IT Career JumpStart

January 7, 2011  4:15 PM

A Brilliant Example of “Cert Error Damage Control”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In her most recent (12/2/2010) blog posting at entitled “CISSP Exam Scoring Error Revealed,” Anne Martinez describes the right — indeed, some might argue the only — way to handle a scoring error on that important and much-coveted information security certification.

First, the facts of the matter: owing to some scoring errors on CISSP exams handled in the period from October 15-21, 2010, some CISSP candidates who failed the exam received notices that they’d passed (bad enough) while others who’s actually passed the exam got notices that they’d failed (worse still). According to Executive Director Hord Tipton’s 11/18/2010 blog on this subject, this error occured during the period when (ISC)2 “…implemented a new scoring interface as part of our transition to a new exam delivery and scoring provider.”

If you ask me, the way (ISC)2 handled this situation provides a textbook example of how to handle any serious breach of performance in a certification operation (and indeed, for any kind of public organization that must rely on trust and confidence to maintain its reputation). First, they acknowledged their error and explained how it happened. Second, they apologized for the mistake and explained how they were able to verify that they had checked for and identified every instance where the error had an impact on exam candidates. Third, they explained what steps they took to prevent such an occurrence from repeating.

What they did fourth, however, shows the kind of good faith in dealing with the public that I wish every business would demonstrate. For those candidates who received erroneous pass notifications, (ISC)2 is offering a refund of their exam fee, the opportunity to retake the exam at no charge, and a free online CISSP CBK seminar (CBK stands for “Common Body of Knowledge,” the 10 information domains that constitute the topics and concepts about which candidates are tested). Those candidates who passed but received erroneous failure notices will be exempted from paying annual maintenance fees for their cert for the next year (through the end of 2011, that is), and may request (ISC)2 to expedite processing of endorsements and experience verifications so that they will earn their CISSP credentials as quickly as the (ISC)2 can manage to grant them.

Here’s Hord Tipton’s apology for the situation, which also shows appropriate humility and understanding for the situation of affected exam candidates:

Before I provide the details on how this happened and what we are doing to rectify the situation, I wish to publicly offer our heartfelt apologies to the candidates who received the incorrect exam results.  We understand the high-level of difficulty the CISSP exam presents to professionals and how hard candidates work to obtain their certifications to reap its many benefits, including better job opportunities and salaries.  During this tough economic climate, we realize that the certification has become even more desired by information security professionals and critical to obtain.  As a credential-holder myself, I know how heart-wrenching the exam process can be. We deeply regret any personal distress that may have been caused by these erroneous notifications.  I speak not just for myself, but for all (ISC)² employees and board members.

Heads up, cert program operators! If you want to take a lesson on how to handle a screw-up, you could do a lot worse than to construct a playbook around the way that the (ISC)² handled this situation. Too bad it happened in the first place, but you can hardly fault them for their subsequent follow-up. Bravo!

January 5, 2011  4:23 PM

MCCC Redux: February 17, 2011

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When last I heard from Microsoft Learning before the holidays about the second and upcoming Microsoft Certified Career Conference (aka MCCC) the date had not been set, and for some reason February 20 stuck in my mind. Wrong! I just visited the current registration page and it’s happening on Thursday, February 17.  Mark your calendars, and think about registering if you’re at all interested in MS IT Certifications (discounts are available to students and MCPs or better, and overall costs are pretty low: it was $55 last time with 50% off for the aforementioned constituencies). Likewise, if you have friends or family who are interested in working in IT you may want to share this info with them as well.

I’m volunteering to run another couple or three 1-hour Q&A sessions at the upcoming conference, just like I did last time around. We were very busy chatting during all of these sessions, and this time I’m trying to recruit some other IT Certification heavies to help out with the traffic.

Of all the online conferences I’ve ever attended (which must be dozens by now), the MCCC is among the best built and easiest to use of any of them. I recommend this event highly, and since they’re not paying me to participate, I’m also happy to say I’ll be putting my time where my mouth was, since there’s no money in it for me!

January 3, 2011  9:18 PM

New Year, New Plans & Goals

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Hey! It’s 2011. Time to roll up your sleeves, put on your thinking cap, and ponder some career points. Answer these questions about your job, your situation, and your overall career:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • What can you do to pick up your career prospects?
  • What would you like to learn this year?
  • What new skills and knowledge would you like to acquire, both for your current job, or for your next one?

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be addressing these and related points directly in a series of focused blogs on those and other questions. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns you’d like to see me address as part of this series post them as comments to this blog, or email them to me at[].

