IT Training – Which Should You Choose? September 29th, 2009
There seems to be a lot of confusion at the moment regarding IT training. The adverts we all see on the TV will have you believe it’s a ‘given’ that you can sign up to one of the courses, attain an industry recognised qualification and head off into working bliss earning over £35,000 in next to no time. Of course the reality is far from this.
Becoming a good IT professional takes a long time, it takes a lot of hard work and is not something which can simply be taught in a condensed, intensive training course. There is so much more than simply knowing something, in order for it to become relevant one must understand it too. There is quite a difference if you really think about it.
Now, after saying this I am not saying that doing some further training is a bad idea, it isn’t. In fact I’d say that if you are to become one of the few who make it, it’s a necessity. Training is of course only one part of the whole package. Training cannot give you the real work experience that you gain starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up through the ranks. If I were to tell you that I knew a way of become a skilled surgeon or a pilot by simply talking a month out and committing to a training course you’d think I was mad, and you’d be right. When a medical student completes their training they are essentially a qualified doctor but would I want them treating me? Urm, no not really. Same goes for a pilot. There comes a time when they are deemed competent and they are given their ‘wings’, would I jump straight in a plane with them and fly off into the sunset, of course not. Just as in the previous examples, becoming proficient in the IT sector takes time, it takes both knowledge and experience, each being useless without the other.
So which should you aim for first, knowledge or experience?
I don’t think there is no right or wrong answer here you need both to realise your ambitions. I started my career doing menial tasks; configuring printers and email accounts, working with end users and ensuring they were using equipment correctly. I was certainly never let anywhere near the server farms or SAN’s back then, and in hindsight I’m thankful. With this basic working came confidence and the self belief that this was an industry where I felt at home. It was then, after having a good number of years under my belt and about as much knowledge that I could self teach, I started thinking about which direction and speciality I’d like to pursue and what I had to do in terms of training to achieve it.
I decided that I’d like to continue working with a broad spectrum of IT hardware and software, learning more about infrastructure and business focused applications. I wanted to have the knowledge to be able to administer a network serving thousands or users across multiple sites as well as the smaller, self contained networks. I decided that the right direction for me would be to work towards, and hopefully attain Microsoft’s MCSE certification which was at the time, about the best there was. In fact, it still is today.
It was then that I was faced with the dilemma, how I should go about realising my goals in the most time and financially efficient way. I looked at distance learning and instructor based training and decided that the best way forward was to be taught by a qualified trainer, that way I would get firsthand knowledge and could be sure I understood what I was learning. Remember that understanding what you know is vital, anyone with practice can remember something but if they don’t understand it, the knowledge become useless. I already had a few years experience under my belt at this point, not to mention the years of interest and experimentation when I was growing up. Further research pointed me in the direction of offshore training, it appeared much more cost effective than learning here in the UK and also, didn’t make any promises about how much I’d earn, how quickly I’d earn it and so forth.
After months of research and planning and another year of learning the foundations, I flew off to India to study for my MCSE at Koenig Solutions in New Delhi. That was back in 2004, I’ve since progressed and advanced further but thought I’d reblog my original review that I wrote at the time, detailing my experiences at Koenig.
The Decision – When I first decided to develop my experience and skill set further by training towards an MCSE, I knew that the only way that I would be able to devote myself fully to the task would be to book some instructor based training from qualified experts. Sure you can self study but I wanted to learn the right way and be pushed to reach my potential, I had self studied before and whilst I reached the goals I had set myself, it took a lot longer than I was expecting as I had to fit it in and around life, no, this time I would do things right and book myself into a proper, full time training regime where I could focus my concentration fully. After looking at all of the highly inflated prices here in the UK I decided to look further afield. My initial thoughts were the US or Australia but there too prices were high and we putting me off fully committing to the idea. Then I stumbled across the Koenig website. The packages looked like just the sort of thing that I was looked for and the prices seemed too good to be true after a week of staring at prices more than twice the amount; the prices really were amazing. Then the alarm bells started to ring in my head. I started to ask myself why these guys were able to offer these courses at such reduced prices. Regardless, I was interested in finding out more and started to investigate and find out more about Koenig, the hope of it being a legitimate proposition pushing me on. I posted on forums and contacted both Microsoft and Prometric to confirm Koenig’s position and claims. All of the responses that I received back were positive so I decided to drop Koenig an initial email to express my interest and find out where I went from there. I heard back from Sandeep, the training manager, later the same day which was further evidence that they were real and eager to help and answer any questions that I had.
