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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Microsoft Master's Class - A Mind Blowing Experience

This is your brain
This is your brain on Master's

Sunday, April 17, Day 14

Well, the class has finally come to an end. As promised, here's the recap of the last three days. I know you have been riveted to your chair in suspense, wondering about the outcome of the class, or maybe you have better things to do with your time.

On Friday we finished up the day with Group Policy in the morning followed by Disaster Recovery. Manny, one of my fellow classmates volunteered to teach the DR section and delivered an outstanding presentation. Way to go Manny! Then it was off to study on our own for written test # 2, that if you have been keeping up with the blog, you know I miraculously passed on Saturday morning.


Manny teaching DR
Right after we finished written test # 2 and before going to lunch, Ryan sat us down and gave us a twenty minute prep session on what to expect in our Cert lab. The two things that stuck out for me were "don't waste your time memorizing command line syntax" and "if you don't know it by now, you are not going to know it by tomorrow."

We spent Saturday afternoon preparing for Cert lab with these words echoing in our minds. Then all of a sudden, Friday's DR training paid off immediately as we ran into a real disaster. The Hyper-V hosts we were working on all died in the data center, due to a power outage and some Murphy's law reaction by the UPSes.

For us AD MCM candidates, it was an annoyance as we just sat around waiting for the servers to come back up so we could continue our practice session. For the Lync Masters down the hall who were in the middle of their real Cert lab, it was a complete disaster, as the outage happened twice. They were sent home after three weeks without being able to complete their labs. I felt bad for complaining about being stressed after seeing what they had to go through.

I returned to the hotel, making a mental checklist of how I was going to attack the "break and fix" scenarios we would see on the Cert lab: Check the Forest and Domain Functional levels, check schema versions, check replication, check DNS. and on and on and on. I went to bed early that night because as Ryan said (and I believe him most of the time) that if I didn't know it now....

The next morning, we nervously entered into the classroom, wondering if the Data Center staff had put their Disaster Recovery plan in operation and we would be spared the Lync Master's fate. They did and I breathed a sigh of relief, although my relief was short lived as you will understand a little later. Please read on and don't be tempted to stop no matter how appealing that episode of "Dancing with the Stars" is on TV right now. Tivo it.

Ryan handed each person a large white envelope with our name on it and explained that it contained our lab scenarios. We had exactly nine hours to finish.
At 9:15 AM, I opened up the envelope and read through the multi page list of items I needed to work on. After reading through what I was supposed to do, and making a mental calculation about what I could realistically accomplish, I began to triage the scenarios and prioritize my next moves. Unfortunately, my orderly and disciplined approach soon descended into chaos.
You know one of those movies where the world is coming to an end and everything goes wrong and finally the hero saves the day at the last split second? Well, it wasn’t one of those days.  My cert lab world was a friggin’ disaster as I worked as fast as I could through the scenarios yet things weren’t getting fixed fast enough. I took no breaks during the nine hours except to get up, grab a slice of pizza, and sit back down again. I swore often and hit the keys on the keyboard a little harder than I normally do.
In one scenario I tried to use a script to accomplish the requirement but no matter what I did, the script although word for word exactly what was needed, would not work. I remembered something that instructor Mark Cooper had said about Notepad doing some strange things to scripts. I contemplated doing COPY CON (old DOS users know what this means) but ruled it out as the time ticked down. My frustration level went through the roof.
When the lab clock stopped at 6:15 PM, I looked around the room and could tell by my classmates’ frustrated looks that I was not the only one who had trouble getting through the scenarios. We gathered in the hallway and everyone talked about how many lab items they never even got to do because they ran out of time.
Although the mood was somber, slowly it sank in that finally the class was over, and that normal life could resume. Ryan had told us earlier that it would take him some time to adequately grade the labs so we wouldn’t know our results until Tuesday night.  So for now we could just kick back and relax and at least relish the fact that we didn’t crack and call it quits, but stuck it out to the very end. From that point of view, we ALL “passed the test”.
From the classroom we went straight to Bellevue’s world famous Daniel’s Restaurant where Ryan had booked us a private room overlooking the city. Bill Gates’ favorite table was just outside the room, but tonight he wasn’t there. Now it was time to let loose and to shake off all of the stress that had been hanging on us for the last two weeks. Beer, wine and mixed drinks flowed freely and soon enough everyone was smiling, joking and laughing, not to mention eating the best steak I have ever had in my life. You could sense and feel the camaraderie in the room. DTR12 had gone to technical hell and back and we had made it through as a team.
Group pictures were taken. Heartfelt goodbyes were exchanged.  DTR12 then left the building.
So how do I sum up my experience at the Microsoft Master’s class? In one word: REWARDING! I am not talking about the certification, but to the unequaled learning and networking experience that this class offers. I feel that it has taken my technical proficiency to a whole new level and that I also made an awesome group of like minded friends in the process.
Sure, getting the certification is a goal, but as cliché as it may sound, it is always the journey and not the destination that defines our lives, personally or professionally.  Microsoft Master’s class was a positive, sickening, amazing, frustrating, gratifying, mind numbing experience that I heartily recommend to anyone who thinks they are on their technical game. Make the most of your experience if you have the privilege of attending a rotation, and please tell the rat pack of instructors Ryan, Matt, Steve, Mike, and Mark, that DTR12 sent you.

Our view from Daniels restaurant

Our private room at Daniels

De-stressing from the last two weeks

The wine is flowing and we all feel good

Manny and Ryan

Instructor Steve Patrick

DTR12 sans instructors

DTR12 with instructors Steve and Ryan


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday, April 16, Day 13


I take back what I said in a previous post. Written exam number one was not the hardest Microsoft exam I have ever taken. Written exam number two now takes that place of honor.

Somehow, the Test Gods smiled down upon me again and I managed to pass.

I don't have time (again) to fill you in on the gory details because tomorrow is Cert lab which promises to be nine more hours in the torture chamber and I have to get ready for being stretched on the rack. I promise, really, that I will write a synopsis of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when I am on the plane home on Monday. I won't have time tomorrow night after the last exam because the whole class is going out to dinner and celebrating our liberation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thursday, April 14, Day 11


I apologize for the non-post yesterday but I was the victim of technology - the hotel's Internet was down. I will fill in the blanks later on today. Stay tuned.

UPDATE!!!!!

The Internet is up but my brain cells are not. Tomorrow is the second written exam and I have migrated to middle earth to my normal study hole, so there will be no news again, until after the test. See you on the other side!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, Day 10

It is very late, I am exhausted, and I need to get some sleep.

Before I drift off............................................................................................................

Sorry, I just dozed off there and now there is drool all over my keyboard.

Before, I head off to la-la land, let me recap the day. Today was PKI, which stands for "Please Keep it Interesting". Fortunately, our new instructor, Mark Cooper, did just that, and it didn't take more than fifteen minutes of his delivery for me to be impressed with his subject knowledge.

I teach PKI in my own classes, and I can tell you from experience, that there are two kinds of people in this world - those that love PKI and those that hate it. I can usually tell which camp the haters are in by their deer in the headlights stare. Normally, when I start talking public-private key pairs, these PKI challengened individuals throw their arms up in despair screaming "What the FEK, we have to learn this stuff?"

Yes Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore and PKI is a necessary evil, hence the day and a half that the Master's class spends on it.

Mark knows his stuff when it comes to PKI and I spent the whole day in "knowledge gap fillin' mode" as he connected all the dots for me. Cool! Now I have even more material to drive my students up the certificate wall.

Right after class, as I walked towards the coffee machine for my tenth cup, past the very elaborate lunch buffet the Lync Masters were so nicely treated to, I thought of the upcoming exams.

Our second written exam is on Saturday morning which gives me just two days to be in top shape. It's going to be tough because there is no study day like there was last week. I am beginning to think the Master's instructors actually enjoy inflicting this pain on us. Bunch of rat bast................................................

