It's been exactly silent from the Directory side of the house here so far, so I'm very happy to have Will Owen, a Certified Directory Master and Senior Architect from Vertex in the UK put forth his recollections from his recent MCM Directory rotation. Will, it's all yours...
MCM Windows 2008 Directory. R5 Experiences
Hi I’m Will Owen. I live in Cheltenham, UK and have worked with directory services since 2001. Having asked Per why the MCM Directory track hasn’t got any visibility on the blog I inevitably got the response “fancying writing something?” So here I am!
First of all congratulations to Cristian Martinez Casado, Josh Phillips, Robert Gasser and Virgil Sarulesteanu who passed with me. Well done guys. I really hope to see the rest of the rotation joining us soon.
Like other MCMs, the Windows Server 2008 Directory track is the ultimate training for Directory Service specialists with a proven background in the field. Prior to attending the course, comes the first nerve wracking experience, the perquisites. These are listed here and once you submit the documentation an anxious week follows before hearing a response. I passed and so now it sinks in, I was off to Seattle for 3 weeks and couldn’t wait! The only downside is the list of pre-reading you have to do. Initial reaction to the size of the list is depressing, but stick with it, scan through each one and read-up on the areas you are weak in.
Both the prerequisites and pre-reading give you a good idea of what to expect on arrival. There is a lot of material to cram into the 3 weeks so the pace starts quick and continues that way. The first few days are full of ups and downs. It is great to meet like-minded students of similar technical backgrounds but of different cultures. Our course consisted of 17 students from all over Europe, South Africa, Hong Kong, China, Puerto Rico, the US and Canada. The lecturers are fantastic. Not only do they know their stuff to the intimate degree but they manage to instil a passion in you for each subject as well. The “downs” during the first few days for me were jetlag (I flew in from the UK the night before the course, not a good idea!). I also became over-awed by the environment. When you hear about the level of the previous attendees of the course you can easily lose self confidence in yourself. But you passed the pre-reqs and therefore have the skills. Try and maintain faith in yourself and take each day as it comes.
So what subjects can you expect to cover in the course? Week 1 is very much core AD. Sites, replication, authentication, DNS, etc. Week 2 moves into DR, Read Only DCs, Server Core. Week 3 then takes a different track and moves into federation, certificate services, rights management and LDS. The subject matter in week 3 is not necessarily seen as core directory services, but each of the products should be in an MCM Directory specialist’s skillset and this is why they are included. Oh BTW federation is the future so get on board now!
But it is not just about theory. Each session includes labs which reinforce the theory and demonstrate troubleshooting tools and techniques you will need in the cert lab and in real life. Don’t think about skipping the labs. These are essential in getting you up to speed for the cert lab and will allow you to leave the course with the skills to put your knowledge into practice at customer sites.
Outside of the core subject matter, there are a number of visits from product managers for new products (e.g. Win2008 R2, Geneva, etc.). Also you get some in depth sessions with some the actual AD developers. The session on Jet Databases blew your mind but was fantastic. Look out for the rabbits!
So onto the question of exams. On the Directory track there are 3 written exams, one per week, and a final cert lab. What can I say about the written exams? Not much really, they are multiple choice and test your knowledge from each week. Believe me, these are not IT Pro level questions and are designed to really test you, especially the “tick all that apply” questions! I found it best to make notes during each session during the week and write up each night to reinforce the key messages.
Onto the final lab. Walter Boyd (Program Manager) has nicknamed this the “lab from hell” and this pretty well summarises it up. It was pretty much the most stressful 8 hours of my life. Everyone tells you to stay cool and not to freak out when you see the amount of work that needs completing but that’s easier to say than do when things start going wrong as they inevitably will. But stay focused and the best you will do will leave thinking “maybe i managed to scrape a pass if I’m lucky”. Stressful it most definitely was. But it was also fantastic fun looking back in hindsight. I also left thinking that if I hadn’t passed this time, I would be cheesed off but would enjoy redoing it when I returned to the UK.
Being in Seattle is the perfect place for this training. You get to be at the Microsoft HQ and experience everything it has to offer and meet people such as the developers, which you wouldn’t anywhere else. The course would just not be the same if it was held elsewhere.
3 weeks, may seem a long time for training but believe me it flies. Before I knew it I was on my way back to the UK. But the course has left a deep impression on me:.
- I built some great friendships with my fellow students and these guys help you get through the tough days. Everyone has their different specialist areas so there is always another student who is willing to help if you are having problems.
- The instructors were great. Too many to mention them all thanks to Glenn LeCheminant who presented a signifant amount of the whole course and to Walter Boyd who had the unenviable task of managing the whole program and ensuring it ran smoothly.
- The course relighted a passion in me for Directory Services and has made me look at how I can change my current role to use more of my new skills.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Was it the best training I have ever received? Absolutely. Would I recommend it other people? Absolutely, but only if I think they are capable of meeting the demands of the course.