IT Career JumpStart


July 7, 2010  4:00 PM

Cisco Offers Virtual IT Education to Military Personnel and Dependents



Posted by: Ed Tittel
and infosec, Cisco certification "virtual fair" aims at military and dependents, Cisco to offer half-day webinar on IT certification, Cisco virtual certification seminar to focus on wireless, data centers, voioce

Tomorrow, July 8, from 8 AM until 2 PM PDT (GMT/UCT -08:00), Cisco is providing a free online educational event to provide active and retired military personnel and their families (and other “interested parties,” so I guess that means it’s open to all comers, with an emphasis on folks with some kind of military connection). The topic is IT certification and training with a special emphasis on information security (or “information assurance,” as it’s known in milspeak), and an eye toward establishing or further IT-related jobs and careers.

The hosts include Tejas Vashi, Cisco’s Senior Manager of Global Market Development, and Michael Adler, the Program Manager for Applied Intelligence at Cisco. The  aim of this virtual shindig is to provide resources for individuals currently working in networking or communications roles, or who may be interested in pursuing careers in IT and networking areas. Fast-growing technologies that include wireless, voice, data centers, and (information) security will receive special focus and attention, and you can bet that how those subjects map into Cisco certifications such as CCNA and CCNP (and various flavors for ISP, voice, and security subject matters) will get lots of attention as well, along with relevant Cisco specialist level credentials.

Register today for this event at http://events.unisfair.com/index.jsp?eid=619&seid=31. There should be plenty of opportunity to learn more about Cisco training and certification, and possibly also to hear about special offers and discounts available for same to active and retired military personnel and dependents.

July 2, 2010  2:39 PM

June 2010 Employment Situation: Down Hides Up, This Time!



Posted by: Ed Tittel
June 2010 employment situation summary, June employment descrease comes from US Census completion, June employment numbers mostly flat, small rays of sunshine amidst June employment number dips

For the first time this year — or, for the first time in six months, if you prefer a calendar-agnostic reference — employment numbers are down from the reporting month vis-a-vis the preceding month. But for once, this isn’t such terrible news, though the numbers could be stronger, and nobody would mind at all. That’s because while the June 2010 Employment Situation Summary reports that nonfarm payroll employment declined by 125,000 for that month, that number reflects the departure of 225,000 temporary US Census workers and is at least partially offset by a very modest private sector payroll increase of 83,000 jobs in June. Overall, the number of unemployed persons edged down to 14.6 million and the unemployment rate also dipped ever so slightly to 9.5 percent. At the same time, unemployment dipped for women to 7.8 percent, while rates for adult men, teenagers, whites, blacks, and Hispanics remained more or less unchanged.

IT numbers for June were also down across the board, but not by very much. Total losses were only 8,000 jobs for the month, where publishing (except Internet, at -2,000) and telecommunications (-2,300) suffered the biggest losses overall, and wehre other sectors varied losses between 500 (Broadcasting, except Internet) and 1,500 (Data processing, hosting, and related services) jobs overall. See Table B-1 for more details. On a brighter note, numerous other sectors showed modest gains, with Professional and business services at +46,000 jobs, Leisure and hospitality at +37,000 jobs, and even manufacturing showing some slight increase (+9,000 jobs).

What does all this mean? The recovery, such as it is, continues to eke out modest and very slow growth. Given the recent tumbles on stock and other financial markets (major indices are down as much as 10% for the current week, as I write this blog), it will be interesting to see what the July numbers will have to tell us. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see essentially flat results, or even another slight dip in employment across all market sectors. We’ll see!


June 25, 2010  9:16 PM

Bing: The Exam and MCTS Certification



Posted by: Ed Tittel
check out MS exam 70-544, MS releases Bing Maps exam, MS Technology Specialist certification on Bing Maps now available
Check out the Bing Maps Developer Center

Check out the Bing Maps Developer Center

OK, Bing is now more than just a search engine, or a particularly sonorous syllable from an ill-fated night spot often featured on HBO’s The Sopranos. Bing is also now the subject of a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist credential — at least, the Bing Maps Platform is, anyway — and the focus for Microsoft Exam 70-544: TS: Bing Maps Platform, Application Development.

