Preparing for the exam
I work in a Business Intelligence department and mainly focus on Data Warehouse and SSIS development. Most of my preparation has been working on real projects for over five years and it is by far the best learning experience. I focused mainly on learning the new features in 2012/2014 and features I haven’t used as much in projects: SSISDB, Project Deployment, Environments, Parameters, Data Quality Services (DQS), Master Data Services (MDS), Data Mining, Change Data Capture (CDC), Transactions, Checkpoints and Fuzzy transformations.
Continuing my “2015 is such an exciting year for everyone using Biml” trend, Varigence recently announced the BimlHero Certified Expert Program. This is an extensive certification program that will ensure that you have the skills and knowledge to implement advanced, automated Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse solutions using Biml, BimlScript and Mist.
…and it sure won’t be easy!
To become a BimlHero, you will need to have at least one year experience using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and Biml. If and when Varigence accepts you into the program, you must first attend an 8-hour advanced training class. Within six months of attending the training class you must pass a BimlHero Certified Expert Test, and finally submit a complete production-quality Biml solution as well as a case study of a real-world Biml project you implemented. Varigence will review and provide feedback on the code sample and case study, and if they approve it… Congratulations, you will become a BimlHero Certified Expert! Simple as that :)
The first BimlHero training class will be held on April 29th in Copenhagen, Denmark during the Biml Scandinavian Tour 2015. Training classes will mainly take place in the US (Greenville, South Carolina) and Australia (Sydney), and online training options will be available in the future for those who are unable to travel.
Having the first training class in my region is a unique opportunity that I couldn’t miss! I will attend the training class in Copenhagen and then spend the next six months working on improving my Biml and BimlScript skills by teaching my coworkers and working with them on our Biml projects. (And I’m sure that by summer my coworkers will be teaching me lots of new tricks!)
It is truly exciting, and very terrifying, to be part of the first group of people who will attempt the BimlHero certification. It sure won’t be easy and there is always that risk of failing, but I will do my best, work hard, and have lots of fun with this awesome technology.
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.
One of my goals for 2014/2015 is to learn enough to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Business Intelligence.
I can upgrade my MCITP certification, but I decided to start from scratch with the SQL Server 2012 exams because it’s a great way for me to learn new features while my company is still using SQL Server 2008. I’m also sure it will be very useful for me to step out of my comfort zone of data warehouse development / architecture and dive into the scary world of database administration.
Reviews range from “useless” to “excellent”. Based on my experience I can’t rely on these books alone, but hopefully they’ll be a great starting point and will help me identify what I need to work on. My own reviews will be posted as I finish the books and take the exams.
My plan is simply to work my way through each chapter and write down useful suggestions and improvements for my company. It’s easier for me to learn when I can relate the content to my work. I’m most excited about learning more about database administration since that’s not something I do every day, and most curious about the data warehouse part since I’m kind of already supposed to know my way around dimensional modeling and SSIS :)