Canada Takes over the Summit!

As you may know last week Microsoft hosted the MVP Summit in Seattle and Redmond.  In total ninety-seven Canadians were there, and we were a force to be reckoned with.  Check out our pictures page, and notice the sea of red hockey jerseys at the keynote address!


http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadian_mvp


…and here is the transcript of the Keynote Address.  Please note that only one country is quoted as a nation!


http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/billg/speeches/2007/03-13MVPSummit.mspx


 

Kudos to Canada

Most Microsoft MVPs are awarded in a specific technology.  There is one group however that does not fall into any specific technology group, and that is the User Group Leader, and to fit us into their framework Microsoft created a competency called MVP: Windows Server – Customer Experience.  At the summit this past week those of us who were there – eight of us from Canada (3), the US (3) and South America (2) – spent two days in meetings with Microsofties who either had something to present to us or alternatively wanted to hear from us.  For some of those sessions Rodney Buike – a former MVP who is now an IT Pro Evangelist with Microsoft Canada – joined in.


We are spoiled here in Canada, and I never knew it.  Of course I always appreciate the efforts that Microsoft Canada made for our group; It is not uncommon for me to be in conversation with a member of the community who will say something along the lines of ‘Rick showed us how to do that at the Paramount last November, right?’  Rick being Rick Claus of Microsoft Canada, and the Paramount refering to the venue for the quarterly Technet Canada tours that we are all invited to every few months.


I hear similar feedback from other cities across the nation and have often lauded the entire ITE team for their efforts; as Rick is the primary contact for Montreal I will speak specifically to his efforts but I want to be clear that credit extends to the entire team – past and present.


Off the top of my head I cannot remember exactly how many TechNet events rolled through Montreal during my tenure – a dozen would not be an unfair guesstimate.  Prior to each event and with very few exceptions the rep – usually Rick – would contact me well in advance and ask if we could hold a user group meeting the night before (or the night of) the main event.  Those meetings were always informative, and never talked down to us.  Rick was presenting to a knowledgeable group of professionals and colleagues and not just to a group of potential customers.


Many of the technologies that Rick presented to us at those meetings then were new to me and have since become tools that I use on a daily basis; Virtual Server and Push Technology – not to mention the proper configuration of Exchange Server with RPC over HTTP – are technologies I can hardly live without.  I am sure I would have discovered them eventually but it was Rick who first made me aware of them.


I have heard complaints from fellow UG Leaders in small markets who complained that Microsoft did not give them the attention that they needed, and I always thought that it was because they were in smaller markets – our friends in Vermont and New Hampshire being a prime example. 


Sitting with my colleagues from the USA and South America this week I understood for the first time that it is not a large market / small markey problem.  The divide is the border between Canada and the rest of the world.  It turns out that there are some pretty major markets who are hungry for the attention we take for granted – both the Bay Area and Southern California – two American markets that have a combined population equal to Canada’s – do not have an IT Pro Evangelist from Microsoft, and if they want to bring one in they pay travel and expenses.  Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Quito (Ecuador) share a single ITE with the rest of the continent – and travel between countries in South America is not quite as simple as it is in North America.


I have heard before that Microsoft Canada is a model for the world but I did not realize the vast implications of that statement until this week.  Michael Dillon and Chandana Hathi of Microsoft heard loud and clear that the world should be looking to Canada as shining example of how to interact with the community.  I hope for our breatheren outside our borders that they learn from our example.  I know that as long as John Oxley is at the helm of the team in Canada that it will only continue to improve.

A question for Bill Gates.

I am at the MVP Summit in Washington and this morning was a real thrill – Bill Gates delivered the keynote address.  He really is a most impressive man, and when Richard Kaplan (Vice President, Customer Service, Partners and Automation) opened the floor for questions I hesitated for a minute before taking my place in line at microphone number 3.  Had I not hesitated I would not have been left as the second person in line when Mr. Kaplan announced that Mr. Gates would field one more question only.  I was upset because I had spent 45 minutes writing and re-writing my question until it was just as I wanted it.  The following is the text of my question as it appears on my note paper:


Je veux vous remercier pour avoir changé ma vie et la monde qu’on habitent.  My countryman Tony (Toewes) called himself a dinosaur for having started in 1989.  I started in 1979, and really do not remember a life without computers.