So far, no training materials or classroom training are yet available for this subject matter, but that should pop up some time in the next 30 days if prior history is any guide. Usually, Microsoft Learning has this stuff ready to go on or before the date that an exam goes live and if they don’t, it invariably hits within a month of the exam’s go-live date. That’s why I imagine we’ll see some training materials and possibly also classes associated with this credential some time very soon.

In the meantime, those panting with lust to get started on this material would be well-advised to visit the Bing Maps Developer Center (depicted at the top of this blog), where they’ll find SDK’s, developer datasheets and articles, forums, and licensing information, among lots of other stuff. Enjoy, but please remember Alfred Korzybski’s famous dictum: “The map is not the territory!”


June 22, 2010  4:00 PM

Cisco Adds Emeritus Designation to CCIE Program



Posted by: Ed Tittel
CCIE emeritus, CCIE program extended, Cisco provides program to retain veteran CCIEs

In recent phone conversations with Fred Weiller and Angela Mendoza of Cisco (Mr. Weiller is the Director of Marketing for Learning@Cisco, and Ms. Mendoza is the Marketing Manager for Cisco Certifications), I learned that the company plans to extend and build upon its always-popular and highly esteemed Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE, certification, starting today (6/22/2010). While active CCIEs must recertify every two years come heck or high water, given that job responsibilities and professional portfolios change over time, Cisco divined from its certified professionals and customers that some way to keep experienced CCIEs in the community would be a good idea, even for those who might not be interested in or able to keep up with the regular recertification requirement. This has now led to the introduction of an “Emeritus” designation for CCIEs with10 or more years of active status in that certification.
 
In general, the term “emeritus” refers to someone who’s retired from a position, but whose abilities and distinction in that position allow the person who holds the title to retain and continue to use it in a professional context. This designation is most commonly encountered in academia, where a professor who attains emeritus status may continue to teach, do research, and maintain an office and a presence on-campus even when he or she may no longer be actively involved in the everyday routines of the academic life and calendar. The word comes from the past participle of the Latin work emerere, which means to “serve out, earn, or deserve.”
 
In this same vein, obtaining the CCIE emeritus designation allows individuals to keep calling themselves CCIEs — albeit “emeritus CCIEs” — even when their credentials may no longer be completely current. At or after their 10th anniversaries as active CCIEs, individuals can apply for emeritus status and file an application with the CCIE emeritus team. Upon approval, emeritus status is granted for one year, and re-application is required each following year to maintain that status. Applications must also pay an $85 application fee (yearly) and file valid application paperwork to achieve and maintain CCIE emeritus status. In exchange for keeping up with program requirements, CCIE emeritus professionals are permitted to use the CCIE Emeritus logo, and can append that designation to their CCIE number (which is kept active and registered as long as Emeritus status stays current). CCIE Emeritus holders can continue to participate in the CCIE community online (forums, blogs, groups, and so forth), and will continue to be recognized for technical proficiency and veteran status in the CCIE program. After attaining emeritus status, a CCIE can return to active status at any time within 10 years of joining the emeritus ranks by passing any written CCIE exam (no lab exam required).
 
However, the Emeritus status for CCIEs is not an active certification. Thus, it does not count toward Channel or Partner requirements for the organizations that employ emeritus CCIEs, nor does it apply to maintaining staff certification status levels for channel partners either. Nevertheless, the CCIE Emeritus promises to be a great way to keep CCIEs who are advancing into more business and less technical aspects of their careers active in the CCIE community, and to extend the recognition and value of this already formidable IT certification.