With the combination of positive recommendations, the flexibility of the courses and the great prices I decided to take the plunge. I booked myself onto an MCSE course and set about finding a good deal on the flight. The cheapest flights I found were with Air India but I’d heard many horror stories about flying the London – Delhi sector with them (some pretty horrific stories about the ‘cleanliness’ of the facilities as the planes have often flown via the US) so decided to fly with Emirates, who’d I had good experiences with previously.
Course booked. Flights booked. All I had to do now was get my visa sorted and pack.
The Koenig Experience – Towards the end of the long flight to India, I found myself questioning the madness I was undertaking, flying halfway around the world in the hope that I would be greeted at the airport by someone holding a card with my name written on it. I didn’t know a great deal more than that apart from the fact I would be taken to my hotel and collected the next morning once again to visit the training facilities. Crazy in hindsight now I think back.
I was very pleased after a 3 hour epic queue through immigration that as promised, I was greeted in the arrivals hall by a very friendly smiling chap. He introduced himself, shook my hand and welcomed me to India. He then handed me an envelope and carried my case to his car. I have 2 clear memories to share with you here. Firstly the heat and humidity, it was around 3 in the morning and yet as we walked out of the terminal it was as if I was walking into a shower cubicle with the water steaming hot, it was really hot and humid. Secondly, the drive from the airport into Delhi itself arguably the most memorable drive of my life. There seems to be only one rule when driving in India and that is that there are no rules. I found myself gripping the seatbelt which had become my new best friend as tight as I could. Still, we arrived safely at the hotel, I soon came to realise that this standard of driving was the norm and whilst it seemed strange to those who had not experienced it before, it seemed to work and accidents were not common.
Owing to the length of time I would be staying in India I had decided to pay a premium and stay in one of the 5 star hotels, The Park in the central district of New Delhi. Check in was painless and I was given a welcome pack which had been left by Koenig with some generic information and safety guidance for my stay in and around Delhi. So far so good, everything that Koenig had promised they had delivered. We were off to a good start.
The following morning after a 20-minute ride I eventually arrived at the Koenig training facility. I have to admit that my first impressions weren’t great. The building looked run down and not what I had expected at all. Maybe my expectations had been too high, I guess I was basing my assumptions on what I would have expected back home. Maybe I was expecting a fancy office block with all the bells and whistles. Anyway there was no turning back. I was here now, I was here to learn and I was going to make the most of it. Inside the building things looked pretty much the same, Koenig were situated on floor 3 and it was a very uncomfortable walk up the stairs. As I entered I was greeted by everyone and there appeared to be smiling faces coming from every corner. Right from the very start the staff impressed me, not only by their smiling faces and their friendly manner but also with their eagerness to please, it seemed as if there was nothing that they were not willing to do if asked.
The training over the following weeks as expected was extremely intense but all the teachers were very knowledgeable in their chosen subjects. If you don’t understand something they will explain it again and again and again (and I’m pleased to say that whilst the accent did take a few days to really get used to, the English was actually very good). The resources are more than adequate, using Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) books and training aids. If I had to find fault, it would be that some of the IT equipment was a little dated; still it was more than able to handle the tasks we were performing.
The food that Koenig provide during the days training is excellent too. There is an abundance of choice. You could choose from pizza, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Burgers and much more. It was strange to see McDonalds being delivered on the back of a scooter; maybe our McDonalds could learn a thing or two.
The concierge service which Koenig provide is a great idea and worked really well. The idea behind it is that whilst you study you don’t need to worry about anything. If you have any problems, need advice or requests for anything then they will take care of it. It really does take the strain off of you when you are studying. They are also able to arrange day visits and activities for you during your time off. I choose not to take advantage of this as myself and some others did a ‘deal’ with our taxi driver to book him directly whenever we wanted to do anything. It worked out cheaper and was also nice to be able to get to know him. We got a great insight into the culture from him enjoyed some good days out, the highlight being the long day we sent visiting Agra and the Taj Mahal. You really have to visit if you are in India, it’s a must.
The other students were all extremely friendly. Koenig have a variety of students from all over the world, it was interesting talking with them about the differences to working practices in their countries, and some of the stories were very eye opening! I found it very easy to make new friends whilst there; obviously everyone is there to learn so you have something in common with anyone you talk to.
India and Delhi – As expected Delhi is completely different from any city that I had ever visited before, it’s like stepping back in time, a huge culture shock at first. The locals in general are very friendly but I would advise caution if going out in the evening on your own. The best thing to do as I did is to go out in groups together, more sociable and of course safer.
