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General/Life

A Belated Check-in

You know when you have something nagging at you, where it’s “I should be doing this, I want to do this, but I just don’t have any drive”? That’s been me looking at this editor most days for the last 2 months. Ennui, I think they call it. But not really through boredom in my case. Just the overwhelming sense of *waves arms at everything* getting on top of me a bit lately. So now that I’m managing to get some words out, what have I been up to?

Training

At the start of September I virtually attended a four-day, Microsoft-delivered training course, covering AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator. The course itself was good, with great instructors. It was also a nice change of pace to the relentless project work I’d been doing. The one knock against it was there was too much content that could be covered in the four days that in reality we only covered a fraction of what could be in the exam.

As the instructors acknowledged – the course by itself is not enough to pass the exam; it needs more practice, reading, and knowledge. Which is to be expected, but I don’t think I appreciated just how much more would be needed.

Right now, I’m scheduled to take the exam at the end of November, but I’m not feeling like I have enough time with everything that’s going on in the race towards the end of the year. I’ll give it another week or two of trying to get into my groove with regards to study and revision, and if I’m still not comfortable then I’ll reschedule to early next year.

I should have attended an AZ-204 course at the start of October, and sat that exam… today, I think… but I rescheduled that one last month when I realised what was involved in the AZ-104 exam. I also felt that the project was too busy at the time to justify leaving my colleagues a person down for another week of training so soon after the last one. AZ-204 is still in my plans, it’s just been moved down the road a bit.

Work

I can’t go into my project work, at all, but the other things going on at work have been both weird and rewarding.

The first was I was asked to record a short (thirty seconds) video on the positive experiences I’ve had over the last year – a kind of “yes, this last year and a bit has been rubbish, but there were good points” feel good piece – my video was largely on training and personal development. It was combined with several others and played as part of a video package at the annual meeting which kicks off our new financial year. So a video of me in my tiny home office, talking quickly about how I’d achieved several certifications in the last year, played to several thousand colleagues in the UK. Even though I knew the video was coming during the livestream, it was incredibly bizarre to see myself onscreen.

In a similar vein I was asked to give a seven minute talk on training and development to a couple of hundred colleagues in an account-wide all-hands call. I seem to have acquired a reputation for thinking about this topic a lot while also putting things into action, and it was insights on this “doing part” I was asked to get across to my colleagues. I plan to write a blog post on this in the future as it’s something I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while and deserves a longer-form expression.

Delivering the talk itself didn’t make me as anxious as I’d expected. I didn’t stutter and uhm-and-ah as much as I might once of. So I’m getting better at this, at least. I did find it all went very fast though; I think we were running behind so the person controlling the slides sped things along at a clip, faster than I’d practiced. By the end of it I was quite out of breath. I think in part it’s because I’m highly conscious of breathing too hard while wearing a headset, so I breath quite shallowly when not on mute. But that’s something I can work on – my breathing while delivering a talk.

Hobby

Not much to report here, really. I started on an Armies on Parade entry, which is usually one of the hobby projects I’m most able to focus on and work through each year. But this year isn’t going to happen. I managed to get the barest base of a board created; just a 22″x30″ board in a retro flocked style. I started on pieces of scenery to decorate the board with, and managed to get the army to parade on it built and primed… and then I just seemed to stop. I’m not entirely sure why, but every time I thought about painting or making progress I just… didn’t do it. So I’ve resigned to not completing Armies on Parade this year. Hopefully I’ll be back to it in time for next year.

I’ve also made a few small inroads into items in my backlog, and not *just* by adding to it (although I have done more of that than I’d like). Assembling the odd kit here, priming something there, maybe making small progress on basecoats. But never much of anything, and certainly not getting anywhere near finished. I said in the talk I gave recently that “even small steps add up” and I feel I need to remember that myself. The only real issue is I have so much stuff “in flight” right now it’s hard to juggle it all or store it conveniently and safely when it’s not being worked on. I think I’m getting to a point where some things are going to have to be packed away – not permenantly, but properly out of the way – to give me some breathing room. Maybe that will give me the headspace I need to make some proper progress. Or maybe some dedicated time off to work on things might be an idea? I’m not sure.

Wrap-up

So that’s the major events I want to get into from the last couple of months. Hopefully it won’t be another couple of months before I manage to get the words out again – I really want to write that personal development article, for one thing – but with the way things seem to be right now I can’t make any promises

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General/Life Work

Microsoft Certified: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals

Note to self: don’t book exams for very first thing on a Monday, as you might not get to finish your coffee beforehand! Bad scheduling aside, this morning I passed the Microsoft MS-900 exam. This takes me to five certifications this year, adding Microsoft Certified: Microsoft 365 Fundamentals to the list.