My name is Mitch Garvis; I am a usergroup leader and trainer from Montreal Quebec in the great nation of Canada.  I am fortunate to live in one of the great ‘have’ countries.  For those of us who have seen the have not countries we know the gap is enormous.  Mr. Gates, you and Melinda are doing the work of giants in innoculating and vaccinating that part of the world.


In order to actually close the gap and make a truly global economy those countries will need to be educated not only in agriculture but in technology as well.  I left my Thirty Billion Dollars in my other pants so how can someone like myself as a Microsoft Certified Trainer help to bring that technological training to the parts of the world that will need it?


I will gladly welcome answers to this question, and have taken steps to ensure that the text of this question get to Mr. Gates, and I eagerly anticipate his answer.

Certification Security – A serious matter.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Shon Hong of Microsoft Learning, who has the (to me) fascinating job of hunting down cheaters.  Let me explain:


Microsoft exams are the basis for the entire Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program.  The exams you pass earn you credentials and credibility.  Unfortunately because of the format the exams currently take there are several methods of cheating that have become prevalent.  Simply put cheating diminishes the value of the program and of certifications in general.  Anyone who has passed an exam knows how much work went into doing so, and probably walks out of the exam centre a little taller than when they walked in.  When I present my credentials I do so with pride at having achieved them.


So what about someone who cheats to earn those same credentials?  Do they walk as tall?  Stand as proud as I do?  Probably not, but that is irrelevant.  The really important point is how others – potential clients, employers, and peers – see you.  Imagine you hire someone who has a certification that is important to you.  This credential theoretically translates into the knowledge you require for the position filled.  Subsequent to being hired you realize that the candidate does not have the understanding of the technology that the credential implies.  You may fire that employee; you may also lose a little respect for that certification, and then the next time a candidate submits their resume with the requisite certifications you are weary and hesitant. 


Without certification integrity it is impossible to really trust certifications.  Should you have to test all of your potential employees or consultants?  Though some degree of testing or confirmation of knowledge may be a good idea, in theory a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator has already passed at least four tests written by people who know the technology better than you do. 


There are a number of methods of cheating on certification exams; however it must be made clear that before you sit down at the exam workstation and again before you begin the test you are agreeing to a set of rules that includes that you will not cheat on the exam.  In short you are not allowed to – during the exam or any time prior to it – use any tool, method, or aid that can give you an unfair advantage on an exam.  An exam is meant to be you and your knowledge, which can be based on studying or experience, but it cannot (for example) be based on a prior knowledge of the questions to be asked. 


So what are the consequences of cheating?  There are a number of them:


  1. You will never be able to respect yourself for having passed the test.  That is to say that even if the screen says PASS you will live with the shame of knowing that you did not earn it; and
  2. You run the risk of being caught.  If you get caught, whether it be on your first or your fiftieth exam, you will be stripped of your certifications – all of them.  No exceptions.  You are an MCSE and you get caught cheating on a MCDST exam?  The math is simple: You lose your MCSE.  Maybe you are an MCSE, MCSA, MCDST, MCDBA, and MCAD and you get caught cheating on a MCTS exam?  You are stripped of all of your certifications.

Now here’s the rub: If you do get caught and you are stripped of your certifications, you are banned from ever taking another exam again.  Forever.  Your credentials and credibility shatter like glass, impossible to recover.


Is this all theoretical?  Not at all.  Since January of this year Microsoft Learning has stripped nearly one hundred cheaters of their certifications.  Where are they?  In China and the United States; Canada and Russia; Argentina and England.  They are everywhere, and Microsoft – with Shon and his team – are relentless in hunting these people down.  Why?  So that when I sign my name and put that list of certs it means something – to me, and to the people who see them.


