Friday, 10 July 2020

Constantly learning to improve oneself


Experience under review
When I tell people in my professional circle that I have been working with Microsoft System Management Server (SMS) since 1996 with version 1.1, it is neither to intimidate nor to show off, but I hope it comes with a sense of authority that I have an idea of what I am talking about. This knowledge has defined the majority of my professional career.
Experience is a good thing and the SMS we knew then has gone through many name changes and version iterations, features added on, deprecated, evolving and maybe even transmogrifying into a monster of client, user, device, application, and data management proportions.
It became System Center Configuration Manager which we termed SCCM that the professionals called ConfigMgr, then last year, the name changed to Endpoint Configuration Manager, but we have the acronym MEMCM to play with. No questions to that apart from the fact that our Microsoft development and support backchannels prefer it that way and on Twitter, that is the hashtag they will respond too. [Wikipedia: Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager]
Exchanging ideas for improvement
We have a large and active community of administrators and architects who not only share ideas, solutions, and tips, we are also the best innovation resource for getting features implemented in the product, some of which I have contributed to going back over 15 years.
That I know how the product works does not mean I am the apostle of product functionality or technology, I am constantly looking for new ideas and perspectives, scenarios others have encountered that they have applied novel solutions to and shared with our community.
I have a test lab at home running on an extensive setup of virtual machines on which I try out ideas and gain conversance with the new features. Nothing works as good as having an issue at work and me logging on to my home network to check things out either to affirm or dispute issues.
Going back to the roots
Yet, more pertinently is the need for someone with my experience to find time to go back over the fundamentals and the essentials. It is important to never assume that the primers or introductions cannot contain new and useful information to help reinforce or finally, debunk a premise that was getting the prominence of gospel truth until the times and changes obviated that assertion.
For my weekend reading, I found a 346-page manual of how to setup MEMCM from scratch, I know a lot of it, and I and still learn much more, I am open to new knowledge that would give my expertise more heft. The job of learning never ends and like I sometimes say, that is a good thing.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Unanimous points scoring for my TOGAF® 9 Combined bout


Catching up with the times
It would be easy to write a motivational post, but that is not really my way of doing things, rather, I will just tell my story.
As I related in my previous blog on passing my PRINCE2 Practitioner certification last Thursday morning, I was suddenly furloughed a month ago and rather than sit at home twiddling my thumbs, I considered going on a PRINCE2 course and when I was booking the course I was offered a bundled deal to do both PRINCE2 and TOGAF certification which just happened for fall on consecutive weeks.
Like project management, I was first introduced to TOGAF just a few months after recovered from cancer by an ex-colleague. I went as far as buying the study guides and registering on The Open Group website, that was just 9 years ago, but nothing really came of it. I even explored doing the course in in South Africa then, I eventually went to India instead to attend courses for Microsoft and Cisco certifications.
Keeping the faith
I suppose what made TOGAF a bit of a chore was the volume of theoretical processes that I thought only a classroom training environment could help ameliorate. The Knowledge Academy for all its poor customer service record does appear to have some really good trainers. Mustafa Ahmed took our TOGAF course and from the first day, I began to have confidence, it could be done.
This was my second week of courses and something seemed to have triggered an immune response in me that by the third day of the course, I was coughing, spluttering and running a fever that I had to return home early without acquiring anything. The trainer sent me an update of what was covered for the day and I was able to return for the fourth and last day of the course.
His advice was to take the test within two weeks of the course, or we’ll begin to forget what we had learnt. I first had to get PRINCE2 done from before I could begin to think of scheduling the TOGAF test.
Brought to the edge
It was an exasperating ordeal to get the Exam Bookings department of The Knowledge Academy to forward me the test voucher, it took 3 emails and 4 phone calls over 8 days to get that resolved. The service is an atrocity that makes an appalling review appear too generous for words.
You’re tested to the point of losing your cool and in my view the staff care not a jot about the frustrations of their customers. It is a test of patience that one has to pass.
When the voucher arrived, I found I could not get a test window at any of the Prometric Vue test centres up north in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham. Only one test centre London had availability and so I chose to travel to London to take the test today.
Tested to the limit
I was caught in a quandary of my preparedness, having acquired the official study guides, the full standard documentation and a pocket guide. Something seemed to be missing until I found a YouTube video TOGAF® Level 2 Exam Questions – Tackling Those Effectively! This in addition to the tips I got on the course meant I could be boxing clever to win this match.
The TOGAF® 9 Combined Part 1 and Part 2 Exam is 40 questions for Part 1 in 60 minutes, immediately followed without results for 8 scenario questions for Part 2 in 90 minutes. I raced through Part 1 reviewing a few thorny questions and was done in just under 33 minutes. Part 2 was harder, the recommended approach is 10 minutes per question, I spent 18 on the first and had squandered 30 minutes without a satisfactory answer for the second. Open book tests don’t mean easy results. You will in some instances be told where to go in the TOGAF standard document, it doesn’t make it any easier.
I tried some and skipped some that I returned to for review, by the end, I had just 3 minutes to spare and passed both Parts. Part 1 presents a bit more difficulty as it relies upon memory and specifics from the TOGAF documentation, Part 2 is about the application of the TOGA methodology and I did much better on that by far.
They helped me do it
On reflection, I marvel at the determination and daring that saw me decide to take two highly process-driven courses with much documentation, standard and theory, just 4 weeks ago and in that time clear both tests that give me certifications in project management and enterprise architecture.
Yet, without the amazing support of Brian my partner and my friends Funmilola and Kola, I probably would not have had either the courage or determination to see this through. They are my cheerleaders, constantly telling me I can do it and do it well. It gave me such great pleasure to share my successes with them.
Now to new challenges and rewarding prospects. There is the minor issue of a holiday in South Africa to plan now. Phew! It’s done.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

