Category: Consulting

I recently had the opportunity to attend rotation 3 (R3) or the first public offering of the Microsoft Certified Master program for SharePoint 2007.  This without doubt will be one of the most intense, humbling and gratifying experiences of my life.

After a gruelling three weeks of SharePoint expert training and intense peer discussions, three difficult written exams, a tough but fair Qualification lab and countless sodas and sleepless nights, I am very pleased to announce, that I’m now a Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint 2007!

I was originally supposed to attend the beta rotation (R2) back in April but as luck would have it I could not attend R2 and boy was I glad to start on 1st of June, 2009!  First of all the weather in Redmond was fantastic by all accounts, it only rained once or twice while I was there. Microsoft jokingly calls weeks like these the recruitment weeks. Secondly the training format, the qualification lab and venue improved tremendously compared to the last two rotations.  The Master Program folks seek exhaustive feedback and based on the improvements to the program on per rotation basis, you can tell that they take this feedback seriously.

My journey with the program started when I applied for it last year in November, 2008; lucky for me it was not too hard to get a buy in from my employer Stargate Global Consulting, they have a vision to build a Centre of Excellence for SharePoint in Australia, and, having MCMs on board played into that vision. Part of the application process is submission of engagement briefs, sanitised copies of technical documents authored in the past and possibly an interview (I did not get one but have been told by other candidates how hard it was).  I got the green light from the SharePoint MCM Program Managers in January, 2009 along with a list of pre-reading material and invitation emails (more on this later). I did not know at the time but the selection criteria is right up there, we have been told for every candidate selected in the last rotation four to five applicants were refused.

I did not pay much attention to Pre-read list as I had read most of the material over the last few years, big mistake as I was to learn later – most of the documents and articles on the pre-reading list have been updated over the last year.  I focused more on the logistics side. Based on the advice of former MCM Candidates, I flew in a couple of days early and shared a flat with two really personable and knowledgeable Microsoft Consulting Services folks – or as we now like to call ourselves ‘The Three Amigos’. The off campus housing and learning experience was great, although you are the foremost resource responsible for your own learning, the support from peers cannot be denied and one of the best things about MCM.

June the 1st was an early start like all other days of the program, the program kicked off at 7:45 AM on the dot at Building 40, breakfast was served and the seats had name tags along with MCM Folders and log on instructions to the fabulous blade servers. MCM collateral was also neatly stacked at the back of the room for our collection. From the introductions alone it became quite obvious the deep skill set and expertise on parade in the room.  We had a good balance of architects, consultants, support engineers and folks from both Microsoft Consulting Services and Microsoft Partners; almost all the 17 candidates had at least 3 to 8 years experience with the SharePoint technology and products among other things. The best thing about all of us was our eager attitude towards learning. We were all here to learn “what we don’t know that we don’t know”.

We were also introduced to our trainer for the day; we had over 12 through the three weeks, each undoubtedly an expert in his or her area. The training days were busy – early starts and late finishes was the norm. A full day of presentations and discussions (45 minute lunch break inclusive) was followed mostly by lab work and lots of reading over the weekends. You had little time for anything else other then eating or sleeping.  Any free minutes we had were put to use by mini SharePoint Trivia sessions, I learnt a lot of things from this valuable exercise. This is where the true benefit of peers becomes apparent; I also can’t count the number of times I was assisted by my fellow MCM candidates during the course of the labs.

Not going into too much detail from a ‘What was covered Perspective’.  Week one focused largely on the architectural and design side of SharePoint, week two dived into the features available within the product and week three focused on the custom development side of things. Although not all SharePoint areas were covered as that would have been a herculean task given the nature of the product and the constant flux of improvements with service packs and updates. In my personal opinion program manager had done a great job, the course was very well structured. The material was highly relevant and can be largely applied to our daily work. 

The three written exams I mentioned earlier took place after each week of training, it’s important to understand that you are not taught to the test, so don’t be surprised if you are thrown an odd ball question, it probably is testing your concepts – both your existing experience and the pre-reading list play an important role here.

As the old adage goes ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ this was true too in the case of the MCM Program, James (Program Manager) mixed it all up with visits by the product team, candidate dinners, the traditional Go-Karting run off against the OCS MCM folks (we won the 1st and 3rd positions), company store visit etc. I must add that James did a great job in keeping us motivated, especially by week three where we all needed it badly. My personal favourite was the visit to the Home of the Future, it was quite inspiring. I came out buzzing with ideas for services in the cloud that will be required in the not so distant future.