Being driven around Delhi is an experience in itself; I could happily write a whole article solely about that, it is absolutely crazy. There only seems to be 3 rules to the road. 1 – You have right of way, 2 – You must beep you horn as many times as possible whilst driving, and 3 – You can drive on the right or you can drive on the left whatever suits your mood.
The food is extremely good too; though I’d advise you are just a little bit careful about where you eat and what you choose, generally speaking try to avoid anything which could have been washed in the local water, such as salads. Same applies for ice cubes in drinks. I was lucky and didn’t get ill but we’ve all heard stories about the infamous Delhi Belly!
The Overall Experience – My overall impression of Koenig Solutions is that they are an excellent one stop shop for Microsoft certifications, but you have to have some background knowledge before committing, the study regime is intense and not for the faint hearted. I would gladly recommend them to anyone who is thinking of studying for an IT certification.
So what did I get from the experience, well, both MCSE and MCSA certifications with security specialisations for a start, but also a better understanding of the culture. I also found a new respect for what we are accustomed to over here in the UK. It’s only when you have lived and worked in a place like India that you realise how lucky we are. It was an eye opening experience and I’d love to return one day and see some more of the country.
So back on topic, there are no short cuts in IT. If you want to learn and earn the money you have to build on a foundation of knowledge and work your way up, you have to strike a balance between both knowledge and experience. Both are vital.
Let me make one thing clear here and now, after over 5 years in the industry, getting my MCSE and MCSA was no walk in the park! I spent 4 months studying everyday for those exams, the workload was exhausting and very intense, I had no idea it would be so hard. In an ideal world even I would have chosen to have studied over a much longer period of time, there really is that much to take on board. At Koenig, there was a mixture of experienced IT personnel like myself and people who had decided they were going to have a career change and try attacking the IT sector by gaining one of these sought after qualifications. We had a saying for these people; Paper MCSEs. After all, anyone can with practice revise for a series of exams by digesting the course material but does that really qualify them to be recognised in the top % of the workforce? Imagine the scene, you are admin for a large corporate with let’s say 2,000 employees across 5 sites. When disaster strikes and it’s you having to deal with it or suffer the consequences, how would you react when you have no real world experience? I’d suggest that a 19yr old IT tech with 2 years experience would probably deal with the situation better than someone with little or no experience but with an MCSE. Working in IT isn’t an easy ride, yes, there are good salaries to be had but as with any career path, these are structured and come with time and experience. In keeping in touch with some of my fellow students from back then, it’s interesting to note that a lot of them who had hoped to get into the IT sector were unable to find work, employers aren’t that naive and know which questions to ask at interview to work out who actually knows what they are doing as well as who only has the piece of paper saying they can.
I have no personal experience with any of the companies who claim to be able to turn you into a high flying IT professional overnight with no experience apart from the research I carried out when I was planning my own training. I chose then, and I’d still chose the same today, to steer well clear. The truth is it’s not really possible to gain the experience you require in the real world starting from a blank sheet in such a short period of time. That’s not to say I am suggesting you shouldn’t aim for a career in IT or seek training because as I said at the start of this blog, I think it’s a great career but I just don’t want to see anyone waste their money and end up in a position where they are out of their depth and regret ever coming into the industry, and that only applies to the minority who could ever hope to achieve the salaries quoted (we are in recession after all), for the most, I suspect that after completing one of these training courses the best you could hope for is working as front line support engineer behind a phone which let me tell you, isn’t glam and doesn’t earn the big bucks. Of course you could do this without the training, and probably be respected more for entering at the bottom wanting to learn as opposed to entering at the bottom thinking you are better than that.
There simply is no substitute for experience, there are no short cuts. My advice is to start at a junior level in a progressive company that with give you the experience that you need to prepare for one of the sought after qualifications, then and only then, when you are ready speak with the company and see if they have any opportunities to sponsor the cost of the training, most will at least consider this option. With some hard work and determination, there is no reason why you can’t earn some good money, but it will come with time, please don’t be fooled into thinking there is a quicker way; there isn’t.
In summary, IT is a great career path. I enjoy what I do greatly and find a lot of reward, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction but it has taken me 12 years to get where I am today. It has been damn hard work with a lot of personal struggles along the way. I’d encourage anyone to give it a go, but would suggest you go about it the right way and put experience above the promise of anything else. In time you will know enough to attain a proper industry recognised qualification, not some useless piece of paper which essentially says ‘sucker’.
I wish you all luck.
