That is my A+ certification. That I just got.
Oh, that's nice. I got mine back in April.
Yeah, I know, and if I recall correctly, you've been really burning up the test center. You got your A+ the same week you got your Net+, and of course, you have your IAM and IEM at InfoSec certs. And you're going for a cloud cert now, because why not?
Well, you're no slouch either, with that A+ and your MCSE. [Clears throat] This is really starting to sound like the worst humble-brag ever.
It is, but you know what? There is a good reason for getting these.
Yeah, and we even got to go take Cisco certs back at Cisco Live.
That was a lot of fun. In fact, hey, check it out.
Okay guys, we are totally excited here, but we have to be quiet, because we are in the actual testing center. I'm trying to hold back my excitement right now. We're going to go test.
Yeah. I'm sort of ramped up on sleep deprivation and adrenaline right now. I've got nothing else in my stomach, because I think throwing up on the proctor is bad.
It is. It really is. [Laughing] So we're going to hurry up and get in here. What about you?
Well, I was just going to check my notes one more time before I went in there.
You know what? Just walk, test monkey, because we got these tests to take.
That was really fun, and we've revealed what happened in just a few minutes. But seriously, there's a really cool reason Leon and I have been on this certification marathon.
Certithon 2017, whooo!
Right. Anyway, you might be wondering why we've been doing it this year.
Yeah, well, I think there's really two questions here. First of all, why would anyone want to take so many exams all at the same time?
Because we're obsessive? Masochists? And we have a pathological need to prove ourselves?
Definitely, yeah. But okay, so, there's another question. The other question is why certifications matter at all?
We should probably focus on that and not the obsessive part.
I agree. So, let's get started. I'm Leon Adato.
And I'm Destiny Bertucci. On this episode of SolarWinds Lab, we're going to be talking about certifications.
Why they matter and how to prepare for them. And even some tricks for getting through the actual exams themselves.
While we're not going to focus on any specific test from vendors that you could probably name yourself, the things that we'll be covering are common to most.
We will be focusing on one vendor's exam at least a little bit. But stick with us, and you'll find out who we're talking about.
As always, if you have questions about anything you hear, you should type it up in the chat window you see over there.
And if you don't see a chat window, that means you aren't watching us live. To do that, head on over to lab.solarwinds.com.
So where I'd like to start is why to certify, you know, why IT professionals should be interesting in doing it. And actually, the reverse of that. I've heard over the years, examples and reasons that people have given me for not certifying. Some of them are sort of excuse-y, but some of them are real concerns. And the first one I want to talk about that I've heard before is, well, if I certify too much, I'll become a "paper tiger." So first of all, what is a paper tiger, when people say that?
So a paper tiger generally is a person that's going to go out and go to a boot camp for five days, never even seen a rack, never even seen a server for that matter, and they're just like knowing the test, right? The ins and outs, buying whatever they need to do. And so that they can actually pass a test. Does not mean in any way that they're able to actually accomplish the test, right?
So that's what a paper tiger is.
And it's not just network, it's all over the systems, server, network, storage.
Not even just in IT. Any certification, right?
Right. So somebody who has passed the exams, but they have no demonstrable knowledge when they actually get onto the job, is a paper tiger. So, what about that concern? What about the idea that, well, I have all these certs, and now people are going to look at me and say, "Well, you don't actually— couldn't possibly—know all of that stuff." So how do you avoid that?
You avoid that easily, actually. Because when you're taking your testing, you're going to have your certification dates and times. So if you get like 13 certs in a month, that's kind of a no-brainer, right? Like if you have two-year ending degrees, or three-year ending certifications, and they all end on the same day—you know, time— then that's kind of a wave link. However, if you are looking at their job history, and they've been at a job seven plus years, things of that nature, and they're all re-upping their certs at a certain time and doing, that shows character and their job history for what they're doing. So you know, the paper tiger moment is when you don't have any work history that kind of backs you. But when you actually have the work history, that's when it becomes, okay, well they know what they're doing. They're obviously still in the field. So they're getting that hands-on experience and things that are coming across. So that negativity, that's just kind of a mindset at this point. People know their ways around it when they're hiring, right? Like, they know the questions to ask you that aren't on the certification test to see if you have the answer.
Right, and the other thing, just turning the interview table around. If you are getting the certification, and you're concerned about that, then you simply have to be able to speak to that situation. That well, I know these certifications, and here's where I got the experience. Make sure you're ready to talk about not just, "I know these answers," but "Here's when I used these things." Also, no one expects that if you have a certification, that you have experience in every single aspect of it. MCSE is a great example. That goes everywhere from building servers to Active Directory to GPO to all that stuff. As long as you can speak to, here's the experience I have— and yes, I have the certification— that also takes you out of that paper tiger category. Also, you really sort of hit the next argument that I hear a lot. Which is well, a certification without experience is a red flag. It can be. But I think also, especially if you're at the beginning of your career— I happen to be working with eight guys right now who are really coming from just nothing into the world of IT, and that is one of their big concerns is, well if I get a certification, aren't people going to wonder? "You've never been in IT before." "What does that mean?" Well, it means dedication. It shows that you've been trying. And the other thing is, and you hit on it: don't do the five-day boot camp, in that case. Because clearly, you have no experience. You have no background. You have no pre-existing history of it, and you took a five-day boot camp, and now you passed the cert. Okay, we know what that is. But if you've been doing a longer-term course, we're going to talk about that, that's a different thing.
