I spent the past couple of days in Darmstadt, Germany for Deutsche SQL Server Konferenz 2015. This was the first time I spoke at a conference (not a SQLSaturday), and it was an absolutely amazing experience. I want to thank PASS Deutschland for doing a fantastic job to make this a great event!
The one thing I would like to have changed is that I should have learned German before going to Darmstadt :) The quality of speakers, sessions and topics covered was very impressive, and there were many sessions in German that I wanted to see. But I can’t complain at all, I got to see some great sessions and have learned new things that I look forward to trying.
As a Friend of Redgate I get to use and review their tools and provide feedback directly to the development and product teams. I might also get the opportunity to speak about and/or publish articles about their tools and how we use them to solve our problems at work.
I’ve been using the Redgate tools for years, and I love how they interact with and give back to the community. Not only do they host free SQL in the City events, they also support a lot of user groups and SQLSaturdays and publish books you can download for free. They listen to your suggestions and always have a smile on their face :) I’m very excited to see how I can help this year.
My hope and goal is to provide some good feedback on how we use their tools in a data warehouse environment, and get some help in return to learn how we can be even more efficient. There are many areas in my department we can improve, and I hope we can use the Redgate tools to streamline our deployment process and automate testing – things we struggle with in a complex environment where so many things depend on each other. I also hope I can help others by sharing our experiences by speaking or publishing blog posts or articles. This will be an exciting year!
Preparing for the exam
My plan was to work my way through each chapter in the Training Kit book. I read each chapter and answered the quick check questions, lesson review questions, and case scenarios out loud to myself. I did all the exercises, but none of the suggested practices. Instead, I tried to use what I had learned at work. For example, I rewrote some of our queries to use the new window functions, and it was easier to understand how FOR XML worked when I queried data I was already familiar with.
At least, I will not try to take a Microsoft Online Proctored exam again until they fix or change their exam software.
When I heard about Microsoft Online Proctored exams and found out they were available in Norway, I knew I wanted to try it. Taking an exam online would allow me to schedule it during the weekend without having to take time off work or travel an extra 2-3 hours in one day.
Reviews of the exam process were both good and bad. Some had technical difficulties and had to reschedule, some had technical difficulties and failed their exam, while others had no problems at all and were very happy. The first thing I did was to make sure that I passed the system requirements and the system tests. I found out that I couldn’t use my Surface Pro 3 because the camera did not take a clear picture of my ID. However, I could use my work laptop, and both system tests worked just fine.
I scheduled my exam, and on the day of the exam I made sure I reread all the fine prints three times. I cleared my entire office area and removed all items except my laptop. I made sure I wore clothes that would easily allow me to roll up my sleeves and turn out my pockets. I tied my hair in a ponytail so they could see that I didn’t have any devices in my ears. I was even careful not to drink too much during the day because bathroom breaks are not allowed.
As soon as it was time for my exam, I logged on and launched the application. It required an update before I could launch it, then it checked my microphone, my camera and my speakers, no problems. Then I had to take a picture of myself, and I took a headshot. After taking a picture you need to confirm that the picture is in fact a headshot. I clicked “yes” and nothing happened. The “next” button was disabled and I couldn’t click it. I clicked “yes” again and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I took another picture, clicked “yes”, and nothing happened. I clicked “no”, and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I tried clicking back and forth through the microphone, camera and speaker checks, took yet another picture, and still nothing.
Since I couldn’t get it to work, and I had turned off my phone so I wouldn’t be disturbed during the exam, I opened the Pearson Live Chat and explained my problem. It took about five minutes before a man replied. He asked if I could see the headshot on my screen. I said yes, and explained what I saw on my screen. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked if there was another button. I said that I could see the yes/no buttons and the back/next buttons. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked what happened when I clicked the “no” button. I said that it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I asked if it was safe to relaunch the application because my initial 15 minutes set aside for the check-in process had already passed. He confirmed that I still had 11 minutes to complete the check-in process, and I tried to relaunch the application.
Relaunching the application didn’t help. Updating Adobe Air didn’t help. I was still stuck on the screen trying to accept the picture I had taken. After another five minutes, he told me that he had created an incident report and that I had to call a Reservation Specialist the following day. I triple-checked that I would be able to reschedule my exam, he confirmed and left the chat.
On the following day I called the Reservation Specialist. He looked at the incident report and told me that they had not been able to investigate the issue yet. The Reservation Specialist could not reschedule my exam until they had investigated the issue, but they would call me back within two days when they had looked into it. Later that day I received an email that my exam had been cancelled, that the exam fee had been refunded and that I could reschedule my exam.
I tried the system tests again a few days later, and I got stuck on the same part where I had to take a picture. I tried it on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8, I tried it on my work laptop running Windows 7, I tried it on my old Windows 7 computer and I even asked my sister if she could try for me. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling Adobe Flash, Adobe Air and the Exam software on all systems. I tried on a wired and wireless connections. I closed and uninstalled programs that might interfere, but I kept getting stuck on taking a picture. I contacted customer support again, was told to send an e-mail with screen shots, and that I just had to wait for my scheduled exam. He told me “Please try at your scheduled time and check. It should work at that time.”
It didn’t work the last time at my scheduled exam time, why would it suddenly work this time? Finally I decided not to trust customer support, cancelled my scheduled Online Proctored exam, and rescheduled at a test center. Trying to get it to work for two weeks was just not worth it.
If the regular sessions aren’t enough learning for you, register for one of the pre-cons on the April 24th training day:
SQL Server: An Introduction – William Durkin (@sql_williamd)
Understanding SSIS internals and performance tuning – David Peter Hansen (@DPHansen)
R: from analysis to integration – Steph Locke (@SteffLocke)
Optimising Reporting Services for MDX Data Sources – Bob Duffy (@bob_duffy)
Performance Troubleshooting for the (Accidental) DBA – Mark Pryce-Maher (@MarkPM_MSFT) / Richard Douglas (@SQLRich)