Oops, drifted off again. What was I saying? Oh yeah, me thinks Matt, Glenn, Ryan, Steve, Mike, and Mark occasionally get together for a beer and plot new ways to make Master candidates squirm. Tomorrow, I am calling Microsoft counseling services to see if there is a Sadism support group that I can refer them to.

Simply no rest for the weary.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, Day 9

Rather than bore you with what we learned in class today (FRS, DFS-Namespace, DFS-Replication), I thought I would spend this blog post talking about the people I have had the privilege to share this experience with so far, my fellow AD Master candidates.

Let me start off by saying that I am blown away by the amount of experience and technical know-how of my classmates. Some of these guys are leaps and bounds beyond me, which I guess you could interpret as meaning their "beanie propellers" spin faster than mine or simply that they are braniacs and techno-whizzes. More importantly they are real, down-to-earth guys. Let me break it down for you.

Simon sits quietly off in the corner near the window and doesn't say much, but when he does, you had better pay attention because it is going to be something significant and very insightful. I put my pen down when he speaks up so I can listen carefully - I can't miss his distinct voice as he is the only one in class speaking the Queen's English.

Right next to Simon is Michael or "Mr. Service Pack" as I have dubbed him because he seems to know when every hotfix, OS tweak and knob was released across all Microsoft product lines. Michael also bears, at least I think, a strong resemblance to a younger Patrick Stewart, the Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek fame. I almost expect Michael to command his computer to "Engage!" as he wonders around the operating system in search of new lifeforms.

Behind Simon is Chris. On the first day of class, I was partnered up with Chris for our very first lab doing AD Schema modifications through a script. Chris commandeered the keyboard, then expertly navigated through the script at lightning speed. I could barely keep up.

In the back row is Brandon, who can really talk tech and who has an uncanny ability to take a highly complex scenario that the class has been arguing about for ten minutes and laying in out in easy to understand terms that sound as smooth as butter.

Next to Brandon is Ambers, our resident comedian. Ambers is a smart techno geek but with a keen sense of humor with impeccable timing and delivery that had me rolling on the floor more than once. If he ever gets burned out on tech, he should consider a stint as a standup comedian.

Across the aisle in the back row is Tyson, also smart as a whip and who isn't afraid to challenge the instructor on a concept that is not clear. Tyson asks the question, and then rephrases the question, and then tweaks the question until the instructor understands the confusion. Thank God for that, because it is through Tyson's questions that every one else who is confused, achieves clarification.

Next to Tyson is Asen. Asen also sits quietly, but when he does ask a question or makes an observation, it is obvious that it has the weight of experience behind it.

In front of Asen is Mark, Mr. PKI, who has been chomping at the bit for Wednesday and Thursday to roll around, the two days we are covering PKI. Mark is an all around smart tech guy and he is a Microsoft PFE for a reason.

Sitting right next to Mark is another PFE - Manny, the consummate tech guy. Manny is the kind of person who has the need to learn how something works in its entirety and he is not satisfied until he does. I can now tell when Manny's curiosity is running in high gear because his eye lids flutter at a fast rate. You had better have your game on when you talk shop with Manny.

Then come Jun who also doesn't talk much but who also knows his stuff. Yun sits right across from me and sometimes I will glance over and catch him scanning through tech article after tech article, while somehow still tracking the conversation in the classroom.

In front of Mark is Matt who seems to have worked on everything and has a tremendous amount of real-world in the trenches experience. When we discuss some obscure technical problem that I have never heard of before, Matt will pipe up and explain how he ran into it and fixed it. I think I will knight him "Sir Been There, Done That."

Finally, we have Martin, quiet and unassuming, you would never know he is a techno-geek because he doesn't look the part. Don't judge a book by its cover - he's been in the field a long time and he has the experience and know how to back it up.

I have spent every night since I got here, holed up in my hotel room with my nose stuck in Technet, trying to keep up with the in-depth class material. I wish there was more time to socialize with these guys because as our first instructor Matt so astutely pointed out on the first day, this experience should not just be about focusing on technology but about building relationships with your classmates. I also have the feeling they would be a fun group to go out drinking with.

