How to Attend a Live Online Class

So, I teach a lot of online classes for VMware. Many of you may know this, for those that don’t, well, here ya go 🙂 Probably 60% of my classes are delivered online, the rest are in a live classroom.

The Live Online classes are great. All the same material, all the same labs, nearly the same experience, but no travel is involved. But not everyone knows how to attend a Live Online class. We already know all of the stuff in this post, but I think it bears repeating, if only to bring it back to the forefront of our minds. Bear with me here.

Take an online class with the same discipline and habits you have developed in the opportunities you may have had to work remotely. This may sound like common sense, really, but I think it needs to be said. In order to get the most out of these classes, I beg of you, don’t take the class while you’re in the office. This provides far too many distractions to actually get anything out of an information-packed class like ours.

Before you choose to sign up for an online class, check your home office workspace (whether a dedicated office or just a workspace that you can use at home). Let’s think about the basics.

  • Do you have broadband connectivity? You’ll probably want this for the presentation and the labs.
  • Do you have a telephone, or are you going to use a headset on your computer? Ideally, you will have a land-line telephone with a speaker (or even better, a headset) for the voice component of the class. This will provide the cleanest overall audio experience. Our online Training Center provides VOIP services for the session, and that tends to work rather well, but you will definitely need decent broadband and a computer headset so that the audio doesn’t turn into a terrible echo-tastic mess!
  • Do you have more than one monitor you can work with (one for your documents, one for the class and lab sessions)? Multiple monitors is a serious benefit. For those that don’t have many displays just hanging around, most laptops can drive a secondary monitor while the laptop screen is open.
  • Do you have a reasonably comfortable chair? You’ll be in it for most of the day – good to have.
  • Stuff to make lunch in the kitchen? While heading down the street to grab a bite is probably ok, traffic can be a little unpredictable.
  • Is there a TV (or any other possible distraction) nearby? These are the biggest concentration killers in any online class. It’s awful easy to mute your line and kick on a DVD that you’ve been meaning to watch, but then you’ll miss out on all the entertainment your instructor can provide!

I think it’s really best to treat an online class much like you treat a classroom-based class. You need to remove yourself from the office, from the troubles of work. When you take a class and travel to the classroom, you can focus on the education aspect of your job. In most organizations, training time is precious and rare. Take advantage of it.

In the office, you can sit and listen, but how many people just pop by your cubicle during a day? How often are you pulled away from your desk for an impromptu design meeting or troubleshooting session? How dedicated can you really be to the training?

When you don’t give the class your full attention, you’re not only providing a disservice to the instructor, in many cases, you’re providing a disruption to the class. In our classes, for example, the lab exercises are progressive – almost every lab depends on the successful completion of the prior labs. But more important to that, later in the class, when we start talking about distributed and clustered services, each attendee will be teamed up with another so that clusters can be built. If you haven’t been able to keep up with the lab exercises, then you’re not only hurting yourself, but also your lab partner.

So Live Online classes definitely mean we need to look at the bigger picture, as we’re potentially bombarded with constant distractions. Put yourself in a position to focus on the class. Even if you’ve been working with our products for a while, I promise that we’ll both learn something about the product during one of my classes. But only if you’re paying attention.


VCAP-DCA (updated)

**Updated with some new comments about the Manage and Design for Security and Automation with PowerCLI classes**

Sure, lots have posted on this so far. What I don’t recall reading was the exam from the perspective of an instructor. So here goes 🙂

Unlike the multiple-choice VCP, the VCAP-DCA is 100% lab-based. You can’t learn this stuff from a book. You have to work with the product in order to pass this exam.

From a training perspective, though, there are classes that support this test. From my personal experience, they aren’t teaching what’s on the test, rather the general skills needed to pass the exam. VMware recommends a number of more advanced classes in support of the VCAP-DCA:

Now, I personally teach 2 of those 4 classes – Troubleshooting and Performance. I’ve never been much of a security guy, so I don’t teach that class (yet). My (rusted shut) scripting expertise dates back to my long gone days as a Solaris guy with BASH and KSH, meaning I need a little more time playing with PowerShell to teach the PowerCLI class.

Before we go any further, remember, I work for VMware Education, so my opinions may be just a touch biased, but I have also long had a chip on my shoulder toward those organizations who shun (or are quick to cut budget for) classroom training because “you can just read a book and learn it.” Instructor-led training (either online or in a classroom) have always proven invaluable in my eyes, because you not only get a jump start on the information/product/whatever, but you also get the networking with your fellow customers. Being able to hash our solutions with your peers, working with the ever-present “how does everyone else do it?” That is the value of instructor-led training that is so terribly often overlooked. But enough about that. Let’s talk about how these courses support the VCAP-DCA.

vSphere: Troubleshooting
This class really is the foundation to supporting the exam. That may sound a little odd, especially since I don’t recall seeing any questions like “This is broken, please fix it” in the exam. But there’s much more to the troubleshooting class than just troubleshooting. vSphere: Troubleshooting is a 4-day class that’s more lab than lecture (somewhere on the order of 30-35% lecture, 65-70% lab time). Of the lab time, it’s split about 60% troubleshooting, and 40% procedural.

