A learning plan is essential – 7 tips

Many of the students I teach are changing careers or trying to upgrade skills in particular areas. The general approach to all this is “attend these courses, understand these exam objectives, then pass this test.” But what do you really need to accomplish your goals?
You need a learning plan, that’s what.
1. What, exactly, is your goal? Which Microsoft certification are you going for? Which CompTIA certifications do you want to earn? Do you want to pursue Linux certifications? Exactly which job skills do you need to brush up on so you can ask for that raise?
Document these. Use the vendor site to understand which exams you must pass in order to achieve the desired certification. In Covey’s words: “Begin with the end in mind.”

2. What training and experience do you need to take in order to master the exam objectives? When are those courses offered? When will funding be available for them? Are there books and online labs available for self-study?

3. Create a schedule based on when the courses are offered, when your employer can make time available, and when your personal life allows your attention to be focused. Make certain your schedule is realistic. Remember there are lots of training modalities (ways of taking classes): online courses, pre-recorded classes, self-paced, etc.

4. Be aware that it’s not enough to attend a class or read a book, then take a test. You need to dedicate time to memorizing terms, understanding concepts, actually making the specific hands-on configurations and researching anything you don’t understand. With so many of today’s certification exams being performance based, it is important to ensure you have experience.

5. Organize your resources – courseware, study guide books, vendor websites, blogs, Quizlet and ways of getting hands-on experience. I recommend a 3-5 subject spiral notebook dedicated to your particular goal. I currently have several of these going – one for Linux topics, one for Windows Server 2016, one for AWS and one for adult learning / instructional design. A notebook gives you a place to centralize your materials, notes, resources, etc. I’m old-fashioned so I use pen-and-paper methods, but other folks will prefer some sort of digital method. As long as it works for you it’s a good system!

5. Break your learning plan down into manageable chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Set up a daily or weekly routine. Adults have productive times of the day – use those. For me, it’s early mornings (in my 20s it was late nights). So get up early every Saturday morning, for example, and dedicate 2-3 hours to your studies. Make it a routine and make sure you’re family knows this is your time.

6. Schedule your exams. Nothing motivates like spending money! Sign up for the exam on a particular date. Now you’re accountable and you better be ready by that date. This is a great motivator.

7. No one expects you to know this process. Create a plan based on the above steps, then ask a friend, colleague or someone in the IT field to review your plan and offer suggestions. Heck, you can message me through this site and I’ll do what I can to help you!
It is important to learn how to learn, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. A learning plan can be a significant contributor to your overall success. Give it a try!
I welcome comments below.

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Documenting a project

My current project is a Pi with an LCD board that will show IP info, clocks with each US time zone (I teach students from several time zones), temperature, etc, scrolling across the the screen. I have a few goals with this exercises – learning some more about electronics and working with Python, mainly. Getting some good info on git, pip and Python modules and maintenance.

Am working on the electronics part, but getting the code ready at the same time. This morning’s project is some / all of the code. Yeah, code first then electronics… I know that’s backwards!

Wanted to use this space to document the steps for my self and anyone else. I’m combining info from a couple older sources at Adafruit’s site. Hopefully these work.

My steps to prepare the Pi for the Python code were:

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.22.28 AM

In theory this updates the Python for everything it needs.

Sources:

https://learn.adafruit.com/drive-a-16×2-lcd-directly-with-a-raspberry-pi/python-code

https://learn.adafruit.com/character-lcd-with-raspberry-pi-or-beaglebone-black/overview

More later…

have > want

have > want

So I’ve been using various inspirational books for the past year or so during some personal struggles to help keep things in perspective for me. I’m in the habit of always wanting more – more money, more stuff, more time – a trait my wife comments on regularly (and I don’t blame her!).
This morning’s reading was from “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…” by Richard Carlson and it dealt with appreciating what you have and focusing less on what you want. When a particular quote or thought or general good idea makes an impression on me, I jot it down at the top of my daily “to do” list so that I can keep it fresh in my mind throughout the course of the day and watch for opportunities to practice it. So at the top of today’s page I wrote    have > want
Today’s discussion was #66 from Carlson’s book: “Think of What You Have Instead of What You Want.” It involves establishing a habit of being satisfied and enjoying your current situation rather than negatively focusing on the idea that “I’ll be happy with just that one more ___!”
My hobby is music – well one of my hobbies, anyway. There’s a common t-shirt / coffee cup mantra that says: “All I need is this guitar… and that other guitar, and those guitars over there, and the guitars in the other room, and…” I struggle with this idea of “more more more” all the time. I’ve got some great instruments (honestly better instruments than I’m qualified to play!) but it seems to be a never-ending stuggle to stay satisfied.