I hope that after we part and go our separate ways on Sunday, that I can keep up with everyone going forward and know how they are doing. It has been a real pleasure sharing this experience with them and I wish all of them the best. DTR12 rocks!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, Day 8

The test gods were good to me. I passed the first exam.

The experience was not pleasant, in fact it was most distasteful. First, there was the pretest anxiety. After  having spent the morning flipping through what seemed like ten million flashcards, trying to tuck away in the back of my mind the one obscure fact that would make or break the exam for me, I was feeling the stress.

Then there was the test itself. Obviously, I can't go into specifics but suffice it to say that it was the hardest Microsoft exam I have ever taken, and I have taken my fair share throughout the years. I'm a visual learner and I can't just read a bunch of text on screen and then scan for the correct answers - I need to "visualize" the scenario first,which requires a lot of diagramming out on paper. I used up every second and barely had enough time to review all the questions.

Since we didn't get our exam scores right away, the class decided to head to "The Commons" and grab some lunch. I was still shaking from the experience and the adrenaline was still pumping through my body. Oh yes, that reminds me. I forgot to mention one thing that made the test experience that much more "exciting".

I take Niacin pills as a natural supplement to control cholesterol and ten minutes into the exam, the pills caused a very unpleasant "flush". I felt my body temperature rise what seemed like ten degrees and I felt like I was going to erupt in flames. The hot flash subsided in about five minutes. Meanwhile I was imagining the next morning 's headlines: "Microsoft candidate spontaneously combusts during test."

The mood at lunch was subdued at times and also filled with nervous laughter. Our exam scores were going to be emailed to us by noon and everyone had their phone out and were constantly checking their inbox. I didn't have my IPhone with me, so I would have to wait until I got back to the classroom to satisfy my curiosity.

By the time we got in the shuttle that would take us back to Building 41, some already knew their scores. Upon returning to the classroom, I grabbed my IPhone from my bag and after reading the good news, I let out a very audible "Yes!" that even the Lync masters down the hall must have heard. I think it was more the adrenaline talking and me feeling a tremendous sense of relief, that the non-stop studying had actually paid off. In a moment, I realized that others were not so lucky and I felt guilty for expressing my joy.

Ryan reminded us that we needed to "reset" after the experience because we were back to a clean slate, meaning that those who were smiling today wouldn't necessarily be smiling on Saturday or Sunday for that matter, when test days rolled around again. Then it was back to the grind.

Surely we will have a short lecture day after such a dreadful test, I thought to myself.

No such luck. It was FRS and DFS-N all afternoon with our new instructor Mike Stephens. As I trudged out of the classroom at 7:30 PM, I could barely hear myself think. I felt like I needed to find the closest diving decompression chamber and spend some time slowly re-acclimating to normal atmosphere. Six more days of this...just six more days...

Today was a victory, but it was too early to celebrate, rather it was time to hunker down again for the next exam.

Don't worry Manny, if you are reading this, drinks are still on me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rolling Blackout Due to Overloaded Brain Circuits

Sorry folks, but I don't have time to post yesterday's shenanigans of the MCM class due to time constraints. Tomorrow is the first written exam and I have been glued to a chair studying since I got back to the hotel from class last evening, interrupted only by sleep. My next blog update will be tomorrow AFTER the exam and AFTER I know my score. Wish us all luck! We are going to need it in the "chamber of pain".

Saturday, April 9, 2011

HALO Bash - AD Masters vs. Lync Masters

 
The war has started

Ryan and Matt kicking Lync Master butt

Manny and Ambers enjoying a brew

Sensei Glenn and Michael trying out the Fat Tire.


Sensei Ryan and Sensei Glenn defending the honor of AD MCMs.

AD MCM candidates hard at work

Tyson doing a lab with Fat Tire in hand.