There's something else, though, to that. Something that, when I first started, I actually went to a voc-tech and was using that as to get my tech. You know, we're not going to say how long ago. [Mumble-coughs] But here's how I handled that, by getting a career and jumping on board, was I stated my education year, of which that I was doing and studying for, and then applied the certification after it. So just like the gentleman of which that you're working with, they can state that they were in class education. You don't have to be a certified educator, to actually have a voc-tech or something there. If you were in an educational class that can be proven and signed off on, that's an experience for you. And that also shows the dedication, like you were talking about, as well as why you're getting the cert, in that it is hands-on and you're getting the training that's needed.
Right, okay, so that's the one. And the last one is the opposite end of the spectrum. Which is, well, if I have too many certifications, someone will say I'm overqualified for the job. You know, I'm going for IT sysadmin level two, and I've got my MCSE plus messaging, which includes Exchange, and it probably includes IIS. Is that going to price me out of the job?
No. [Laughing] For me...
No, not at all. In fact, for me, the overqualified is very easy to be zoned in on, right? Because I don't feel that you're overqualified, especially in today's world. Because used to, you trained in areas, like networking versus system admin, or if you were in security, things of that nature. Now with hybrid IT and things going into the cloud and doing, you need to know multiple things. So I don't think that it's perceived as an overqualified. I think it's seen as you're in the IT infrastructure. These are the things of which that you need to know, and is good for somebody that's going to be hiring you, to know that you at least understand how protocols and things are going to be working together. So I think it makes you more valuable, not overqualified. So there's like a new standard with things that's been moving—obviously, everybody understands that— to the cloud and different scopes that we're going across. But that's actually helping you to get a more vast array of qualifications.
Perfect, all right. So, the negative's out of the way. Let's go straight to the positives. What are some of the benefits of certification? We've got a chart up here, so we're going to pop that up on the screen. So what are some of the good parts of certification?
Well hello, we've got to get the job, right? So [laughs], it's the check box moment. It's just like in some of your degrees, as well. Some people want a degree versus a cert, some people want a cert versus a degree, and it's just what check box are you actually checking at the time, for where you're going to. And then you're wanting to be able to keep the job, right? So you have to re-certify and make sure that you're up to date on things, I mean, just like we do in security, you have to update everything, right? Like keep up to the latest patches. Well, you've got to do that with your certifications, and that shows dedication. And that also shows your qualification history with that certification.
Right. The other thing about the "get the job" moment is that first of all, it's an HR gate. HR a lot of times just filters out based on things not being there. But sometimes management is looking for that specific set of skills. Okay, another thing still in the keep the job is get the promotion, right? So you've gotten the job. Maybe you got the job based on personality, or your willingness to learn, or your positive attitude, and you've been there for a couple of years. And you've worked your way up, but now you want to move again to the IT sysadmin level two. You know, they're going to need to see something there, so that's another reason to get a certification. Another one is networking. No, not that kind of networking. Networking in terms of getting a certification puts you in a different kind of community. There's either certification forums, you know, bulletin boards—sorry, showing my age. Certification online forums, where you can mix and mingle with people like that and find out what's out there in the job market. You know, things like that. So that's another one. What are some other ones?
Well, credibility. So that's huge on there, because you want to be able to showcase within your forums, as well, what you know. I feel like it kind of ups the bar a little bit, also. I like to be a part of the communities that I certify in, just because you get to hear the buzz of what's going on in those areas before it's going to be on the test, too, right? I mean, it's things that are happening live within their work. And you need that credibility to understand concepts. So that you can actually speak to them. So when you're getting the certifications, that helps to give you the groundbreaking educational foundation for that, and then the networking helps you to kind of grow on that. Plus, you're actively doing. Well then, when you're talking to people, you're able to have that full circle round, which gives you credibility just in speaking about a certain protocol, or speaking about a certain type of environment that you're working on. Or anything in that nature. As long as you're speaking around it whole, then they at least know you have your foot in the works and that you're doing something with it actively, and it's not just something that you took and, you know, let go.
Right, exactly. So you're in the environment. Again, you've got that community, and you're showing that you're participating, which gives you the professional cred. Then the other thing, and this is one that I think people overlook, is the perks. The partner perks. You get your certification; you get your number, whatever, your badge. And then all of a sudden you start getting like, "Hey, do you want to try the pre-release for this software?" You get calls for, you know, "Hey, we want to know what you think." And one of the things that we go off of is even THWACK. Our MVPs—waving hi to all you guys out there, you folks. We lean on our MVPs for, you know, upcoming version, take a look at this, do you want to try this out early? Here's a beta. And that's another thing that certification gets you, is into that kind of community where you find out in advance what's happening. Which, of course, feeds back to you're better at your job, your employer looks to you and says, "Wow, this is a valuable employee. They have insight that my other employees don't necessarily have." Okay, so what's last on the list?
Well, my personal favorite is the personal satisfaction. [Laughs] It's the one of which that, when you take the test, especially if you're in the industry for as long as I've been and many more, obviously, is that—that's kind of like your rite of passage, in a way. I know, and this is just personally, when I go in and take a test, and at the end of it, even if I know I've gotten the majority of the questions right, I mean there may be a couple that you're like, "Ahh, I don't know."
There's always those.
Yeah. But if I go in there, like literally, as soon as that screen gets done, and it presents the score, it's like, "Oh, thank goodness," you know? Because it's like, I'm excited to take this test and showcase my knowledge, and when I get the validation that I passed, it's like your own little personal "yay" cheering army. But you can't really cheer inside the testing center, but you know what I mean. It's one of those deals where...
