Episode 064: The Truth about Cloud Certifications

Mike Pfeiffer on February, 26, 2020

In this episode I chat with Ned Bellavance and Ethan Banks about the foggy path to cloud certification. What if you chose poorly? How do you prepare? And how do you deal with failure? We answer these questions in this episode and share our own experiences with cloud certification.

AWS Certifications
https://aws.amazon.com/certification/

Microsoft Certifications
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/certification-overview.aspx

Google Cloud Certifications
https://cloud.google.com/certification/

Certified Kubernetes Administrator – CNFC
https://www.cncf.io/certification/cka/

Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
Hey, what’s up everybody? It’s Mike Pfeiffer and you’re listening to the CloudSkills.fm podcast.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Hey, thanks for tuning into another episode of CloudSkills.fm. This week I’m sharing an episode from another podcast where I was a guest last month. It’s the Day Two Cloud podcast with Ned Bellavance and Ethan Banks. This is way too good of an episode for me not to share here on CloudSkills.fm because we talk about cloud certification. We actually had a really honest conversation about the truth about cloud certifications. There’s a lot of ambiguity out there. There’s a lot of misconceptions, and so we kind of went back and forth talking about some real world considerations. So we get into talking about the value of certifications, what’s the reasons behind getting them, what are the recommendations for people just getting started? And we share some of our own background in our own journey to certification.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So I hope you really enjoy this episode and definitely check out Ned’s podcast. Awesome content on the Packet Pushers network. Thanks, again, for tuning in and let’s go ahead and cut it over to the interview.

Ned Bellavance:
Learning cloud technologies is a daunting task. The field of play is wide and varied. A typical place to start is with certifications, giving you some practical knowledge and a badge for your resume, but again, where to start? AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud all have certifications. Too many certifications, in fact. Microsoft and AWS have a combined 22 different certifications along multiple paths. What if you choose poorly? How do you prepare, and how do you deal with failure? Our guest, Mike Pfeiffer, is here to help us find guidance in the foggy world of cloud certifications.

Ned Bellavance:
Welcome to Day Two Cloud, part of the Packet Pushers family of podcasts. On Day Two Cloud we have a frank discussion of what happens when cloud stops being [inaudible 00:01:53] and starts getting real. I’m your co-host, Ned Bellavance, Ned1313 on Twitter. Also joining me is Ethan Banks, short URL, bit.lygrumpybanks and @ECBanks on Twitter. Hey, Ethan.

Ethan Banks:
When I saw that in the notes, I actually hit that to see if you’d made that go to something, and that’s a dead link, buddy. You disappointed me.

Ned Bellavance:
Oh, it’s coming. It just takes a little while. It’ll be up by the time the show is live.

Ethan Banks:
Oh, great.

Ned Bellavance:
Also joining us today, as I said in the intro, is Mike Pfeiffer. He’s a Microsoft MVP, Pluralsight author, and a fellow podcaster. Welcome to the show, Mike.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Hey, fellows. Thanks a lot for having me here. Super excited to be here. Love this show and the network. Really excited. Thank you, guys.

Ned Bellavance:
Absolutely. So why don’t we start with the baseline here? I think we can all agree certifications are, they’re worthwhile. They’re worth getting. I know some people have opinions on that, but for the purposes of this show, we’ll just assume that they’re worthwhile. But the reasons that they’re worthwhile are probably different depending on your situation. I was working for a VAR for a while, and we had to get certifications to keep our partnerships with various vendors in good standing. So it wasn’t always something I cared about, but it was something that the company needed. But that was just my experience. Mike, what value do you get out of certification?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s a good insight because that’s one of the main reasons why I started doing certifications in the very beginning. The interesting thing for me is, being in the field over the last 12 to 18 months, seeing customers for the first time, at least the customers I work with the, for the first time asking, “Are the folks going to be certified? Is the people on your team are going to be Azure certified AWS certified?” And that’s been fascinating to me because to your point, for a long time most people, well not most people, but a lot of people weren’t really focused on it if it wasn’t providing value to the company so they could be a partner and things like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So I think that value… I mean, people are looking, they understand the complexity of cloud, and they now understand that it’s important to help people to know what they’re doing. And so I think they’re kind of looking to that, and obviously that’s not always an indicator, but it helps. And so I think kind of the state of technology today in the job market, what customers are looking for, I do think certifications are important for people. I think it’s a way for a lot of people to break in and make impact.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. Do you think part of the reason that cloud certifications, in particular, are important is because the field is so relatively new? You can’t say, for instance, “I need someone with 10 years of experience in Google Cloud,” because no one has 10 years of experience. So maybe certifications are sort of a place holder for figuring out if they have the necessary skills?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when it comes down to it, you got to have some kind of… Well, it’s nice to have validation that the person has at least done the basics, right? I’ve worked with lots of customers where I’ve come in and maybe there was another consulting company in there or there’s kind of a project going on in parallel with another group inside the company where they’re using another set of consultants and just hearing the conversations at lunch and kind of offline, outside the meetings of, “Man, these guys don’t really seem like they know what they’re doing” and talking about the other teams coming in and helping. I think there’s a lot of that going on because, like you said, it’s early. In the consulting world you just kind of get thrown to the fire. It’s not like, “Hey, we’re going to send you to training” and all that kind of stuff. It’s just like, “Hey, we sold this project and you’re our go-to person. Now go out there and figure it out.” Since it’s so easy to go fast now and there’s so many new things, it’s easy to be exposed when you don’t know what you’re doing right.