Happy New Year! The party’s over, so let’s get to work.

December 30, 2010  3:34 PM

Say goodbye to 2010, hello to 2011

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I can’t say I’m unduly sorry to see 2010 come to an end. For most of this year, the IT job market (and career development activity) has been going sideways rather than significantly up or down. In fact, we saw only bare increases at any time during the year for either general or IT employment, with no truly savage dips in either area to mark a downturn or an adventure into double-dip recession territory.

For far too long now (about 18 months by my reckoning) we’ve been in what I’ve often called the “hunker down” position, where neither major ups nor downs for this fairly grim situation means we need to hold onto what we’ve got and wait for things to get better. On the other hand, for the under- or unemployed this has remained a horribly grim period in which prospects for meaningful employment are far too few, and hopes for the future slim to nonexistent.

Will things pick up in 2011? Employment experts and economists are as uncertain as the rest of us. Some think things will improve and point to the past four months of consumer spending increases as a good sign that the economy could and very well may get rolling in 2011. Others point to the extremely narrow margins of job growth over the past year (where new jobs topped 200,000 in a given month only once), and say we’re in for a long tough struggle back to health and unemployment in the “healthy” 5-6 percent range. I heard one economist on NPR say that at current rates of growth it will take 25 years to bring unemployment back down into the so-called healthy range, but he didn’t indicate whether that was a consequence of boomers and gen-Xers aging out of the work force, or a genuine improvement in the overall employment situation.

All I can say is “Ouch!” And while I’m hoping for the best along with everybody else, I’m certainly not ready to start throwing my money around, or investing at all speculatively. As long as hiring permanent employees feels “speculative” to companies and organizations of all sizes, I don’t think we’re likely to see our situation change much any time soon — and perhaps not at all in 2011. Cross your fingers (and any other idle appendages you might have at your disposal) and wish for positive changes and developments. Let’s see if 2011 can’t represent some kind of turning point for the better!

Oh! And the happiest of New Year’s to you and your families, with best wishes from me and mine.

December 29, 2010  7:21 PM

Holiday Distraction 2: The Vital Importance of Disciplined Queuing

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In computer science the way in which service requesters line up and obtain processing is called a “queuing discipline.” The average wait time to process a service request depends on how long the line of pending requests is (queue length), how that line gets organized and handled (queue delay), and how long it takes to handle an average request for service (service delay). Alas, at Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall airport yesterday morning, I saw all of this wonderful mathematical theory and predictability go to hell in a handbasket, when several hundred people trying to board flights abandoned any and all pretences at discipline and simply converged on a scant handful of beleaguered baggage handlers from all directions at once.

Though we arrived at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure time (and 4.5 hours before our eventual take-off) by 9 AM I was sweating our ability to get through the line, turn in our bags, and get through security in time to catch our flight. If my wife hadn’t finally lost patience completely and simply forced her way to the front of the line and obtained a service window with the baggage person, we might still be at the airport waiting for our turn.

Our airline really fell down on the job because they didn’t mark the lines in which people were supposed to stand for service, and because they were apparently too short-handed to keep somebody circulating outside the service desk to maintain order (and queuing discipline) and to answer questions about which line to stand in to obtain service for a specific flight. Dina, Gregory and I actually spent an hour in line getting to the service desk the first time only to be told that we were in the wrong line and they couldn’t help us. The lines weren’t labeled and they didn’t have anybody dispensing the information about which line to stand in, but we still had to go to the back of another line and inch our way back to the counter one more time.

It was when Dina and I noticed that four or more lines were all converging on the same (and only) baggage handler for our flight, that she took off on her mission to get us in front of that person. Anybody who’s ever studied round-robin priority queuing mechanisms knows that without a strict priority regimen and stringent enforcement of queue order and organization jobs (or people, in this case) waiting for service are subject to starvation (which means “no service at all.”).

Glad we made it through that maelstrom, and very glad to have gotten our flights home. Delta almost made up for this mayhem and frustration when after we arrived at Atlanta for our connecting flight with less than 30 minutes to spare, we were not only able to board our flight to Austin, but our luggage also made the same plane and got home with us at the same time. So it goes, when traveling during peak load times: agony, ecstacy, and brute survival, all mixed up together!

December 20, 2010  9:28 PM

Something about the Exchange MCM

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

This morning, I had the good fortune to get into a conference with David Bjurman-Birr, the Program Manager for the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM): Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 credential. This is by way of following up on my earlier (11/29/2010) blog entitled “No other signs of sweeping changes to Microsoft Certified Master requirements.” Turns out that title was (and is still) accurate but that had I concluded it with a “…yet” it would have been more accurate altogether. What am I saying?