That is totally not true. I've seen people stand up from the test and like dance. [Laughing] So you absolutely can do that.
Must be a little different where you're from. [Laughing]
It definitely is. There's a few other things, though, that weren't up on that slide...
... that are worth going over. First of all, taking the certification helps you understand what the vendor thinks is important about their ‘producy’ set, and that is an interesting piece of insight. When you realize that you thought a product was all about, you know, whatever. It's all about SNMP or it's all about Active Directory. And then you realize that the tools— the vendor is actually focusing in this other area. Maybe you can see from the exam that they're going toward the cloud, that that's where their interests are going. Well, that's a clue to you that you might not otherwise get from any other area of the vendor communication or what have you.
And as a hint on that--is something that I do— especially since I've been with SolarWinds for so long--is that when I'm taking certifications now and re-upping and see the direction of which they are going, I make sure that I'm able to manage and monitor with the tools and find ways to focus in. Because I know that's where we're going, and just to kind of see where we're at.
Right. Another piece of it is you— the exam shows you the breadth of the product set. Or the vendor's area, or the topic area. I may think that networking is entirely all about ACLs. I live and breathe ACLs. I'm lying. I do not live and breathe ACLs, but let's imagine for a minute that I was just living and breathing, and that was all about networking to me. Route switch, ACLs, that was it. And all of a sudden, I take the CCNA exam, and I realize wireless is on there.
Oh, that's a part of networking? It sounds dumb. Like, of course that's a part of networking. But the fact is that the exam may remind you that there's this whole other world out there that isn't part of your day-to-day job. What are some other things that we've got there?
The cert tracks off a window, right? Like, it's one of those deals where it's like into your actual tech track plan. Or your path, however you want to view that. If there's a way—such as for myself especially— if there's a direction of which my career is going in, or like with we're adding products or advancing and doing things. Then when we know how a direction is going, or even in our IT infrastructure, going to like hybrid IT or like moving things to the cloud, or moving to a new remote site, I need to know the back ends of the future as well as now. So I try to map up what is going on within my career with how I'm going to certify, because I need to be aware of those. Goes back to the credibility, I need to be aware of when we go to planning meetings and things, when they start talking about terms, different designs, different effects, and different environments that they're going to have set up. I need to at least have a foundation so that I can step off onto it and have a decent conversation, and understand how we can monitor this, or how we can manage this, or whatever my field is. So it helps to guide me along, and we'll talk a little bit more about how this guides me especially.
Absolutely, and the other thing is that— Tom LaRock talks a lot about—hi, Tom. He talks about pivoting. He says that sometimes in your career— sometimes in your day— but in your career, you need to pivot. You need to go from, "I have this basic knowledge, and I need to start to shift into this other thing." Certifications give you that view into areas that you can pivot into. Again, you know, I'm route switch ACLs, and I can see that the work is really diminishing or whatever. And now I can pivot into wireless, or I can pivot into InfoSec, or I can pivot into whatever, and I see that that is a place that is not a complete just pick up and change completely, utterly, it is a shift over.
And the last piece is that certifications can actually help you be smarter and do your job better. Now, you need to use the certification process in a very particular way, and we'll talk about that in a little bit also. But certifications, if you do them right— I'm going to say right— they will offer you a window into how to improve in your job. All right, so we've been talking about certifications. I think we, in the name of credibility, we need to talk about why we're standing here. So, Destiny, what kind of certifications? You know, what's your list of certs?
I have a few.
A few? Should we put it up on the screen?
Yeah, go ahead.
All right, so we're going to put them on the screen here. That's impressive. Okay, so, I'll put my list up there. So there's my certs, and you can see, the list is almost identical. Like, we have almost exactly the same certs. Okay, no, it's completely not the same [laughs]. There's a few more that Destiny has than I have, but I'm working on it. The joke aside, why'd you pick that list of certs? What was your thinking when you started to go through those? Was it just grab bag, or was it...
Oh gosh, no. So going back to when I said we would talk about this, I was very strategic, and still am, because I'm currently actually still in school, and certifying like crazy for Certithon. I was very strategic. When we first were going out, I actually did security and networking together. Because I really like the basis of security, and this was back in like 2001-ish, which I first was starting it. So I wanted to focus on the security side with the network, because at the time, that's kind of where the openings were going to go through there. Following that, by 2006, I was with SolarWinds. So they had the network management tool, and they had a Cirrus--the NCM tool that was coming out. I actually helped to design part of that with the templates and to kind of create some things along the backside, because I knew about it, because I actually did networking. So something that I realized was that, it works on a database. Everything's going back to a database. Well, being an application engineer, I needed to know how these things function. And if anybody knows me, my brain is kind of like a troubleshooting nightmare sometimes, so it's like, I have to know what's behind it, right? So that led me into actually going back to college and getting an actual database development degree. Which then spanned into when we added on things such as the website, when we add performance and things like that that people were asking and had concerns about, then that's when I actually started getting into my CIW Master's. So I was following the SolarWinds track, so I have literally like a jack-of-all-trades of certs. But an outsider looking in might think, "Geez, she's just like going all over the place." I actually follow the SolarWinds pattern for the products of which that we've done. So when we got into applications, into databases, I got the degree, so I had the functionality. When we started getting more into databases, that's when I started getting more into the Microsoft certs for SQL, and that's how we just kind of built and built and built upon it. So I'm very strategic because I want to know and understand the ins and outs of the career of which that I'm in at this moment. And so that's why my list is vast, but it makes sense for the moment that I'm in right now.
