December 26, 2011 12:58 AM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
This will be my last blog post for this year (I’m off until January 2 after tonight), so I’d like to wish everyone a terrific holiday season, and a joyous and successful New Year. We’ve been celebrating quite nicely around here at Chez Tittel with plenty of good-quality cheer for children of all ages. Gregory and I have been learning how to build and program a project for his Lego Mindstorms today. We started with the Explorer robot project, as documented in Chapters 2-4 of Laurens Valk’s excellent The Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Discovery Book. This is the first time I’ve built a moderately sized Lego project (around 300 parts, give or take) by picking my own parts from the general inventory that comes with this “many possible robots” kit that includes the NXT 2.0 controller, 3 electric motors, various sensors, and a boatload of Lego blocks and parts. Here’s a snapshot:
It rolls forward better than it backs up but turns like a demon!
There are all kinds of more ambitious projects ahead of us, but it’s already cool to see what this thing can do with either USB-cable or Bluetooth guided remote control from a PC, or “load-and-go” execution of a pretty decent robot instruction language. Should be some fun along the way to learning how this environment and the component tools and projects really work!
And once again from my family — especially my happy and excited 7-year-old son — to yours: Happy Holidays! And may we all have a brilliant 2012 ahead of us.
December 23, 2011 4:03 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Downward treand on unemployment filings continues
, economists see more signs of ongoing uptick
For the past couple of Fridays (12/9 and 12/16) I’ve described how first-time unemployment claims have dropped from the preceding week (and stayed below the 400,000 mark that economists feel is the threshold between reducing unemployment below, and increasing unemployment above that boundary). Well, this week it’s become a “hat trick” of sorts, as a third week of downward movement has been registered by the US Department of Labor. This time, however, the down-tick is pretty slight — only 4,000 to 364,000 total claims filed — but the four week-average of such claims has fallen by 8,000 to just over 380,000, and is the lowest number registered since June of 2008. And this week’s current initial claims number is the lowest since April of 2008, so we are indeed groping our way back to where we were before the crisis kicked into gear in December of 2007.
By way of explanation as to what’s going on here, Marketwatch quotes Ian Shepherson, Chief US Economist at High Frequency Economics as follows:
The underlying story here, we think, is that businesses were braced in the fall for a weakening in demand — implied by plunging consumer confidence — which did not then happen. Robust sales growth has therefore left many firms in a better position than they expected, so layoffs are falling. Other things equal, the drop in claims in recent weeks, if sustained, is consistent with private payrolls growth ramping up to about [200,000] per month.
This is still not robust enough growth to whittle away at current unemployment levels quickly, but it is enough growth to bring them down over something less than the decade of agonizingly slow improvements that economists were seeing in the numbers as recently as one month ago. And while improvements still remain sluggish, they are continuing unabated and are finally producing some signs of optimism and improving overall prospects. Hard to imagine a better present for battered consumer and commercial confidence or a better harbinger for 2012. Let’s hope this trend continues to pan out!
December 21, 2011 4:51 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Check out Tittel's "Top 5 Certs" articles at Tom's IT Pro
, Tom's IT Pro hosts my "Top 5 Certs" articles in numerous areas
The latest element in the Toms Hardware family aims at IT professionals
Since September, I’ve been beavering away for the latest spin off in the Tom’s Hardware family of Websites–namely Tom’s IT Pro (www.tomsitpro.com) as their resident “certification guy.” In addition to a raft of other bits of general IT certification information and advice, I’m also engaged in a “Top 5″ series of stories that identifies leading certifications in a number of different (and hopefully also, valid and interesting) technology areas or niches within IT. So far, this series includes the following elements:
There’s also a multi-part item called “Evergreen IT Certifications” that addresses what you might consider as the creme de la creme of IT certification across all niches.
But wait! There’s more: I’ve also developed additional stories that haven’t yet posted to the site, and have others in the wings for early next year. Here they are (upcoming items for next year as yet unwritten end in an asterisk ‘*’):
- The Top 5 Computer Forensics Certifications
- The Top 5 Developer Certifications
- The Top 5 Training Certifications
- The Top 5 DBMS Certifications
- The Top 5 Virtualization Certifications*
- The Top 5 Cloud Certifications*
- The Top 5 Project Management Certifications*
So there’s still plenty more to come. Be sure to check the already-published items out at your convenience, and to keep your eyes peeled for new ones as they appear (I’ll update this posting as well, to turn currently inactive links live as that happens).
Happy Holidays, everybody!
December 19, 2011 3:51 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
changes to MS exam UI on the way
, MS adds new question types to its cert exams
I just watched Episode 1of Technet Radio’s “Microsoft Certified-Cert Talk” show (despite being called a form of radio, it’s a full-fledged video with pictures as well as sound). The guest is Liberty Munson, Microsoft’s lead psychometrician, the person who oversees the design and delivery of MS certification exams who also vets their content as being sound, rigorous, and statistically defensible. This material is worth checking out for all kinds of reasons, so I recommend it highly for viewing.