I’m saying that Bjurman-Birr is working through the substantial preliminary efforts necessary to take the Exchange Server 2010 program and do for it what has already been done for the SQL Server 2008 program — namely, to create solid, defensible written and lab exams for this track, so it, too, can separate out the training and testing components required to earn this credential. And in explaining how this works and what kind of effort is involved Bjurman-Birr really helped me to better understand the MCM program in its current incarnation and where it may be heading.

First, however, let me point out that nobody at MS is quite yet willing to go public with a timeline for when this transform will re-make the current Exchange Server 2010 MCM offering into something more like the already remade counterpart for SQL Server 2008. Likewise, Bjurman-Birr could speak only for his Exchange program, so I still don’t know if other similar efforts are underway for other MCM tracks (Lync Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, or Windows Server 2008 R2: Directory). But as more programs head in this direction, it’s surely not unreasonable to speculate that this is certainly creating some momentum to move as many of these programs as makes sense into this general dimension.

Given that the transformation is underway for the MCM Exchange track, it’s interesting to observe that the impetus is to make the MCM scale. Right now, all of the MCM candidates perforce spend time in Redmond and become known to the program managers and training staff in great detail. If the program is to scale, however, this degree of intimacy and interaction between candidates and cert staff at MS must dwindle to some extent. And what’s driving this effort is, as Bjurman-Birr put it, “…there are plenty of people who deserve to earn the MCM for whom it’s inaccessible right now…” primarily because “…tuition is one thing, but three weeks away from the workplace is entirely another…”

That means that MS is looking for more and better ways to deliver MCM training and information aside from its current balls-to-the-wall three week bootcamp training sequence, where candidates are kept busy 12-14 hours per day, every day, so as to be exposed to (and have chances to exercise) what they need to know, learn, and do to qualify as MCMs in their chosen disciplines. All of the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out just yet, but Bjurman-Birr speculated about multiple training modules, books, interactive online labs, and other components necessary to bring those who are almost ready for MCM status up to the level where they can pass the exams needed to earn this credential.

He explained that there’s also a big potential win for Microsoft in expanding the offerings and scope necessary to attract a broader audience than those who can make their way to Redmond for a three week training sequence right now. As you would expect upon even modest reflection on what it takes to field an instructor for this kind of class (teaching to experts is a very different proposition from teaching to those finding their way into a field, or admittedly seeking to develop expertise, rather than to demonstrate it properly), Microsoft has to use the cream of its training and consulting expertise to handle the current MCM curricula. By providing other means of delivery, and possibly even involving training channel partners in that exercise, Microsoft can reach a broader audience as the same time it offers training in smaller, more digestible chunks both directly and by proxy. This should help the MCM program to scale, and to increase the number of certified professionals in its ranks, particularly at the MS partner and large-scale IT consulting organizations where this credential has the biggest draw at present. In the future, it’s even possible that invididuals would become increasingly more willing to “tote this note” on their own, rather than relying on organizational backing to pursue and eventually earn an MCM.

Looks like a looming win-win all the way around, and it should be interesting to watch this whole thing unfold further. Count on me to keep you informed throughout!

December 17, 2010  7:48 PM

Understanding the MTA certification

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In yesterday’s blog on the MS IT Academy I alluded to a conversation with Microsoft that I held on Tuesday, December 14 with various employees of Microsoft Learning. Present on that same call was Don Field, Senior Director of Microsoft certification programs. After I finished up with the other participants in the call, I had a chance to quiz him on all kinds of subjects. The one I’ll write about today (I’m saving some other goodies for future blogs) has to do with the new Microsoft Technology Associate certification, introduced in July of 2010, as a new entry-level credential in the Microsoft certification portfolio.

 Let me be brutally honest about the MTA certification: most of the people who read this blog are waaaaaaaaaay beyond this credential. The key to understanding the MTA, and why it’s still probably good to know about, especially for those with kids in school, lies in its level and target audience descriptions on the MTA certification page:

Level: Knowledge and basic understanding of key technology concepts

Audience: Students, technology educators, and entry-level IT staff of accredited academic institutions

It’s just what it sounds like: a starter cert aimed at people who are still in (or work at) a school of some kind, to make sure they understand and can apply technology fundamentals. In talking to Mr. Field, I learned that the MTA is popular at the high school level, and also at 2-year post-secondary institutions of all kinds (technical schools, community colleges, and so forth).

