I was cruising the Cisco Learning Network this morning when I came across a blog post entitled “Ever heard of Layer 8?” there. As a guy who’s been writing about and teaching this model since 1988, my immediate response was “Of course I’ve heard of Layer 8: it’s all about politics and religion, and other subjects on which there are lots of opinions and attitudes and precious little agreement.”
Here’s how poster Jared (an anonymous Cisco Designated VIP) describes Layer 8 in this post (n the context of the Cisco Certified Design Associate, or CCDA credential):
… to make a good design you need to know what the business and technological requirements are and you have to live within the business and technological constraints. Think about that for a minute. You have to design a network to deliver who knows what and you have to do it with certain constraints, usually a limited time line or budget. Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where a customer wants what is technologically impossible, against their company policy or so expens[iv]e that not even all the money in the world could afford what they want? I have… often. To make matters worse the customer may have multiple people present the business and technological constraints and goals and they may conflict with another person’s goals and constraints within the same organization. Then comes the process of debating, negotiating, hashing out the details to find some kind of compromise and to find a solution that will meet all of the goals and be achievable within the constraints that exist. It is this process that I refer to as the Layer 8.
There are some who argue, in fact, that Layer 8 is the most important of all the layers not only because of the reasons that Jared so convincingly lays out in the preceding discussion, but also because it’s where all the real work happens and energy gets expended. In fact, Jared goes on to describe this as a “political process” — entirely in keeping with the way I learned about it for the first time myself, circa 1987, as the level of the protocol stack where local influences come heavily into play: needs, wants, wishes, dislikes, biases, misconceptions, misperceptions, and so forth.
But there’s another way to think about that puts things into a more reasonable perspective: Layers 1 through 7 are out of the end user’s control, with the exception of minor configuration tweaks and communications options. The vast bulk of the architecture, the protocols, and the communications are set by design to make information exchange achievable. It’s only when you start getting into how networking will be used, what tasks and services it must support, and how it enables workers to work, business to be conducted, and other useful stuff to occur that things start get really interesting.
Though Layer 8 may be outside the scope of the OSI network reference model, it should never be far from the minds of IT professionals. This is where they earn their keep, and harness tools and technology in the interests of productivity and perhaps even profit. Layer 8 is indeed a province of opinion, emotion, and less precise understandings and statements of business goals and objectives. But it’s also where the rubber meets the road, and where IT must demonstrate a return on investment. Forget, ignore, or wish away this fundamental principle at your peril!
For those readers either thinking about or already involved in pursuing the Cisco Certified Networking Associate, or CCNA, credential I can offer a half-whimsical and more than halfway helpful resource from Bradley Graham. He currently works for Cisco as an Education Specialist and a Test Engineer, and has over 15 years’ industry experience under his belt. Nevertheless, he’s not only decided to tackle the CCNA exam (for recertification purposes), but is also reporting about it in a weekly blog entitled “My Journey Back to CCNA.”
He’s been posting regularly since mid-December 2011 and has covered lots of interesting aspects of CCNA preparation, including the intersection between work, life, family, and cert prep work. Here’s an example of his calculus for determining how much time he can spend on exam preparation expressed in hilarious pictorial form (see his verbatim explanation after the figure to better understand what makes it funny):
Here’s his explanation of the visual formula just depicted:
This formula roughly translates to English Bulldog over English Bulldog multiplied by expected first child plus EMS over job at Cisco = time remaining for study. Mathematically accurate? Maybe not, but you get the general idea.
If you’re getting ready for this exam, or even just thinking about it, you’ll get a real slice of life view of what’s it’s like to prepare for the CCNA while holding a full time job, handling regular volunteer work, and getting ready for a first child. I find it fun for it’s own sake as well, and I hope you will check it out, if only for grins.
It’s the first Friday of February, so the unemployment numbers for January are out. These numbers are modest but encouraging and indicate that our slow recovery from recession remains slow but continues on an upward trend. This is of course both cause for relief because of the improvement in both overall unemployment (down from 8.5 to 8.2 percent) and jobs added (243,000 for January, a nice bump up from the 200K jobs added in December, 2011), and cause for frustration because the pace of recovery continues slowly if also surely.