In the video, Ms. Munson not only walks viewers through a nice diagram that documents the MS exam development process, she also digs into some upcoming changes heading toward a testing center near you (if they’re not there already). For one thing, it looks like MS is switching over to a much-modernized user interface for its testing center products (what I saw on the screen looked very much it was developed using Microsoft’s Silverlight interactive Web development interface, or some visually equivalent non-Web API). For another thing, the company is working hard to present test-takers with more question types and interactive styles, to help spice up the plain-vanilla multiple choice questions that still make up the bulk and backbone of its exams (Ms. Munson also explains that while multiple choice exams do the job of measuring candidate skills and knowledge quite well from her psychometrician’s POV, they are also “a little bit boring,” and cheerfully concedes that other question types are being included to spice things up a bit and add more interest and sizzle to her organization’s public offerings).
The overall flow of MS exam development involves out-of-house subject matter experts at many steps along the way
New question types expand on the current inventory–which includes standard multiple choice, build lists, drag and drop items, plus active screens, case study items, and simulations of actual code and systems–with some new items that include the following:
- matching questions: like a multiple choice, but with a much longer list of options from which test-takers must choose one or more correct answers to meet the current question’s stipulations and requirements
- code case studies for developers: presents snippets of code that purport to solve a specific problem, or provide a specific implementation solution, and asks test-takes to choose the correct one (or ones)
- best answer: for professional-level exams (MCM and MCA, primarily) provides a list of answers, all of which are technically correct, but asks users to pick the one that best matches or meets the criteria expressed in the question (or that represents the best solution out of those options for some reason or another)
Sounds like your next trip to Prometric or Vue for a Microsoft exam just might be a little more interesting and visually appealing. Hopefully, that gives everybody something to look forward to, rather than to dread!
[Note: you can visit the various "Learning Snacks" linked to from this Born to Lear blog entitled "Check out our new Snack demonstrating our wide variety of questions types!" dated 12/16/2011 to see some examples for yourself.]
December 16, 2011 7:38 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
2nd dip in weekly unemployment filings
, More signs of economic improvement
Last Friday, I posted a blog here entitled “Unemployment filings finally fall below critical 400K weekly mark.” It basically stated that we’d finally had a week wherein overall new jobless filings for unemployment dipped below 400,000 for the week that ended on December 3. Economists believe strongly that only when that number dips (and stays) below the 400K threshold can unemployment really improve here in the USA. And the number for that week was a relatively modest 381,000, down 23,000 from the preceding week.
This week, to my surprise and delight, the filings turned out even better. At 366,000 they’re down an additional 19,000 from the preceding week, and definitely trending in the right direction. This not only beat economists’ forecasts, it’s also the lowest number of filings since May 2008 according to US Labor Department figures released yesterday in our nation’s capital (that’s five months after the last recession officially began, so we still have a ways to go to get back to the previous “normal”).
Manufacturing is also up, after a slight pause for the month of November. Economists are starting to talk about the US economy “gathering momentum” (see this San Francisco Chronicle story “Unemployment claims filings hit 3-year low” for more info and attribution of the just-quoted phrase).
Maybe it’s just the holidays lifting everybody’s spirits and consumer confidence. But hey: could this really be a glimmer of hope for genuine improvement? Only time will tell!
December 14, 2011 3:30 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
16 Gbps Brocade BCFD goes beta on 1/19/2012
, Brocade to make free study materials available for upcoming BCFD 16 Gbps beta
OK, so once a month I either get together by phone or email with Joe Cannata, Brocade’s Senior Manager of Business Development/Certification, to get the latest and greatest news from that company’s active certification and training program. Although Joe tells me that this time of year “is kind of a quiet period for us,” he also informs me that as of December 8, his company is getting a new version of its Brocade Certified Fabric Designer (BCFD) program underway. This iteration will address the company’s new 16 Gbps Fibre Channel switching and routing fabric technologies, in much the same way that the existing BCFP exam addresses 8 Gbps technologies.
Headline from the BCFP home page
There’s an upcoming beta exam in development that will carry the exam number #142-270. It should become available to interesting candidates in mid-January. Joe also tells me that you’ll be able to find study materials in Brocade’s online Certification Communityabout two weeks before the open beta exam period gets going. He also indicates that one primary exam resource will be the Brocade eBook entitled SAN Design and Best Practices (available for free through the link provided here). In fact, it’s already available for download and reading, and thus also seems like a great way to get started right away if you’re interested in the upcoming BCFD credential. The beta period is scheduled to start on 1/19/2012 and will run about five weeks, to close on 2/24/2012, with results available in late April. Normally beta exams are available at a deep discount, so this may be a worthwhile venture for those already involved in Brocade certification or looking for a good reason to jump into this arena.
On another note, Joe informs me that Brocade just awarded its fourteenth Brocade Distinguished Architect credential this year. All 14 of these individuals work around the world from Florida to Thailand, and represent the cream of the Brocade certified professional cadre (it’s necessary to pass around 20 exams to earn this highly esteemed pinnacle certification).