Ethan Banks:
Is the right answer, Mike, then… Like if I go in that situation where I’m getting thrown to the wolves, should I have AWS and Azure search? Is that the right place to start? Or are there some other certs that are maybe not vendor specific, but would give me good background so that when I’m dumped into those situations as an engineer I’ve got a good knowledge and can make good progress?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s a good question, and I think it depends on the person’s circumstances because where you work now, where you want to work later. Do you want to work where you’re at now for a decade, or are you kind of looking as this place you’re at now as a jumpstart to the next place, and those circumstances and what the customer or the place you’re working at now uses, what they want to use or where you’re thinking of going next. And on top of that, where do you live? Are you working in the office in the city that you live in, or are you working remotely? All of those conditions dictate, to me, what technology should focus on. So if I work at a place and I’m planning on being there for the next five or 10 years, and it’s a Microsoft shop, they’ve had active directory for the last 20 years, all of the apps are tightly coupled with that, and everybody on the team has skills with .net and PowerShell and all these things, then it starts to make a logical kind of choice that Azure is looking like an easier run because there’s a lot of integration with the existing technologies. The terminology is kind of in the same ballpark.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And so I don’t ever tell somebody, “Hey, you should go to AWS,” or “You should go and do Azure,” because all of those variables are important inputs. So I think that’s what I would lead with is kind of figure out what direction am I going down. The vendor-specific stuff helps when you’re working on those projects and the customer is doing… They want to do AWS, obviously. But there is vendor neutral stuff out there. There’s vendor neutral architecture certifications, and CompTIA has always been vendor neutral. They have a cloud certification, things like that. So there’s value in the non-proprietary stuff, but obviously when you get into a project and it’s technology-specific, you’re doing AWS, then it makes sense to have AWS certifications.

Ethan Banks:
Knowing the specific knobs and levers is helpful in those cases. So let me throw one real specific one out because it’s fresh on my mind and on probably Ned’s mind since we were both just at KubeCon. That’s the Kubernetes certification. There’s the certified Kubernetes administrator and then the developer-related cert. Most of the folks here would be more on the administrator side than the dev side. Do you think, from a cloud perspective, does going after a Kubernetes certification make any sort of sense?

Mike Pfeiffer:
I think Kubernetes certification, if you’re bidding on Kubernetes big time, you’ve decided I’m going to be somebody that is seen as an expert in Kubernetes, then Kubernetes certification is for you. I think if Kubernetes is part of the potential conversation of whatever the company is going to do, everybody that’s working in cloud should have some awareness and understand the basics. But it doesn’t make sense for everybody to go off and do the Kubernetes certification because it will take you into the darkest corners of technology.

Ethan Banks:
And that’s what I’ve been wondering about. Does it make sense to go down the Kubernetes road? Because is every shop going to actually need to know the inner workings of Kubernetes? Or we’re just going to be consuming it as a service and these kind of things.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah. So to me it’s going to be a service. It’s so complicated right now, and the hard part is the departure from the traditional way of doing things. That’s hard for people to kind of grasp. Because, to me, as doing infrastructure the last 20 years, it’s not that difficult. But I started in the era of just doing everything completely… building machines from scratch, doing networking from scratch. A lot of people don’t have that perspective, and it’s harder then to make the shift and understand kind of what’s going under the hood.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And it reminds me a lot of what happened with Exchange server. I spent a lot of time in my career doing Microsoft Exchange. That product insanely difficult to architect, to support and manage. And I went off and did a certification that was $20,000 called the Microsoft Certified Master about 10 years ago because I was pushing the chips into the table on that, right? And so I bet big on my career on that. It got to the point, though, where you needed people like that to support it. And it’s just not practical for people’s IT teams, usually, to go that deep in something.