The data in Table A-14 “Unemployed persons by industry…” helps us zero in on IT. But there, alas, the picture is both more interesting and somewhat grimmer as we get closer to home base for likely readers of this blog. It shows the number of unemployed in this sector relatively unchanged for the past year (228K in January 2011 versus 227K in January 2012). More troubling, it shows unemployment rates up by 0.6 percent during that same period (7.3% for January 2011 versus 7.9% for January 2012). This is troubling because it indicates that overall employment in the information sector has declined in the past year, because that’s the only way that the number of unemployed persons can stay roughly the same with an increased unemployment rate for that population (there’s a 0.44% negative difference between the unemployed count over the interval, but a 0.6% positive difference in the unemployment rate).
On a brighter note, the other sector that many IT workers occupy — professional and business services, home to those IT workers who contract or consult with organizations, rather than working full-time as employees for them–shows an 0.7 percent reduction in the employment rate, and an increase of 70,000 jobs over the past year. Could this be a situation where contractors and freelancers in IT may be doing better than rank-and-file permanent employees? Perhaps so!
At any rate, given the glacial rate of improvement in IT’s core sector, my long-running mantra of “Hunker down, stay put, keep an eye out for trouble” sadly remains as relevant today for IT professionals as it has been for the past three years and more. By now, that’s pretty much the status quo.
Yes, you read it right: the Microsoft certification program turned 20 years old on the last day of January, 2012. In a Microsoft News Center article posted on 1/31/2012 entitled “Microsoft Announces 20th Anniversary of Microsoft Certifications,” the company proclaimed not just 20 years in the “certbiz” but also “… recognizes the more than 7 million people globally who are certified on Microsoft technology” (the emphasis in the quote is mine, and reflects the first time MS has updated its total certified population tally since last summer when it indicated that tally had topped 6 million.
The news story is worth perusing for those interested in reading the tea leaves about the future of the MS cert program, as well as for its summary of that program’s coverage, activities, and impetus in the past and present. My favorite line in the piece is “…the emergence of the cloud has compelled Microsoft to shift toward a more fluid, up-tempo rhythm of refreshes and recertification.” I like this statement not only because it reflects a new paradigm for education delivery and access, but also because it explicitly recognizes the need for quicker action, more frequent content and exam updates, and … wait for it … the “recertification” word. To me, this captures the tenor of the ongoing evolution and development of the MS certification program over the past couple of years better than anything else I’ve seen from the company during that period.
Here’s another nice snippet from the article that captures today’s frenetic pace of education, exams, and certification activity at this major global software concern (the emphasis on the number of exam-takers is once again mine):
Along with the cloud has come a deluge of new products — phones, games, apps, security, among others — that continues to drive a greater range of career paths and certifications. The numbers are indeed startling: During the past year, more than 1 million people worldwide took Microsoft Certification exams thanks to the company’s broad network of more than 17,000 Microsoft Certified Trainers, 1,400 Learning Partners and roughly 5,000 Prometric testing centers globally.
Be sure to check out the article in its entirety for an interesting retrospective on MS certification, along with a status report on the way the program stands today, with some tantalizing suggestions about where it is headed in the future.
These days, I’m blogging for three Web sites about IT career and certification topics. In addition to this very blog, you can also find me opining and reporting on such subjects at least weekly for:
- Tom’s IT Pro: Making It in IT – Certification & Training
- Pearson IT Certification: there’s a link to my unnamed blog on the “Ed Tittel’s IT Certification Success” Web page on that site (Hint click on the link labeled “Read all blog posts,” then look for my most recent posts in chronological order there; this blog lacks its own landing page for yours truly because it’s a joint and revolving effort from many contributors).
Recently, I had the rare privilege of fielding an email from a reader who simply wanted to report on how he managed to find himself an IT job, though he was fresh out of school and didn’t have any full-time, permanent IT job experience. This appears in a bonus blog for Tom’s IT Pro dated this morning (January 30, 2012) and entitled “IT Careers: Certification and Motivatin Pays Off.”