June 21, 2010  3:20 PM

Strange Phenomena Can Sometimes Skew Employment Numbers



Posted by: Ed Tittel
changes in measurement don't translate into changes in status, Economist "Extension Deficit Disorder", long-term unemployed may not be counted for too much longer
The June12th-18th 2010 issue of The Economist includes an interesting story entitled “Unemployment Insurance: Extension Deficit Disorder” that makes a very interesting point about upcoming unemployment figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. With repeated extensions to unemployment benefits, lots of people are still being counted as unemployed in the US economy right now, even though they’ve been out of work for six or even twelve months. Most “normal” metrics stop counting the unemployed when benefits run out, usually by 27 weeks, but with recent extensions and stimulus allocations, the counting period has stretched out considerably. Their chart shows what this means in contrasting shades of blue, appropriately enough unemployment being a generally unpleasant affair for all parties concerned.
When estensions run out, unemployment figures will drop

When estensions run out, unemployment figures will drop

As the light blue region above the medium-blue area at the bottom of the figure illustrates, individuals on “emergency benefits” for unemployment make up just over half of the counted population right now, while those on extended benefits (the dark areas at the top or middle of the right-hand side: I’m not exactly sure…) occupy a much smaller chunk of that group. What this tells me is that with extended and emergency benefits bound to run out sooner or later, at the whim of an increasingly debt-shy Congress, those parts of the chart are bound to get cut off at some point in time.

Inevitably, this will lead to a reduction in unemployment counts. I just hope it doesn’t get reported as an improvement in the employment situation — as the graph clearly indicates, there are lots of people who are both unemployed and likely to be redacted from measures of unemployment at some time in the future. Cutting them out of a measured population doesn’t imply any improvement in the overall situation, though — it just means the ranks of the long-term unemployed and so-called “discouraged workers” won’t be included in upcoming BLS unemployment measures.

For my part, I’m hoping the economy will move from the current state of “jobless recovery” to one that involves actual job creation, so that all portions of the curve in this blog’s illustration can be whittled away at, whether the BLS continues to measure them or not!


June 21, 2010  2:53 PM

How Do YOU Fill Out a “Customer Satisfaction Survey” When the Product Doesn’t Work?



Posted by: Ed Tittel
add a network integrity/uptime check to MSS diagnostics HP, further adventures in network troubleshooting, HP EX-495 MSS goes south and gets returned

In the past weeks, I’ve recounted some misadventures in the wake of replacing my heavily-used but now retired HP EX-475 MediaSmart Server (MSS). That unit has been replaced with a brand-new EX-495 unit, which upgrades the AMD Sempron processor to an Intel E5200 Core Duo, and bumps the internal memory from 1 to 2 GB inside the same compact, attractive, and highly-functional enclosure.

Alas, but my attempts to bring the new model up and get it working kept running into one technical problem after another. I let one HP support tech convince me it was all my fault because I’d upgraded the unit’s RealTek GbE NIC driver (which, BTW, I had successfully also done with the EX-475 without hiccup or incident), and rebuilt that server from scratch. Then I got with another extremely savving HP support tech who had me run the following tests when I reported the unit kept dropping off the network on a regular but intermittent and mostly unpredictable basis:

1. Unplugged the unit from my NetGear GS108 ProSave 8-port GbE switch, and directly into one of the GbE ports on my D-Link DIR-655SW router/switch device. No change in behavior ensued.

2. Started the EX-495 back up, got it up on the network, then unplugged it from the DIR-655SW to let it run all night. Was still working when I plugged it back into the network the next morning (night-time is when the unit does its backups by default, so this eliminated the activity that was underway when most of the network drop-offs occurred).

3. Plugged the EX-495 directly into the GbE port of a single machine I then proceeded to back up. Not only did the back-up fail because the unit once again dropped off the network, but I also observed that by unplugging the RJ-45 cable from the unit, then plugging it back in, it would resume activity as if nothing had happened. It took several such “in-and-out” maneuvers to complete that backup, but complete successfully it did.