Ned Bellavance:
I feel you there with the Exchange. I got real deep into Exchange for a few years, and I never went the Certified Master route, which I believe that’s now retired, isn’t it?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah. There’s a funny story about that actually. So that actually got cut by somebody in Microsoft Learning because it wasn’t… I mean, it makes sense from a dollars and cents perspective because it was 20 grand, and you had to go to Microsoft for three weeks. So you had to take almost a month off of work, you had to get your employer to shell out 20k. And so they had a hard time. And not only that, is the pass rate was like 20%. So I was happy to just pass. But people weren’t successful. It was too much friction. They just couldn’t make it go, and so they cut it. That was kind of a challenge for a lot of us that had done it because we got to the point where people are putting out RFPs and stuff saying, “Hey, we want you to be Master certified to land this project and stuff.” So people were literally building their businesses around it, and then it kind of cut.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So that’s another thing is be careful how far down the rabbit hole you’re going to go with certifications. I mean, looking at something like CCIE where it’s a massive commitment, that makes sense. It’s established. It’s respected. And if you’re going to be an expert in networking, yeah, totally. And I think the Kubernetes one is kind of similar since it’s performance-based, right? You know if the person passed, they know their way around, but the question is, is it going to play out to where that matters? Right? Is it going to hit the scale where everybody needs to know that? And I think it’s too early to really answer that.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. To complete your analogy, in the world of exchange, then exchange online happened. And a ton of organizations said, “Why are we paying a really heavily-trained exchange engineer to maintain our environment when we could simply just rent it from Microsoft for a nominal fee?” And now we don’t have to worry about properly maintaining exchange," which I mean, it is a beast, especially as it progressed into 2013 and 2016. So if Kubernetes is a similar difficult, complicated beast, then it may turn out that the value of being extremely certified and heavily trained in the actual nuts and bolts of Kubernetes is not going to be profitable for a large swath of people.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Right. Yeah, absolutely. 100%. I mean, the vast majority of people don’t need to go that deep, in my opinion. More abstractions are going to come. Things are going to get easier. The whole infrastructure concerns thing is going to start to be minimized as the platforms continue to innovate. And so yeah, that’s a really good thing to think about. If you want to be in the depths of it, 100%, go for it and stuff like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But when I was talking to my customers in 2011… I actually was one of the few exchange people that I knew that was kind of excited about Office 365 because I love new stuff, learning, and I was trying to get everybody excited about it. And the customers I was working with are like, “Eh, there’s no way we’ll ever go to Exchange online. We need to control this thing,” and all that, right? And so here we are, 2019, and every single one of those customers is now in Exchange online. So I think history repeats itself, and I think for guys like us who have been around a long time have seen it. And I think we’ll see that happen again with this. It’s very complicated for most people. I think AKS, EKS, and GKE, and whatever new services come out will be kind of the de facto standard.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. Now, another big trend I’ve noticed in the realm of certifications is the idea of this role-based cert. I know AWS is in the process of overhauling their certifications. Azure did a full overhaul, renamed all of their certs and created these paths. So what are the different types of certifications that are out there? Is there something that’s equivalent to, I know you mentioned the CCIE or something from Microsoft-land, MCSC, in the world of Azure and AWS?

Mike Pfeiffer:
There’s not yet. And so Microsoft is actually working on adding some performance-based testing into their Azure exams and some of the other stuff. So it’s actually there right now, meaning you’re really doing stuff in the portal for a portion of the architect exam, like EZ 300 when I took that, with just one exam to get architect-certified. There was probably half the tests of doing interactive stuff. So there are expert level certifications, like Azure architecture is expert level, DevOps certification in Azure, that’s an expert level certification. However, it’s not as challenging as something like the CCIE, or probably even CKA, Certified Kubernetes Administrator, or CKAD, which is Kubernetes Application Developer certification. So definitely not that complicated in terms of the whole thing is performance-based-

Mike Pfeiffer:
In terms of all of… The whole thing is performance-based. It’s hands-on. However, something interesting, when I first joined AWS, this was back in 2013, and then we were still talking about building the certifications. And I think right after I joined, the first AWS certification came out. But in that timeframe, they were talking about doing a master-level cert. It would be completely performance-based and then it kind of fell off the roadmap and I haven’t seen anything about it since. So, we can get [crosstalk 00:16:32].

Ethan Banks:
It’s got to be tough for them because they are iterating so quickly and there’s so many new services that they keep adding and the certification programs tend to lag behind what’s actually out there. And so that the training folks and the cert folks and the exam writers have to be iterating as quickly as new products are coming out, which makes it all this moving target that’s hard to build a stable certification around.

Mike Pfeiffer:
It’s totally true. And it’s also impacting the field training stuff. I’m actually an MCT, Microsoft Certified Trainer, so I get to see the courseware and from time to time. I do deliver official Microsoft training classes. And when you get the coursework from them now, it’s totally different than it used to be because, to your point, the learning team cannot keep up with engineering. And so, inside Microsoft, this might not be super obvious but such a big company that different teams feel like different companies when you’re inside. I worked there for a little while and I felt like I didn’t even work there because I was in field services. I was always on-site with customers. So, I just felt like I worked at a consulting company. If I needed to talk to somebody in the program group, program management or something, it was just like there was as much friction talking to them if I was not an internal employee.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And so, my point is that I don’t think right now, the learning people at Microsoft are tied into the engineering team, They’re definitely not able to keep up with the pace of what the engineering folks are doing. But Microsoft’s closing the gap on that. They just hired a bunch of trainers. I know that they’re doing a lot of stuff on Microsoft Learn, and AWS does have their own learning group as well. But I don’t know how much cohesion there is between the learning teams and the engineering teams. And I imagine the product groups are going to need to have education people involved so they can start to figure this out. Because if you can’t teach people how to use your platform, it’s going to be hard to make money, right? So.