Jun and Chris

In the enemy's camp - Lync Masters getting trounced in HALO

Pizza everywhere

The Chamber of Pain



Friday, April 8, Day 5

It's 2 AM and I just finished making a hundred freakin flashcards to study over the weekend, and that was just for the Directory Core Concepts. On Saturday evening and on Sunday, our "day off", I will finish up the rest. On Monday morning, right after the test, I plan on pulling a Mr. Creosote from Monte Python's "The Meaning of Life" and upchucking all the miscellaneous AD trivia swirling around my head. It had better be a big bucket.

On second thought maybe that's not a good idea - I'll probably need it for the hands-on cert lab next week.

So what happened in class today? Well, what I can I say - it was another outrageously exciting day of not seeing the sunlight while glaring at an overhead projector for ten hours. I did find the content a little more interesting today - RODCs and Trust Relationships. Sorry Steve, it's not that I dislike Authentication but it is a little too abstract for me. Now an RODC, that's a real server that I can touch, feel and love on even if it doesn't want to replicate that love back.

Glenn was back at the podium doing his thing. I scanned the room to see what everyone else was up to. Fatigue was obviously setting in as evidenced by the fact that the right side of the room was not asking as many questions as they normally would. The top talkers, Manny and Tyson, were well just a little less talkative today.

Ryan came in to remind us that there was a pizza/beer party and HALO match that evening right after class - AD Master's class against the Lync Master's class that was just down the hall from us. Master against Master.

"Class won't start till 9AM tomorrow," Glenn informed us after the Pizza had arrived. Cool, I thought, that means I can go to bed at 3AM instead of 2 tonight.

The HALO game began, but no one in the classroom was playing. Some students were still doing labs or flipping through their Power Points, while others were hanging out drinking beer and swapping IT war stories. It was obvious that a battle was raging in the game anyway so I guess it was Lync Masters killing Lync Masters. "We have better things to do with our time," joked a fellow student, "Those Lync guys must have an easier class." Slowly the fatigued looks gave way to relaxation and beer smiles.

Finally, Ryan, Matt and Manny jumped into the game. Meanwhile, Tyson was still working on a lab and asked Manny if he knew the syntax for a command. Manny didn't miss a beat, blurting out the answer while gutting a Lync Master at the same time. Multitasking is not a gift, it is a virtue.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday, April 7, Day 4

Another day, another new instructor in this tech paradise called Microsoft Masters.This time it was Steve "Spat" Patrick who was going to give us the low down on Windows Authentication and all of its inner workings. Kerbing my enthusiasm, I slouched down lower in the chair and prepared for the information deluge, and indeed it was. Not that it wasn't interesting stuff, as interesting as Gina and her friends get, but I can only hear so much about ticket this or ticket that before I find myself daydreaming of taking a ride on the Polar Express.

We learned how to troubleshoot and configure Kerberos constrained delegation and protocol transition, and a whole lot of new stuff like how to configure Authentication Mechanism Assurance. It was also cool to see how Steve analyzed authentication related network traces in Network Monitor. "Exercise your curiosity" Steve was fond of saying as he lead us down another rabbit hole to Tech Wonderland. Grinning like the Chesire Cat, he would emerge from the exercise satisfied that he had put yet another technical doubt to bed.

I don't know why but I was under the impression that our first written exam was this Saturday. How did I fat finger that one? I wondered. As it turns out, Ryan gave us the option of either taking the two written tests the same day on the last Saturday of the class or splitting them up and taking the first exam on Monday. Well, that's a no-brainer: If given a choice of falling from a one story or a two story building, which are you going to take?

Some of my classmates worried about failing the first exam and the impact it would have on their mental state and morale going forward. Ryan had a fix for that - he would change the exam so that no one would get their pass/faill result at the end of the exam. Those who wanted to know their results could have their exam score emailed to them the same day and those that did not, would get their results at the end of the course. I am not a patient person when it comes to such matters and chose the instant gratification. Wearing a blindfold in front of an execution squad typically doesn't make the outcome any less painful... I reasoned.