Fortunately, when I reported all this to the next HP support tech I spoke with he agreed with my diagnosis that the NIC in the EX-495 was just plain wonky. He declared my unit “DOA” and authorized a return and exchange with the HP Shopping.com site that let me ship the unit out on Saturday at HP’s cost for a brand-new replacement to be shipped back out to me as soon as HP’s RMA unit receives my incoming shipment. Estimated time for this turnaround is about a week, so I may actually be able to get something done in the meantime, without having another EX-495 to futz around with in the interim.

Probably purely on an automated schedule, a customer satisfaction survey showed up from HP this weekend — ironically, right after I’d boxed up my first and apparently failed EX-495 to ship it back to them for a warranty replacement. Don’t get me wrong: although it took a week to figure out the unit wasn’t working as it should have been, the Canadian-based MSS support team was great to work with, and I actually wound up learning some very useful things from them along the way (and just for the record, I’ve reviewed all three generations of MSS servers for Tom’s Hardware as they’ve come out, including the EX-47*, -48*, and 49* models) that even I hadn’t come across before. I also really like these products and find them to be an important component of my home network where their ability to back up systems automatically every night has actually saved my hindquarters more than once when various hardware glitches required me to restore (and in one case to completely rebuild) a vital production or test machine.

That left me a little uncertain as to how to respond to a survey of my satisfaction. In general, I am very satisfied with the MSS boxes, and I was completely happy with the level of support, knowledge, and professionalism of the MSS support team (over the week I was troubleshooting, I worked with 4 different people and they were all great). In particular I am also pretty unhappy with the unit they shipped me, and likewise unhappy that I probably spent 20-plus hours troubleshooting a box that’s supposed to deliver a straightforward plug-and-go experience to (mostly unsophisticated and technically unsavvy) users. If I didn’t know as much about networking as I do, the MSS support team could easily have spent 3 or 4 times the 4 or 5 hours they spent on the phone with me in total, and the poor schlub on the other end of the phone could have spent 40 or more hours just to figure out the unit wasn’t working properly and needed to be replaced.

Ultimately, I would recommend to HP that they add some kind of network monitor, or a keepalive/network availability heartbeat and/or check, to the MSS software arsenal. It would have detected the network drop-offs (which never showed up in the Application or System logs as errors on that machine) within the first day of the install, and would have shortened and streamlined the whole diagnostic and RMA process. That’s how you learn what kinds of tools are needed, I guess, so my concluding beef is that I turned out to be the guinea pig who had to learn that lesson so that others could avoid my pain.


June 16, 2010  9:26 PM

Ah! The Vagaries of Service Provider Services



Posted by: Ed Tittel
ethics of charging for non-working services, service provider issues, voice mail woes

My good friend, and occasional employer and/or collaborator, David Strom, produced a very nice Web Informant blog today entitled “Strom’s cable Internet odyssey.” Therein, he recounts some amazing and bothersome issues in getting Internet service up and running in his office space. It’s an interesting litany of customer service woes and inefficiencies that helps underscore his point that the US is falling off its perch at the top of the Internet hierarchy because service providers…well…suck at providing customer service, even when they excel at delivering or using technology.

I’m in the middle of a similar imbroglio with Time Warner Cable right now about voice mail service for my primary phone line. Although I’m paying for voice mail, it’s not working right now, and Time Warner can’t even tell me when it will become operational once again. I’m actually thinking about going out and buying a cheap answering machine just so I won’t miss messages in the future. Because my Dell All-in-One 968 has a fax machine built-in, that means people who currently call me and *want* to leave a message end up listening to (and presumably, hanging up on) that annoying fax machine handshake tone once the phone does answer.

It’s irritating to discover from an aggrieved third party that a service you depend on isn’t working (I’d rather hear it from the provider directly, along with at least a cursory apology, and an estimate of uptime) . It’s even more annoying to discover that a service you need is “out of service” for an indefinite period. It’s infuriating to find yourself in a situation where the provider can’t even tell you what’s causing the problem, or when normal service will be restored. It’s also astonishing that a provider will happily charge you for a service that’s not working, unless you report the outage and request a credit against your usual account charges. Surely, they must know it’s not working, and they must also know it’s not fair (or ethical) to charge for a service that’s not presently available, either. But that’s not the way things work in these United States right now.