At some level, the MTA is a lot like the entry-level Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) credentials (on Office, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and so forth) right down to the partnership with Certiport for delivery of materials and testing services. For institutions, an MTA Campus License entitles them to deliver up to 1,000 exams per year, which may be made available to students, staff, and faculty.

The program includes both developer and IT professional exams. On the developer side the following fundamentals get covered: software development (exam 98-361), Windows development (exam 98-362), Web development (exam 98-363), and database administration (exam 98-364). On the IT professional side you’ll encounter these fundamentals exams: networking (exam 98-366), security (exam 98-367), and Windows Server administration (exam 98-365).

If you’ve got a kid in school somewhere, it might be worth exploring whether or not that institution supports the MTA program. If they don’t, perhaps some parental encouragement is in order. If they do, perhaps a different kind of parental encouragement will be needed: talking the student in question into looking into, and possibly pursuing, one or more MTA credentials.

December 16, 2010  3:56 PM

Interesting doings at the Microsoft IT Academy; More lie ahead!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a short but free-wheeling conversation with Lutz Ziob, General Manager of Microsoft Learning, and Jeff Johnson,  North America Academic Area Lead, Microsoft Learning on Tuesday, December 14, about the Microsoft IT Academy program, I learned lots of interesting stuff as I sought to follow up on my 11/17/2010 blog post “Interesting team-up between NC and MS.” This post discusses an agreement between the State of North Carolina and Microsoft, wherein all of their high schools will offer the IT Academy Essentials materials that focus on Microsoft Office skills and knowledge, and a significant number will also teach the IT Academy Advanced materials that focus on mainline MCT, MCTS and even some MCITP topics, as well as the new MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) exams.

I had speculated that while North Carolina might be early to this party, other states can’t be too far behind. I was right, and was also pleased to learn that by and large states are more interested in the Advanced Program (MCP/MTA) curriculum and a bit less so in the Essentials (Microsoft Office/MOS) curriculum. Mr. Ziob also informed me that since Microsoft Learning took up the MS IT Academy program more seriously in 2007, membership in the program among academic institutions worldwide has doubled from around 4,000 to 8,000 participants. I also learned that all of the State of Georgia’s community and technical colleges are in the IT Academy program, as is the entire SUNY system in the State of New York. Teaching and training arms for the US Army and US Navy are also large-scale and enthusiastic IT Academy members as well. Outside the US, there’s plenty of activity, too. 3,500 institutions belong to the IT Academy in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Asia) with another 1,500 in the Pacific Rim, and a growing presence in Latin America. In short, the Microsoft IT Academy is contributing curriculum materials and related technology to classrooms all over the world.

Looking ahead, Mr. Ziob informed me that what he finds most exciting about the IT Academy program — as a former classroom instructor himself — is that more government officials and educators are recognizing information technology as a key ingredient inwhat he called “going from learning to earning.” He’s also very pleased that the “broad technologies that Microsoft has made the act of teaching and learning themselves more effective.” He went on to cite how average English mastery test results in one school system jumped from scores in the sixtieth percentiles into the nineties as a result of adopting the MS IT Academy’s Essentials program. He also promised me that we would talk again, at greater length, about what’s going on with the IT Academy program, and where  it’s going, in concert with Mr. Johnson, who provided most of the nuts and bolts details I reported in this blog.

I look forward to it!

December 14, 2010  4:39 PM

Cisco Ups Its IPv6 Ante with Strong Cert Coverage

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I held a very interesting phone conversation with Fred Weiller yesterday. Mr. Weiller is Director of Marketing for Cisco Learning, and our appointed topic of conversation was coverage of and focus on IPv6 protocols, tools, and technologies across Cisco’s learning portfolio. This conversation came in the wake of my reading a November press release from the company entitled “Cisco Extends Market Leadership in IPv6 With Industry And Government Certifications,” wherein I learned that in addition to getting its equipment and software vetted for compliance with US Government IPv6 certification requirements (usually abbreviated as USGv6) the company has also updated its certification education materials and exams to include substantial IPv6 coverage as well.

In particular here’s what the aforecited press release has to say about Cisco Learning and IPv6 coverage:

The IPv6 Forum has recognized Learning@Cisco’s  professional networking portfolio with Gold Certifications for CCNA, CCNP and CCIE Routing and Switching. Cisco is the first vendor to be certified by the IPv6 Forum to offer IPv6 education and certification to help ensure that the technical community is equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to design, deploy, operate and troubleshoot IPv6 networks and applications.

