My experiences with the MCSM: Messaging certification

What follows is an overview of my experiences with the MCSM: Messaging certification. I’ll walk you through my proces from signing up to preparing myself for the training and finally attending. If you are thinking of enrolling for the program, you might enjoy (or not, depending on how you look at it) reading this blog post. Don’t expect me to reveal questions from the exams or other type of content though. Not only would that violate my NDA, it would be unethical as well.

The Program

The re-branded MCSM: Messaging certification, formerly know as “MCM (Microsoft Certified Master)” and before that “Exchange Rangers” is one of the top-level certifications Microsoft offers for a variety of products including Windows Server (Active Directory), SQL, SharePoint, Lync and Exchange. Although you’re not always required to follow the training prior to taking the exams, I honestly don’t believe there are many people out there capable of just walking up to a certification center and passing. One of the reasons is that the level of detail, covered in the three weeks training, goes much farther than any information currently publicly available. Of course there’s also the human aspect of attending the training. In my rotation, we were 14 in total. And I can tell you, the accumulated experience and knowledge of the people in the classroom was absolutely impressive. Next to the classic tutoring, I probably learned more from everyone attending than I’d held for possible. Not attending the training means that you would have to miss out on this interaction and miss the chance to build a network of peers all over the world. One by one very knowledgeable individuals!

Preparing

Preparing for the course wasn’t all that easy. After all, how do you start preparing for this? Although there’s a ton of good resources out there, I only had the Exchange 2010 pre-reading list to go off from and there aren’t particularly many books available out there just yet. Shortly before I left for the rotation, I bought early-access to Tony Redmond’s and Paul Robichaux’ “Exchange 2013 – Inside Out”. A purchase I haven’t regretted! Even in its pre-release form it’s a pretty awesome book and I’m sure that when the Pre-Reading list gets published, it’ll be on it. Just as was the case for Exchange 2010, by the way.

Based on these past few weeks, I put together a small (pre-)reading list myself. If you consider attending, or perhaps just for fun, you should definitely take a look at the following books, websites and other resources:

Books:

RFCs (some of them are quite dull, but they make a good bed-time reading!)

As for blogs or other websites, make sure to check out these:

Actually, there are many good blogs out there and I reckon that I probably left out some pretty good ones… So don’t treat this list as authoritative, rather as a starting point for your pre-reading.

Other than playing around with Exchange 2013, reading as much as blog posts (and information from TechNet), along with some of the RFCs that were on the 2010 pre-reading list, there wasn’t much I had done. Luckily, I did have some experience with Exchange 2013 in the real world as my company’s internal deployment had already switched to Exchange 2013 a while back. I do believe that future rotations will have the slight advantage of having more real-life experience with the product as it will (hopefully) gain more attention and develop a bigger install based than it does today.

A tip: make sure that you cover all the topics around Exchange 2013 (yes, this also means SharePoint and Lync related stuff). Don’t think some topics are less important. They’re not. Even though you won’t cover everything in detail during class, it will most certainly help you to understand the material being taught.

Registering

Registering for the rotation was pretty easy. After signing up through the Advanced Certification Portal I came in touch with someone from MS Learning who guided me through the rest of the registration process. It was literally a breeze to walk through the rest of the formalities (e.g. signing the NDA and some other paperwork for physical access to Microsoft’s buildings). If there’s one thing that I found a tad frightening it’s the fact that Microsoft has the right to cancel or reschedule the rotation up to two weeks before it starts. So if you book your flights early, make sure that you buy flexible tickets! Although I don’t expect it to happen that often (if at all), you’d want to be better safe than sorry, no?