The grand finale of the program is the much dreaded Qualification lab. The tireless lab work and studying for the exams in the preceding weeks did not prepare me for what I was to experience in the Qualification lab. The lab preparation and the blade server setup were excellent.  I remember how pleased I was to get the tasks under my belt, even let a little shout of joy out just before the last minute warning. I had not realised it in the course of the day but the sheer amount of scenarios and work that needed to be performed had almost drained me.  It hit me when I tried to get up from my seat and just fell back without warning. This was probably one of the most memorable days of the whole program.

It’s true, as it’s been iterated on number of blogs before, MCM is not for the faint hearted, and you will need all the stamina in the world and passion to succeed. Quite frankly MCM is the best product training you can have.  The recognition and respect for achieving this status is unparalleled in the Microsoft eco system. I would challenge all seasoned SharePoint professionals to consider the MCM Program; do you have what it takes to be a Master?


[Written early last year – only repointing to the old blog entry so that I can start the High Level Series, where I left it…] 

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MOSS comes with a bunch of document converters (DC) and two DC services to convert a document’s content from one format to another. Before you can use DC functionality within your Site Collection you need to enable it at the farm level, setup the DC load balancer service (internal) and activate the DC use on a Site Collection from within Centrel Administration.

I worked with the document converters on a recent project (well almost 4 months old now) and have a few things to share around the Word to Web Page conversion functionality in MOSS. On the whole I found DCs as a fast way to publish content but the experience has left a few things to be desired. BTW the customer was statisfied with the results, they had a large bunch of word manuls that they were able to WCMise!

Lessons Learnt

  • Document Converters are a reasonable way to convert large corpuses of pre written offline content in Word format to web based publishing pages – page layouts and styles to a certain degree can be controlled.
  • For document converters to work documents need to be uploaded into conversion functionality enabled document libraries. The documents can then be converted and published into separate sites and even site collections.
  • Any practical use of Document Converts, specially when converting large volumes of documents warrents the use of a programmed custom utility with ability to call conversions automatically. If not then the manual content publishing speed (multiple clicks) is not very different to manually copying and pasting content from word documents into page content fields (in some cases even wrose).
  • Document Converters for Word only work with the new Office format i.e. Word 2007 and cannot convert older formats, period.
  • Word to Page DC can mysteriously (Undocumented) pick up meta data if the same content type is being used to store the documents and pages (highly unlikely but possible if changes are made at the item level content type).
  • Document Converters do not support images or bullet point conversions instead have an empty image placeholder and fake (some Unicode symbol) big black points for bullet points. Do not expect full fidelity between Word mark-up and HTML mark-up and mostly be ready to clean up the unusual Office style tags after conversion.
  • One thing that we discovered the hard way and what I think rhymes with a hug is the fact that Document Converted Publishing Pages are linked back to the original source – which is a good thing (although I did not find a way to unlink them via the web UI). This works well when you change the source document and refresh the target page (explictly) But to my surprise for some unknwon reason the damn connections are hard coded rather then being relative to the site collection. So if you change host names, restore your site collection in a new domain you end with ‘Unknown Errors’ for all converted pages. 
  • A good way is to have metadata like Page Layouts and Sites and asscoiated with the source document library and the custom utility can pick this up and pass the parameters to the convertors. Also a utility to clean unwanted local style elements is a must as the style functionality within MOSS does not work or I have been unable to make it work as advertised.

Every one who has ever developed a .NET project would know how to get to the GAC simply by:  Start -> Run -> C:\windows\assembly\

But what most people don’t know (at least I din’t  know until Ishai showed me earlier in the year) is how to get to the internal folders with ease, there are a number of ways and the one stated below works well for copying config \ resource files next to the actual Dlls.

Recently a couple of people asked me if\how this could be done so here is the tip:

Start -> Run -> C:\windows\assembly\gac_msil

This should bring up the internal folders in the Global Assembly Cache and you can easily drag drop items in there.

The SharePoint Capacity Planning Tool is the latest prescriptive guidance tool from Microsoft. It’s free and allows architects and TDMs to plan SharePoint (WSS as well as MOSS) infrastructure requirements upfront.

In the past I have taken MS guidelines, best practices, hardware vendor advice and tons of experience from past projects to churn out quantative numbers and SharePoint infrastructure recommendations. Seems it just got a bit easier! I can see this tool being very handy in presales and technical review sessions with clients. Typical business scenarios addressed by the tool:

  • I don’t know if I need 10 Servers or 1 server to meet the needs of my large law firm of 1000 users.
  • Should I buy 10 Server CALs or 5?  I know I need something to get started, but not sure where to start.
  • I’m confused by the capacity planning documentation; I wish I just had a tool I could put in a few inputs to get me started.
  • I’ve used the HP capacity planning tool and I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, but I would like a more platform agnostic view.
  • My deployment is blocked until I can figure out what kind of topology I should be running to get basic high availability

This tool is in beta and will be released at a later stage. I am testing it at the moment via the connect program and will provide feedback on initial tests.