Tuesday, April 3, 2012

So.... You want to be a Lync Master?

I recently spent three weeks in Redmond, WA attending a Microsoft Certified Masters course for Lync Server 2010 and thought I would share some thoughts and tips based on my experience there.

LOST in Building 40
First of all, the class was amazing and better than I ever hoped it would be. 

Going to Lync Masters is like attending an IT version of LOST. When you attend training you are told to cut off communications (or at least limit them) and responsibilities with everyone in your work and personal life. Although necessary, this creates a island like effect. Once you arrive in Redmond... you are stuck on this island with other Masters attendees and slowly, over the course of three weeks, your previous life begins to seem more like a dream.

You now have this alternative life on the island (Microsoft Building 40 in our case) where you will form relationships and create alliances (study groups). If you are fortunate, like I was, you will find someone that is experienced in areas you are weak in.

After the first day you will feel like you have got this class nailed or at the very least can handle it. The second day you might still have the same feeling but not quite as confident. The third day the new information just keeps coming and coming non-stop and then the black cloud appears. You start to feel fatigue and if you are not careful... you will miss what the instructors are trying to teach you. Eating and sleeping well become very important at this point. There will be no break to fully recover until you get off the island.

When you start your second week there...you will not feel as on top of the game as you did the first day. The information and ah ha moments just keep coming... Things really start getting weird the second week when people start talking about dreaming of Call Admission Control. At the same time everyone in the class also is figuring out that it is really futile to remember "everything". This is when you should start to focus on what you and your study group thinks is important for the exam and qualification lab. Or for some people they start to think about how they are going to get off this island.

The third week now you are spending nearly all your waking moments taking in yet more information and when that is not happening, constantly going back over all the other content from previous episodes (uhh... I mean days) trying to keep all of it fresh in your head for the knowledge exam and then the qualification lab.

After being tested by the island(exam and qualification lab is done), you are now dealing with whether or not you are a Lync Master and you have to head back to your previous life.

For me, my real life seemed like a dream and the life back at Building 40 seemed like reality for at least a week.... probably longer. Life will not seem right... or normal for awhile...maybe not ever. The wife and kids will wonder why you are easily overwhelmed with all their attention. In some extreme cases, you might come home and be speaking of smashing the lab (this would be if you did really well on the qualification lab)

Tips for the class...

Taking Notes
First of all, do not even begin to think about attending a Lync Masters course until you have become familiar with every single workload in the product (yes, even Group Chat, which I have a new respect for). The instructors from day one expect you have done this and they will not be covering the basics. As an example, there is a significant amount of time dedicated to the voice workload and if you have limited expereience in this area I would not use this class as a time to learn that.

For our rotation all the slide decks were delivered to us in OneNote. This makes taking notes extremely handy. I also added audio recording to my notes using the Jabra Speak 410.

What is great about this setup is that as you are recording and typing, OneNote will keep track of both. This will allow you to go back later and click on the specific text to hear the audio at that point when you were typing. When I had slides that had no notes I still put a letter "A" as a place holder so I could come back and hear the audio at that point. You will want to work with this before you get to day one of the class because at that point you will not have time to be messing with setting up OneNote to do this.

Make sure before you spend a lot of money on a microphone that you check with whoever is running that rotation, to be sure it will be permitted. I strongly suggest a USB microphone of some sort because any analog mic I used had a hum in the background (probably something with my laptop).

Also, it should be expected that you will encounter a lot of content that you have not seen before. Do not come to class and expect that you know most of the content. Be preparred to learn lots of new content.

Study Groups
This was probably the single best reason why I passed. Find people you get along with that are strong in the areas you are weak...and hopefully you are strong in areas the others are weak. My study group consisted of 3 people to begin with, but mushroomed to 6 by the second weekend. There were times we were going over previous material in the classroom late at night or on the weekend and others would just join in... and make it that much better.

