Team Climbing

Team Climbing

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.


  1. Good luck James, I'm sure all will go well.
    Aaron H. Roberts

  2. " I made a mental note to self: "Now you know what you don't know because your knowledge gaps were painfully laid bare." "

    A very sobering first day indeed! The amount of information is staggering, and while some gaps are quickly filled, many more reveal even deeper gaps. Matt's level of knowledge is crazy, it was a rare moment when any of us made him stop to think about an answer. This is an incredible learning opportunity.


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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