Right, see, and my path was a lot more reactive. I was working, I was actually training, and I decided after I'd been doing a year of Word Perfect— believe it or not, classes, teaching them— that I wanted to get my certification in it, just to prove that I actually did know what I was teaching other people. So in reaction to having done the Word Perfect work, I got the Word Perfect Certified Resource, which I still mention every chance I get even though it's a couple of years old. And then I was working for another company and I was getting into server administration, so that was when I got my novel certification, after I had been working in it/ That's when I wanted to prove that I knew what I was doing. And also, it helped me transition from a lower-level position into that upper level, that progress we talked about. And the same thing for MCSE, and the same thing for CCNA, it was that it was either in reaction to the work I was doing, or as a way to take the work I was doing and move to that next level up. That was it. The only time that that didn't happen, and some people follow this situation was, I was at a company where they realized I actually like taking tests. I enjoy it. It's kind of a weird personality quirk of mine.
So anyway. They realized that, and they needed to get vendor status. They had to get, you know, vendor gold status or whatever it was. And in order to do that, the company had to have so many employees who had this certification, this certification. So I took a whole bunch at once, and we know what that means, but I was doing it for the vendor thing. And I took a whole bunch at once, but helped my employer get that certification, so I became a valuable employee just because of the certifications I held. So that was that. So, again, as you're thinking about the certifications you're going to go for, if you're not already on the certification track, there's a few different pressures. One is can you become more valuable? The other one is because you're curious. The other one is because you actually do know the information and you want to sort of prove it, either to yourself or to your coworkers. But that takes us into how to pick the right certifications. So we've got another chart on the list. When you look at picking a cert, like what are the things that folks who are watching this should think about?
It depends on where you're at in the moment.
Right. And when I say moment, I mean like in your life. The phase of which that you're in at this time. If you are in a company and you have current certification, and you're trying to pick a new one, you need to see like, where's your company moving towards. Are you adding more UCS type devices? Are you getting new devices? Are you at that maintenance level, where things are starting to shift out? Is there new technology that you're wanting to bring in? So if there is, then that should want to shift your focus in to those areas that may not be there yet but then when they are, you're already prepared for it and ready to go.
Now for me now, in this phase of my life that I'm doing, it's my passion right now. Like, I have certs for the career and for what I'm doing, but now I want to go a little bit beyond that, because by having that vast amount that was spread across, I figured out my passion. And so now, I'm going more towards my passion and kind of guiding my career, as well, towards what I'm wanting to do. So there's numerous ways that you can pick certs, but I would say like, definitely, you need to assess around you, what the moment is in your life. Are you needing it for climbing the ladder? Are you needing it to try to further educate yourself? Or is it something that, hey, I'm really passionate about this, and I just feel like this is where I need to go.
Right, and you hit upon the last point, which is the easiest way of answering the question, "Which cert should I get?" Is which one's relevant to your field right now? You know, I'm doing Microsoft stuff, so I'm going to get a Microsoft cert. I'm doing Cisco stuff; I'm going to get a Cisco cert, or whatever it is. So that's the easiest one to answer. Now, one question that we got at one of the SWUGs, and I thought it was a really good one, so we're going to put up a chart here, is, if you really enjoy a particular area of SolarWinds products— you know, I'm really network management, NPM, NTA, NCM is where I live and breathe. Or, you know, nope, I'm a SAM SRM kind of person, so which certifications fit into that set of worldview or that set of passions? So we've got a screen up here that we can look at. So mapping your certification to the SolarWinds world. So obviously, with network management, or netman as we call it, what kind of certs are going to work there?
Definitely, obviously, your Cisco certs, your Juniper, your Network+, so pretty much what we're meaning by this is that those foundation certs should go hand in hand and help you with these products. Versus also, if you are living and breathing in NPM and say you're actually a sysman person, since it's health, maybe go towards like a Network+ just to get that foundation awareness so that it helps you to better monitor your network.
So what I like to say is that if you're in the netman and the sysman pillar, and that's where you're spending most of your day, and you're just now thinking about the security on the side, you're already there. Because you want to be able to know the foundation levels of systems versus networks versus your virtualization, and your SQLs. And so by having that baseline, you can do things like your A+, your Net+. It's not just one field, it's just kind of a vast majority, so you understand what they are, so that you're able to secure.
Excellent. Okay, so now that we've gotten out of the way why you should cert, I think we need to talk about how to prepare for the exam, because there's a lot of folks who get very nervous. Or they aren't quite sure which ways work, which ways don't, and there are a lot of options. It's what works for you, I think, but some of the options that are on the table. Let's get this out of the way. Should you use brain dumps?
Okay, now, what are brain dumps?
Well that's pretty like classification of the test re-wrote for you for your viewing pleasure and others. For a nominal fee.
Right, okay, so these. When we talk about brain dumps, we're not talking about practice tests; we're not talking about test simulators. We're talking about the answers to the test that someone has given you or you've bought or whatever. And you really shouldn't use those for a variety of reasons. First of all, nowadays, exams have algorithms in there to look at the speed that you're answering questions, and if they detect, you know, click, click, click, click, click, right through them, they're going to flag your test. You may not fail that minute, but you may get a letter in the mail. The other thing is that there's a personal pride aspect. It's really; do you really want the cert that way? I'm going to say you really don't. The other thing is that, again, there's a difference between a brain dump and a practice exam. Practice exams are really, really useful, and we're going to talk about those more in a minute. But it's not necessary to go to brain dumps, because the practice exam is going to give you exactly what you need, and probably, if you're considering a brain dump, what you're afraid you're not going to get. So that's about brain dumps. Now, taking the test versus real-world experience. You know, is that the same? Like if you've been doing Cisco networking for three years, you should be able to just walk in cold to the CCNA exam and just pass it?