One thing that really seemed to help was that one person in the study group suggested we write our own exam questions based on the content we had learned and share them with each other. Each of us wrote questions in areas that we were really familiar with. There were some really tough questions that pushed us to understand the content even better. But even more benefitial was we decided to write some of the questions on content that we were weak in to really help cement the knowledge in our own heads...  By the end of the second weekend we had a pool of 47 questions. We had errors at first, but we found that was helpful too. If we had someone that didn't understand why an answer was right we tried to help them understand why we thought it was right...and that led to more discussions.

Also, as far as study groups go, make sure to give each other space as well... a few nights/days throughout the three weeks is what we did. Everyone needs some downtime.

Eating and Sleeping
Above all else... eating and sleeping should be a priority. Class is hard enough without feeling terrible from eating too much junk food and not sleeping because you want to study.

Sleeping will be a huge challenge for those coming from Central and Eastern time zones or from overseas. Several in our class found they were waking up at 4 or 5am. Adjust as much as you can to get as much sleep as possible.

There will be junk food all around you. Lots of candy and chips... and Microsoft provides a variety of drinks free for the taking. Resist it as long as you can.

As far as dining out... I really thought I would not have time to do this often. So did several others in the class based on the amount of food that was bought the Sunday before class started for each of our hotel rooms. I bought some fruit and some other things to snack on... and I did fair...although I had a huge bag of tortilla chips and jar of salsa I hardly touched. My point is that you will want to get away from studying and class and feel human for little while. Below are a list of places my study group enjoyed.

Food Suggestions
The cafeteria at Building 40 was being renovated while we were there so Microsoft arranged for some Food Trucks to come by at lunch time. I was extremely pleased with the quality food and some of them accepted credit cards. You can get an idea what is available here (Cafe 41).

Jimmy John's
I've always felt these guys have great subs... others in the class that never had them before became passionate about them. They have online ordering available and even though they won't deliver to Microsoft Buildings the drive to get this piece of heaven is fairly short.

17875 NE Redmond Way
Suite #124
Redmond, WA 98052

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
If you have never had a Five Guys Burger and Fries you are truly missing out on something special. Just go. Be warned that for most people their "Little Burger" is plenty big. Also a table of four people can share an "order of fries".

15011 Northeast 24th Street  
Redmond, WA 98052

Do not judge this place by the name. Great italian food. We did have one waiter that was borderline stalking us... finding us in the restaurant every time we came in and remember everything we ordered the first time we ate there.

Redmond Town Center
16499 NE 74th St
Redmond, WA 98052

Red Robin
Red Robin is known for their Grourmet Burgers and sandwiches. They have bottomless fries that are great as well.

Near Redmond Town Center
7597 170th Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052

Near Building 40
2390 148th Ave
Redmond, WA 98052

The food is awesome and if you like to people watch this is the place to come.

700 Bellevue Way NE
Suite 130
Bellevue, WA 98004

Great food and this was the place that some of us got together the Sunday before class started.

800 Bellevue Way NE
Suite 118
Bellevue, WA 98004

Great Mexican that is close to Microsoft

3040 148th Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052

Neville's (The British Pantry)
Fish and chips were great....  and the Shepherds Pie was well liked as well.

8125 161st Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052

Claim Jumper
This place will give you the most calories for your buck (the food tastes great too). One Masters student finished off a Widow Maker Burger (1149 calories) with Fries (346) and a mini I Declair (1075) in one sitting. One meal that shocked all of us was the Ore Cart (2724 calories).

7210 164th Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052

This post brought to you by a Jimmy John's #9 with hot peppers and a Shamrock Shake


  1. Jonathan,

    Really proud of you. This is an acomplishment to be sure.



  2. Jonathan,

    I can tell how much Lync we all were thinking. Evidence is in your post: Microsoft arranged for some Food TRUNKS to come by at lunch time. :)

    Definately an awesome experience and an achievement. Congrats!


  3. Haha... At least I didn't put SIP trunks there... It has been corrected now

  4. I enjoyed reading it Jonathan :)