Given recent reports that IPv4 addresses are nearly exhaused (see, for example, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ ZDNet blog “The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas“) enterprises are joining up with the many governments, research and academic organizations, and service providers (especially outside North America) that are forcibly transitioning their networks to IPv6. As Mr. Weiller put it during our conversation yesterday: “This will involve learning new things, formulating new addressing plans, along with some challenges and effort while making the transition to IPv6.” Despite the hurdles involved, he also spoke of “strong demand from customers who understand that the time for IPv6 is now, and that there can be no more waiting before getting down to work.”

That explains why Cisco now includes broad and deep coverage of IPv6 topics across its learning curriculum — especially for core CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE Routing and Switching topics — and why the company also offers a standalone IPv6 class called the Crush Course: IPv6 that’s designed to help those already certified learn more about IPv6 (or add more IPv6 coverage to existing curriculum materials). Here’s a brief blurb from the course description that lists the topics included:

This course will help network engineers understand, configure, and support Cisco devices running IOS software and covers the IPv6 routing protocols such as RIPng, OSPF and BGP; IPv6 transition mechanisms including tunnels, ISATAP, NAT-PT, and 6to4; and other features.

Other training partners also offer IPv6 Fundamentals courses abbreviated as IPVSF (IPv6 Fundamentals: 2 days, and a pre-requisite for the following class) and IP6FD/IPVSD (IPv6 Fundamentals, Design, and Deployment: 5 days) that more specifically target IOS-based Cisco devices. As Enterprises gear up for the coming IPv6 transition, expect IPv6 coverage to dominate networking topics, both beneath and outside the Cisco umbrella.

December 13, 2010  3:38 PM

Windows 7 Has a Banner First Year, But…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

There’s a classic example in b-school circles that’s used to explain mis-guided (or at least, mis-placed) development and investment emphasis. It’s applied to buggy whip manufacturers who, even after the automobile started to stake out a growing stake in the transportation marketplace, kept on building (and improving) their products while serving a vanishing and doomed customer base. A story from Microsoft’s home-town newspaper, The Seattle Times, by Sharon Pian Chan entitled “Big Year for Windows 7, but is Microsoft in a PC rut?” delivers the implicit analogy that Microsoft’s purported emphasis on desktop OSes puts it in the same league as buggy whip manufacturers of yore. But at the same time the story reports that Windows 7 “…is the fastest selling OS Microsoft has ever made” and then goes on to quote IDC analyst Allen Gillen that “…the [desktop OS] market is expected to almost double, from 299 million units to 590 million units…” in the period from 2009 to 2014.

In fact, though the one-year period from late October 2009 through November 2010 witnessed Windows 7 sales of over 240 million copies, most analysts expect 2011 results to eclipse those numbers. Even with a modest 1 percent drop in market share forecast by 2014, Microsoft should easily sell “…hundreds of millions more operating systems than it is selling now.” With a 90 percent market share, that translates into sales of 531 million units in 2014, more than double this year’s 240 million copies. My basic, blockheaded application of the “rule of 72’s” tells me that this represents a substantial and perhaps even enviable annual growth rate of 18%.

So where’s the fly in this otherwise fabulous and highly profitable ointment? According to Chan, the real future action is in tablet PCs and smartphones, a market where Microsoft is a bit player. In particular , smartphone sales numbers dwarf PC sales numbers by an order of magnitude or more, and tablets are expected to consume an ever-growing share of the PC marketplace as well. I think this is a facile but interesting analysis, one that fails to account for several important ways in which Microsoft continues to rule its (possibly shrinking but still very healthy) world:

  • heavy-duty notebooks and desktops will remain important for serious, computing- and labor-intensive work for the foreseeable future, even as e-mail, social networking, and Web surfing migrate to other devices
  • all those devices and PCs must still turn to servers to get their information, connections, and services, and Microsoft remains a major player in the server OS marketplace
  • Microsoft is one of the few companies able to spend on a par with Google when it comes to acquiring and developing key technologies to remain competitive and/or dominant in its chosen marketplaces (if you don’t believe me, think back to the mid-90s when MS “discovered the Internet” and shortly thereafter blew away Novell and overtook Netscape as the leading Web browser in 3 or 4 short years)

I wouldn’t count the wizards of Redmond out of this race, or discount the importance of their OS experience and savvy. That said, the company has made mis-steps before, and must cope with increasing organizational intertia and red tape as it grows larger. MS has indeed sometimes had to pedal like crazy to get back in its races, and has by no means won all of them. The proliferation of digital access devices does pose a problem for this company, and it will be very interesting to see how quickly and effectively they can respond to new markets and opportunities, and if they can maintain major market share in the brave new digital worlds continually being discovered. I wouldn’t put them in the same league as the buggy whip manufacturers just yet, though…

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