I should also give mention to some community members who do not work for Microsoft, but are a part of how Microsoft fights cheaters.  www.Certguard.com is run by a colleague who has never taken a certification exam, and yet he not only hunts down cheaters, but makes the information available to testing centres and Microsoft alike.  You can also find discussion forums to ask your questions in case you come across a dubious offer that may be too good to be true.


What does this mean to you and me?  Take the time to study your material, and fly right.  You’ll pass if you know the material.  If you don’t?  You will have learned a bit more about what you do not know.


Thanks Shon, thanks Certguard; Best of luck to all legitimate test takers, and down with the cheaters and those who help them!

Community Support

In one way or another I have been supporting the IT Pro community for several years now – often on what seems like a full time and professional basis.  It is because of that I am a Microsoft MVP.  Well from time to time those of us who do the supporting need support of our own, and it is always nice to see people step up.


I am presently in Seattle for the MVP Summit which starts tomorrow.  Though I am not an SBS MVP I am part of the MVP Family which means that when I booked my hotel room for the week I did so in the same hotel as the SBS MVPs.  There are probably forty people on my IM list in the same hotel this week – really cool actually.


About six weeks ago one of my hard drives went bad, and I have just not had the time to deal with it.  Well today Steven Lai and I went to Fry’s (remember Fry’s from my post on customer service?) and discussed it, and we bought an IDE to USB adapter to plug the disk into my laptop… step one of recovery.


This evening now that I had the drive hooked up I went looking for recovery tools, and wouldn’t you know it most of them only work on Windows XP (my XP laptop is in Florida).  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if anyone had an alternative so I blasted the newsgroups and our listserve with the request.  Not three minutes later Kevin Royalty (Steven’s roomie) rang and told me that not only was his laptop running XP, but he had the tool… bring the drive and let’s give it a shot.


Sure enough as we speak the data is recovering – a slow process but one that should be done by morning.  I am very excited because though everything is backed up to DVDs in Montreal, lord knows when I would have the time to restore everything.


I look forward to being able to return the favour to Kevin but the truth is this is what MVPs do… we support our peers.  Kevin is a good guy – a user group leader from the Ohio / Kentucky region.  I have not met too many people here yet who were not nice and passionate people, because to be an MVP you have to have that passion and be willing to share it with others.  These traits should not begin and end with MVPs.  Join a newsgroup, answer some questions… maybe ask some of your own.  By being part of the community we all become richer.

Customer Service

Many of you have probably heard me on my soap box ranting about customer service – or more accurately the acute lack thereof.  I have had three experiences in recent weeks that makes me wonder if it is only Canada where the client is not always right.  I would like to take this opportunity to give kudos to four organizations that have shown me that customer service is not dead.


  • Fry’s (www.frys.com) is a chain of computers and electronics stores in the US that is a toy store for geeks.  Imagine a Loblaws with an entire row of motherboards and hard drives, another of mice and keyboards, and so on and so forth.  I went to the store in Renton, Washington and purchased (among other things) a Seagate hard drive and an external hard drive chassis.  I got back to my hotel and found out over the first few hours that one of them did not work, but I did not know which one.  Without going into detail the manager went out of his way to make things right, and even let me exchange a pair of relatively expensive headphones on which the jack had been physically broken.  Kudos to Fry’s!

  • United Airlines (www.unitedairlines.com) had me booked to fly from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale through Chicago.  As I was preparing to leave for the airport I got a message from an automated system telling me that there was a problem with one of my flights due to weather, and to speak to a CSR.  I could not reach one, so I decided to go to the airport anyways.  When I arrived they told me that O’Hare was closed, and that they had taken the liberty of rebooking me on a flight on America West (another carrier) through Las Vegas.  It worked out that I left Seattle an hour later, and still arrived in Fort Lauderdale an hour earlier than I was supposed to, with the added bonus of not having to deal with my least favorite airport.
  • On my return leg to Seattle I was again worried about Chicago so I called and asked if they could change my flight, and while we were changing it could I fly a day later than I was scheduled.  The CSR told me that normally there was a $100 fee, but still found a way to accomodate both of my requests and waive the fees.