The procedural labs are the big thing here. They help define how to do things with all kinds of commands and processes that aren’t covered in our other classes. The CLI becomes very important in this class.

The troubleshooting lab time is (at least, how I run it) also exceptionally valuable, as it’s minimally directed (we inject a problem into your environment, give you a “help desk report” with the symptoms, and from there, you get to use your wits and the standard vSphere tools to resolve it). This minimal direction gives you the time to work at your own pace, and learn what it is that you want or need to learn.

Bottom line, take the class if you can. It’s good online if you can’t travel, but it’s better in a classroom if you can get there. Either way, watch for me – this class is great! 😀

vSphere: Manage for Performance
Another solid performer. This is a slightly shorter class, clocking in at 3 days, but it’s really no less valuable. The Performance class focuses on individual host performance, which seems a little counter-intuitive if you look at the generalized vSphere message that the individual host doesn’t really matter. But from a performance perspective, the performance conflicts will come intra-host, rather than inter-host (generally). This class most certainly accounts for that.

The Performance class supports the DCA a little less directly, but is still rather valuable.

The remaining two classes, vSphere: Manage and Design for Security and vSphere: Automation with vSphere PowerCLI, I don’t (yet) teach. As such, I’m unfamiliar with their contents, aside from very high level, and can’t honestly say how much they can impact the exam. But I have to recommend the PowerCLI class after some of the questions I saw on the exam. It rather shocked me that there were PowerShell/PowerCLI-related scenarios on the exam. But that also goes to show the both the popularity and the push from VMware for management through PowerShell.

After going back and skimming through some of the material in the Automation and MDS courses (after taking the exam), I can say with confidence that both of them do indeed provide some good supporting material for the VCAP-DCA exam. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of these classes as well as Troubleshooting and Performance!
**End Update**

Today will be 10 business days since I sat the VCAP-DCA, and I should get my passing results today (well, that’s my story until they show up and tell me otherwise). After that, I’ll be diving into the VCAP-DCD, partially for my own edification, but partially because I think it will also become an instructor requirement to deliver the vSphere: Design Workshop course (and I’d really like to continue teaching that class).

Stay tuned for more ramblings, I’m going to try to keep up on it this year!


iPad App must-have – Flipboard

I’m not the first to mention this, I know, but if you have an iPad, check out Flipboard! This is truly a new, fun, and interesting way to keep up on your connected online life. The app tagline is “Your social magazine.” Definitely worthy of the App of the Year award.

What’s so neat about this app is not the mounds of preconfigured RSS-based content, but the ability to add your own Facebook, Twitter, Flick, and Google Reader feeds. Once added, you can flip through the pages of content, making it easy to skim or dive deeper into various posts in which you may be interested.

What I really like about the app is the automatic collection of linked URLs in posts, allowing me to decide if I want to read an actual article posted (especially handy with URL shorteners), or if I just want to walk right by.

You can set up sections for your primary Google Reader, Twitter or Facebook feeds, or you can set up sections for individual feeds or lists you have in those services, allowing you to quickly follow the specific stuff you want. I’ve found this most useful for some of my FaceBook Groups that I’ve been bad about following because they’re not more visible in my feed. As with many other content aggregators I’ve found on the iPad, there is an inbuilt web browser that allows you to load articles inside the app.

I’m using this app all day, every day.

That said, I don’t think it’s quite perfect. I have a Google Reader account, for example, that I follow about 200 distinct feed (some are obviously more important to me than others – I can’t keep up with all of them all the time. I really need to do some cleanup there). The content flow at that number of feeds is a bit on the overwhelming side if you simply look through the Google Reader section. Once I’m logged into Google Reader in the app, I can add individual feeds or folders, but they show up in the main interface right along side the primary Google Reader section.

But if that’s the worst I have to say about the app, I think they guys at Flipboard are doing something right. They’ve definitely taken advantage of the iPad and the possibilities of Apple’s tablet platform. Go get the app now – it’s free!

Vaping / e-cigarettes

So I mentioned electronic cigarettes, or personal vaporizers (PVs for short) yesterday, so I figured I’d spend a little time explaining, for those who may be unfamiliar with the devices.

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about what a PV is, or how they work. Those topics have been well covered, some examples are here, here, and here. In essence, an electronic cigarette works by vaporizing a solution of nicotine, flavoring, and either Propylene Glycol (PG) or Vegetable Glycerin (VG), called e-liquid. This creates a water vapor that’s inhaled by the user. This results in an act that looks and feels like smoking, “smoke” exhalation and all.

Now, some people are offended by PVs just like they’re offended by traditional (or “analog”) cigarettes, which can be explored philosophically at a later time. The interesting thing, though, is that PVs are (arguably) harmless.