So, you're going to have different— Kind of like if you go to your own company and look at a security policy. There's going to be like section A, B, you know, all these different sections that are coming across. Now, you generally know the security policy, right? Like what you can or can't do, common sense, things of that nature. But the fine print, that is kind of where the testing comes in, right? The actual implementation without actual short cuts. How can you configure this? How can you do this? How do you go through these items? Well, on the testing, they will want the full how do you do this, how is everything going through there. When you're in the real world, you know there's things that you can skip around to go through there, and your experience helps guide your way to go through there. But there is a huge difference, because like we said on that different section, they may ask you about just something crazy that you're not even using in your environment. Maybe a protocol that you're not using and you haven't touched or seen in a long time. But you still have to know what it is, how it functions, how it works, and how to troubleshoot it. So there's things to do.
And on top of that, though, the skills that you use to take the test and correctly answer a test question aren't the same as the skills that you would use to accomplish something on the job. And some of it has to be in what we call the test box. Or what I call the test box. For example, I was taking my practice test for the A+, and one of the questions just blew me away. The question was--what is required for networking to work? And the answers were--a network card, a NIC, a router, a switch, and a wireless access point. And I could make a good argument about any of them, right? Not the wireless access point, not required. But I was in the A+ desktop support practice exam. Therefore, the only correct answer was a NIC, because that was the direction that test was coming from. And you had mentioned when we were talking about earlier, if you're in a Cisco exam, what's the right answer?
It's going to be the router.
The router. You can still argue a switch has to be there.
But from the perspective of the vendor, you're there. So the practice exams are going to help you understand the mindset that the test is asking you from. All right, so what are some training options? Like if people want to go for training, what are some of the choices that are out there?
Well, obviously, in IT and the way that everything has been working out, online training is huge.
Right, so you've got CBT nuggets, Plural's site, you know, a whole mess of them that are out there.
You have the You Certify, there's like so many ones that are out there.
But some people don't respond well to online. They can't either carve out the time, or they get distracted by ‘Facebooking’ and ‘Twittering’ and all that stuff. So, in class, yes--yes, highly distractible. So, there's in-class training too. But there's a couple of options for that.
So for the in class, you can do like the boot camps, which we told earlier, you know, it's not good to grab on there. But what we're meaning by that is that is not good to go to a boot camp when you're just learning the products that are out there. Now if you're re-certifying, that's an all right thing to go back in, because it's going to touch on the new. And it's going to hit those protocols and there's things of which you'll know all the rest of it that was coming across there. It just kind of refreshes your test brain.
Right, and also, if you have five years’ experience doing networking, and you want to finally go and get that networking certification, whether it's Network+ or a Cisco cert or whatever— again, a five-day boot camp is probably going to say, "Oh, right, that's right, I hardly ever do" whatever it is. And you just bone up on that for a little bit and then you're ready to go. So that's where a boot camp comes in versus the long form, like you were talking about, the program you were in, which can be a year long. But you're really going to get the hands-on, and you're going to know the material, and know the technology by the time you get out.
But that's something that's— I mean, if you're already in a career and going, those options are usually not the easiest or the best ones to do, because they are usually during the day, and again, you're also with high school students generally, like especially if you're in voc-tech and things of that nature. Which that's not a bad thing, but it's kind of— I've seen it go both ways, right? Where it's—you kind of get misconstrued there. But also, you can do it at night. Well now, you're working all day, and then you're doing it at night. Now they're great to do, especially if you want that hands-on and to get things going. It's just, that is a conscious effort of knowing that your time is going to be at a different facility, and not at work.
Right. And that would be if you want to pivot into a completely different area, then the night classes, where you can get the hands-on, may be something to look at. There's also online forums. For example, okay, so we've got THWACK. Obviously if you want to be looking at a SolarWinds certification, THWACK.com is one of them. But there's also Stack Exchange, which has forums for almost every technology out there. Cisco, one of my favorites, is GNS3. You know, there's enormously active environment of people who are just using GNS3 simulator to take tests. What are some other ones that we have out there?
Well I mean, like, you can also do TechNet for Microsoft. The Net Academy for Cisco, as well.
Because you can go through there. There's so many that are out there that aren't even per product. There's the test places themselves, such as CompTIA, so your certifications that you can go through, they have their own forums where people talk and discuss and do the questions. And then that at least puts you in the test mindset, because they're talking about the way the question was asked. They don't give the question away, obviously, and they're monitoring, trust me. But what they do is they talk about, like what you're saying, where is this, what is the answer they're looking for, and how do I pull that from the question? So it's really good to go to the test and to see actually how— because they'll actually convey what's going on with the test and what they're expecting from there.
And again, you know, the fastest way to get booted off of any of those forums is to say, "Hey, does anyone have a list of those test questions?" Don't ask.
Don't ask that, yeah. And finally, another way to prepare for tests is to use simulators. I'm not talking about the test simulators. That's another good one, but I'm talking about the thing that simulates the actual environment. So once again, GNS3 is a wonderful way to simulate a network environment. Multi-product, multi-device, version two just recently came out, so it supports even more devices and containerized instances and things like that.
It allows you to create your own networks, which when you're doing networking, something that helped myself, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. When you're using things such as the GNS3, you're able to actually create and base off of your knowledge, I'm not just having set up labs that I know are going to be on a test. I don't have just a simulation, I am using the protocols and seeing it, and that just like, for me, was like a creative greatness that I remember. And now you're troubleshooting yourself.