Class ended at 7:30PM, again. I could tell by the look on everyone's face that they were stressed and that I was not the only one feeling the drag. Well, at least I can sleep in on Sunday, I thought to myself, thankful that there was one non-lecture day to look forward to over the horizon. But right now I had to focus on reviewing the lecture items that I didn't have a good grasp on today. Back to the grind.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, Day 3

If this were a regular work week, today would be hump day, but there is no such thing in the life of a Microsoft Master rotation. Instead, it was another day of punishing lecture that lasted from 8AM to 7:30PM, this time dished out by our new instructor Glenn Lecheminant who descended on us like a rat on a cheetoh. Now I can see that Matt's "easy" DNS Case Study from the day before was a psychological ploy to lure us into a sense of false security. That was cruel Matt, very cruel.

You see, Glenn is REPL-MAN, champion of efficient Active Directory replication everywhere and fighter against disjointed databases and lingering objects throughout the free world. Glenn made it clear that no self-respecting IT Professional can don the cape of a Microsoft Master unless they thoroughly understand how AD replication works, how it can be tweaked and most importantly how to troubleshoot it, and it was his job to make sure we did.

OK, I have a little confession to make. I never really understood how AD replication really worked until the last couple of days. Sure I knew the basics, but terms like High Watermark, UptoDatenessVector Table, and InvocationID never seemed to make any sense to me. The light bulb finally came on today in class. I felt embarrassed that I had never properly understood these concepts before, but then again I never had the privilege to hear it explained so authoritatively before either.

This is one of the things I like most about this class. From a learning perspective, you could spend months culling through hundreds of Technet articles, Internet blogs and Microsoft protocol specs to get the deep technical information you need to understand Active Directory replication or you can get it all collated, cooked up, demoed and served nicely to you in the Master's class by an authority like Glenn .

In fact, I would venture to say, that even if you don't give a darn about certifications and acronyms on your business card, attending a Master's class purely from a learning perspective is well worth the money. Of course, everyone in this rotation and I am sure the one's before had as their goal certification, but it is the learning that produces the real value add. I know walking away from this course, the insight and skills I have learned here will help me be a better trainer and a better consultant regardless of the certification outcome.

Another thing I noticed is that the six Microsoft PFEs that are attending this class all really seem to know their stuff. While I am scribbling feverishly to put down on paper a technical concept I just heard of, the PFEs are laid back in their chairs with their arms folded, all knowingly nodding in unison at what the instructor is saying. What do these guys eat for breakfast, Technet Cheerios?

Now, I am back in the hotel room, dreading having to revisit the copious notes from today, all too aware that I am already mentally exhausted and it is only the end of day three. Another pot of coffee is already brewing, Seattle's best of course, and it won't be the last pot tonight. Sleep is just a luxury anyway, right?

Tuesday, April 5, Day 2

When I woke up this morning after less than five hours of sleep, I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room for some duct tape to wrap around my head to prevent yesterday's overload of technical information from leaking out. I looked in the mirror and noticed the bags under my eyes and contemplated taking before and after "Pre and Post Master's course" photos to demonstrate that the grueling event would have a physical impact on my body.

As I walked the short distance to building 40, I mumbled technical acronym after technical acronym to myself like some new age mantra, except I wasn't feeling particularly enlightened but more like in a dazed fog. "Don't forget that one!" I thought. "Dammit, what was it that Matt said we should remember about that one!" One day down, four to go till T1 - Written Test number one.

When I entered the classroom, the same Powerpoint Slide was still on the screen - LDAP. Matt stood at the podium with a sly smile on his face like a drill sergeant glaring down at his raw recruits. "They have no idea" I could almost hear him thinking.

Breathe. Focus. Breathe. Focus.

"Most IT pros don't know LDAP as well as they should" Matt started off saying, but which I heard as, "Get ready, I am about to shove LDAP technical knowledge down your throat until you can do LDAP queries with your eyes closed." Turns out that I was right and we spent the whole morning using LDP.EXE to gingerly get AD to feed back only what we wanted. We also learned how to build custom AD database indexes and measure their performance impact.