Anybody who reads the Microsoft Born to Learn blog can only go so long before encountering a post from Microsoft’s Psychometrician Program Manager. I regularly mention her in my blogs here (most recently on December 19 in a post entitled “Interesting Changes Coming to MS Cert Exams“). Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Liberty Munson by phone about exam development issues and how candidates with specific exam issues can bring them to Microsoft Learning’s attention for possible resolution. It was an interesting interview, chock-full of useful and illuminating information about how Microsoft evaluates the quality of their exams and questions, and keeps an eagle eye on them to make sure they stay fresh, useful, and relevant.
According to Liberty, Microsoft’s over-riding concern is to make sure any exam “…is measuring real-world, relevant information in a valid and fair way.” This requires constant evaluation of how questions work and behave in actual exams. Other than the typical psychometric evaluation of questions, Microsoft also uses information that candidates provide through a variety of channels. For example, candidates can always comment on questions at the end of their exams, but with a portfolio of around 110 active exams right now means only a sample of comments can be read closely for any given exam. Beta exams are a different story: not only does Liberty herself read all beta survey results, that feedback is incorporated into the published (final) version of each exam.
In addition, Liberty and her team track customer satisfaction metrics quarterly, on the lookout for up or down changes in satisfaction levels (so if you’re asked to complete a survey on your exam — please do it — because Microsoft takes this information seriously and it drives changes to exams), as well as exam metrics, on the lookout for trends in results on a question-by-question basis. This involves examining each question to make sure it’s still “performing” — which means distinguishing candidates who know the material as evidenced by overall exam performance, from those who don’t by the same measure. “We want to make sure the right people get it right,” says Liberty, in explaining that an exam’s primary purpose is to separate high performers with strong skills and knowledge from low performers who are only superficially familiar with a test subject and its various ins and outs.
There’s also a fair amount of what Liberty calls “data forensics” work underway on exam results. Her team of crack statisticians looks for what she calls “patterns of anomalous behavior” where unexpected performance on some combination of test items (which could indicate an unusually accurate brain dump or practice test that reproduces items verbatim) or at a specific test center (which could indicate shared information among test-takers at such sites, as has been documented in various test centers outside the USA from time to time) triggers closer investigation (and occasional invalidation of test results).
Based on some recent interaction with an unhappy friend and colleague about a specific MCTS exam, I also discussed Microsoft Learning’s complaint handling process. Liberty explains that when complaints are fielded her team looks for performance of items on the exam from a psychometric perspective to see if anything unusual or out-of-the-ordinary is present. They also work with the product planners who are responsible for the technical content of the exam to make sure items are accurate and relevant to real-world, day-to-day tasks and activities. These product planners “use strong relationships with business groups and SMEs to work out potential item pool issues and get them solved,” says Liberty.
Next, Liberty asked me to remind readers how to take best advantage of the “item challenge process” for Microsoft exams. Test-takers unhappy with specific exam items should do their best to remember as many question details as possible, and to include them when they submit a complaint. Item challenges are discussed on the “Item Challenge” tab on the Microsoft Exam Policies web page, where you’ll find a link to a challenge form download and an email address to which it may be sent (MCPHelp@microsoft.com, with “Exam Item Evaluation” as the subject line, and only one item per each such email, please).
Finally, Liberty also informed me that “2012 is going to be a big year for MS certification” and that readers interested in new exams should stay tuned to the Born to Learn blog to keep an eye out for the numerous beta exams that will be released throughout this year. She also indicated that betas fill up “really fast” these days, and reminded me that the best way for people interested in taking beta exams to get an exam invite is to register themselves in Microsoft’s SME Database. “That’s where most of our invitations go these days,” she adds, and explains why she happily emailed me the registration link after we’d concluded our call.
When new certification exams and credentials experience a schedule slip, the old credentials they replace sometimes get a new lease on life in the process. That’s what I believe is behind the announcement in the January 2012 Learning@Cisco newsletter entitled “Data Center Exams End-of-Life Dates Extended.”