have < want

Is this a cultural thing? Learned? Genetic? Personality trait?
Our society seems to push us toward the idea that we should always want more. Your parents spend your childhood telling you to work harder, set goals, achieve great heights. No one tells their kids to strive for mediocrity. We encourage them to reach for more than they have, to be more than they are. Go to college – make more money. Find a great job – have more than your parents had.
Perhaps the idea of wanting more than you have is inspired by the workplace – the boss often wants more out of you (often for less). More effort, same recognition. More work, same pay. Expectations seem to rise consistently, but compensation does not follow. Perhaps this reinforces the idea of we want more than we have – we see it all time in the workplace and we all know how easy it is to take our work home with us. And when was the last time you told your boss to “count their blessings” for having you during your annual review?

have = want

Obviously the answer isn’t as cut and dry as “have > want” or “want < have.” There is a balance to be found between the two. Setting goals to grow as a person, as a professional, as a participant in the world is important. And in addition, of course, we must also “stop and smell the roses” and “take time to enjoy what we have” along the way or perhaps the journey isn’t as enjoyable as it could be.
Goal setting and achievement is a big deal to me, personally. I feel that it helps me focus my energy toward things that are important to me. And I make a point of regularly reviewing my progress – a ritual that does allow me to literally “count my blessings” because achievements, goals, important things, events, etc are all actually documented. This gives me a sense of satisfaction and of fulfillment.
What practices do you all use to “stay satisfied”? There’s the plithy statements of “appreciate what you have” or “count your blessings” but for those of us who are more tangible, less philosophical and more pragmatic – what are the strategies? I try making a list of the great things in my life (and there are many). That leads me to a list of the additional things that I percieve would make my life greater. I try to discuss my fun hobbies with my wife and compare notes – sometimes that works and sometimes it leads to a conversation of “but I wish we had or could do ___.” She’s definitely better at appreciating the world around her than I. So lists – mental or physical, don’t seem to do it for me.
I suppose this entry is merely rambling and contemplation of some of life’s Big Questions but sometimes that in itself is a valuable exercise. So I’ll attempt to appreciate that I had the leisure to write this, that perhaps some of you will have the energy to read it and that there is an Internet to expose it.

NCTA blog series #2 – Cloud Technologies course

This is part 2 of an ongoing series covering my experience preparing for the NCTA CloudMASTER certification. In my Intro post I discuss the series I’m writing, my background and what you can expect from this series. This post covers the first course in the CloudMASTER series. Hopefully by fall 2016 I’ll be delivering this content. I thought it would be useful to document the process and hopefully provide some perspective on this interesting training track.

Cloud Technologies

This is the first of three courses in the series. It is meant to provide a foundation of knowledge and a solid vocabulary toward cloud computing. In addition, it allows you to begin exploring specific options and vendors that might suit the needs of your organization. These topics include cloud benefits, technologies, business cases, models and services.

The first half

The first part of the course is oriented on generic concepts and terms. It does a solid job of laying the foundation for the rest of the courses. By examining the NIST definition of cloud computing at the beginning of the course, we begin to understand what this “cloud” thing is:

  • On Demand Self Service
  • Broad Network Access
  • Resource Pooling
  • Rapid Elasticity
  • Measured Service

The course follows with a discussion of cloud trends and payment programs. It then defines the three primary models of cloud computing:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – often for end users
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – typically for developers
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – primarily managed by admins

Finally, the first portion wraps up with an examination of public versus private cloud implementations, as well as a discussion of hybrid solutions.

I will likely be creating Quizlets to supplement this section as the vocabulary is essential and a mastery of the terms will make the remainder of this class easier. That will be even more true for the next two courses in the series. In addition, there will be several areas where students will likely have questions that require a more indepth answer than the courseware provides. This is especially true in the area of security.

The second half

Once some groundwork has been laid, the course shifts to the topics of applying what we’ve learned to this point. This includes examining and selecting solutions. The examination includes a discussion of options for individuals, small businesses and finally medium / enterprise offerings. Several specific software vendors and services are discussed and significant time is devoted to researching their differences. This section of the course is broken down into SaaS offerings, then PaaS solutions and finally IaaS vendors.

Warning!

You’ll be creating accounts with several of these vendors. Be warned! In the labs you’ll often be required to enter a credit card number in order to create an account and access solutions. I found this to be very disturbing, but seeing as these vendors have chosen not to provide free trial opportunities, there’s not much that can be done about it. It will be important for the instructors to remind students to remove these accounts, never to use the generic passwords published in the training manual and to carefully monitor their credit card accounts associated with these trial accounts.