On becoming a certified PRINCE2® Practitioner


The tough thing
This morning at 7:40 AM, I clicked the ‘End Test’ button of my PRINCE2 Practitioner 2017 test, responded to a survey about my experience and waited for a few seconds for the test result to show.
It was a somewhat tough test, but I did not think I needed anymore study after all the work I had put in towards passing this test. However, I believe by process and application, I should be able to put my knowledge to good use and by that become an effective project manager.
My projected life
My working life has generally been impacted to various extents by project managers, ones who follow process and procedure and some that care nothing for the orthodoxy, they blag their way with offering the customer the impossible, harass their technical personnel to produce gold from dross and their ultimate goal is rarely to deliver a product or service but to tick boxes.
To say I have little time for such project managers would be an understatement. Whilst, I have not come to blows with any, I have found the unspeakable to say straight to their faces. I know the quality of work I want to deliver, and it would not be shoddy no matter who the project manager is. If you cannot first understand what it takes to deliver before you promise what can be delivered, then you will have to take up the consequences for why tolerances have been stretched and exceeded.
Schooled in hard knocks
My first encounter with formal project management processes was during my postgraduate course some 15 years ago, I took it as my second module, and it was an exercise in stress management and control towards delivery.
We were a team of 5 who had to take up the slack for one of us who was never present, never engaging and never delivering. Yet, he had the effrontery to demand that we make all allowances which could have left us all failing the module. The lecturer decided not to mediate but watch how we handled the tough issues.
We delivered our goals despite the issues, but the biggest lesson I took away from that experience was that I did not want to be a project manager. Our project management module was based on the Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).
Not wasting time
Then, just 3 weeks ago, I was notified that I would be furloughed, on knowing this, I decided I would spend the time attending some courses. There is probably a lot I can do on the technical side, but I also need to leverage elements of 30 years of expertise in the coordination of projects, programmes and portfolios.
After taking some advice from a colleague project manager, I looked around for PRINCE2 classroom course and ended up with one provided by The Knowledge Academy. My enquiry led to being offered a deal that allowed the back-to-back courses for PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner combined in the first week and the TOGAF 9.2 Part 1 & Part II in the following week.
Getting ready for love
Apart from the preparation for the course, I had access through my PluralSight subscription to the retired PRINCE2 2017 course which I could run and learn from, then I also found the Projex Academy Prince2 Masterclass at cost, which had a rather innovative approach to covering the PRINCE2 syllabus.
The Projex Academy YouTube video PRINCE2 2018 MASTERCLASS Foundation Exam Tips and Hints, gave me the confidence to decide I had done enough to go for the test.
I had passed the paper test for PRINCE2 Foundation at the end of the second day of the course and then had to wait for the exam voucher from my course provider to schedule the PRINCE2 Practitioner test.
What a bother
This was fraught with a few difficulties as it is proctored online giving you the opportunity to run the test from home. However, to have a sterile enough environment to sit for a test for 150 minutes without being disturbed whilst keeping the setting clean enough not to contaminate the examination setting with material that could compromise the integrity of the test looked like an insurmountable problem.
I also could not find test centres to fulfil that need apart from opting for a paper-based test. I needed to find a hot desk office or boardroom. However, to schedule an online proctored test, one needs to find a slot that makes a proctor available for that slot. My solution after much uncertainty was to schedule the slot first, which I got for 5:20 AM, then I booked myself into a hotel. I ensured the room had a table and chair, an executive room or apartment hotel would do the job.
Testing hotel
This meant I would have no distractions and I did not have to do a spring clean of the room to have the setting that meets the requirements for online proctoring. Next, I downloaded the Exam simulator and ensured the setup with fully compatible, my laptop required .NET 3.5 and a Visual C++ distributable for the exam simulation to install. Then a number of tests for the audio, web camera and Internet connection were run. A wired connection is preferred but not compulsory.
Once that was done, I was ready for the test and I went to be bed early, my dreams overrun with PRINCE2 project scenarios. I did no additional revision, but I did tab my official manual, the Principles, Themes, Processes, Appendix A and C along with a few other pages. As the PRINCE2 Practitioner test is an open book exam, but that is as deceptive as it comes. You could easily run out of time rifling through pages looking for the piece of information that helps you answer the question.
The die is cast
When all was set with the capture of my identity document, the online proctor communicated with me by audio, he did not once show his face, but he could see me throughout the duration of the test. I turned my laptop around 360 degrees to show the room, then the table I was working on. Flipped through the official manual showed the blank sheets I would be working on and after typing in my middle name in the chatbox, I put my phone out of reach and started the test.
I wasted a lot of time on the first 10 questions out of 46 but eventually got a good pace, skipping one question until I had finished. By the time I was done, I had about 13 minutes to spare. I did not believe there was much else to review. I ended the test and my result came back as a pass.
Phew!
When I was scheduling my test, I was offered the option to resit the test for 25% of the normal cost for a resit, the offer was valid until 15 minutes before the test. It is not refundable but serves as an insurance policy. I took it, but I will not cry over the loss of it rather than getting to use it to pass if I had failed. It would have knocked my confidence a great deal if I had failed the test, but I was not going to beat myself up for it. I have failed many times before and returned to take the prize.
However, for all the activity that presaged this situation, I am happy that my PRINCE2 Practitioner certification is in the bag. Now on to new things. The support of my partner Brian and best friends Funmi and Kola have been so invaluable, I am blessed to have these wonderful people cheering me on, through the good and the bad. Thank you. Meanwhile, I lament the inglorious step down from queen to prince.