Friday, January 07, 2005

Microsoft Certification: 070-316

I became a Microsoft Certified Professional earlier today, after passing the exam "70-316 Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual C# .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET". It wasn't easy, but then I didn't expect it to be: it's taken me one day a week for the past six months to prepare for it. I'm very pleased that I passed!

Why did I do it? I've always enjoyed learning new things, and I've wanted to learn .NET for a long while now. Having the exam to work towards helped keep me interested and gave me something to aim for.

How did I do it? The main source I used in preparation was Amit Kalani's excellent book "MCAD Training Guide 70-316: Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with C# and Visual Studio.NET". This covers most of what you need to know for the exam, and serves as an excellent introduction to the .NET framework as it's very clear and well written. As well as the source material, the book contains lots of tutorials and hands-on sessions which help explain and illustrate the concepts. It also details the certification process and offers hints and tips for the exam itself.

To help you pass the exam, the book also contains around 15 practice questions at the end of each chapter, and a full practice test at the end of the book. I found these to be very helpful when revising (although I must say that the actual questions are somewhat harder than those in the book!). The book also comes with a CD which contains the entire contents of the book in both PDF and Microsoft Word formats which is useful when trying to find topics during revision. The CD also comes with a practice test from PrepLogic, but I wouldn't reccomend it - as well as being out of date, it's also very difficult to use, particularly with long questions as it's hard to get enough of the question on the screen to see it.

The other resource I made a lot of use of is the online documentation at MSDN. The exam requires you to know most obscure things about the class library, and this is the best place to get this type of information. I can particularly reccomend the series of articles under the "Programming with the .NET framework" entry.

If you look around, there are hundreds of vendors selling exam simulation software for Microsoft Certification exams. Some, such as "MeasureUp" are recommended by Microsoft itself; most will let you download an evaluation version of their software for free. I used the simulator provided by Trancender; I found theirs to be the best, but your milage may vary. I found the detailed explainations about why a particular answer was correct (or not) be be particularly helpful. They also bundled a copy of their Flash Review software with the simulator - this is a set of around 400 questions and answers that operate as computerised flash-cards, and it was also useful in preparation.

Finally, the exam itself isn't free. Pearson Vue charges £103.40 (£88 + VAT) for each exam, but you can do better by looking around. I got an international Pearson VUE voucher from GetCertify4Less for $165, and this came with a free download of the exam simulation software from Trancender. It's still a lot of money, but the exchange rate was in my favour and anything is better than paying full price. (Interestingly, you can get exam vouchers far cheaper in the States than in the UK).

So... Would I recommend doing a certification exam? It depends what you want from it. I suspect it won't make much difference to my career, but it's probably too soon to tell and that's not why I did it. I wanted to mark the end of a long and interesting journey through .NET land, and sitting the exam seemed like the natural thing to do. I'm glad I did it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Disc Stakka CD and DVD Management System

While flicking through the latest MSDN Magazine, an advert for Imations's Disc Stakka caught my eye. This is a USB device that lets you archive up to 100 CDs/DVDs in a single box. The disks are mounted when requested, and it's fully integrated into Windows Explorer so you never have to touch the disks once they're loaded. If you need to store more than 100 disks, you can daisy-chain up to five boxes to store up to 500 disks in one big stack.

Imation are currently marketing it specifically to MSDN subscribers, and they seems to have a special utility to import the MSDN indexes (I guess to save you from typing in reams of reference information). However, I think that the ability to have a large number of CDs or DVDs online without having to physically get them out of their packets could be very useful.