Because the preceding screen capture from the newsletter lacks live links, here they are for those specific exams:
Also, the availability data for the new versions of this exams (originally scheduled for release this month) have now been changed to February 7, 2012. The old exams will stay live until May 7, so current candidates can decide whether to pursue the old curriculum or the new once February 7 rolls around. Other Cisco Data Center specialist credentials cover application services and storage networking.
Last Thursday, I blogged about Microsoft’s new Private Cloud certification, which represents the company’s first “real” cloud-oriented certification credential. Although the two exams that deal with cloud technology in the System Center 2012 environment will have to wait for that platform to be commercially released (Microsoft also announced the System Center 2012 release candidate on January 18 as well), the company is already offering a online Jump Start to help candidates prepare for this certification.
The first scheduled date for this free session is on February 21-22, 2012, from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm PST (UCT -08:00). Visit the registration page for more details, including an outline for this two-day course and capsule bios of the four instructors who will be teaching this two-day online class. If my experience is any indicator, this class will fill up quickly, so sign up soon if you’re interested. If it’s already too late by the time you read this, keep your eyes peeled for the future iterations that will surely follow soon.
The numbers for first-time unemployment claims for the week ending 1/14/2012 are in, and they tell an interesting story. Although numbers for the previous week moved back above the 400,000 line for the first time since last November to 402,000, the numbers for the current reporting week dropped to 352,000. That’s a dip of 50,000 which is the largest weekly reduction in quite some time.
Many economists peg the “magic number” that separates job growth and economic improvement from job stagnation and recession (or worse!) at 400,000 for this particular benchmark. A drop to around 350,000 shows better than 10 percent improvement, and could be a harbinger of an improving job situation. According to the latest US Department of Labor report, the unadjusted numbers (“the advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted”) look even better, at over 124,000 less than the preceding week, and were also better than 28,000 under the same week last year.
We can’t be sure that because this yo-yo went down this week, it’s not going to reverse course next week. But overall, long-term numbers are also trending downward, and speak to continuing, but slow improvement in the employment situation. Given recent economic events in Europe (the debt crisis, a dropping Euro, and a failure to agree on a general EU debt solution) it’s encouraging to see things keep improving for the US economy anyway. Let’s just hope nothing too catastrophic assaults our fragile recovery so that it can keep going and hopefully, start to pick up more speed and momentum.
Keep your fingers crossed!
Yesterday, Microsoft executive Satya Nadella (President of the Server and Tools Division) laid out the parameters for the company’s so-called private cloud solution, and Erika Cravens posted information about a related certification to the Born to Learn blog (“System Center 2012 is a true ‘private cloud’ builder. Get started on your Private Cloud certification now“).
The technologies involved include System Center 2012 and Windows Server 2008 (original and R2). This is a five exam certification, two of which exams have not yet been released. These Private Cloud Certification exams include (pending items get an appended asterisk [*]):
- 70-640: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring
- 70-642: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring
- 70-643: Windows Server 2008 Application Infrastructure, Configuring
- 70-247: Private Cloud Configuration and Deployment with System Center 2012*
- 70-246: Private Cloud Monitoring and Operations with System Center 2012*
Thus, this certification (which is presumably to be part of the MCITP program, though the details haven’t been fully spelled out just yet) includes elements of the MCITP for Server Administrators plus Application Infrastructure and the cloud-related System Center 2012 components. This makes it very, very interesting and another of the MCITP credentials that appears poised to generate some real resonance in the marketplace (like the Enterprise Administrator, which also requires 5 exams, and the Server and Virtualization Administrator, each of which require only 3).
No word yet on when the two new exams will be released. My guess is that they will coincide with or follow within 30-60 days of the release of Microsoft System Center 2012, currently available as a release candidate from the TechNet Evaluation Center. According to a story published in September, 2011, Mary Jo Foley quotes Nadella as saying System Center 2012 is ” due out in the ‘early part of calendar 2012.'” Best guess as to what this really means? I’m thinking probably sometime later this month or in February, given that this certification announcement has already been made (the Private Cloud Cert page says only “Exams 70-247 and 70-246 are not yet available. Please check back frequently for updated release information.”)