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Report on MCSE Boot Camp

Discussion in 'Tech Talk' started by Tennessee Slim, Apr 1, 2006.

  1. Tennessee Slim

    Tennessee Slim Señor Member CLM

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    Late last year I conned my company into sending me TDY to an MCSE boot camp. Because I’d always wanted to visit there, and because they had flexible scheduling (meaning you could select a course whose length you thought befit your skill level), I chose one in India. So I thought I’d report the highlights of my experience for the benefit of anyone who ever has wondered about the ‘boot camp’ solution.

    In a nutshell, the course itself didn’t have much going for it outside of its use of brain dumps from ActualTests.com. They were exceptionally accurate and complete.

    I passed all seven exams on the first testing and with room to spare, with the exception of 70-291 (Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure), which I only passed by the skin of my teeth. I don’t recall passing any of the exams en route to my first two certs on the first try but, in India, I was seven for seven. I give 70% of the credit for my success to the Actual Tests test preps and 10% to the course of training. Understanding Microsloth tests and guessing well accounted for the remaining 20%.

    Just to illustrate how good the Actual Tests brain dumps were, I prepared for one exam by reading only the correct answers in their test prep. Not the questions and not the wrong answers, just the correct answers. Microsloth never reuses a correct answer so, provided the test prep was sufficiently accurate and thorough, I thought this was a safe strategy.

    That particular exam consisted of 39 questions and on my first pass through them I read only the answers and selected any answer that looked familiar. I picked 31 answers with a high degree of certainty without ever reading the first question. Then I read and answered the remaining eight questions, but those were just insurance. I was done in 20 minutes.

    In preparation for my previous certification testing, I’d scrounged the odd sample question from all the Internet sample tests/brain dumps and compiled my own study guide, but no more. That proved to be a marginally effective approach at best. I now know that the ‘store bought’ variety is well worth the investment.

    The instructors at places like this are paid much less than real administrators so they’re not likely to recruit anyone with real-world experience. In fact, I was my instructor’s final student because he’d been hired by Microsloth to work as Level III support at their Bangalore call center …for a four-fold increase in pay. He was one happy camper, let me tell you.

    So next time I’ll just buy the brain dump from ActualTests.com to begin with and skip the boot camp. And I made certain I hadn’t left anything behind when I got on my flight out of India.
     
  2. NetNinja

    NetNinja Always Faithful

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    Nice report.

    I had a oportunity to do a 1 year contract job with the State internal revenue service but my one catch was I did not have an MCP.

    I have been doing the Networking thing for about 6 or 7 years now but they wanted that MCP.

    So I went to www.boson.com and downloaded and paid for the 070-290 Managing and maintaining a Microdoft Windows Server 2003 environment.

    That piece of software had so many gramatical errors and so many technical glitches, but I pressed on because I wanted the job.

    I go to take the test, Fail 414

    I get my money back from www.boson.com

    I then go to www.transcender.com and download and pay for the exact same test study material. After scoring several 100's in a row I decide I am better prepaired.

    WRONG I score a 466 Holly crap! This is just not right. I get my money back.

    Years ago I spent 5k to take one of those bootcamp type classes for Windows 2000 server and CCNA.

    Most of the instructors have no real world experience and even if they did they have to go by the material that is presented to them.

    But Microsoft wants to make sure there are no more paper certified flower arrangers out there becomming full fledged MCSE's.
    so I guess the tests are a lot harder now.

    I had about 11 MCSE's at my company and out of those 11 we had 1 that was able to really troubleshoot, break down, rebuild or salvage parts from other servers to get a server up and running again.
    When the Prince song stopped playing in 1999 and they laid off the entire IT Dept, I was one of the lucky ones that still had a job when the Axes fell. I didn't have my MCSE. I also got a 20k pay raise

    Most companies and it's not so much companies anymore because it seems like 99% of them hire head hunters to find thier next I.T. Administrator want those MCSE's and it makes it much easier to hire a Flower arranger than someone who has been doing the job for 7 years.
     

  3. hwyhobo

    hwyhobo

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    Many of the places that sell the tests do not obtain them by "memory dumps". They buy them from dishonest employees of companies that administer those tests. There is big money in it. Also, most of the websites that sell those tests are owned and operated abroad. 'whois' records have nothing to do with reality in those cases. Attempting to prosecute them is futile.

    Why do companies even bother with certifications? It is primarily driven by sales channels. For resellers the certification ("Gold", "Preferred", whatever) is a differentiator from their competition. Part of the process is getting their people "certified" in the product they sell.

    For most small companies certification is a money loser. Believe me, designing and operating a legally defensible certification is very expensive. Only for large companies that can offset those costs with the volume of students it could be a money maker. However, at some point it becomes almost a necessity. You have to listen to the channels and make them happy. Your survival depends on it.

    Once a company gives in and introduces a certification, it soon takes a life of its own. Initially a differentatior for the resellers, it quickly gets adopted by hiring managers who are frequently incapable of judging cadidate's qualifications. Therefore, they rely on someone else's opinion, and the vendor's certification seems like the best way. This is very much the case where fairly esoteric but expensive equipment is involved. Certified employee is seen as investment insurance. Of course, the giants' certs become either so common that not having them is a minus more than having them is a plus (negative selection), or, in some cases where obtaining a cert is very difficult but equipment is ubiquitous (Cisco), the cert is the grand prize (CCIE) and guarantees considerable jump in earnings.

    It is in the late stage of the adoption that a lot of the instructors who have not worked with the equipment to any major extent hop in to "expand their portfolio". That's why it will be mostly with the very popular certs that you will see this kind of educational devaluation of instructor-led courses. This situation is aggrevated if the instructor in question offers special "certification-guaranteed-or-your-money back"-type of courses, because then they teach to the test, not to maximize student's knowledge (which they sometimes do not possess themselves).

    I've worked in training for over a decade, and in engineering and support before that. For most instructors I know certifications are a necessary evil. They would much rather teach courses highly tailored to individual students' needs. However, sometimes, with well-designed courseware, those two are not far away from each other, and it's a joy to find a company that cares about the quality of their materials and preparation. I know how much it costs to build such a program. It's terrible that those cert-peddler websites frequently sabotage whatever credibility remains in the certification by allowing people with zero practical knowledge to pass them (as NetNinja mentioned).

    Ultimately, it has to be up to the hiring manager to weed out the chaff. Alas, the hiring manager is sometimes the weak link himself.

    If it is of consolation to those who think the certification craze is too much in the US, in Asia it is far worse. I know of people who collect certifications like stamps. It becomes almost a goal in itself.
     
  4. mark836

    mark836 Guest

    If you have the experience then getting the paper will open doors.
     
  5. Tennessee Slim

    Tennessee Slim Señor Member CLM

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    I wondered how they came by that information. They Actual Tests test preps were so accurate, so verbatim, that they obviously were collected through some organized effort. And it stands to reason that the competing companies all sell similar test preps because they all steal from each other. Considering it’s all gathered through violations of Microsloth’s nondisclosure agreement to begin with, it’s not like they can sue each other for plagiarism.

    Although the technical details usually were perfect, many of the test prep questions had, as NetNinja noted, hideous grammatical errors. My hunch is that those errors came from the Indian English (since I was in India at the time, the similarities weren’t too difficult to pinpoint).

    My first cert was for Solaris and I immediately recognized there were questions on their tests that no one could ever need to know the answer to except for the purpose of passing their exams (Microsloth is the same way, only worse). The Q that cinched it for me was one that asked how many serial ports were on a Sparc 20. I figure there are only two reasons you ever could want to know that. First, you could be troubleshooting a Sparc 20. If that’s the case, if you need to know how many serial ports it has, turn the damn thing around and look at the back.

    The only other possible reason for needing to know is that you’re contemplating buying one. If that’s the case, you can call Sun’s sales department. They’ve got leventy-jillion salesmen sitting beside silent telephones, frothing at the mouth, waiting to answer just that question. So what in the hell is the point of hinging a professional certification on whether you’ve happened across such a trivial detail?

    Easy. You aren’t likely to know the answer unless either you’re intimately familiar with that proprietary hardware, or you’ve looked it up in preparation for the retest after you’ve already taken their exam and flunked it. Can you say rete$t? Can you say ‘Money Grab’?
     
  6. hwyhobo

    hwyhobo

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    While this might be a part of it, I think the answer is even simpler. During the process of test editing I see a lot of those questions. They are easy to write and easy to measure. They are also horrible questions that should be immediately screened out and rejected because they carry no educational value. Unfortunately, as with so many other areas, the key here is the competence and the cojones of the people in charge of the test development. The former to spot such worthless exercises in memorization, and the latter to overcome company's resistence to spend money on question development (it is expensive). Companies don't like spending money. If you reject too many questions, everyone gets upset, so reviewers cave in.