Right, okay, so the GNS3. But also, Microsoft has virtual labs. So there's actually a virtual lab where you can just click, and it'll spin up an instance that is coded for DHCP, or coded for Active Directory or whatever, they have that. And finally, of course, again, for SolarWinds, we've got demo.solarwinds.com, our live online demo. So that's some stuff to prep. Now, you're prepared. You've taken the class, however works for you.
Oh, I'm ready.
You've not been distracted; you're ready. How do you know you're ready though? How do you know that you're ready? So we have a couple of things to keep in mind that we'll put up on the screen here. First of all, I'll start off. First of all, when you see a question, and this means taking the test slower. When you see a question, ask yourself, do you understand the broader topic that they're actually talking about? So if the question is, you know, what does top talkers mean? You say, oh, this is a NetFlow question. Do I understand the broader idea of what NetFlow is all about? So just, in your head, say, "Do I have a complete view of that?" And if you don't, go back to the books; take a look at some more. Second point.
Is why the right answer is right. And what I like to do is I like to say the question out loud in my head, or you know, in my head, and I'll say it and then try to come up with the answer before I look at the answers. And that way, when I'm looking at them, I'm like, I verify is that the right answer, or is it not? And then you can also take away the wrong answers, right? Automatically take away the ones that you know do not fit anything within here, so that you can focus in on the actual answer.
Well, okay, right. And that goes back to the next point, which is how. Not that the wrong answers are wrong, but how they are wrong. B is not correct, because X and Y and Z. C is not correct, because of X and Y and Z. So you're going through each of those wrong answers now and using them to reinforce what you about it. Sometimes they're stupid. Sometimes the questions are just throwaways about hamsters are dancing on chairs, or whatever.
So I have a feeling you take up the whole time for a test, don't you?
No, this is not when you take the test. That's a good point. This is not when you actually are taking the test. This is when you're practicing for the test. When you're taking those practice tests, how do you know you're ready? Because you can go through every question and answer it with that level of rigor. And the last point is looking at those wrong answers, either what would change to make it the right answer? Or this answer they gave me, what would a question be where this would be the right answer? So envision like, oh, I see that this is not correct for this topic, but this would be the correct answer for this other topic.
So you're creating your own questions to study yourself on. That's really a great idea.
Right. So there's that. Some more hints. Now you know you're ready, okay? And you've signed up, you've paid your money, you walk in, some hints for actually taking the test. This is where a lot of people who feel like they have test anxiety really get bogged down. And so I want to offer some ideas about how to relieve that sense of pressure.
And a sense of routine will help that.
Absolutely, yeah, so make a routine for yourself. You want to create an environment where your body is responding to like, oh, I know how this is going to go. I know what this is going to happen. I have my favorite pencil, you know, whatever it is. The first thing is, take your time before the start of the test. What I mean by that is that when you sit down at the test, there's a timer, which freaks everybody out, but it is the timer to click start. And it's usually like 15 minutes to click start. Take a minute, you've got those 15 minutes. If you do not start the test, you will not fail the test. You will simply, it'll hit start for you. So take those 15 minutes, take the little white board they give you. Start to make your notes. You know, take a minute, a little minute, and just breathe through it. And then start to make your notes. Hit start; look at how much time you have to answer the "Are you over 18?" question that comes up. They give you five minutes to answer whether you're over 18. It shouldn't take that much math, but you get another five minutes to write stuff down, to take a breath, to center yourself, to whatever it is--so take the time. Another thing is, understand before you walk in, the test. What is it going to be? How many questions? How much time you have. What a passing score is, both passing score in percent, passing score in number of questions. Are the questions weighted or not? Is it an adaptive test? For example, the SolarWinds Certified Professional Exam is 77 questions, that's 90 minutes. You have to have a 70% to pass, which means that you have over one minute per question. And you can miss 23 questions and still pass. So make sure you do the math before you walk in, because wait a second--70 questions, but I can miss 23?
It takes the actual pressure off of you a little bit. And it's not because you're like, oh, I can miss 23. It's you can relax on when you get stuck moments. Of like panic, I'm not really sure what this one is, but I'm still going to just keep re-reading it and re-reading it. That doesn't really help you, so it's good for you to flag it so that you're able to move on from it. And know that, hey, even if you come back to flag and you still don't know the answer, but you're pretty confident about generally 70-some percent of it, you're probably going to be all right and you need to just relax a little bit. Give yourself a little bit of credit.
Right, and in that same vein, have a strategy to analyze the question. When you're looking at the question, it pops up. I happen to be a person who looks at the answers first. I actually look at the answers, and I say okay, oh, they have to be talking about DHCP, I can just see from the answers, that's got to be the realm that I'm in. And then I look at the question.
That is so not how I take tests. [Laughs]
That's how I do it. Also, I notice the stupid answers like right away. Again, the throwaways. You know, get up and walk out, because you're never going to figure this out, like, you know, then you can say, oh, well I only have to pick from three. Then you read the question and you analyze it. That's just how I do it. But have a strategy for analyzing the questions.
And you can always review. And that's what I'm saying, like when you flag them and you can review them at the end. I mean, you can have all 70 questions flagged if you want to. But I'm saying you get the chance to go back. It's still part of your time. Now I've had that before, where people have asked me, "Well, I'm afraid to go back because it starts your time over," or there's like a timeframe in the review. There's not, it's still part of the same. But it shows you, you can click through the answers and see what's going on. And sometimes when you're in the beginning of the test and the ones you don't know, you've already answered them three times at the end, so you're like, okay, and when it comes back around, you can actually finish those up.