In our rotation, people were staying in different hotels. If you’re looking for something at a walking distance (approx. 15 min walk), I can recommend staying at the Silver Cloud Inn. It wasn’t too expensive and breakfast was included. A little closer to the campus was the HomeStead (Extended stay America). They’re a bit cheaper, but don’t include breakfast. I personally enjoyed the daily walk to and from the campus. It’s an ideal moment to clear your head for a while. However, we were (extremely?) lucky with the weather… I can imagine if you’re attending a rotation during winter, these walks being less enjoyable. The Silver Cloud Inn does offer a free shuttle from the hotel to Microsoft’s campus, but you’ll have to figure another way to get back as it’s only available until 5 PM…

Some fellow students stayed at hotels either in downtown Redmond or too far away to walk. So make sure you rent a car if you choose one of those!

Attending

Our rotation started on June 3rd. Given I had to travel half around the world, I made sure I was there a few days beforehand to get used to the time zone difference. You wouldn’t want to be caught by Jetlag during the first few days of training, believe me! I arrived Thursday before the start of the rotation, which gave me more than time enough to get adjusted. However… June 3rd came quickly and what happened than is literally somewhat like a rollercoaster. The next three weeks I found myself almost living in a (well-equipped) classroom and eating mostly junk. Before leaving for the US, I had made the resolution not to give in (too much) to fast-food and unhealthy habits. It didn’t take too long before they were gone through. Maybe it’s me, but I just didn’t feel like keeping myself busy trying to find some healthier things to eat than what the classroom had to offer. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t though. If I ever get to attend an upgrade (or who knows maybe a rotation for another product?!), I know that I won’t be making the resolution to start with. That way I don’t have to feel bad for not sticking to it … Smile

Rotation_ClassRoom
 The classroom was well-equiped. A brand new workstation and dual-screen setup for everyone.

Anyway, back to the rotation. During the 3 weeks, you’ll be taught almost non-stop. Days would start at 08:00 AM and usually last to somewhere between 06:00 and 08:00 PM; though walking out (much) later wasn’t an exception. Usually, you’d stay to do some labs after class. Our first “day off” was on the second Sunday, which we gladly used to catch up on some labs… No rest for the wicked, I guess? Even though most instructors try to end in a timely fashion, they just don’t always succeed. That or you just want to practice a bit more perhaps. This is one of the cases where more is better, trust me!

Rotation_1
 Picture taken by one of the instructors (Neil Johnson) during the rotation (I was still smiling!)

Three weeks fly by… And before you know it, you’re off to take the exams. The written exam is the day before the qual lab. Funny enough you get the results of that exam immediately after taking it. Although usually I like knowing whether I passed rather sooner than later, I was kinda afraid this time. Failing would inevitably put me off for the qual lab the day after. Seems I wasn’t the only one looking at it like that. Someone in our class  refused to view his result and turned off his phone so he couldn’t accidentally read the email: pretty clever! 🙂 In my case, curiosity won… It was a big relieve to see that I actually passed the written. I still trying to figure out how I passed, but I’m glad I did!

And then it was time for doomsday. A full-day qual lab in which you will face the wrath of a system administrator who just had a bad day. Possibly even a week… Hell, rating by how f***** up the environment was, you’d even wonder how that guy could ever get near a computer in the first place! :p Just to put things into perspective: if I said before it was hard, think again. The qual lab is possibly one of the toughest exams I ever took. Looking back at it, it was kinda fun too. Yes, after being back for a week, I start to “enjoy” the experience, although I would rather avoid taking it a second time. At time of writing I don’t have my results back, but I expect them any time now… Honestly, I don’t have very high hopes. But we’ll see.

Conclusion

Over the past few weeks, I learned a lot and I learned from the very best. I’ve got to know what my strengths were but also where my weaknesses are (hello, UM and SharePoint!). Overall, I would advise everyone who’s interested in Exchange and willing to lift his/her knowledge to the next level to take the step (or leap, whatever you want to call it). I understand that the overall cost is a somewhat limiting factor, but I truly believe there’s value in it. Whether or not that amount can be regained through additional assignments or possibly a higher rate, is something I hope to find out in the next few months and weeks. Even if that’s not the case, it would’ve been worth it; but I don’t think this last argument will convince your employer to pay for it. And now that I come to think of it: I was amazed (and shocked at the same time) to see there were quite some people who attended the rotation by paying for it themselves… It seems that a lot of companies don’t see the value of (or aren’t able to profit more from) the certification. I do hope that Microsoft keeps threshold for attending and passing the MCSM certification high enough. Nothing would sadden me more than to see the value drop to a point where the “regular” certifications (like MCSE or MCITP) once were.