I want to stress the use of the word “arguably” a second ago – there is a lot of debate about PVs right now. The FDA has tried to pull the devices as drug delivery devices. Currently, the courts have ruled that they are to be regulated as tobacco products, easing the immediate possibility of FDA regulations. There is much discussion about this, you can hit up Google for the narrative, or you can look at a few examples here, here, here, and here.

There are many discussions about the safety of the devices as well, with an FDA report published after testing some low quality imported e-liquids and finding some potentially dangerous compounds. The School of Public Health at Boston University, however, found that there was nothing to worry about. The point of all this is that the contents of the e-liquids certainly demand further study. Personally, I believe, if nothing else, electronic cigarettes are far less bad for you than a traditional tobacco cigarette. This opinion comes from the understanding that nicotine, while an addictive and somewhat toxic alkaloid, is not currently known to be a carcinogen. The carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes are largely due to additives. We consume pretty much everything in an electronic cigarette liquid daily – PG and VG are bases for many food products we consume, the flavoring is (so far as I have found) food-grade natural and artificial flavoring, and nicotine is also found (in varying quantities) in other members of the nightshade family of plants, such as tomatoes and eggplant.

Does all this mean that vaping, the term coined for using a PV, is safe? Not necessarily. Given current evidence, though, it is stripping arguably all of the carcinogens out of the activity. But PVs warrant further study. Also remember that the addictive substance in a cigarette is still nicotine, which is delivered by a PV.

With all that said, I am a big proponent of electronic cigarettes. Smoking is a very tough habit to kick – I know. I’ve tried to quit a number of times in my life (once for 3 years), and have managed to fall back on smoking every time. PVs are not, however, a smoking cessation aid. It is an alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. In other words, if you don’t smoke now, don’t start smoking, and equally, don’t start vaping. But vaping has been very good to me. I feel much like I have after a few months of not smoking (comparing to previous attempts). I no longer have a classic smoker’s cough, I can breathe better, my senses of smell and taste improve a little more each day.

I’m also vaping indoors, as the water vapor exhaled from a PV is not riddled with tar and other nastiness. It often smells much like the flavor I’m vaping (peanut butter cup, pomegranate, and green tea are some of my current favorite flavors), and that aroma dissipates very quickly. No longer do I (or my clothes or surroundings) smell like an ashtray.  Vaping smells much, much better!

Perhaps, in time, I’ll drop the vaping habit as well, but in the mean time, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m not shivering out in the freezing cold just for a smoke, and I’m relishing the fact that I’m not winded so easily (I’m still way out of shape, but that’s a whole different discussion!).

If you smoke, I personally recommend that you look into vaping as a less-bad-for-you alternative. It can be a little intimidating at first, I’ll start posting about some of the different vendors and products with which I have experience, and the comments and email are always good ways to be inquisitive!


A New Year

And hopefully that means I can start working a little harder on this blog. I never make any guarantees, but it’s possible 🙂

This past year has been a wild ride. Professionally, I got out of consulting and joined VMware Education so I can teach full-time. There were changes internally shortly after I joined that changed my perspective about that a little – ultimately good, once the dread of change washed over me and passed. Essentially, it means I’m much more busy with class delivery, which I am very much good with.

Personally, I have tried (very unsuccessfully) to help my better half sell her house. The problem we ran into is that we just can’t compete with bargain-basement prices on foreclosed homes in the area. We’re going to have to continue on carrying two households until the real estate market resolves itself. How long will that be? Your guess is as good as mine!

I also stopped smoking analog cigarettes this year thanks to personal vaporizers (also known as PVs or electronic cigarettes). Sure, anti-smoking folks still see them as terrible as analog cigarettes, but if you check out this study, there’s evidence mounting that PVs most definitely less bad for everyone. Being a longtime smoker, I’m used to the anti-smoking vitriol, and still saddened that it’s become a moral crime. I’ll be talking, from time to time, about my vaping hobby/habit, so if you’re unfamiliar with PVs, feel free to ask questions!

I broke down and jumped in with the iPad crowd, and I can’t be happier. I use my laptop less and less frequently these days because of it. Expect more to come on that front as well.

As for the next calendar year, well, we’ll see. I tend to not set too many specific goals right away, thanks to the ease of becoming overwhelmed. Professionally, I’m gunning for my VCAP-DCA and VCAP-DCD this year. 25% of that goal was passed on 12/30 when I actually sat the DCA exam. Work was driving me to that, as I will have to be DCA certified to continue to teach the vSphere Troubleshooting and Performance classes. I should hear shortly as to my DCA fate. The DCD certification is more of a preemptive strike, as it would make sense that we will begin to require it of our instructors to continue to deliver the Design Workshop, which I also currently teach. When I get the results from the DCA, I’ll post more about it and my experiences.

On the personal front, we’re trying our hands at the property rental game, just to offset the cost and vacancy of Jen’s house. Maybe we like it, maybe we run screaming into the night after the first lease expires. We’ll just have to see.

I’d say this blog will be changing, but that would be redundant, as it never particularly coalesced into anything over the course of the past year. So maybe I can get this blogging thing nailed down this year!

Thanks for reading!