  • America West airlines (part of US Air www.usairways.com) checked me in with a smile.  When the attendant saw that my luggage was overweight she told me that normally there was a charge, but because she was in such a good mood she would waive the charge.  As well she booked me in the exit row (with a lot more legroom) on the aisle for both of my flights.
  • On the second leg of my journey (a very full flight from Las Vegas to Fort Lauderdale) the woman sitting next to me had been unable to get a seat next to her fiance.  The flight attendant asked me if I would be willing to change my seat.  I agreed, and ended up in a less comfy seat at the rear of the airplane.  However the grateful flight attendant brought me a number of drinks and snacks and refused to charge me for them, thanking me for my cooperation.

  • Best Buy (www.bestbuy.com) in North Miami Beach sold me a headset on Sunday.  Before I opened the package but miles from the store I decided to return it and take my chances with Fry’s.  The following week I walked back into the store with the headset and as I stood in line I realized I had forgotten the bill, and oh, there’s no Best Buy price tag on the box.  Knowing how things are in Canada I knew I was S.O.L.  To my utter surprise the cashier asked me for the credit card, and refunded the money in full in less than a minute!  Thanks Best Buy USA! (It should be noted that the Geek Squad in this particular store were comparable to those in any Best Buy I have been in.  Read what you want from that)

I can honestly tell you that I do not know why it is that customer service in the US so outshines service in Canada.  I just know that it does.  I have noticed the wait staff in restaurants have been nicer, the CSRs on the phone were nicer and more helpful, and the sales and cash staff in stores are nicer and more knowledgeable.  I have been here too long for it to have just been a couple of exceptions so I ask not why are they so nice here… but why aren’t Canadian waiters and CSR reps and sales staff as nice?  Isn’t our reputation around the world ‘like Americans, but friendly’?  How can one segment of our population be so blatantly at odds with this?


I will appreciate any answer you can give me!


M

Microsoft Research TechFest 2007

I am writing this from Microsoft Research TechFest 2007.  When I was invited to attend this event I had very little understanding of what I was in for, but as I had to be in Redmond this week anyways I decided to come a few days early.


In general we start to see Microsoft products as they are coming out.  Super-users – beta testers and community-involved people who attend events and so on – may see products up to a year before.  By that time (as I learned today) Rick Rashid and his team are three to ten years past what they probably started.


Rick is senior vice-president who founded and still runs Microsoft Research.  Celebrating their fifteenth anniversary, this team has evolved from a handful of far-seeing individuals into a team approaching eight hundred in six sites across three continents. 


From what I can tell they do not develop products – they are too advanced for that.  Instead they are developing many of the ideas that future technologies will use as their foundation.


Unlike product teams their research is usually public – they publish most of their research for others to use, and this research touches on much more than servers and apps.


In one demo they showed how they are working with NASA and other international space agencies to map space – not the solar system or the galaxy which for the average astronomer is mostly known – rather they zoomed out from Building 33 (Microsoft Conference Center) to galaxies twenty-five million light years away, as mapped by tools such as the Hubble telescope and others.


At another booth I was introduced to a new term – the Body Area Network.  A European team (the two researchers I spoke with were Dutch and German) have developed a way to collate data from a heart monitor, blood glucose monitor, and several other biometric sensors (in a watch and other devices) to recommend Insulin injections, and to report data to the diabetic’s physician to adjust treatments.  Also pregnant women with troubled pregnancies can connect real-time to a nurse who monitors this data to monitor the mother’s and the fetus’ heart rates, enabling women who otherwise would have been bedridden for months to be out and about.


Windows Vista is cool, and it is now.  Microsoft Research is science fiction – ten years forward right in front of you.  The future really does look bright!