The credit card issue aside, the ability to explore vendor options is very useful and gives the opportunity to see what’s really available. It will make analysis of the offerings useful to those who are exploring options on behalf of their companies. There are a great many choices in the cloud world, with lots of overlapping services. This section of the course helps newer folks navigate the confusing paths.

The labs were an effective mix of instructor-led discussions, online research and exploration, as well as hands on account and service management. I think students will benefit greatly from the discussions and the case study-oriented approach.

Conclusion

I particularly like how this second half of the course is practical application of concepts and the exploration of the various options that exist. These hands-on opportunities are welcome. The first part is probably the most important, however, as it lays all the groundwork for the Cloud Operations and Cloud Architecture courses. It appears this will be a three-day course. I’m very excited to deliver it!

NCTA blog series #1 – INTRO

Background

Welcome! This is the first in a multi-part series documenting my experience with the National Cloud Technologists Association (NCTA) “CloudMASTER” certification track. My employer has asked me to attend a series of Train The Trainer (TTT) sessions, achieve the certification and then prepare to teach the courses. I’m pretty excited about it!

A little background – my career is focused right now mainly on basic Windows Server administration and basic Linux configurations and server administration. I know I’m lacking in the cloud computing arena and this opportunity suddenly became available, so I jumped on it. It’s vendor-neutral, which I appreciate, and gives a broad range of coverage. I’ve been studying some of the DevOps areas (Docker, etc) as well as beginning to work with various programming languages (mostly Python) in an attempt to steer my career a bit differently. This seemed like a natural area to delve into.

NCTA Summary

The NCTA has the goal of providing vendor-agnostic cloud training emphasizing hands-on experiential learning. The training is spread over three courses (Cloud Technologies, Cloud Operations and Cloud Architecture) and culminates in the NCTA CloudMASTER certification.

The world of cloud computing is expanding rapidly right now, of course. Many organizations are attempting to provide training and knowledge growth on this subject. CompTIA has the vendor-neutral Cloud+ and Cloud Essentials, while Microsoft, Amazon and others provide vendor-specific training. NCTA appears to be trying to provide exposure to several of the platforms. They are also differentiating themselves by providing hands on experiences with lots of cloud provider platforms. I think this is valuable for those first investigating cloud computing on behalf of their companies. Career changers will have a much more difficult time with this content, as it assumes some comfort with administrative responsibilities and security concepts.

Expectations going into the TTT sessions

The sessions were organized into three weeks of evening events via GoToMeeting where we could discuss content, labs and concepts with other trainers and courseware developers. The courseware is extremely rough at this point, with a great many editing opportunities, but the base framework looks pretty encouraging.

After reading the content I expected the TTT sessions to be engaging and to provide the opportunity for feedback and for greater exploration. That’s exactly what I experienced! More on that later.

As for the content itself, I’m hoping to see significant coverage of security, which is an essential topic. I also hope to see some good comparisons between the vendors as to why someone would choose one vendor over another. As I compose this blog entry, I’ve already read about 50% of the content and am seeing some of those expectations met. I’ll go into more detail in future posts.

Toolset

The TTT providers turned me on to an interesting tool that I hadn’t worked with before. The tool is called Piazza and provides a messaging board where assignments can be posted, commented on and evaluated. It can also be used to help students engage by posting questions that all users can see and respond to, encouraging participation and more perspectives than just that of the instructor. The tool seems to be written for the academic world and not as accessible as things like Quizlet, etc. I’m still working on how I can integrate a tool like this into my own training methods, but it has promise and I’m glad to have been exposed to it.

Conclusion

The rest of this series will break down each of the three courses in separate posts, telling a bit about the technologies used, the outside resources I found and my impression of the content. I will conclude the series with a summary, then perhaps a post a few months after I’ve taught the series and perhaps a followup after 3-6 months. I hope this is a beneficial series for everyone.

NOTE

Comments are welcome, of course. In addition, please remember the opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of any vendors, employers or anybody else.