I want to conclude by thanking everyone who organized, taught or attended the rotation and helped me through it. My experience wouldn’t have been the same without you, guys! Thanks!

Rotation_Dinner

Our “last dinner” only a few hours after the dreaded qual lab.

Events Exchange 2013

Session Slides and pictures of our event on Load Balancing Exchange & Lync 2013 now online!

Earlier this week we had the pleasure to welcome you for our in-person event “Load Balancing and Reverse Proxying for Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013” at Microsoft Belgium. Despite the fact that some people cancelled at the very last minute, the turnout was really great!

Both session from Johan Delimon and myself could count on a lot of questions from you guys, which kept things interactive at all times. Thank you for that!

For those who couldn’t attend, below some picture to help you muse about what you’ve been missing out on:

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As promised, we’ve also made the slides available for download here. (Note: you will be redirected to the Pro-Exchange website!)

If you have questions about the sessions, please feel free to contact us and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible! Also, don’t forget Ruben and Wim will be presenting on this years Community Day > “Exchange and Lync 2013: Better together”.

We’re looking forward to meeting you there!

Cheers,

Michael

Blog Events

MEC 2014: March 31st–April 2nd in Austin, Texas!

Just a few moments ago, Microsoft announced the official dates and location for the next version of the Microsoft Exchange Conference or short MEC.

This time, MEC will be held in Austin, Texas from March 31st to April 2nd. More information will probably be made available through www.iammec.com over the course of the next weeks and months.

While 2014 might seem very far away, it doesn’t hurt to start planning ahead of time. So, don’t hesitate! Go up to your boss and ask permission to go! I, for one, will definitely be there!

Hope to see you all there,

Michael


image courtesy: the internet

Events Microsoft Exchange Conference 2014

TechDays Belgium Recordings available

Microsoft just released the session recordings from the Belgian TechDays earlier this month in Antwerp, including the session I gave along with Jethro Seghers (Office 365 MVP) :

Office 365 Identity Management options | TechNet Video

Office 365 Identity Management options | TechNet Video

Session abstract: Office 365 offers a whole range of different identity management options that allow you to use Office 365 as YOU wish. In this session you will learn everything there is to know about User Accounts, Provisioning, Single Sign On and experience how Windows Azure AD can become your next best friend! More…

As only the main conference was recorded, you won’t be able to find my session “Deploying Exchange 2013 in hybrid mode”. However, you can download the slides from that session here.

The other sessions can be downloaded from here.

Events Exchange 2013

Join me on January 15th for two Exchange 2013 webcasts!

On January 15th, I will be hosting two webcasts for Microsoft TechNet. Don’t forget to register if you’re looking for more info on Exchange 2013 but haven’t had time catching up yet.

    10:00 (GMT+1) – What’s new in Exchange 2013?

    It’s impossible summarize everything that’s new in Exchange 2013 into one hour and a half, yet this session will provide with a good understanding of what’s new in the latest version of Exchange. We will be talking about many things including the new architecture, high availability and new features. A must for everyone who hasn’t been able to get up to speed yet!

    14:00 (GMT+1) – Exchange 2013 ABC’s: Architecture, Best Practices and Client Access

    This session is packed with all there is to know to get started with Exchange 2013! See how the architecture evolved and learn how to deploy Exchange 2013 in coexistence with legacy version based on real-life experience and examples.

Events Exchange 2013

Looking back on 2012, looking forward to 2013.

First of all, I’d like to start off by thanking YOU, my readers and followers. I hope you’ve had a wonderful 2012 and I wish you the very best for 2013. I sincerely hope that 2013 not only will be an enjoyable year, but foremost one that’s loaded with purpose and meaningfulness.