December 12, 2011 5:51 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Certiport handles the world's biggest cert program and population
, Certiport is staking out the bottom of the IT certification pyramid
I’ve often pondered this question, and I’ve usually answered by saying “Microsoft.” Turns out I’m only half right: it’s actually the Microsoft Office Specialist program, aka MOS, and while the subject matter is indisputably Microsoft’s, the exams and content and the related certification program all belong to Certiport.
According to this fascinating synopsis of a lengthy interview by Emmet Dulaney with Certiport CEO Ray Kelly, the MOS program will certify over 1.2 million people world-wide in 2011. They must have a certified population greater than 6 million (Microsoft’s approximate total population as of mid-2011) because Kelly calls the program “the largest IT certification in the world.” Kelly works so closely with Microsoft, he’s in a unique position to know such things. In servicing such a huge candidate population, and in helping deliver exams for the Adobe Certified Associate, CompTIA Strata, and IC3 credentials, Certiport also routine delivers over 2 million certification tests every year, which puts them in a league with Prometric and VUE.
All kinds of great news and info in this interview
Certiport focuses squarely on the entry-level portion of the cert market, which might incline some readers to dismiss the company, or take its efforts lightly. I invite those who are so inclined to consider that Certiport is tackling the bottom of a huge pyramid (as the entire certification business is often described) and that as such, they are going after what is inarguably the biggest part of a huge and growing marketplace. That explains their focus on MOS, the Microsoft Technology Associate program (MTA), CompTIA Strata, and the IC3 program, all of which are designed to lead people into the initial stages of office productivity (MOS), IT fundamentals (MTA and CompTIA Strata), and basic computing (IC3). It also explains why the company is working with HP on its new entry-level program as well, the HP Accredited Technical Associate (ATA).
Fascinating stuff. Definitely worth a read!
December 9, 2011 6:23 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
a bit of good employment news from unemployment filings for the week ending 12/3/2011
, first-time unemployment filings drop below critical threshold value
, weekly unemployment filings fall below 400K
For the first time since February, 2011, weekly first-time filings for unemployment have finally dropped below the 400,000 mark. This number is a kind of critical watershed point for economists, who believe that numbers above this threshold indicate an ailing economy, while those below this mark are less worrisome.
According to CNNMoney there were 381,000 such claims filed for the week that ended on December third, based on US Labor Department reports. This is down by 23,000 from the prior week’s count of 402,000, and finally dips back below the 400K mark. According to the CNNMoney story, “a level below 400,000 often signals job growth strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.” Of course this accords nicely with the latest Employment Situation Summary for November, 2011 which reported a drop in unemployment from 9.1 to 8.6 percent for November.
With weekly filings finally dropping below the 400K mark, it’s reasonably likely that we’ll see another decline in unemployment numbers when the December report appears on Friday, January 6. Keep your fingers crossed: this is just the kind of good economic news we need to hear more of. The only thing I’m worried about is the usual bump in part-time hiring that always occurs around the holiday season. Perhaps the February report will be even more interesting, as the January numbers will reflect the departure of lots of part-time and temporary workers taken on for the end-of-year shopping season.
December 7, 2011 3:16 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
IT is all about learning new things and maintaining your skills and knowledge
, you can never stop learning if you want to succeed in IT
There’s a great blog over on MS Born to Learn entitled “Never stop learning, simple.” by Andrew Bettany, posted on 12/3/2011. He remarks about mentoring technology start-ups in their early phases, and how they devote the bulk of their efforts to utilizing their skills and knowledge to deliver products (and services, too, I’m guessing, even though he doesn’t explicitly make that connection). He calls such organizations “agile, knowledgeable, and very hungry to succeed and to create.”
The road to IT goes ever onward
His point, of course, is that such organizations not only make things up as they go, they also learn constantly and incessantly as they go as well, and then goes on to make the point that this is a good model for how IT professionals should approach the tools, technologies, and subject matters that make up the focus for their work. His next remark explains why this is necessary: “With cloud computing, mobile computing, and social media now becoming the current ‘bubble,’ I realised just how easy it is for anyone in IT to become out of date quite rapidly.” I couldn’t agree more profoundly or enthusiastically.
These days working in IT means constantly reinventing yourself, updating your knowledge base, learning new tools and techniques, and keeping a close eye on what’s new, what’s trending, and what kinds of technology adoptions are gaining momentum. It’s important to pay close attention to the present wave, and make sure you keep back-filling all the knowledge and skills gaps that will keep opening up in front of you. And when you can jump onto interesting or even exciting new tools and technologies that promise to catch on, you can even help to push the envelope yourself, in your own way.
For some, this may be frustrating or disheartening. But for those who wish to succeed, this is just the kind of constant churn that presents ongoing opportunities to learn, to stretch your boundaries, and really enjoy your work. It’s what keeps me going, and always points me to opportunities of all kinds. You can put the same mindset to work for yourself, too, as long as you’re willing to “do the homework” necessary to keep up. So thanks, Andrew, for a truly great blog and reminder of what it is we really should be doing with ourselves at work, above and beyond mundane matters at hand (and thanks also to commenter Wayne Hoggett, who supplied me with the completely-apt title for this blog).