I hadn’t really planned to do this exam, and it was very much a spur-of-the-moment thing, largely driven by “well, I’ve done the others, so I might as well…” As I mentioned the other day, I found this one a bit odd to study for. Although I passed, I don’t feel I was as prepared for this exam as I was my others, even though I tried to approach it in the same manner I’ve approached my other certifications this summer. I really struggled to find resources which were both comprehensive and up-to-date. A lot of the non-MS resources were from 2019 and 2020, but the exam was updated in 2021. That said, enough of the core information was available, and my view is probably being tinted by my initial… disappointment(?)… at my own performance. Yes, I know that sounds odd to say after passing, but I guess I just feel I could do and should have done better.

I guess if I had any advice to give about the exam it would be: study the chart of MS365 editions and what features are available in each one. There were a lot of very specific questions on this – more than I was expecting – and I wish I’d learned it in greater detail.

As far as resources go, I used my regular mix of Microsoft Learn’s free study material, and the Percipio video courses I have access to through my work. As there is no Whizlabs module for MS-900, I used MeasureUp for the first time, so I could have access to a reliable online practice test. It was good, following the format of the real exam pretty closely. I’ll be using their tests again when I’m going for the AZ-104, AZ-204, and AZ-400 exams.

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General/Life

Varying Degrees of Depth

I’m studying for the MS-900 exam (yes, yes, I know I said I was going to take a break from exams…), and one thing I’m really struggling to reconcile in my head is that all of the security-related questions are much more technically in-depth than any of the questions I remember getting in the security-focussed SC-900 exam or its preparation material. In fact, a lot of the questions seem to be more in-depth than the equivilent tests for most of the other Fundamentals-level exams I’ve studied for.

Like, SC-900 didn’t touch on Password Hash Sychronisation, or Pass-Through Authentication at all (at least, not by name). Like all 900-series exams it covered the area broadly, but at a relatively shallow technical knowledge level.

It’s not a big thing, but it’s enough of a WTF moment whenever it comes up that I often doubt myself when answering the practice questions, because I should know this. So far I’m finding MS-900 to be one of the harder Fundamentals exams to prepare for. Not quite as bad as PL-900, but it’s getting up there. I’ve generally found the practice exams to be harder than the real thing (to help you learn the material), so it could be an element of that at play.

I guess we’ll find out on Monday morning!

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General/Life

Results May Vary

We got our fully fibre-optic internet connection fitted and activated today. The engineer arrived promptly, just after 8am, and despite the previous engineers making his job more difficult by fitting the connection point in an awkward spot he managed to finish everything within an hour and a half.

Before they left, the engineer ran a speed test on the line, and it reported a maximum speed of roughly 940Mbps in both directions. For comparison, our previous “half fibre” maxed out at around 63Mbps down/30ish up. So 900+Mbps is the confirmed upper bounds we can expect (in theory), and in line with what the ISP is promising.

In reality, things have varied wildly from device to device. I should note here that the engineer’s test was done over ethernet, and all our devices are WiFi-only. Most are up to WiFi 5 (AC) standards, but we do have a few still on the older WiFi N.

My iPhone 12 posts results anywhere between 350-575Mbps down. My older 9″ iPad Pro gets around 230-305Mbps down. My creaking, old, desktop PC was getting 44Mbps until I remembered I had a WiFi AC USB adapter I could use to upgrade the internal N adapter – at which point it started getting around 141-215Mbps. Curiously, both the iPad and desktop get upload results up to around 120Mbps higher than their respective download speeds. My work laptop (which is more or less on top of my desktop) gets around 450-475Mbps in both directions.

This isn’t intended to be a “first world problems” moaning post about not getting the absolute maximum speed. I know WiFi is much slower than a wired connection, and I know that different factorsaffect the speed an individual device. Rather this is just me noting how surprised I was to see such a large discrepancy between devices of broadly similar capability – many of which are sat right next to each other as they’re being tested.

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General/Life Work

Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals

Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals award badge

This evening I completed (and passed) the Microsoft SC-900 exam, earning my fourth certification this year – Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals.

This certification was interesting in a few different ways – first, it was kind of done “spur of the moment”; I’d passed my other exams and wanted to keep the momentum going, so I booked it without much forethought. Secondly, I’ve done loads of Secure Software Development Lifecycle training and documentation over the last few years, so I feel I might have had a leg-up on at least some of the fundamentals of this topic (pardon the pun). Finally, I genuinely found some of the tools referenced in the training to be quite interesting in and of themselves – something I hadn’t appreciated before diving in.

As per usual, I used my regular mix of Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, supplemented by access to Percipio resources through my work, and this great “cram” video by John Saville.

I’m planning to have a bit of a break before I’m back on the exam trail; I next have some virtual classroom training in September and October, followed by Associate-level exams in October and November, which will be my last for the year.

