Guest Blogger: Mark O’Shea, Practical MCP Certification Ideas For Your Business Part 1.

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Practical MCP Certification Ideas For Your Business Part 1

Due to the requirement changes that the Microsoft Partner Network Silver and Gold competencies have been through over the last few years, there’s been a great a deal of discussion around certification and exam preparation. Most of the time it is aimed at the individuals who are required to do the exams, giving them ideas on areas of study that may be overlooked, or supplying them with test scenarios. That’s great if you have motivated staff who already want to take exams. What if you are still working through the process of determining which certifications your staff need, or there isn’t a great deal of organisational structure around the certification? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me some that I’ve had suggested to me by other partners during our encounters. There are many reasons why you may want to achieve an MPN competency, or achieve additional or higher level competencies, but an important thing to remember during this focus on certification is that you will end up with a deeper knowledge of these technologies inside your organisation. This will help open up new opportunities to help your customers with solutions that you may not have considered previously.

How Do These Exams Relate To Your Current and Future Competency Plans

The days of collecting numerous Gold Competencies has changed for many smaller and mid-sized partners, so careful thought needs to be put into the competencies that are going to drive your business forward. While the MPN exam requirements are drawn from the larger pool of MCP exams, there isn’t always a 100% match between what you need as the next exam to be passed, versus what the exam candidate sees as the next logical exam to pass or certification to be achieved. In some cases you may find the candidates next logical exam does still allow you to achieve your required result, you may not have known that the person was ready for it, or it could have just been an oversight. An motivated exam taker is going to be very focused on particular certifications they want to achieve, not just the exams, so work with them towards mutually beneficial goals. If the two exams in dispute are closely related, that brings up the next idea, clusters.

Think Clusters

No, not compute clusters, but exam clusters and candidate clusters. I quickly learned that if I was preparing for one exam, the chances were was at least one, or sometimes several exams that were closely related. For some people, the motivation to get into exam preparation mode can be time consuming, so it can make much more sense to sit a few exams within a short time period of each other. While working at Microsoft there were regular opportunities for us to take exams for free while attending internal technical events, and at one point in time Microsoft even had its own internal testing room in their former premises. This meant that exams were generally taken in clusters of related technologies, sometimes sitting 4 exams in a single day. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach, you don’t have much left in your for the final exam, but it is cost effective if you consider the travel savings and time out of office. Another reason I like preparing for multiple exams at once is that the exam content is not limited to what is written in the exam description. What am I talking about? “This objective may include but is not limited to: ” is at the start of each section objective, so a broader base of knowledge can help.

The other type of cluster to think about is multiple users preparing for an exam at the same time. If you are shooting for a Gold Competency, leverage one of your subject matter experts to deliver a master class on the important concepts. For some individuals this could be a great stretch goal, and if they do it on their initiative it’s a positive sign. It also means that your company’s way of deploying and utilising that technology can be woven into the learning process, making the information much more valuable to your business. An example of this approach that I saw firsthand was one of the Microsoft distributors having a once a week morning training session to prepare them for the now retied 70-652 virtualization exam. All of the class attendees passed the exam.

Finding and downloading the right exam preparation material can be time consuming. It’s easy enough for me to suggest going to the Partner Learning Centre and watching or downloading some of the session recordings, but these things take time. This is another benefit of clustering groups of candidates into a particular exam or group of exams – they can pool their hunting and gathering skills.

Build A Virtual Library

Once all of that material is downloaded, make sure it doesn’t end up on somebody’s hard drive and then deleted when they pass the exam. Use SharePoint on premise or via your Office 365 internal usage rights. Get your staff into the habit of downloading video content instead of streaming it, that way it is readily available for consumption for the next person to take that exam. Bring back those subject matter experts and get them to submit the documentation that helped them get a better understanding of challenging technologies.  As these libraries are built and become more comprehensive they will be time savers for those that need to sit the exams in the future, and you can take advantage of content ratings and comments within SharePoint to make sure the candidates know what content is going to help them the most.

If you really want to challenge your SharePoint expert(s), get them to take a look at what Microsoft has done internally with its Academy site, which is the internal social video site based on SharePoint, easily the most comprehensive archive of Microsoft content in existence. If you have the opportunity, get a Microsoft employee to show you this site if you want to get an idea of how content can be presented.

Build A Good Old Fashioned Library

That’s right, with real books. In this era of the ebook, which no doubt is an amazing way to carry around a great deal of reading material, but for many there is a preference to reading the printed page. I’m one of these people, and on a recent trip I had a 20 minute delay at Heathrow due to having too many books in my carry-on luggage. Some may say it interferes with the scanners, but I think it’s a conspiracy to stop people learning. What gave me this idea was how many people carrying a stack of weekly gossip magazines weren’t questioned… For books you have several types to think about  - do you want exam training kits that focus on the core requirements and throw in a few extra useful tidbits, or do you want reference material? Some may argue that reference material is less valuable now with the ease of availability of online content, but again, sometimes having a book to sit down and read can do a great job of explaining a concept from beginning to end, growing out the scenario, rather than a bunch of disparate whitepapers written from different perspectives. Just make sure that in 10 year’s time you don’t have a bunch of outdated books sitting there on the shelves, nobody really wants to learn about Windows XP now.

Take Advantage Of Special Offers

There are usually a number of different offers around training and certification at any point in time. This blog is a great starting point, and remember that if you can’t find what you need discuss it with your distributor or account manager, they should also be aware of what offers Microsoft has in market.  Watch the Australian Partner Training blog for details of upcoming training events as well. Check the Microsoft Press section on the Woodslane site for special offers. Don’t forget that you can buy discount exam packs to reduce the cost of exams. If you have a staff member attending an event like TechEd, take advantage of the discount exam offerings, as long as they don’t interfere with the sessions that they should be attending.

That’s it for part 1 of this series, in the next post I will cover ensuring coverage for Gold competencies, some suggested exam path strategies for those in your organisation new to Microsoft certification, how Cloud technologies affect your certification strategy and more.

Mark O’Shea