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Certified Master for SharePoint 2007 “R2”

Print | posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 3:40 PM

As you’ve probably noticed it’s been a little quiet here of late. Sorry about that. I’ve been pretty busy with various things. One of those things was undertaking the beta rotation (R2) of the Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007 out in Redmond WA. Many people have asked me about the experience and so this post is an attempt to distill my impressions on the program. Please note that at the time of writing I do not know if I have passed – more on that later.

[Update] Shortly after writing this post (I keep things in the hopper for a bit before publishing, kinda like a delay on sending emails) I was notified I had achieved the Certified Master. It's an honour to be part of this small group of SharePoint Masters.

I’m not going to spend time here covering the basics of the MCM and what it’s all about, you can find that information at my previous post: Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint. Before I get started on another one of my ramblings I cannot disclose any technical details about the contents of the course or the exams so this post will concentrate on the overall experience.

For three weeks, including the weekends, sixteen of the best SharePoint professionals on the planet were imprisoned in a room on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond to learn from the best of the best. Three weeks is a long time to commit to something like this, I certainly haven’t done anything remotely similar since getting started in this business some 15 years back.

All of the students were already SharePoint experts. R2 was the first delivery to include non Microsoft employees, and we had a good mix of folks from all over the world and all with different experiences and perspectives. Given the rigorous candidate selection process a certain amount of arrogance is to be expected and desired. However that arrogance got slapped into shape good and proper within a couple days, as we got into the material and the hours.

In a word, MCM is brutal. That’s a good thing. Over the three weeks the sheer breadth of what we covered was incredible, and it is well recognized that there was a lot of stuff not covered. Obviously SharePoint is a giant product, but the way the course was structured was pretty much spot on the money. I wasn’t expecting this at all, in fact I was very dubious going in although trying to keep an open mind.

First of all, they actually did things in the right order and covered in depth core IA and Infrastructure topics in the first week, with a heavy emphasis on storage. Then we dove into feature areas, and lastly development. There were a couple pieces which were kinda out of “order” but this was mainly due to logistics.

We got started everyday at 8am sharp with 45 minutes or so for lunch and a finish (of class) at around 6pm. Most people would stay in the room and work on labs or further study until much later. Generally I was hitting the sack at around midnight. There is no time for anything but MCM during these three weeks! If you are not fully committed, you won’t succeed, it’s that simple.

As for logistics, they were first rate. Astonishing! I’ve been to plenty of things on campus and generally time is loose and a lot of things go haywire. Not the MCM. Sure there were a few rough edges, but credit is due to James Petrosky, the acting Program Manager for pulling off a significant feat here.

I stayed at a corporate apartment close to campus which made things somewhat easier to remain focused purely on MCM. It had a dodgy Comcast cable box which wouldn’t work with Windows at all, so I spent most of the time whilst in the place running Mac OS! Interestingly social computing also played a part in my experience. Yes, I know, I can hear you giggling in the back, but it’s true. A number of peeps in the big house were following my updates and in addition I received incredible moral support from friends and colleagues on the socialnet wishing me luck and telling me to”kill it” and so forth. Amazingly another actual use for the socialnet!

Back to the course – the instructors were awesome – every last one of them. They ain’t no PowerPoint jockeys. Each of them was a SME in their field(s) and imparted a tremendous amount of knowledge. For the most part they did not teach to the exams – which from my point of view was great. Regardless of my success or otherwise the three weeks would be entirely worthwhile just for the information picked up over the time.

Even better than that however, was how much the instructors validated my points of view. Often times in the crazy world that is SharePoint consulting and deployment I find myself thinking, “Is it just me, or is everyone just plain crazy?”, the stuff I hear partners and customers warbling about is bizarre. MCM validated that I am not crazy, at least not when it comes to SharePoint :). Probably the single best technical thing about MCM is spending three weeks with true peers (both students and instructors) – for me that is incredibly rare and precious.

Every student had access to a personal blade with decent specs to work through the lab exercises and also try various things out. A few minor points aside this worked really well. In addition, there were various group exercises during the course.

OK, so what about the exams? There’s three 2 hour written tests (like CBTs). These were hard. These are not like those silly MCTS exams, these are decent questions with decent answers. They were really good. You cannot pass these if you don’t know what you are doing, it’s that simple. I would also suggest that if you don’t know what you are doing going in the door, the classroom instruction won’t make you ready for them.

And then the Qualification Lab, an all day (on the last day, a Saturday) hands on exam with numerous scenarios which you need to implement on a personal blade. 12 hours pointing, typing and clicking. It’s again brutal. I had to bail a little early to catch a flight to London and was basically drained completely. And I’m a SharePoint guy who actually implements stuff!

Now, it wasn’t all work. There were various social things organized such as Go Karting, various dinners, visits from Product Managers, socials with the Product Group and visits to interesting places on campus. However these were the exception, most peeps spent the evenings either working on labs or reviewing the “pre-reading” material. Interestingly the “pre-reading” was updated shortly before our rotation to include a whole ton more stuff. I loaded this all up on my Sony Reader, which was very useful and saved me from still looking at a damn laptop screen 12 hours into the day.

Another interesting element of the MCM for SharePoint was the human dynamics at play during the three weeks. No reservations whatsoever, all the other students were kick ass SharePoint people, and also just plain kick ass people. How the dynamics ebbed and flowed was inspiring.

Here are some tips if you are considering the MCM for SharePoint:

  • Eat well – it might sound obvious, but don’t fool yourself you can make up for it later. It’s three weeks! Don’t be starving and certainly don’t be feasting. You need to be sharp!
  • Sleep well – again obvious, but don’t think coffee can save you – it’s three weeks! You need mind food. Although you may dream of things SharePoint !!!
  • Get some exercise – at least a little bit – get outside and/or do something else to de-stress. You will get stressed or wound up as I prefer to call it. Redmond isn't great weather wise, so take your chance when it comes.
  • Read the pre-reading, then read it again. The single best resource for MCM. Don’t assume you know it all, you don’t!
  • Leverage your classmates and enjoy yourself. Don’t take it completely seriously. That way madness lies.
  • Know what you know, know what you don’t know, and never confuse the two. The unofficial motto of a Microsoft Certified Master. Be confident, but humble.

So that’s it – a little recap of my MCM experience. Right now, I’m actually finding it hard to get motivated back into regular work after such an intense, overwhelming, emotional and exhausting three weeks.

Don’t underestimate the MCM for SharePoint. It ain’t for the faint hearted. Don’t assume you have what it takes, you’re existing badges don’t matter a damn. I have no reservations in recommending it, if you are SharePoint professional it’s the single best way to make a significant step up in terms of your skills. However, you have to be ready.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the MCM for SharePoint is the finest technical training I have ever undertaken. By a very long way, and this includes some well known “security” training. Props to Per and all the MSL dudes, James, Michal and all the instructors for delivering an outstanding program to help address the current state of field readiness for SharePoint.

A shout out to my fellow R2 Students and all the Instructors, hoping to see you all soon. And apologies for bailing early on the last day, I sure coulda used a couple drinks!

[Update] I'd also like to point you to these other excellent posts by some of my fellow R2 prisoners: