no pun intended). I listened during class and I took notes. After class I went back to my hotel, studied and had dinner. A few times I went out and had drinks and caught up with some coworkers who live in the Redmond area. By Wednesday the entire class had been humbled. Every one of us had learned an important lesson – we don’t know it all! Even scarier, it was quite obvious that what we know is a lot less than what we don’t know. Confusing I know. When the week was over, I flew home for the weekend to attend my daughter’s third birthday while the rest of my classmates stayed behind to work on homework and study.
Week 2 – On Monday morning I walked into class (early of course) ready to take the first exam. I still had plenty of confidence and there was still plenty of humbling to be had. By the time the exam was over, I had received my next dose of humbling. My confidence was shaken and I was regretting taking it easy the week prior. I decided right then that I had to make some changes. I immediately moved into the corporate apartments where other classmates were staying, I recruited a few classmates to form a study group and my days of plenty of rest and casual drinking and dining were over. That night my new study group and I studied until 1:00 AM. The next day I was up at 7:00 AM and to class by 7:45. The days typically ended between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM - sometimes later. My group would then grab a quick dinner and study until 12:00 AM or 1:00 AM. This is a pattern that repeated itself the rest of the way. As it turned out, I passed my exam but just barely. I wasn’t about to squeak by again so I dug my heels in and worked harder. About half of my classmates or more weren’t as lucky as I was.
The instructors were amazing; guys whose names are all over the material that you read on Technet, as well as MSIT Architects and many more. Drop-ins by the product group were not rare and there was even an opportunity to mingle with the product group during an evening social. Now I can’t guarantee that you will have the same experience but that was certainly the experience that I had. Not only did I learn a lot in areas where I was weak but I also learned some in areas where I considered myself extremely strong. Have you ever had a question that you just couldn’t get answered? This is the place to get it answered or to get someone’s opinion. The instructors are great for this kind of stuff but guess what, so are your other classmates. You can debate your heart out over subjects such as SAN vs DAS, virtualization, sizing, architecture, whatever you want, and it will be great!
Greg Taylor, the MCM and MCA Program Manager, did an excellent job ensuring that the students got their money’s worth and he certainly made the class memorable (hopefully you will have an opportunity to see what I mean). He was also the instructor for one of the most challenging modules of the three weeks. Hats off to Greg for pulling off what I consider a very successful MCM Rotation One.
Week 3 – On Monday morning, I walked into class ready for my exam. My study group had spent the weekend working in our lab and studying. This time I felt more prepared but I wasn’t sure. The exam was tough and once again I was humbled but I got through it. This final week was much different than the last two weeks because it was kind of a short week. On Saturday morning, instead of the following Monday, we would be taking our third and final exam; which meant we didn’t have the weekend to study. Following our exam on Saturday, we would be taking our Qual Lab. We were all tired and worn down but we had also adjusted to our new life. Everyone in class knew each other and there was a sense of camaraderie, having been through mental hell together (that’s mental hell not mental health – that came later). By Saturday evening, you could say I had been humbled. I was now confident but a different kind of confident. I knew my limitations, and my strengths were stronger and weaknesses much improved. I still had some work to do to achieve my certification but I was ready.
I know it sounds like a lot of work but Masters wasn’t just hard work and exams. We did take some much needed time to decompress. There was the social with the product team that I mentioned and a really good ultra competitive teaming event where we got to take out some frustration and relieve some stress. I will not tell you what we did because it could change but I will tell you that I came in third behind Greg Taylor and Pretty-Boy Bill (one of the instructors). I’m thinking I need a rematch. Okay, back to business.
What about this Qual Lab? I wish I could tell you about it but what would be the fun in that – you will know soon enough. What I can tell you is to buckle your seatbelt and hold on tight because the program from day-one all the way through the Qual Lab is a hell of a ride. I’m not sure if I can tell you how to prepare for the Qual Lab but my only advice is that half of it comes with experience. Before you come to MCM, think about your weaknesses and work on them. Build out a personal lab and work in it regularly.
What did I get out of the program besides my MCM | Exchange 2007 Certification?
1. New friends and a valuable community of classmates from Masters Rotation One.
2. A valuable community of peers in the MCM | Exchange group
3. Reduced arrogance and an increase in awareness of my ignorance
4. Skills and education that I could not have gotten anywhere else without the time I spent at Masters, without the instructors and my classmates
5. Time to do what I never had time or resources to do before. When do you get three weeks straight to work in your Exchange lab without hardware limitations?
What if you fail? If you don’t achieve your certification, you certainly did not fail because with the exception of item 2, you will gain all of what I stated above, and I don’t believe you can put a price tag on that.
My suggestions for success are to forget about sleep, it’s not important during the three weeks. Find a good study group if that method of study works for you. Me personally, I thought I would be better off studying by myself but as I mentioned, my opinion changed after week one and I am glad I changed to a study group for more reasons than one. It really made a difference. Eat, sleep, and drink MCM (but no alcohol!). You will have time for a social life when you get out of MCM. The sooner you realize you don’t know it all, the better off you will be. Look for the quiet guy in the class, he is more than likely the smartest guy there – he was in our rotation. Seriously, you need each other and you will get more value out of the class if you work with all of your classmates. Each one has their own unique set of skills and knowledge to offer. Trust me!
I wish everyone who decides to give MCM a try the best of luck. I promise you, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. I have found that I have a greater appreciation for the things I have had to work hard for and I expect that you will feel the same way about MCM. Good Luck!
MCM | Exchange 2007