Following the example of fellow UC Architect Michel de Rooij and co-blogger (also an Exchange MVP) Andy Grogan and probably many, many more; here’s my view back on 2012 and some early thoughts on 2013…

Make sure you take a look at their ponderings too. Fun facts, light reading > ideal for a new years eve! Winking smile

Looking back on 2012

For me, 2012 has been an exiting year in which I’ve been able to do lots of things. I’ve attend my share of seminars, met tons of great people and had the opportunity to speak a various events. But above all, I’ve had loads of fun! 

Amongst the highlights of 2012, the following events definitely earn their place:

  • the revival of my “personal” blog on michaelvh.wordpress.com next to www.pro-exchange.be (Belgian UC Community)
  • joining “The UC Architects”
  • Attending the also-revived Microsoft Exchange Conference, TEC Europe (Barcelona), MCT Summit in Poland…
  • The release of the entire Wave-15 product-range (Exchange 2013, Office 2013, Lync 2013, …)

image When looking back at the site stats, I’m actually amazed to see that
– since July – I’ve been able to attract a little over 40.000 views! Not
bad of a first half-year!

I honestly didn’t believe I had posted this much articles over the past few months…God bless my wife for letting me spent that much time on this! 🙂

Unsurprisingly, amongst the top posts were the ones about Exchange 2013 like:

Looking forward to 2013

Although 2012 has been a very interesting and rewarding year, 2013 seems to be taking off even better.

So far, I’m confirmed to be speaking at the Belgian TechDays and I’ve got a few TechNet webcasts coming up in January. Next to that, my employer agreed to send me to the MC(S)M training, which – if all goes well – I hope to attend in May/June of 2013! (How cool is that?!)

There’s one more thing that I wanted to announce, but due to some (minor) setbacks, I’ll have to wait a few more days before making it public. Either way, I hope it’ll be worth waiting because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while now. But more on that later…

Next to all of this, I look forward to continue working with my fellow UC Architects on our awesome podcast. No, for once I’m not going to be modest about it: It’s really awesome! 🙂

So far we’ve recorded about 14 episodes. If you haven’t had the time to listen to one of them: NOW is a perfect time to do so. We’ve had the opportunity to have some very interesting guest speakers in some of our episodes and each episode is always stuffed with great news, views and insights from leading experts in the industry.

We’ll also be working hard in 2013 to maintain this level of quality, but with the lineup of “special guests” we have in mind, that won’t be much of a problem.

There’s nothing much left for me to do in 2012 except to thank YOU once more for visiting my blog and keeping the Exchange community alive! See you in 2013!

Michael

Blog Events

Upcoming speaking engagements

Hi all,

2012 has been an interesting and very rewarding year for me. It’s also been a year in which I’ve had numerous opportunities to speak at various events and do multiple webcasts.

Now, it seems that 2013 will be equally interesting, if not even better!

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get up to speed with Exchange 2013; on January 15th, I will be hosting two TechNet Livemeetings about Exchange Server 2013:

As always, these livemeetings are free to attend. However, if you can’t make it, they will also be made available afterwards.

If you’re looking for an interesting in-person event, Microsoft is organizing TechDays 2013 in Antwerp again between March 5th – 7th. The TechDays are traditionally a great place to find lots of great content and subject matter experts for a relatively interesting price. For me, it’s always been a not-to-miss opportunity to catch up with the latest and the greatest in Microsoft’s technology.

To register, click the banner on the homepage. But don’t wait too long…There’s a huge discount when you register before December 31st!

This year, with the release of all the “Wave 15” products, there will be lots of interesting session on Exchange and Unified Communication. On the first “pre-conference” day, Scott Schnoll will be doing some deep-dive session on Exchange 2013 and I will be closing of that first day with a session about building a hybrid configuration with Exchange Server 2013.

The last day, I will also be doing a joint-session with Jethro Segers about Identity Management in Office 365

I look forward to seeing you there!

Michael

Blog Events