Exchange 2007 – Can I run it? September 29th, 2009
The first thing to bear in mind is that Exchange 2007, the latest version of Exchange, will only be supported on 64-bit servers. Initially this may sound like an odd decision by Microsoft but they claim that almost all new server hardware these days has 64-bit technology anyway which means that new installations will be able to utilise better sizing and scalability options. If you refer to Microsoft’s documentation, it clearly states that in order to run Exchange 2007 you’ll need x64 architecture with either an Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology (Intel EM64T) processor or an AMD processor that support the AMD64 platform. The Intel Itanium family IA64 processors are not supported.
You’ll also need a minimum of 1GB RAM although 2GB is recommended and at least 1.2GB of hard disc space, which must be formatted as NTFS.
To check if your processor is compatible, you can use CPU-Z which is available here.
Roman Abramovich – Eclipse September 29th, 2009
Absolutely love this. Well, from a technology perspective anyhow.
Roman Abramovich’s new luxury yacht, the Eclipse, has been installed with anti-paparazzi lasers according to recent press stories. The high-tech system on board sweeps the decks and surroundings and when it senses a CCD it fires a bolt of light directly into the lens to destroy any photo that is being taken, clever stuff. Apparently the system doesn’t run all of the time so friends and guests are still able to take photos, the system being switched on by guards if they spot photographers nearby. But hang on, isn’t that the job of the paparazzi to hide and take photos when you’re least expecting it? The jury is still out on the legalities of the system in some countries but I doubt that will bother him too much.
Other things reported to be built into the new 557 foot super yacht are two helipads, two swimming pools (but sadly no flumes…), 6 ft movie screens in all of the guest cabins (of which there are 24), a mini submarine and missile proof windows!
The reported cost is around £750 million which let’s face it is a little extravagant in the current climate, especially when you consider it is going to be the fourth mega yacht in his fleet, already owning: the 377 ft Pelorus, the 282 ft Ecstasea and the 160 ft Sussurro.
Somehow, I doubt I’ll be invited aboard anytime soon but if you are reading Roman, drop me a line.
T-Mobile G1 – Unlocking For Use With Orange September 26th, 2009
I’ve updated my original post to now include APN settings for Orange, enjoy!
Rooting Your G1 – Step By Step September 25th, 2009
** UPDATED FOR UK and US USERS **
So here you go a step by step guide to rooting your G1 and installing what is in my opinion the best, most stable ROM out there; the stable 4.0.4 ROM release from Cyanogenmod. I decided to put this together after spending hours researching the best way to go about it and finding the information out there both confusing and scattered. Hopefully I have managed to get all of the information in one place so it should make a daunting task simpler.
Caveat: All modifications which attempt to bypass the base system settings allowing you to install custom ROMs *could* brick your phone (and if you’re not sure what is meant by that, please don’t read any further!). I am not responsible, this guide gives you the information you’ll need, what you choose to do with it is down to you.
- Connect your phone to your computer using a USB cable. If you are using the current latest ROM from T-Mobile (even if it is unlocked and you have a different providers SIM), you’ll have to manually choose to mount your phone by pressing and pulling down the USB icon in the top left corner of the screen, then choose Mount. The old version of the ROM will mount automatically, you’ll know if this is the case as your phones SD card will show up in your My Computer automatically.
- Right-click on the removable disk and format ensuring you choose FAT32. To ensure everything works as it should, I recommend using the full format option and not opting to speed things up by using quick format!
- Make a note of exactly what size your SD card is by right clicking the removable disk and clicking properties, you’ll need this information later in step 20. Make a note of the exact number of bytes!
- Download and unzip the RC7 image file from http://g1upgrade.com/DREAMIMG-RC7.zip for UK users or http://g1upgrade.com/DREAMIMG-RC29.zip for US users. Next copy the DREAMIMG.nbh file over to the SD card.
- Once the files have copied over, you can right click on the removable disk and choose Eject to ensure that the data is not corrupted in the event of delayed write.
- Power off your phone. Once it is off, turn it back on by holding the Camera and Power buttons at the same time. This will take you into the boot loader.
- Once the boot loader loads, press the Power button as the on screen prompt suggests, this will start the update process.
- Once the update has completed you’ll need to press the trackball to continue. Reboot your phone by pressing Talk, Menu and Power at the same time and wait for your phone to restart, you should now have a blank phone similar to when you bought it albeit with the earlier version of the ROM.
- Go through the installation, filling in your Google account settings when prompted.
- Open your browser (on your phone now, not your computer) and go to http://g1upgrade.com/root.apk
- Once the file has downloaded, click on it and you will warned that it is a non-market application, you’ll be given the option of going to the appropriate settings dialogue to allow the file to be installed, do this and select the appropriate answer when the security prompt appears. Go back and click on the application again to install.
