70-294 and the Ordeal that Surrounded It

To say that my life has been hectic lately would be a gross understatement. I have been caught in a series of events that alone wouldn’t be too overwhelming but since they have hit all at one time they have pushed me harder than I’ve been pushed for a long time.

I have established a set routine for taking the MCSE tests. When it’s time to get started I jump into it and watch the CBT Nuggets for a week and a half to two weeks, taking exhaustive notes in Microsoft OneNote. Once I finish those notes I review any concepts that seemed confusing or tough. I use this time to thumb through the Microsoft book for clarity and also use the techexams.net forums to ask questions and read about each of the topics. Nine times out of ten the answer is there. I take this review time to make notes of my notes, turning the thirty page monster into eight or nine pages, each dedicated to a domain from the objectives. After my first rush I tend to cool my jets, get lazy about studying, and even go weeks without it. The two weeks before the test I get back into intense studying mode and review my notes whenever I get a moment.

The 294 doesn’t really have a bad reputation, really it is considered one of the easier tests. I think tests with “easy pass” reputations always trip me up. I don’t take them as seriously as I take the rest, I guess. That said I had a number of factors hampering my way. First my local testing center only has one seat for Prometric testing. I have to compete with all of the city and Central KY at large to get a test date. I had to schedule it seven weeks from the date I started studying. I work best at four to five weeks between tests but I had to take what I could get. This date happened to be the day after my In-Laws were leaving.  They had scheduled a visit a few months before I scheduled this test. Also it was the week my supervisor needed to take off to be with his wife for the birth of a new baby. Needless to say this wasn’t a good day to take a test.

I had driven to another city to take a test before. Two hours to drive to take a two hour test and drive back is rough but I did it once. That testing center has moved about half an hour closer to me and has Saturday hours. Saturday would be fine. I decided to reschedule for Saturday and get a hotel room nearby so I could wake up and study instead of drive. My wife booked a 55 dollar per night hotel and away I went.

This hotel was pretty much a rip off at 55 dollars. One bed had really bad stains on the sheets. The grout in the bathroom was black with dirt or mold, the ceiling had water damage, and the sink barely worked. The remote didn’t work on the TV. I know that’s a lot of first world problems but it was still pretty disgusting. I was only three miles from the testing center and it had a desk so I soldiered on. The bed slept pretty well and really that was all that mattered.

When I sit down to take the actual test I was told I would be the only Prometric student until 10am. I knew I would be done by then so I was pretty pumped. This place was huge and had a separate lab for Prometric students and Vue students. They placed me at a computer and I got to work. Well I tried to get to work. Apparently the VPN between the center and the Prometric office runs on carrier pigeon. Every page and question took at least one minute to load. That’s right; almost an hour of my testing time was used just looking at the questions. The only thing that helped me finish on time was my typically long list of questions to go back to was pretty short. While I was sitting there I didn’t even think it was too hard. I could deal with the speed, it gave me time to erase my white board and prepare a little. The next events that happened would change that moderately cheery attitude.

The proctor came back into the room and said “There will be two people certifying on either side of you. Just wanted to let you know.” She then brought in two construction workers who were recertifying for boom truck operation. I know this because they talked about it over me for what felt like three hours before the proctor logged them in. I’m going to make an educated guess and say that these guys don’t own or use a computer. One of them kept slamming his mouse and cursing as he went through his test. The other had to read every question out loud very slowly and multiple times before he could answer. I’ve never had a noisier experience in a testing room. It’s silly to think that I was afraid my cough would distract the other people in the room!

Finally! My test is done, my review is over, I am now an expert in operating boom trucks AND have taken the last core exam for the MCSE. I may need to shave the long white beard I grew waiting for the questions to load but that’s not a big problem. I click finish and anxiously wait for the results to pop up. And I wait… and wait… and five minutes pass. The proctor comes in to answer a question about how to press F3 and I caught her attention. She then said words that broke my heart, “We were on the phone with them for six hours yesterday, they were supposed to have that fixed. You may have lost your test.”

I wanted to body slam the computer and drive a boom truck into the building. I decided that cooler heads would prevail so I just went to the restroom. The walk would surely calm my nerves. I mean the scenery had to be nicer than the white screen on the testing computer. When I came back they were about to pull the plug on the machine when suddenly a flash! Of course it was the score! No, not yet. I had to take the exit survey. Luckily the exit survey has a big exit button. I clicked that and waited some more. Anxiety and fear overwhelmed my body in the tense few minutes before the actual score popped up. “Congratulations you passed blah blah 700 passing score blah blah your score 700.” Wow. That was a close one.


Microsoft Certification Exam Pack Deal

Today Microsoft announced a deal that was too good to pass up. If you prepaid for more than one certification exam up front you get a 15% – 20% discount and a free second shot. Since I have two tests left until I have my MCSE buying two ahead of time was a no brainer. They’re also offering the ability to pay 15% over cost of a single test to get a second shot voucher for it. I really hope that second part sticks around forever. I’m a sucker for a warranty and the second shot program is essentially that for certifications.

You can find details and sign up here.


Google Apps Migration

I migrated my site to Google apps premier edition. Let me just say that the transition was less than smooth. They have tools intended to move exchange mailboxes to their infrastructure and after 5 hours I was left scratching my head. Perhaps it was an issue with GoDaddy or user error but there was no real documentation and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I have downgraded to the standard free version and it is better. I went from 200 per year for hosting and email to free per year with more features. Gotta love it.