As Mr. Strom no doubt wanted the reader of his blog to ask, I too find myself asking “What’s this country coming to?” Sheesh!

[Follow-up half an hour after this post went live: I finally got to a knowledgeable and capable support tech at Time Warner. He actually called my voicemail to verify it wasn't working, then discovered that my account had been disabled for some indiscernable reason. He subsequently re-enabled my account and was then able to restore my voicemail service. Thank goodness!]


June 14, 2010  8:20 PM

Another ray of IT employment sunshine



Posted by: Ed Tittel
but not yet recovered, corners are in sight but not yet turned, IT jobs marginally up, IT jobs situation, More modest signs of IT jobs improvements

John Oates recent Channel Register story “IT jobs market recovering well/So where’s my raise?” cites a four percent increase in technology jobs advertised for Q1’10 versus Q1’09 as evidence of recovery. I’d say it’s evidence of (slight) improvement, but I’m not sure that “recovery” really comes into play until we make up for the ground that’s been lost in IT and start whittling away at the new jobs needed to put recent college grads and other new entrants into the IT workforce into permanent, full-time jobs. But then again, it’s not entirely useless to use advertisements as a metric for job availability because employers still lean pretty heavily on ads to help get the word out about positions available.

An interesting data point from the story includes mention that finance is still the top opportunity for both full- and part-time positions, in both the permanent and contract employment markets. Given the turmoil in the banking and finance industries, I guess it makes sense that crunching more numbers and managing more data might aid a return to normalcy for those lines of work.

Skills-related terms in job postings/ads indicate that SQL is mentioned most often, followed by C and C#. To me, this says that employers are looking for database mavens on the one hand (SQL) and for developers on the other (C and C#). Next most frequent terms: .NET, SQL Server, and ASP would appear to bear this out, and to indicate that the Web is increasingly where development is at as far as jobs are concerned.

The site (CWJobs) that hosts and tracks such advertisements is quoted as saying “…it was encouraging to see some signs of improvement and they hoped it marked increased investment in IT.” So do we all, sez I; so do we all!


June 11, 2010  4:41 PM

The Once and Future/Current MOS



Posted by: Ed Tittel
MCAS reverts to MOS, Microsoft Office Specialist certification, MOS certification, MS certification

MOS stands for MIcrosoft Office Specialist and is a family of certifications from Microsoft Learning that deals with all the major office components — namely, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access plus SharePoint and Project. In fact, core Office components (Word and Excel) even offer Expert designations, and a Master certification is available for various major versions of Office (2010, 2007, and so forth) as well.

MOS was the designation for Office certs prior to the introduction of MS Office 2007, and is once again the designation for MS Office 2010 certifications. There was a brief hiatus during which these credentials bore the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist, or MCAS, designation but all those certs have now been folded back into the MOS Program. All MCAS holders qualify for similar MOS credentials for Office 2007, and can even order certificates to that effect from the company that runs the MOS Program for Microsoft  — Certiport — for a modest fee through their login portal.

Graphical blurb from the MS Learning MOS page

Graphical blurb from the MS Learning MOS page

According to Anne Martinez’ latest Certification Watch (Vol 13 #8) the real reason for the name reversion is that “…the MCAS name never caught on.” My educated guess is that because the MOS program was around for such a long time, and Microsoft didn’t really go into a full-court-press rebranding effort, nobody bothered to change their nomenclature and the program handle stayed MOS in employers’ and cert-holders’ minds, even if that’s not what MS was calling the program during that brief interregnum.