- Go back to your home screen and open your apps, run the new root app which should now appear.
- Bypass the first step and go down to the second step which allows you to download the IMG and HardSPL files, do this. Once the files have downloaded you’ll have an onscreen prompt telling you that you need to write down some information for the next step, there is no need to worry about this although you should reboot your phone.
- Once rebooted, go back to your home screen and open your keyboard, now press Enter, pause a second and then press Enter once again. Note: You will *not* see anything happen here, I thought I had done something wrong and repeated the above steps over and over until I realised this!
- Type telnetd and then press Enter once again. When you type telnetd you will get the search feature appear, just ignore this, the important stuff is happening in the background and you won’t get any onscreen confirmation.
- Run the root application again and scroll down to the third option and click the option to root your phone. You should now have the first step completed, a rooted phone! If there are any errors at this stage then the telnetd wasn’t running and you should go back to option 14 again.
- Power off your phone. Once it’s off, press the Home and Power buttons until the phone starts to turn back on. This time, the phone will boot into the recovery mode and you’ll be greeted with a yellow sign. Open up your keyboard once again and press Alt+L which will turn on the text options and then Alt+S which will install the update (downloaded in the previous stage). The phone will probably reboot a few times. If you are prompted to press any specific combination of buttons then do that, otherwise press Home, Menu and Power.
- At this stage, you should now have root access to your phone. Now, let’s install the Cyanogen recovery image, which gives us a much more user friendly interface when in the recovery mode which we will be making full use of in the next steps.
- Go to the android market on your phone and search for Terminal Emulator and download. Once it has installed, run the app and type the following commands, pressing Enter after each line. You will also be asked to accept root permissions, you will of course need to say yes:
flash_image recovery /sdcard/cm-recovery-1.4.img
- Back on your computer go to http://egret.net/kb_mb.htm and type in the size of your SD card in step 3 into the Byte field, hit the convert button and make a note of the value given in the Megabyte field. In the following step, you’ll need to enter values for the new FAT32, ext2 and swap partitions you are about to create, working these values out is easy. Start with your total size and subtract 32 (this will be for swap) and then a further 512 (this will be for ext2), the rest will be the FAT32 partition. In the next step I have based the values on performing these calculations on my own SD which is 8GB
- Reboot your phone into the recovery console by starting it using the Home and Power buttons, you should now see the new recovery console which enables you to select the options using the trackball, scroll to the bottom and choose the console option. Type the following pressing Enter after each line, remembering to substitute your values from the step above:
mkpartfs primary fat32 0 7617
mkpartfs primary ext2 7617 8129
mkpartfs primary linux-swap 8129 8161
- Restart your phone.
- We now need to upgrade the radio, download the updated file from http://code.google.com/p/sapphire-port-dream and rename it to update.zip, connect your phone to your computer via the USB cable and copy the file onto your phones SD card, power off your phone afterwards.
- Turn your phone back on and enter the recovery console by turning it on with the Home and Power buttons.
- Click to apply the update.zip file and then reboot your phone again.
- We now need to upgrade the SPL, download the updated file from http://code.google.com/p/sapphire-port-dream and rename it to update.zip, connect your phone to your computer via USB and copy the file on to your phones SD card, then power off your phone.
- Turn your phone back on afterwards and enter the recovery console by turning it on with the Home and Power buttons.
- Click to apply the update.zip file, but do not reboot. If you were to try and reboot your phone at this stage it would probably just stay stuck on the G1 loading screen. You need to install the updated ROM next.
- On your computer, download the ROM from http://www.cyanogenmod.com and rename it update.zip, I choose the stable 4.0.4 release but you choose!
- Go to the console option again and type the following followed by Enter:
- The phone should now be mounted for you to copy over the update. Copy the update file from step 29 onto the SD card.
- Unmount the SD card by typing the following followed by Enter after each line:
- Unplug your phone from your computer.
- Click the option to fix the ext files and then to apply the update from the SD card
- Press the Home button to confirm that you want to apply the update and head to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.
- Finished! ENJOY.
I pieced together all of this information from a variety of sites, but mainly xda-developers.com, anddev.org and androidcommunity.com, there are of course other sites with information which I suggest you research further if you are serious about modding your G1. That’s the beauty of the open source platform.
If you find this guide useful, I’d welcome any feedback or comments below although not for the ROM itself, remember this is not mine and you can substitute for any ROM or your choice.