Yeah, sometimes the exam will answer questions you don't know. Make sure you understand— back to understand the test— some exams do have review, some don't. So make sure you know. If it's a one-way ticket, then take your time, you're not going to be able to go back. But if you do have that review, use it with extreme prejudice. And finally, never give up.
Good Lord, don't give up.
And everyone has this. At some point in the test, everybody, everybody-- me, Destiny, everybody--has a moment where it's like, oh, this is over. I watched something happen. I watched a co-worker of mine take his CCNA. We went to the test center at the same time, we went in at the same time, and he was somebody who's a little bit more high strung. And he literally got up in the middle of the exam. He was just like; I knew I had blown it. I just give up; I don't need to see that number. He walked out. So the proctor came in and they have to finish the test. They can't just turn it off, so they hit next, next, next, next. He missed the test by five points.
In the middle of the exam. In the middle of the test questions, he gave up. He could've easily have guessed his way out and passed. Five points, never give up. So that's an important thing. So another one is, another set of ideas here is— to go back to your point about your routine. Get some sleep the night before. Know whether you're a morning person or an afternoon person in terms of taking tests and go for that. Make sure that you satisfy your own physical needs as far as that goes. So some other ideas besides the ones that we had up on the screen before. Remember that you are in the vendor box. We talked about that before. Cisco PIX is not going to be the answer on a Microsoft exam. I can almost guarantee you that. So make sure you do that. The other thing, going back to the guy who gave up, is some questions don't count. They test out questions to see how many people are able to guess it correctly without any background, or they actually try out questions for a different exam. So if you see a question, and you're like, I have no idea what this is. I've never seen anything about this. This was not on the review. Probably it's on purpose. That they're just trying it out to see how many people will get it. It will not count against you if you get it wrong. So if you see a question that you don't know, back to that stuck moment that you were talking about, just answer the best you can and move on, but don't freak out. So the next thing I want to talk about is what happens if you fail. The worst happens, you fail, now what?
Well that's literally the worst that can happen. Because some people just act like it's going to kill them, right? [Laughing] You're going to get a non-passing score. So something that I would do is you take a little bit of time to regroup before you leave this facility, and I have failed a test before. So what I literally did was, as soon as it comes up, I'm like, I've got to get over this moment. I take a little breath, and then I walk out, and I get my scores, and I get everything that's coming through me, and I go home. Now, seemingly you would go home, but I actually have a nice little book that I keep, because as soon as I get outside and I've taken that moment while I'm in there. When I go outside, I start writing down everything that confused me. Anything that I thought that I knew that I didn't know, I just write. So I'm not leaving the parking lot until I've got at least a flood of them. And sometimes it may not make sense, because I like to draw pictures, which means something to me. But I'll have bubbles everywhere, and I'll have little comments and things of which that is there that triggers in my head, things I need to go over.
Right, so you're really— it's the positive side of brain dumping. You're doing a brain dump to say, you know, wireless was on here and I was completely like, I had no idea what they were asking with this or that. But if you wait until you go home and you wait until maybe you've had a couple of libations or whatever, that information is going to be gone. So you want to take that time. You also, and this is a little bit of, you know, making sure I get it done, is I schedule the re-test almost immediately. I don't take it immediately, but as soon as I get home, I jump online or I make the phone call or whatever, and I schedule it for a week ahead or two weeks ahead, and I use that as my motivation. Like, now that deadline's there. The money's been paid.
You've got to get back on the horse.
So that's something that's great that you do that, because I thought I was crazy. Because when I first took my networking test, when my CCNA, I was actually like on the actual routing and switching part, I missed that part. I just completely just went test crazy. And I literally walked out, and my teacher from voc-tech was like, "You schedule it right now." Because he has watched so many people that, they just think if they didn't pass it or do anything, that it's just a failed option and I'm just going to leave, and they never get back on that horse. So I remember just being terrified and I was like 20 years old, just like, no, this is no good. I rescheduled it like he said, and I blazed through it. Because he knew I knew it, he was just like; you need to get over your testing.
Right, and the other thing is that, more than just people fail the test and they think my life is over, my career is over, is I think that sometimes when people fail a test, they think, I was clearly not ready. And so they're going to wait until they are 100% perfect, and then they'll schedule the test. And like you said, if you felt good enough to walk in, you probably felt good enough that you know it, and now it's time to schedule it. You know what the mechanism of the testing is; you're much more familiar with it. Believe me, the second round through is going to go that much easier for you. And that takes me to the last point, which is you need to ask yourself, were you just unprepared? Like I really had not studied.
Or you thought your knowledge would get you through. Which your knowledge is great, but it may be new things that are out there that they're asking that they pinpointed on that you weren't aware of.
Right. So were you unprepared, or were there specific questions themselves that were confusing? I did not understand when they were asking me about X and Y and Z, what was going on? And that's where you can go back to the test preps. The practice exams, and practice those, the wording terminology. You know, the joke is that in the testing center, they don't ask you what direction the sun rises in. They tell you, you're in San Francisco, you're facing a bridge, you feel something warm on your back, what is it? So you have to get used to that test terminology of how they ask things. So if you fail, it is absolutely not the end of the world. It's not the end of your life, it's not the end of your career, it's not the end of anything except the end of the test.
So you can go on, and you'll be fine. So talking about tests that you might have to take more than once just before you get it under your belt. I want to transition over to talk about the SolarWinds Certified Professional program. And with me to do that is of course Patrick Hubbard, but also Cal Smith, who is the Director of the Technical Training Program. Welcome to SolarWinds Lab.