"Here's a test tip" Matt said abruptly. All activity in the room ceased as fourteen pairs of eyes focused on him. NDA mode on. "Good to know" I mused. NDA mode off. Then it was off to the technical races again as Matt delved into Client Server interactions of DC Locator.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the instruction is phenomenal, but I am not only impressed with the instructor but with my fellow classmates as well. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this class and it is refreshing to be able to talk shop with folks whose eyes don't get glazed over with the technical details. One Microsoft PFE is responsible for a HA Active Directory implementation. HA doesn't stand for High Availability but is synonymous with "large".

The afternoon was spent learning all of the intricacies of DNS. If you think you know DNS, you don't. You have to come to a class like this one to really get a feel for all of the nuances that Microsoft has layered on the service.  "I am going to give you a case study to do" Matt said as he divided up the class into two teams. Each team is responsible for coming up with a DNS design for a large corporation and here are the requirements.

Each team huddled to its side of the room and began to plan its implementation. Matt seemed surprised that my team was done so quickly and came over to see if we were goofing off. He then called over the other team, which also had finished quickly, to our side of the room. After I described our well thought out DNS solution, Matt thought carefully and said: "Well, I don't see anything wrong with your approach."

Then we moved to the other side of the room to see how the other team fared and it turned out that their DNS design was identical to ours. Again Matt gave the thumbs up. Both teams broke out in smiles and grunts like the surviving pigs in a game of Angry Birds. Wahoo!!!!!

"Don't celebrate too early" I told myself through my oinks and grunts. The Birds are about to get angrier.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday, April 4 - Day 1

I was the first to arrive at 7:15 AM at the classroom in building 40 and was met by Matt Reynolds, our first day instructor, who pointed out the free hot breakfast served in the other room. Seating was prearranged and after finding my name card, I sat down and pulled out my laptop to do so some last minute reading. One by one my fellow classmates trickled into the classroom and we exchanged brief greetings - fourteen total students, six of them Microsoft field engineers and the other eight, including myself, from various other organizations around the world.

Class began promptly at 8AM with MCM Program Manager Ryan Conrad kicking things off by setting or better said "resetting" our expectations for what was to come.

Ryan started by telling us that this was going to be the deepest and best Active Directory technical training we would receive from the best instructors on the planet. The goal of the course is to instill knowledge; in other words, we were here to learn and anything else, i.e. certification was just icing on the cake.

The Master's program, Ryan elaborated was based on the following core beliefs:
  • A Microsoft Master must be able to establish credibility quickly with a customer.
  • A Microsoft Master must be able to take charge of the customer's situation.
  • A Microsoft Master must take responsibility for the customer's situation.
"You have to know what you know and know what you don't know and be able to differentiate between the two" Ryan stated. "Admit when you don't know something and always act with integrity."

Right before we entered the classroom, we had signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with Microsoft and Ryan informed us that 20-30% of what the class covered would be under NDA.

We all held our collective breath as Ryan discussed what most were anxious to hear about - the MCM certification process. He didn't try to sugar coat the potential outcome and I suddenly felt like a soldier on a volunteer suicide mission when the General gravely defines the situation - "Men, I ain't going to lie to you - some of you won't make it back."

"Of the 150 plus who have come through the AD rotations, 94 are currently MCM certified," Ryan revealed, "but first time pass ratios are not very high, so don't expect to pass both the two written tests and the nine hour certification lab during your stay here. It is likely that you will have to retest after the rotation is over."

"The class does not cover all the content on the exams and the class does not teach to the tests. In the last rotation we had 10 students and only 4 passed the first written test on the initial try and only 3 passed the second written test on the initial try." Ryan stated. "Each exam can be attempted three times."

Gulp! This was not exactly what I wanted to hear on day one. I looked around the room and could tell by the sober expression on every one's face that I was not the only one with a lump in my throat.

"Homework may be assigned and should be completed by 8 AM the next morning", he continued. "Labs are optional but highly recommended. We have seen a correlation between those that work on the labs and those that successfully pass exams. Class will typically run until 7PM."

