IT Career JumpStart

December 19, 2011  3:51 PM

Interesting Changes Coming to MS Cert Exams

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

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

More Good News on Unemployment Filings

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

Brocade Prepares to Launch 16 Gbps BCFD Cert

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

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

What’s the Biggest Cert Program by Population?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

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

Unemployment filings finally fall below critical 400K weekly mark

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

IT Equals Life-Long Learning

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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

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).

December 2, 2011  2:31 PM

Halfway Decent Empsit Means 10 Years to Full Recovery!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Economists generally define full employment in the USA as the condition that prevails when unemployment percentages dip below six percent. With the release of this morning’s Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of labor statistics, which shows a job gain of 120,000 for November, and unemployment dropping to 8.6%, that means it could take as long as a decade to reach that state! Although it’s nice to hear of some job gains and dropping unemployment numbers, it remains a case of “too little, too slowly” for recent upticks to make a significant difference in the overall employment situation.

It looks like we’re going to limp into 2012, employment-wise, just as we’ve pretty much limped through the whole year of 2011, with rates at or above 9 percent for every month of the year except for February and March. If this doesn’t argue forcefully for as much government intervention to boost employment as the Republicans can stand, I don’t know what does. It seems that some kind of public works and infrastructure development programs should be kicked off, in addition to as many incentives to get private concerns hiring again as possible.

It’s now been over three years since the downturn struck in 2008, and we’re looking at a fourth anniversary next year. What we’ve tried so far has saved the financial system and kept things from going completely over the brink. Isn’t it time now to try to move the economy toward a better employment situation with all of the tools at our disposal? Gosh, I certainly hope so.

Call me a proponent of big government, an interventionist, or even a dyed-in-the wool Democrat. I don’t care. We’ve got to do something to accelerate employment and improve our overall profitability and productivity. It’s the only way out of this employment mess that I can currently see.

[Note: as I was filing this blog the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website was completely unavailable, whether from excessive traffic or some other problem, I can’t tell. But when I can access the report directly (my source for this blog was The New York Times) I’ll add some discussion of IT related stats and changes.]

November 30, 2011  4:21 PM

Robert Half Identifies 7 Potential 2012 Bright Spots for IT Jobs

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In preparing its 2012 Technology Salary Guide, employment specialist firm Robert Half recently identified some standout job areas in IT for the coming year. These make for some pretty interesting reading, so I’ll reproduce them here courtesy of a summary I found in the Vancouver Sun:

1. Mobile applications developer. Starting salaries are projected to increase 8.2 per cent to a range of $72,500 to $102,750.

2. Web designer. The starting pay is expected to rise 6.6 per cent to a range of $75,000 to $120,000.

3. Network engineer. Starting salaries for network engineers are expected to rise six per cent to a range of $75,000 to $98,250.

4. Data warehouse analyst. Anticipated base compensation is expected to climb 5.9 per cent to between $81,750 and $111,250 in 2012.

5. Web developer. Base compensation is projected to increase 5.3 per cent to between $58,750 and $85,000.

6. Data security analyst. Base compensation for these workers is expected to rise 4.9 per cent to between $83,250 and $124,500.

7. SEO/SEM specialist. Those with three or more years of experience are projected to see a starting salary range of $75,000 to $95,000.

Here’s what I find interesting about this list and its associated numbers. First, the clustering of raises at around six percent, give or take 1.1 percent on the low end, and 2.2 percent on the high side. This augurs reasonably well for IT job improvements in general, and easily doubles current inflation levels. Second, it’s nice to see several types of development jobs hit this list: developers build things to other people can sell them, and still other people can use them, all necessary ingredients for growth and economic improvement. I’m also glad to see my core area–networking–get some much-appreciated recognition, and not surprised to see data warehousing/analysis and security make appearances in this list, either. What surprises me by their absence, however, are positions related to data centers and cloud computing, which also include storage area networking stuff. To the best of my knowledge these all remain white-hot areas as well.

November 28, 2011  3:04 PM

IBM Offers Buy-1-Get-1-Free Offer for Selected Cert Exams

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

For each IBM certification exam from this Eligible Tests list you schedule and take by December 14, 2011, IBM will provide you with a free voucher you can use to take another exam (also from the same list). These vouchers remain usable until April 30, 2012. It’s a pretty good deal, and covers exams related to IBM’s Power Systems, Storage Systems, System x, and System z.

Here are all the related requirements and limitations, lifted straight from the IBM offer page:

  • You must schedule an eligible test using promo code: STGNOV11
  • This standard price test must be taken no later than December 14, 2011.
  • After taking the test, IBM will email you a voucher that will allow you take another test for no charge.
  • The voucher for the free test will be valid through April 30, 2012.
  • The free voucher may be used for any eligible test, of your choice. (Most tests available for Power Systems, Storage Systems, System x and System z, are eligible. …)
  • You will receive a free voucher each time you register and test using the promo code through December 14, 2011.
  • There is no limit to the number of times you may use the promo code during the offering time period.
  • The free voucher is transferable.
  • If you choose, you may give the voucher to another person to take a test for no charge.
  • This offer is only available for tests taken at an Authorized Prometric Test Center.
  • This offer cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts.

Despite all the fine print (which isn’t terribly onerous, as such things go) this is a pretty good deal for anybody planning to take an IBM cert test in these general areas anyway. If so, be sure to sign up for and take that exam in the next two weeks to qualify for your free voucher!

November 21, 2011  2:44 PM

Why Is Super-committee failure an option?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Those of who you read this blog regularly know that I follow government and employment information, especially as it touches on IT job markets and growth prospects. So it was that I listened to NPR this morning with a growing sense of incredulity and dread, as the newscasters grimly foretold the imminent failure of the congressional super-committee tasked with finding 1.2-1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. At the same time, the economic forecasts for 2012 “from leading economists” have started to trickle in, with consensus numbers for US economic growth falling around 2.4 percent for the upcoming year. If we’re lucky and another recession doesn’t grab us by the short hairs, we might bring employment down to 8.5 percent by the end of 2012!

Sheesh! I’d say this pretty much kills the idea that 2011 might somehow end on an up note, with more than gradual improvement either in the job market or in the general economic outlook. It’s pretty clear that something has to change more than gradually for there to be any kind of substantial improvement. But it’s also clear that what isn’t changing is the atmosphere of political partisanship and rancor that has basically ground our national government to a standstill where it comes to any meaningful policy initiatives.

So here’s what I have to say to the politicos in DC: Republicans, please lay down your ideological purity and recognize that budgeting often requires an increase in income as well as a decrease in spending. That’s just plain common sense. And Democrats, please let go of your sacred cows…err…I mean “entitlements,” with the idea that something has to give in the areas where costs continue to spiral out of control. Cuts are almost always warranted when and where costs go completely ballistic. And to both parties: as far as the “we can protect our favorite programs before the 2013 deadline kicks in for automatic budget cuts” mentality that is currently sweeping through the halls, offices, and byways in Congress: fuggeddaboutit!

You guys made the bed you’re currently lying in, and should let the system you set up to protect yourselves from voter backlack go to work. If you don’t have the ability to compromise your way into deficit reduction, let the miracle of mathematics do it for you. At least that way it will actually get done! Otherwise, that voter backlash is sure to be swift and harsh. And gosh, isn’t a third party that isn’t more concerned about taking the “high ground” away from its perennial opposition looking more and more appealing these days? Again: sheesh!

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