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General/Life

Summer Heat

Sortly after this screenshot was taken, my office hit 31.5°C, which is about the time I decided it was time to stop for the day.

If this is going to be the norm for the next few weeks, I’m going to have to find some way of cooling down the room that’s better than my current option of “open the window”. Scots aren’t built for this sort of heat!

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General/Life

Aberdeen Art Gallery, June 2021

It’s been a very long time since I visited the art gallery. Almost a decade, in fact. When the refurbishment was completed in late 2019 I heard a lot of good things, but before I could get around to paying a visit, COVID hit and we were all locked indoors.

With the easing of restrictions, we were looking for a quiet something to do on a day off – and as Caley had never been, the Art Gallery seemed an ideal choice.

The visit started off well; I walked into what used to be the entrance, only to find it’s currently the exit due to the one-way system they have in place as a safety measure. But once we got that snafu, things went well.

The gallery is so much more light and airy than I remember, with more natural light now. It feels a lot bigger, with more to see (even though half of it was closed off to prepare for a new exhibit). There’s a lot of subtle marrying of old and new throughout which I liked. I also really liked the new rooftop terraces, as there’s some nice views can be seen (and I’m sure more to come once Union Terrace is completed).

Overall, I was impressed, and I’m sure we’ll be scheduling more regular visits in the future.

To the side you’ll see a selection of the photos I took throughout our visit. I was consciously trying to avoid experiencing the visit just through the viewfinder, so there’s not a huge number of photos, but even though, this is only a small selection of what I could have shared.

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General/Life Work

Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals

This afternoon I passed the Microsoft PL-900 exam, earning my second certification this year – Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals.

Let me be upfront by saying: I really did not enjoy this certification. For whatever reason, I just could not connect with the subject matter, and the last few weeks have felt like an uphill struggle the whole way through. Even when I tried getting hands-on with the various pieces of the Power Platform, a lot of it was just plain unenjoyable. Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents seem interesting enough, but Power BI and Power Apps are areas I’d be happy to not have to be around again.

Maybe it was because I didn’t know much about Power Platform before starting (other than a nugget of Power BI exposure in my Azure Data Fundamentals certification), but I really did not expect so much of the course and exam to be taken up by Microsoft Dynamics. At times it felt like a big disadvantage to not have prior knowledge and experience of Dymanics and Dataverse.

Still, sometimes you just have to power through (pardon the pun). To pass the exam I used Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, and both the Whizlabs video course and practice tests. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have passed if I hadn’t made such heavy use of those practice tests. In the end, they were the only thing it felt was making the topic “stick”.

With PL-900 out of the way, I just have one more exam to do from my Summer of Certifications list. AI-900 is up next, and it’s probably the certifiation I’m most looking forward to.

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General/Life Work

Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Fundamentals

This evening I completed (and passed) the Microsoft DP-900 exam, which makes – Microsoft Certified: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals the first certification I can cross off my Summer of Certifications list.

The exam itself was fairly straightforward. It felt like the natural follow-on to the general Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) certification I passed last year, and follows the same multiple-choice/select-the-right-phrase format as AZ-900. For the most part it meant knowing which Azure data service should be used in a given scenario, or what feature in a solution fulfils the need; for the most part it’s usually straightforward to spot, but occaisionally there’s a subtlty in the question which means the seemingly-obvious answer is not the correct one. But may that was just me.

To prepare for the exam I used mix of Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, supplemented by access to Percipio resources through my work, and WhizLabs practice tests. As someone who has been neck-deep in databases for years, I feel I had a bit of a leg-up on some of the more general topics – which meant it was really just the finer points of the specific Azure data solutions I had to learn.

Part of the exam syllabus covered Business Intelligence reporting using Power BI, which might be a good starting point for the next exam in my calendar: Power Platform Fundamentals (PL-900)!

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General/Life Work

Summer of Certifications

Since last year I’ve made a point that whenever I feel a bit “neurofunky”, I try to do something to invest in myself. The last few days have been a thing so I’ve planned the pathways to my next certification(s), and set myself up with some of the resources I’ll need to get there.

Right now, the plan is to complete the following exams over the next 6 weeks:

  • Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900)
  • Power Platform Fundamentals (PL-900)
  • Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900)

At least 2 of those topics are pretty much brand new to me, so it’s going to be an interesting time…

I’ve already booked the exams, to give myself a set timeframe and deadline for each. My employer offers vouchers towards taking these exams, so it doesn’t cost me anything over and above the time and effort investments. Even if the exams hadn’t been free, then I’d have probably booked at least one of these (or maybe more, just spread out over months rather than weeks)

So we’ll see how it goes. I’m excited to learn some new things, but I am conscious I’m going to be under a bit of stress due to the timing.