"The MCM Delivery Philosophy is that of the material presented, 70% will focus on conceptual understanding, 15% will focus on design and implementation and 15% will focus on troubleshooting." Ryan said as he flashed another PowerPoint slide on the screen. "Here are some tips for success":
  • Put all other work aside
  • Redefine your definition of "success"
  • Contribute to discussions
  • Don't waste time
  • Don't go out drinking unless you can work with a hangover
  • Work together and help each other out
  • Ask questions
While mulling all of this over, I took a look around the room. I was impressed with the classroom setup where each student had four monitors, two workstations and remote desktop access to a Hyper-V server that had 64GB of RAM. Each student would work in their own virtualized environment with a lot of VMs (42 total in 5 different Forests). We also had access to a Sharepoint site where lab files and other student files would be posted.

Day one and two would cover Core Active Directory concepts. After a short break, Matt Reynolds took the floor for the first day's technical presentation. Wap! Bang! Kapow! Holy AD, batman! I thought I knew AD but I was blown away by Matt's technical prowess and the depth of his AD knowledge. Over the next nine hours I saw AD in a whole different light and many of the nagging questions that always lingered in the back of my mind about how or why something in AD worked the way it did were answered in that first session.

The lunch break afforded us a trip to secure our Microsoft badges and a trip to the cafeteria, and then we were back at in the classroom, slugging out with LDIF syntax, database inner workings and LDAP queries out the gazoo. I made a mental note to self: "Now you know what you don't know because your knowledge gaps were painfully laid bare."

Day one was a wake up call for me. This was going to be one hell of a learning experience and I had to up the ante, and force my neuron synapses into high gear if I was going to successfully play this Master's game. Who volunteered me for this suicide mission anyway? Oh, yeah, I forgot - I did.

Back at the hotel, I stopped in at the lobby to grab some extra coffee packets. I was going to need the extra caffeine for what I anticipated would be a very late night.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Mountain Awaits

I arrived in Seattle early this morning after an all nighter from Sao Paulo, Brazil with a two hour layover in Dallas. As the American Airlines 777 came in for its final approach, I glanced out the window at magnificent Mount Rainier and wondered if some intrepid souls were attempting its ascent. At the same time I contemplated my own trek, albeit more mental than physical, that would soon begin.

It was a short shuttle ride to Redmond to the Homestead Studio Suites on the edge of the Microsoft Campus. The conversation with the shuttle driver was focused on the earthquake proneness of the area and when the next big one would hit. Harbor Island, he informed me was smack dab on the fault line and would slide into the sea if given the chance. He assured me I would be safer in Redmond.

I checked into the quaint little suite that would be my home for the next two weeks. After unpacking, I made a mental note of the supplies and rations I would need. I began to get the sinking feeling that if I was not in class, I would probably be sequestered in my hotel room every evening, knee deep in more technical mumbo jumbo that I had ever wished to be in. The thought was sobering. An email from a fellow classmate came in on my IPhone, wanting to know if anybody was up for dinner. The thought was tempting but then I remembered that my pre-reading was not complete and that I would be sorry if I didn't finish it. Two laptops on the bed, one wired and one wireless, into the not-so-fast "cheap" Internet, spewed out tech acronym after tech acronym and I felt my mind begin to hurt. Geez, it's not even day one, yet, and my brain is already beginning to rebel.

I set the alarm for 6AM and decided to call it a night, praying that my jet lag would resolve itself by the next morning and thankful that at least I traveled north across three time zones instead of six plus as some of my international classmates had done. I sure hoped they had arrived yesterday instead of today.

I am both anxious and excited at the same time - anxious because I don't know exactly what to expect tomorrow, but also excited because I would be with a group of techno-peers and instructors who were accomplished and full of wisdom and experience that I felt would infuse a one of a kind learning experience.

About Me

Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
I have been a techno geek for as long as I can remember. Making complex technology simple is my mantra and I enjoy teaching others that technology doesn't have to be rocket science mummo jumbo but can be expressed in simple easy to understand everyday terms.

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