Ned Bellavance:
Yeah. And that platform is very broad, as we sort of indicated, that the rate of iteration of new services or new features, but really, just like net new services on the cloud just keeps happening. I think that’s part of the reason that these specialty certifications are coming around. So, AWS now has a data scientist cert and I think Microsoft has something similar for Azure. Is that something like an IT ops would ever pursue or should they just sort of focus in on core infrastructure or dev ops, or something that’s more specific to their role within a company?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I think it depends on where you want to go with your career. I think for most people, it makes sense to focus on something because you’ve got a certain amount of energy, you’ve got a certain amount of time, and if you’re trying to do too much, it’s just going to be exhausting and confusing. So for me personally, like I’m not paying attention to any of the data science stuff because I’m not a data scientist, so. And I’ll probably get sucked into something at some point. And then at that point, I’ll know enough about the basics of the platform to then dive into that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
One of the things I tell people all the time is, learn the core services because every other service is predicated on that. So, let me explain, like computes, networking, storage, and security. If you understand those services in any cloud, all of the managed services are built on those things. So, it’s not as hard to kind of make a lateral move. Sure, if I had to go do the data science stuff, I would have to ramp up on that piece of it, but I would have a better understanding of what’s going on because I already understand the Azure platform or already understand the AWS platform. And so, I think focusing on your main thing, understanding the fundamentals, and then just going into the next dark corner when you’re, only if you have to, makes a lot of sense. Conserve your energy. Focus on what matters.

Ethan Banks:
I’ve listened to a lot of folks that are taking on cloud projects, perhaps in a consulting role or perhaps they’re just being asked to be the technical lead as their company rolls out something to the cloud. And it seems like when you get into that space, particularly if you’re trying to add automation and tooling to the mix and Git and other things that, as an infrastructure engineer maybe you weren’t all that comfortable with, it does seem to be overwhelming and you’ve got to kind of pick your battles and take things on one at a time.

Ethan Banks:
So, let me give you for instance. For me personally, Mike, I’ve been looking, as I look at all these different services, Kubernetes and AWS and Azure, and then begin digging in and looking, it quickly becomes overwhelmed with the amount of things that you could know and dive in and go pretty deep on because it’s just that much to know. And I’m starting to feel like, hey, I’m a guy with a really strong networking background. That’s what I’ve spent most of my time doing over the last 20 years. That feels like a niche that there’d be plenty to know, if I just dove into just that, the networking aspects of cloud, interconnectivity with hybrid cloud and multi-cloud, Direct Connect, VPNs, managing security within VPCs. There’s a ton there that would be valuable. Is that maybe going too deep, do you think?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Not at all. I think that’s super practical, especially in networking, but this would work at any kind of pillar, but the amount of confusion in the cloud networking is enormous, man. Every customer I work with, even the network experts are like, “What the hell is this thing?” Because it’s totally virtualized. It’s violating almost every rule of networking they’ve learned in the physical world. So, everyone’s confused. And I think… And I’ve yet to see really, anybody in the broader community online that is the cloud networking person. So, those opportunities are there. Take the skills that you have now and then bring them into the cloud with you, because there’s a lot that you already know, in IT, that you can use now in the cloud. You just have to figure out what are they calling it in the cloud, like what is the terminology?

Mike Pfeiffer:
And then I think the other thing is, don’t focus on what you don’t know. Focus on solving problems because there’s an enormous amount of things that you’re not going to know. I’m never going to be able to wrap my arms around everything in Azure or AWS. It’s just not going to happen, and you just got to get comfortable with that. And so, but yeah, I think you could totally take what you’re good at now and bring it with you into the cloud and then carve out a niche for yourself in that. But don’t worry about tying it to your identity, you got to be like that forever. Realize that that’s your in. Once you’re in, then you can move around, pivot if you want to.

Ethan Banks:
Now, the additional skills that I’ve wanted to add beyond, let’s say cloud networking, if we want to define it that way, has been all the automation tooling, because that also plays well with things that I’ve had to work with over the years. Just like most IT engineers, we’ve all done some scripting. Maybe we’ve had some programming classes in the background. And then you look at automation and applying development techniques to infrastructure, infrastructure’s code and those ideas and it’s like, “Oh, this all makes sense. I like this and it’s going to save me time too.”

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah. And to me, that’s the most interesting part about all this, being able to automate everything and then it’s all truly virtual when you’re fully not hybrid cloud, you’re all cloud. But even, there’s awesome stuff coming up for the hybrid kind of story. But yeah, I mean, it’s insanely cool, and anybody should be starting to think about that, the process of applying software practices to all the infrastructure, whether it’s the network, the storage, the stuff you’re doing in data science. All this stuff eventually is going to flow through that model of, “Hey, we’re going to version this as code. That way, we have a whole audit history of who changed it, when it was changed, what it was changed from, what was it before,” and a bunch of checks and balances along the way. So, everybody should start getting comfortable with that pattern.

Ned Bellavance:
Yeah. So, one of the interesting things that I’ve come across is, I’ve been working on a documentation project. And you would think writing documentation, “Oh, you just write a document and publish it” or something. But no, the process by which what I’m writing gets published to the website actually involves understanding Git, understanding source control, and running a local version of Hugo to generate the site locally to check my changes. So, it’s actually, I need to understand all these other things that don’t seem like they have anything to do with writing, but they kind of do now.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yep. And here’s the best part about that. The best part about that is now, you can start having those conversations with other people. Because in the past, and it’s still like this for lots and lots of companies, but when you talk about dev ops and stuff, they always talk about the core conflict is, you’ve got common goal and then you’ve got all these teams with opposing kind of ways of doing things. The infrastructure people are trying to maintain stability. I mean, the developers are trying to change stuff all the time. And so, it’s hard to understand, if you’re an infrastructure person, what the heck are these guys doing? But once you start to understand their world, and you start doing things for your documentation projects, you start running it through version control, those little things, those little kind of side projects start to get you into kind of understanding other people’s mindset. And so, it just opens up more options to collaborate and communicate.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. So, let’s talk about the operational reality of certification, which is, let’s say I’ve actually got it down to, here’s an exam that I want to take. I’m ready to take it. What sort of preparation do you recommend? I’ve seen some people, they’ll schedule the exam first and then start studying. And having that looming deadline is their motivation to stay on track, which could be a good idea or it could be the pathway to a nervous breakdown. So, what sort of preparation do you recommend when it comes to the exam?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, so that’s… The funny thing with certs, man, is I used to struggle with anxiety of, “Ooh, what if I fail and everyone finds out?” Because I did the A Plus in the late '90s when I was working as a help desk person. And I was like, “Man, I don’t want everybody to know I failed the test.” But, so to kick things off, I would say number one, this is going to be a hard thing for most people to get to. But where I’m at now, kind of mentally is, I like to go fast and I like to do as little as possible. It sounds terrible, but I don’t want to stress myself out about it because here’s the thing. When they’re reading my eulogy in 60 years from now or whatever, they’re not going to be like, “Oh, yeah, beloved father and husband, except he failed a test that one time.”

Mike Pfeiffer:
So, I think, number one, people are putting way too much pressure on themselves. And so, I like the pattern of, all right, let’s book the test and do it sooner than comfortable. And it’s pretty much like, get a 70%, essentially, on most of these tests. So, for me, it’s like, what’s the minimum amount that I have to do to pass the test? And then get away, separate yourself from your ego and be like, “I don’t have to get 100%.” And even if I don’t pass, now I know where I’m weak. So, yeah, set a date and chip away at it. Take the test and let the chips fall where they may. And just adjust your approach if it doesn’t pan out the way that you wanted it to. That’s my opinion. That might not work for every company because the boss is paying the thing and you don’t have a free retake. And in fact, those dynamics are there and I respect that. But I think that a lot of people are kind of overthinking it.

Ethan Banks:
I’m laughing a little bit because some certain Cisco exams that I’ve taken over the years, it doesn’t matter when you get to the end and failed it and now you know what you are not good at and you can go study, and come back around and take it the next time. That test won’t look much like what it was the first time. So, good luck trying to figure it out. Looking at you, Cisco, sorry.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s a good point too. But I think for me, man, it’s just like, to your point earlier, man, there’s so many certifications and if I worried so much about acing it, I would never get there. And so, kind of setting yourself up for like, “I have to do this because I already preregistered so let’s just set the date. I promise myself I’m not going to change or to reschedule, just work towards the best I can.” And when that day comes, honor what’s on the calendar. Just go do the test and then maybe adjust your approach. Maybe you need to study extra after that or kind of change the way you’re doing stuff. But that’s my hot take on it. That’s my opinion.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. So, there is nothing quite as disheartening when you have been studying for weeks or in some cases, months, and then you fail the exam, especially if you were close to passing. If the pass was 700 and you got 695 or something. You’re like, “Ah.” So, have you failed an exam? And what did you do after that to stay motivated, keep your confidence level up, and go back in there and pass?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I’m actually a really good test taker. I realized that when I started my certification journey way back in the '90s. And so, I don’t fail very often. I’ve taken so many Microsoft ones. I’ve never failed a Microsoft one, which kind of, I probably will, now that I’ve said it, which I can deal with that. But I’ve done probably over 30 exams, and went to the Masters stuff with them, but I did fail some Citrix certifications, probably back like 2004, 2005 when I was trying to get Citrix, with Citrix MetaFrame.

Ethan Banks:
Yeah, that’s one of the few I failed as well. That’s weird because I went and took the class and I was like, “Oh, this doesn’t seem that hard.” I was using it in real life and had a pretty sizable deployment. Felt really confident and didn’t study as hard as I should have. Because when I went into that exam, I failed it and I was like, “Really? Wow. I failed that, huh.” That sticks to my mind.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I had the same exact experience. It’s really funny. And I think… That’s another thing, when people are beating themselves up about failing an exam, part of it is, what was in the head of the person writing the question, is also a factor. And so, that Citrix one that was very ambiguous, poorly written and so, that also happens. I’ve seen really badly written questions, and sometimes, I’m just like, I don’t even know the answer because, where it’s so ambiguous, it could go 10 different ways. That does happen. And at that point, you just kind of got to pick something.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But picking yourself back up after a failure, I think it’s just really about perspective, and understanding the… It’s just anything, it’s… You’re trying to ride a bike, you’re going to fall off a bunch of times and then eventually, you get the hang of it. And I think we’re just, people are overthinking it when they get too down in the dumps about it. Yeah, I understand. It’s kind of deflating, but what can you do? You can’t just sit there and dwell on it. That’s not going to do anything. So, just start over, let’s get back on the bike or whatever and try it again. That’s my outlook on it, so.

Ned Bellavance:
Right.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I don’t have any great advice there. It’s just like-

Ned Bellavance:
Just do it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Rub some dirt on it and go.

Ethan Banks:
All right, Mike, let me throw a big controversial question at you, that is brain dump. So, I know a lot of folks that have worked for partners and they have a huge amount of pressure to get the exam passed. We need this cert.

Ethan Banks:
Amount of pressure to get the exam passed. We need this cert because of partner discounts or because of a project that they’re bidding for, whatever it might be. And brain dumps are the shortcut that folks will use. They’ll buy the dump of questions, memorize the answers, go in, and at least for a few minutes, know enough about the answers to get the exam passed. And of course that’s for obvious reasons, very contentious. Do you have an opinion on brain dumps? Is there ever a use case for them? Should all people that use brain does be sentenced to death? I think I read that that was your opinion. Maybe that’s wrong. I don’t know.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s definitely not my opinion. I definitely would never do that. But here’s what I will say is I do hire contractors all the time to come work with me on projects and I don’t want to work with you if you don’t know what you’re doing. So that’s kind of step one and think about it from the other person’s perspective, if they’re hiring you or their team around you, or your manager, you’re not doing anybody any favors, including yourself, if you cheat the tests and it’s actually getting harder. You’re not going to pass any Kubernetes certifications by brain dumps because you have to know what you’re doing. It’s all hands on and it’s eventually going to get more like that. Microsoft’s exams have gotten more challenging to cheat because the format changes throughout the tests. So if you go in and take a 50, 60 question test, you might have 20% of that multiple choice, 30% is hands on, different portions of it are drag and drop and all these different things. And so it’s getting harder to cheat.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But no one wins, at all. Even if it was practical, which I haven’t seen a lot of brain dumps out there lately, but even if it did work, maybe if you do it because you have to get green light for this thing or whatever. I don’t know, I’m just the kind of person, I feel like what you put out is coming back and so if you’re cutting corners there, you’re going to get somebody cutting corners on you later. So to me it just doesn’t make any sense.

Ethan Banks:
Yeah. I think the aspect of that practical exam now that more and more of the exams are moving towards hands on and then they have been for years, slowly but surely the simulations have gotten better. And what you mentioned the CCIE, that lab exam is that you can’t fake that. Although there’s been some talk of the notebooks with the exact labs are getting leaked online and so on. I guess maybe that has happened in a few places, but.

Mike Pfeiffer:
The other thing that I wanted to say that’s important is people have an amazing ability to smell bullshit. If you’re in a conversation or an interview, most people are going to know if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Ethan Banks:
No, you’re not wrong about that either. I’ve been in a position to interview people many times. If they give me their resume and say they know MPLS and networking technology, great, let’s find out how deep you are on that topic. And I’ll just keep asking questions until they run out of gas and I can tell within a couple of questions and their responses whether they faked it or not. Why did you put that on your resume? You actually have no idea about this topic, do you? Is what I’m thinking to myself and I almost feel bad for the person. It’s like, come on, you made it through the screening, but you’re not getting through a technical interview process. Who are you kidding here?

Ethan Banks:
The brain dumping stuff, it really does lend to that and it’s too bad, but I’m hoping the practical side of things just takes over everywhere and makes it go away because if it doesn’t, it’s going to continue to be, it’s certainly in the Cisco world there’s been this arms race where the people writing exams are trying to stay ahead of the brain dumpers and so they keep writing these more obtuse and esoteric and weird questions or rewording existing things and it ends up being the person taking the test who hasn’t used a brain dump, they’ve just honestly, they’ve studied hard and they’re trying to pass the exam are done a disservice because they end up trying to take an exam that’s confusing and badly worded, as you were mentioning earlier Mike, some exams you just like that where it’s not really a good test of your knowledge, it’s just the exam writer trying to stay ahead of people who are cheating and it does no one any service.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I agree. And the thing for me too is, kind of being at this age now, I turn 44 next month. And so after being in the IT industry a couple of decades, it’s just really obvious to me now after seeing so much in myself and other people is that most people are short term focused, looking for a quick win, quick payoff, shortcut. And that might work in a short term, doing a brain dump, but it will not play out longterm. Just doing the wrong thing doesn’t play out over a long period of time, and I can tell you that from my own personal experience, so anyone listening that was even considering it or if you did it in the past, like knock it off and let’s go do it the right way, because in 10 years, like that’s not going to serve you or anyone else, might help you a little bit now, not going to play out good in the long run.

Ned Bellavance:
So if brain dumps are off the table and they probably should be, what sort of preparation do you think should be on the table beyond just reading the documentation? When you’re preparing, do you hit a lot of labs? Do you go on forums and talk to other people? What’s sort of your process there?

Mike Pfeiffer:
I’m a big hands on guy. I love to do it myself, hands on, and that way I understand it. So I’m a visual learner, I’m very much into going through and building stuff. So I like the lab stuff often. And what I’ve realized talking to people about that is a lot of times people are confused by that concepts. And I guess it kind of makes sense if you’re new to a technology. So if you’re brand new to stuff and you’re like, I don’t even know what to build, going into the reference architecture centers or reference architecture portion of the documentation from these big vendors where they show you here, here’s how you build a highly available WordPress deployment. It’s using web servers, a database networking and security and all these things, or a SharePoint farm or whatever it is. And then you reverse engineer that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I don’t think everybody appreciates the amount of knowledge you’re going to get just from building something that even if it might look obvious, so I’m huge on hands-on first and then looking at the objectives, or maybe looking at the objectives to start and then what can I build that would map to this stuff? And when you’re thinking through a question in a test, having done all that, you can reflect on what you know in your head from experience, not just, “Oh, I was trying to memorize facts.”

Ethan Banks:
There are things you think that are obvious in a lab scenario too. I would probably obviously do this. And then you actually get into it and find out it wasn’t obvious, the thing you needed to do was for whatever reason, weird or obscure or a strange command or had this dependency. It says to type this command in, but it’s not available to me. It says to go to this screen but I can’t get there. Yeah, because you didn’t do these three other steps that you need to do ahead of time before that set of configuration was even available to you. It’s stuff like that you only get once you’ve spent time working on it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So true man. And that’s where the magic happens, that’s when the lights start coming on because just memorizing data is totally worthless. You got to apply what you’ve learned otherwise you’re not going to understand it the right way. So that to me the biggest way to go about it. Know what’s on the tests and then make it happen the best you can on everything you can do, right because you don’t have access to everything all the time. The advanced networking scenarios where you’re doing high speed connection back on prim, obviously you can’t test that, but by and large you can test most things. And so that’s how I like to go about it, hands on practice, man.

Ned Bellavance:
Right? Yeah, it is nice that with all the cloud certs, at least they have usually a free tier where you can experiment even if you don’t have the cash and that you can build a lab and tear it down relatively easily.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And a lot of the training providers are now starting to do platforms where you could practice on as well, so.

Ned Bellavance:
Right. Yeah. Microsoft Learning has a bunch of sandbox stuff that you can do that’s all 100% free and I think Google has something like that as well. Some of their training is also somewhat free. Another thing that’s cropped up in the last few years is remote testing. So taking the exam from a remote location, usually your house or your office. I know that’s a huge boon for people who don’t live near a testing center. I think Ethan told me he had to drive a couple of hours to take some old Novell tests.

Ethan Banks:
Yeah, I did definitely have some driving to do back in the day. Yep.

Ned Bellavance:
So if someone has that option, do you think remote testing is always the clear choice or does it still make sense to go to a testing center?

Mike Pfeiffer:
I actually like it a lot. I’ve been doing it the past probably two years and it’s nice and convenient. I work from home most of time and so I’m already in my pajamas most of the time anyways. So for me if I have the option to take it, I do. There’s a couple of things in there and Tim Warner also talks about this, who’s also a fellow MVP. He went to the test center where he lives and they had old school CRT monitors and he couldn’t even do a lot of the hands on stuff because the screen wasn’t big enough for the UI. Having your own hardware, if you have the option to do it from home, is a nice thing. But it’s an interesting experience because you do have to do some prep work, you have to clean off your desk.

Mike Pfeiffer:
There can’t be anything on the walls and they’ll actually check that. So in the early days, it’s gotten easier now with Microsoft, but in the very early days you would schedule your test and you would get on a Zoom call, kind of like a web conference with a proctor, and then you would have to show your room with a webcam. And so you’d have to show the desk, that there’s no items on the desk. You’d have to show the walls. So you’d have to spin the camera around 360 in the room. And then you’d also have to spin the camera around 360 to show ceiling and the floor. And then you have to like pull up your sleeves and all this kind of stuff. And I have this huge sleeve on my left arm. And so the guy’s like, “What’s written on your arm? You writing the answers on your arm?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about dude?”

Mike Pfeiffer:
In the early days, it was kind of like getting treated like a criminal almost. And you’re like, “Man, I feel like I did something wrong.” But now it’s just you schedule your tests, you go in, it’s all virtual, you take photos, you upload it, and then they say, “Okay, you’re clear to go.” And then the last thing I’ll say is make sure you hit the bathroom first because you have to stay inside the view of the webcam for the course of the exam. And if you kind of get out of view of the webcam, they’ll cancel your test and say that’s disqualification. Another thing is you can’t like put your hands on your face. So one of the tests I did the last couple of months, I was probably two thirds of the way in, it’s been 90 minutes.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And so I just have my elbow on the table, I’ve got my head kind of resting on my hand type of thing. And somebody came online, and they’re like, “Hey, get your hand off your face.” One of the proctors. I’m like, “Oh, okay.” And so they are watching you, man.

Ethan Banks:
What’s the logic behind that? The hand on the face thing?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Maybe they think that you’re like talking or I don’t know, but it’s interesting. It’s convenient, however, those are the kinds of nuances that I’ve noticed about it. But I like it. I’m going to do it as often as I have the option to do it.

Ned Bellavance:
That has been my experience as well. I’ve done a few and I just do it at my dining room table because that’s easy to clear everything off. I don’t have any of my office clutter.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I do the same time thing.

Ned Bellavance:
Nearby. And it’s a little funky at first but then you know, I don’t have to drive anywhere so I’m happy.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I know man. That’s why I like it, saves me a lot of time.

Ned Bellavance:
So as we start to wrap things up, we like to do a few key takeaways or called actions for people who are listening and thinking back on cloud certifications and kind of our conversation. Are there a few key points that you’d like to highlight from the conversation?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I think so. I think there’s a lot of people out there that are still sitting on the sidelines, which is natural because it’s still kind of early for cloud. And I would say, get in the game, like do one of the fundamental certifications like Azure Fundamentals or AWS has the Cloud Practitioner. It’s like the entry-level certifications. I think Google has one as well. And that’s really for anybody in the IT organization, whether you’re a developer operations engineer, project manager, whatever. And so it just gives you an understanding of what’s the main services, what’s the whole point, why are we doing this, all that kind of stuff. It’ll get you into the conversation and give you some awareness. I think that no matter where, if you plan on staying in IT, there’s no reason not to do that. It’s just going to help you going forward. So that’d be like number one takeaway, is just get in the game, and start small, you don’t have to go and knock out the expert level architect thing right out of the gates if you don’t want to.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So that’d be my first one. And the second one would be don’t stress out about what your score will be or if you’re going to pass unless, if you work with somebody that’s really militant about it, then maybe consider switching that up. But that would be kind of the second one. Don’t overthink it. People fail all the time and then third is hands on practice to me is, that’s the hack. Everybody’s looking for a trick or hack or whatever. To me it’s get your hands dirty, let’s go, build something. Because that’s ultimately what this is all about. That would be kind of shooting from the hip, I would say.

Ned Bellavance:
Awesome. Those are really good takeaways. If people want to know more about you, where do you blog? Are you on Twitter, et cetera.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, you can find me on Twitter. My last name’s insanely hard to spell. Thinking back now, I’m like, “Man, I wish I would have had the same like handle on every platform and it was just like something easy”, but I wasn’t thinking things through very good back then. So if you just go to my website, you go to askmike.io, you’ll get redirected to my main website where my blog is, all my social media handles are on there. And then you can also check out my podcasts by just going to cloudskills.fm and my company, cloudskills.io. We’re actually opening up a new immersive DevOps training program starting up in January, 2020. We’ve done a couple of these in the past, they have been super impactful. So if you’re looking for different types of certification training, check out our community, cloudskills.io.

Ned Bellavance:
Awesome. Well, Mike Pfeiffer, thank you so much for being a guest on Day Two Cloud.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Thanks Ned, and thanks Ethan, really had a good time being here. Appreciate you guys.

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