So, before we dig into the why--which I think some of our listeners and viewers are interested in knowing--you know, what does SolarWinds, the SCP program, have to do with everything else we've been talking about? How big is this program? You know, that's one of the considerations. Is it worth it? How long has it been around?
Yeah, so the program actually started in 2008. And we're certifying over 1,000 people every year.
Wow! And that adds up to like how many now?
So currently, we have over 5,600 Certified Professionals.
That is a sizable amount.
Yeah, their certification expires after five years, so active certifications are 5,600.
So I'm curious, who is the oldest active SCP that we have on record?
So David Shipman is actually the oldest active SCP.
So hopefully you're watching, Dave. How's it going? All right, so we've got some idea of the background of it, how long it's been around, but what I think a lot of people want to know is the value of SCP. Destiny, from your perspective, what does SCP do for you as a professional?
So, as a professional, it's something that I like to talk to people at SWUG about, especially, is that the SCP makes sure that you actually know what you're doing and how you're monitoring, right? So the main point is that you can install SolarWinds products and have them up and running. But are you actually using them to the abilities that help you in your actual workplace? By having an SCP, that shows that you know the protocols back behind it, you know the infrastructure, you know how to actually monitor efficiently and manage, so that's something that I like as a little check mark. And I mean, hey, in the SCP, if you have that next to your credentials, I get hit all the time on social media, just because of those credentials, because people want to hire people with that.
Okay, and that's actually a good point that we were talking about before we were doing the show. You mentioned that people get hired?
Definitely. If you look at the job postings that are there today, we have a number of job postings that are looking for SCP or just SolarWinds product knowledge.
Great, so it's one of those check marks. Again, like you said, check marks that people are looking for. Patrick?
And it's actually something people will search for when they're actually looking for candidates. They'll put SCP in, or SolarWinds Certified Professional, into the search so that they'll actually come up. The other thing is that we— getting the award itself, there's a lot behind it. It's the badge that more people want on THWACK than any of the others ones. It's also probably the hardest to earn, because the exam is actually really challenging. Like, you know, we've talked about before. But the other one is you've got a chance to actually hang them up, right? To show the certificate, and I just wanted to mention this, because I managed the SCP program for a while, and I certified about 4,200 of you, and I was going to say, I got some grief the other day on THWACK because I didn't have my SCP badge proudly displayed. And the reason was I helped write some of the questions, as did Destiny back in the day, and so I just didn't think it was fair to take the test. But I went ahead and took it anyway, and I finally got my SCP. But it, of course, it's not as cool, because this thing has evolved over the years, right? This is what it looks like today. And then if you go way back, and Destiny's looks like this, and yours looks like this, because you guys all got certified early. This is Nikki Jennings' right? So you guys have the charter member over here on the badge, right? The other thing that's cool too is there's so much of a renewal in the program, as well. I mean, it's not just like the fact that the logo's changed, along with ours and THWACK and THWACKcamp, is that SCP has a new logo, and there's a reason for that. Which is, you've got some changes coming for SCP?
Yeah, we're actually going to go product focused with the SCP, so the first exam is going to be NPM. So if you haven't signed up, please go ahead and sign up, and then we'll contact you with the beta information.
Now one of the things that Destiny and I didn't talk about as much is the idea of beta exams. If you happen to be an exam hamster, guilty, one of the fun things you can do is take beta exams. Frequently they're either cheap or free; you get a chance to try out the questions. If you don't pass, it doesn't really count against you. And of you do pass, then you're in, you actually did it. So beta exams are a really good way. Now I'm not sure how we're running our beta program. This is actually one of the first times I'm hearing about it. But just as one of those test-taking tips, that's another really good thing to keep in mind. Anything else that we should remind people about the SCP? Like, you know, take it now. Take it now, now.
Like right now.
Yeah, and if you sign up for the beta, you're helping us shape the direction of the exams going forward, so we really appreciate all of the help we can get.
Right. And the other thing that I want to emphasize that you said is that it is now product focused. The original was sort of an omnibus of everything SolarWinds. Now if you are a sysman-focused individual, you can take the exam that's for that, versus netman, versus any of the others. So now, you're able to really show your chops.
So stay tuned for those future releases and what we've been talking about. We have a lot of exciting things coming up.
So, I don't think there's really anything else to talk about in this episode.
Oh yes there is. You teased at the beginning of the episode that you guys were going in at Cisco Live to take your certs, and you didn't show how you did, so let's see.
All right, so we're going to cut back to Cisco Live, and thank you for joining us on SolarWinds Lab. Let's see how we did.
So how'd it go for you?
Okay, I just squeaked it out. I had a couple of points above passing. It was really tight. It's a really, really challenging test, but I just managed to get it through, and a pass is a pass. So how about you?
I missed it by two points. Two! But that's all right, because I have been studying for so many tests, and that's what happens, right? You get--things get cluttered in your head, and I really need to study a little more of that IPV6.
Got it. So I guess the question is what else would you do? Anything you'd do differently, besides the IPV6? Like what else would you have done just to prep a little differently?
Probably not take six certs in three months.
Okay, so there's a lesson for you. And one of the things that we say in the episode is that, you know, if you don't pass a test, the best thing about it is that now you know what you need to work on, right? So you're set to go. And I'm ready for another one, I guess.
Oh yeah, I'm scheduling mine up for a week, but if you're starting to schedule another cert, the bar is that way. I'm done.
First round's on me.