My company needed to push four staff members through the Microsoft Certification program, so I was asked to attended a training bootcamp supplied by Firebrand Training. Here is my review of my time there;
What is it?
My course was 11 days long, including taking exams in Data, Web Development, WCF and an the solution designed based Web Pro.
What does a day consist of?
The basic timetable is;
8:20-12 Working though the official Microsoft courseware with a teacher. Some of the hands-on labs are worked through, but only a selected few. There are few 10 min breaks during this time.
NB The courseware is typically aimed a 5-days, the bootcamp asks you to complete them in at most 3 days and for WCF 1 day.
12:30-19:00 Typically a mix of courseware and the MeasureUp tests and the end of the session. MeasureUp tests provide 150 mock questions that provide an explanation of the correct (and incorrect) answers.
19:30-23:00/00:00 Completion of MeasureUp tests, reading of the provided Study Guide and reading of the next days slides
Exam days are different. Typically they include a classroom review where everyone goes through a set of mock questions and talk about why they chose the answers they selected. Then a period of time (changed for each exam) to cram for the exam. Then the exam itself.
What are the facilities like?
The training ‘camp’ is on a hotel complex where the class rooms and accommodation are on a separate part of the complex. The training area can be accessed 24×7 and has hot/cold drinks, fruit and vending machines for chocolate and cans/bottle drinks. There is a common area where you can watch the news or play Fifa on the Xbox.
The accommodation is simple but clean enough and the staff are helpful. However, I was originally placed in a room that was 20′ from the main A1 and I lost two nights sleep before I asked to change room, a decision I should have taken after the first night. The bed linen is not very nice either, sorry but it’s not good. My room did have a mini kettle, contrary to the web site description. There is an ironing room too, which I did have to use.
The food was decent, with a choice between a vegetarian or meat dish for dinner and a sandwich bar or hot food for lunch.
What was it like?
First up, we almost achieved the goal. At the end of the course the four of us had passed all the exams except for one exam. I failed the Data exam (by one mark) but passed the retest. You got (or get if the offer is still on) one free retake per exam. So the ends would seem to justify the means. I would also add that many of my fellow students were keen to go home and create sites using the technologies on the course, so it was certainly successful for some people. However, I think it really depends on why you attend such a course. There seemed to be three distinct groups of people on the course; 1) Company sent Certification hunters – know about technology and have the foundations to allow them to rush through a 5-day course in 1-3 days. 2) Professionals looking to enhance their knowledge of specific areas – certification is a nice to have, more interested in learning new stuff 3) Retraining – professionals looking to learn something new. The course is certainly aimed at (1). You are directed through the course with the prime aim of learning just enough to get you through the exam. Did I learn new stuff, yes I did. Do I know it to a good depth, probably not, the lack of time spent on the lab work means you do not gain the experience of using the technologies. So for those in group (2) then I think they were a little disappointed. Group (3) would be better served by taking a course focused on one specific subject.
- Make sure you can sleep – ask to change room, take ear muffs if you must. If you’re driving there then consider taking your own pillows. Also close the window vents at night, that really helps to reduce the noise
- Don’t put up with people chatting (or celebrating) at the end of the corridors outside your room. It’s not nice but you can’t afford to be distracted, ask them nicely to move on
- Hold your questions – this is about passing the exams, don’t be tempted to consider the wider use of the technologies you really can’t afford to lose time. Also don’t ask, “it’s on the next slide” questions – there is a reason you’re asked to read the slides the night before.
- Don’t waste time. Don’t read emails, go on Twitter, nothing. I can’t emphasise enough that you don’t have any spare time. You’ll be working at least 16 hour days, you’ll need them all
- The study guide is your friend, read it and read it well
- Before you go I would advise you brush up on your asp.net page life cycle, what Transactions are and the Session managers (In Proc, State Server, Sql Server). You need those and there isn’t enough time spent on them
- It’s as much about learning how to test, get into the ‘groove’ of the questions. Learn how they’ll try and trick you, read the questions very carefully. I know it’s been said before, but often they’ll be more than one correct answer, just a subtle change in the question will mean one is more correct than the other – I hate that, stupid IMO
Overall it did produce the results but it is not easy. The pass rate was not great and one student failed 3 of the 4 but was obviously very bright. If, like them (and me) you like to go into these exams with a real sense that you know it all (well most of it) then this might not be for you. If you’re good at hands-off book learning then it’s probably well suited to you. That’s not to say you can’t pass from just studying, I managed it after-all 😉