June 9, 2010  1:22 PM

Cisco expands its already-great certs with new architecture credential



Posted by: Ed Tittel
CCAr credential, Cisco certifications, Cisco Certified Architect, IT certification

I had the good fortune to spend some time on the phone last week with Fred Weiller, Director of Marketing for Learning at Cisco, along with Erik Ullanderson, Manager of Global Certifications for the same company. We talked our way through the new Cisco Certified Architect credential (sometimes abbreviated as CCAr). The Cisco Certified Architect is the highest  step on that company’s “design track” which starts with the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), goes onto the Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), then to the Cisco Certified Design Expert  (CCDE), where the aforementioned CCAr credential serves as the capstone for that sequence. Cisco’s impetus for this program came from customer input regarding the job roles they seek to cover with certifications, and the kinds of skills and knowledge that should go with them.
 
As is typical for many capstone or top-rung credentials, including numerous other architect certifications, the Cisco Certified Architect is completely performance based. Rather than relying on various types of automated question banks, which may or may not be accompanied by lab or other performance based tests (like the lab tests that go with the CCIE and CCDE), the CCAr credential starts out with a variety of qualification steps and hurdles to overcome, and includes several interviews and face-to-face encounters along the path from application to completing a design exercise, to defending that exercise before a panel of other certified architects, to earning the certification. The process kicks off with an application that includes a resume and professional experience component, followed by a phone interview to determine if an applicant’s verbal skills and real-world knowledge match up to his or her professed experience, skills, and capabilities.
 
For those candidates who survive the phone interview, their next step is to respond to a series of questions and requirements that add up to something like an RFP. This is delivered via email, and a lengthy and formal written response is required. Of course drafting such a response takes substantial preparation and research, with time and room for candidates to submit follow-up queries to elicit additional details and information as needed. In fact, the response and submission process is realistic enough that it includes mid-course “curve balls” of the “can you add this?” or “can we change X to Y?” form so familiar to practitioners in the field who service real client needs and requests. Once the proposal is submitted, a candidate must appear before a committee of certified professionals (Cisco expects those individuals who earn the CCAr to be willing to give back to the community by serving on such panels themselves, once they make the grade) to explain and defend its content, strategy, and so forth. Questions and coverage come from the worlds of business, technology, finance, and so on, where proposals must meet financial needs, match stated business visions, meet feasibility and implementation requirements, and match up with enunciated short-, medium-, and long-term goals for their target businesses or organizations.
 
Right now, less than ten individuals have earned the Cisco Certified Architect credential, and Cisco’s expectation is that in the next 36 months that number will climb to something higher than 10 but less than 99 certified individuals. Interestingly, Ullanderson emphasized the importance of soft skills to earning the CCAr credential as well as a solid and substantial mix of business and technology skills. Individuals must provide strong verbal responses to the telephone interview to get past the initial hurdle to program entry, and then make a substantial showing in the proposal defense before the committee that follows submission of the written version. That written proposal also means that candidates must demonstrate solid and convincing verbal communication skills, as well as business skills and knowledge necessary to deal with financial and business considerations, as well as technical ones, at each step along the certification process. And of course, quick and well-informed thinking will be essential to surviving the proposal defense, where candidates will be probed on more than just the proposal’s contents and coverage.
 
A typical profile for potential candidates is someone who’s got ten or more years of networking experience with plenty of technical background and on-the-job training and learning behind him or her. People who have worked on implementation and troubleshooting will also have to be able to draw upon design skills and experience as well as understanding how to navigate in and around the business-technology interface. A typical candidate who survives initial screening should need somewhere between three and six months to complete the certification, but the greatest amount of effort for this credential is bound to go into personal preparation, development, and learning. Would-be candidates need to make sure they’re ready to tackle the demanding CCAr credential, particularly by interacting with other certified or qualified individuals (Cisco will make various online venues and communities available to vetted candidates) and also by working through the proposal research, development, and defense efforts.
 
This sounds very much like a solid and substantial certification, and is bound to help develop the Cisco certification community further. Visit the Cisco Certified Architect home page for more information.


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