 

Barter for experience

How do you gain experience?
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem – your potential employer wants you to have experience, but if you’re new to the field you don’t have any (and therefore may not get the job and not gain experience). Tough position to be in…
One thing I’ve always suggested to students is to be creative in finding volunteer opportunities. For example, I’m putting together a proposal right now for my daughter’s archery club. Their web site is, shall we say, less than optimal. The cost of membership for the archery club is pretty high. And I need experience.
Here’s my plan:

  1. Analyze their existing site – what info do they provide? What info do they gather? As the parent of a participant, what info is missing? Document all this.
  2. Brainstorm a new site – how could the existing content be organized differently? What additional information could be added and what extraneous information could be removed? How could navigation be easier and more appealing to the eye?
  3. Storyboard the new site – I’m old-fashioned, so this happens on paper first. I have been sketching out a few page layouts, button positions, etc. I’m looking at best practices and web page layout analytics to see what is eye-catching.
  4. Produce a demo site – using some basic art and text, I’ll create a couple of pages to use as a proof of concept and to test usability. I’m going to be starting off with the new Visual Studio Community.
  5. Present the demo site – this is where I’ll put the site up and make it available to the club owner in order to present the idea of a services trade and to allow her to see what I am suggesting. I will also have a list of resources I need from them (new text, updated photos, updated schedules, etc) as well as suggestions about what can be added.

After that, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we can find common ground and a way to help each other out.
What similar opportunities have you used or seen in order to gain additional experience as well as perhaps save a few bucks by bartering services?

Like everyone else today, I’m going to write some sort of encouraging post about setting goals for the new year. I hope, however, that maybe the way I phrase this post and the methods I suggest will make enough sense to encourage some of you to give it a shot. If you do (or don’t!), feel free to message me or post a response.
Many years ago I was sent to a time management course that changed my life. I’d love to give credit but I honestly don’t recall the organization. I was able to take away a whole new approach to prioritizing and focusing my life.
So here’s what I suggest:
Annual Goals
Take a piece of paper and create the following categories (feel free to customize so that these fit your life): Professional, Personal Growth (and/or Spiritual if you’re more of a believer than I), Financial, Social/Family, Physical, Hobbies, Home Improvement, Cars, Next Year. Leave plenty of room under each category to pencil in your ideas.

Then spend the next several days documenting what you want to accomplish this year within each of those categories. If your spouse or even your kids are willing to do the same, be sure that each person does this individually, then head out to your favorite coffee shop and compare notes, creating both a family plan and a personal plan.
This should not be a rushed process, but rather something that evolves over a few days or even weeks. And it should be changeable as your situation changes this year. I create mine in Google Documents, but once it’s finished and printed I still find myself adding things to it throughout the year.

annualgoals
Monthly Goals:
At the end/beginning of each month, I spend a bit of time reviewing how the month went. Did I take care of that professional responsibility? Did I accomplish the fitness goal I’d set for that month? Did I make time for my hobbies and my personal growth opportunities to stay mentally healthy? If not, what could I do next month to make those things happen?
Some months go better than others. Life happens. But at least I’ve got a bit of a template for the things that are important. And I’ll include events that have specific dates, etc so that I’m careful not to miss them.
Periodically through the month, usually on Mondays, I’ll check off the things that have been handled, and I’ll use the monthly goal as a way of setting up a weekly To Do list. The To Do list is a more traditional task list that helps me focus and prioritize for the week.
At the end of the year:
Each New Year I review the previous year’s annual goal sheet and each monthly goal sheet. And by this time I’ve also roughed out a new annual goal sheet and a January goal sheet as well. I treat this review of the previous year as a celebration: “Look at all the great things that happened this year!” This is particularly valuable to me as I tend to focus on the negatives and this review reminds me of the great things that happened.

Considerations:
Well I could quote all the inspirational stuff (“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten” or perhaps “The unexamined life is not worth living”) but likely none of that stuff has ever convinced anyone to make a change.

The only way to know is to try. My wife was very resistant to my approach to goal setting for years. In 2014, likely for the purpose of shutting me up about it, she agreed to give it a shot. At the end of 2014 she reviewed her annual and monthly goals with me (as I shared mine with her) and we had a lot of laughs and brought forward a bunch of great memories from the year. Tonight she and I are headed to Panera to do the same for 2015 and to look forward into 2016. And we’re encouraging the kids to document a few things they’d like to do this upcoming year.
Also, it is important to understand that a “goals list” is not at all the same thing as a “to do list.” A to do list implies pressure and obligation. A goals list is merely a target to shoot for. Of course there are required things, but there should also be a great many “feel good” things on there – holiday shopping for others, great books to read, sports events to attend, sports events to participate in, financial obligations to meet, birthdays to not forget, quality time to spend with others, etc. Goals ensure that you are dedicating energy to both responsibilities and fun/growth opportunities.

Try it. What do you have to lose?

Find attached a couple of templates to help get you started as well as a couple photos.

Annual_Goals_Template

monthly_goals_template