July, 2009

  • UPDATED 7/15/09

    We’re pleased to announce our partnership with (HDI) Help Desk Institute to deliver MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7, in preparation for the availability of Windows 7.

    MCITP:EST7 is designed to identify quality help desk support professionals with deep technical expertise (validated by Microsoft) and strong customer service skills (validated by HDI, an industry-recognized standards body that promotes best practices).

    MCITP: EST7 is available to new candidates and candidates who are upgrading from MCITP:EST or MCDST.

    MCPs who earn the credential will have full access to MCP benefits and resources. Want more info? Check out the complete certification path, requirements and benefits is available here.

    Along with the MCITP: EDST7 certification, Microsoft will also be offering an MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 certification designed to validate your ability to deploy operating systems and desktop applications, and to manage the client lifecycle in the enterprise.

    So, whether you’re working behind the scenes deploying desktop operating system and applications to the desktop, or on the front lines in the help center working with customers to solve problems, Microsoft has a certification to help you stand out from the crowd.

  • Exam SMEs = nice folks

    As a Content Development Manager for exams, I meet a lot of very nice folks who are technical experts on a wide variety of Microsoft technologies. We call them Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs (rhymes with “sneeze”) for short. SMEs are involved in every phase of our development process. We depend on their expertise to ensure that our exams are as real-world and relevant as possible. Strangely enough, sometimes it’s hard to find enough SMEs with expertise on the right products at the right time.

    Shiny new MSL SME site

    We’re rolling out a new system that will help us keep track of potential SMEs. Anyone who wants to be a subject matter expert (SME) for exams can go to a site on Microsoft Connect and fill out a survey about their skills and experience. The survey responses will be stored in a secure database, which our content development vendors will search to identify qualified SMEs for specific opportunities. MSL will also use this database to contact SMEs directly about other opportunities such as blueprinting. (Right now we’re planning to use this system only for exam development, but we’re leaving the door open for other MSL content development opportunities, as you’ll see in the wording of the survey.)

    Other SMES will not be able to see your survey responses. However, by checking the box at the end of the survey, you give us permission to share your contact information with MSL content development vendors.

    Just the first step

    Your responses are only the first step in the screening process. If your responses indicate that you might have the right skills and experience for a particular exam development project, the vendor will contact you for additional information and may interview you to determine whether you are a fit for the project.

    Exam design = fun

    Being a SME isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work. But it really is fun, and gives you a great opportunity to hang out with other folks who know the same stuff you do. Some of our SMEs become rather addicted to exam dev, and keep coming back for more. (OK SME friends, here’s where you jump into the comments and tell the world how fun it is to design an exam!)

    Sign me up!

    Here’s how to get to the SME Profile survey:

    Step 1

    Go to http://connect.microsoft.com/.

    Step 2

    Click the Sign In button in the upper right-hand corner of the Connect home page.

    • Don’t have a Windows Live ID? That’s OK, just click the Sign Up Now button and follow the instructions. Start at Step 1 again after you get your Windows Live ID.
    • Already have a Windows Live ID? Great! Just enter your credentials. If you have previously registered on Connect, you’ll be presented with the Your Dashboard page after you sign in. If you’re new to Connect, you’ll need to complete the registration process--see the P.S. at the bottom of this post for instructions.

    Step 3

    In the upper left corner of the Your Dashboard page, click the Home button to get back to the Connect home page. In the right-hand column of the home page, you’ll see the question “Were you invited to join Connect?” Put this invitation ID in the box: SME2-JC3G-DKDY and click Go.

    You should now be on the home page for the MSL Subject Matter Experts site! Click any of the Microsoft Learning SME Profile links on the home page to get to the survey.

    Questions, comments, feedback?

    Send your thoughts to mslcd@microsoft.com. Obviously, we’re doing something new here and would love to hear your opinions and your suggestions for improvement.


    P.S. Microsoft Connect registration process**

    a. Click the Continue button on the Enter Registration Information page.

    b. Review the Terms of Use and click the I Agree button at the bottom of the page.

    c. Enter your registration information and click the Continue button.

    d. On the Verify Ownership of your E-mail Address page, click Continue.

    e. Go to the mail for the account that you designated in step 6, and open the Verification E-Mail.

    f. On the E-Mail Verification Confirmation page, click the Continue button.

    g. On the Welcome to Connect page, enter your handle and click the Continue button.

    h. If you encounter the Complete Required Registration Information page, click Continue, and then Continue again.

    i. Now (finally!) you should be on the Your Dashboard page. Go back to Step 3, above.

    **The Connect signup process can be a little rocky, so if you’re having trouble getting to the survey, e-mail mslcd@microsoft.com and I’ll send you some more troubleshooting info.

  • Andreas H. asked for it: “Hmm… Only for US Residents? Why do we have such a tour only in the US, what’s about Europe?”

    Arnaud asked for it: “Hey, very good proposition but only for Us guys !!! I can’t believe it, I’m from Paris and hope you will change your mind and invite me for this tour (free of charge for a little french man of course).”

    Chris asked for it: “We should do something like this in EMEA”

    …and my team *really* asked for it! So for our European readers, contributors, customers, trainers, and partners, there’s really only one thing to say:




    The Career Express - Hitting the streets of Europe with Windows 7

    Watch this page for updates, and find out how you can join us on the bus
    for a free trip to TechEd Europe!

  • |

    In the August issue of TechNet Magazine, Greg Shields, MVP and partner at Concentrated Technology, gives a great overview of the different levels of Microsoft certifications based on an interview he conducted with Microsoft Learning’s Senior Certification Manager, Jim Clark. In a quick read, Shields gives the reader program structure, new expiration policies and the value of getting certified. Take a look and let us know what you think.

    Microsoft s New Certifications: What They Are, Why They Matter

  • We love hearing from you guys—really love it. Hearing your thoughts, questions, suggestions and even complaints is the absolute best part of blogging here.

    When we first started Born to Learn last fall, it felt very much like we were talking into the ether, but now it feels much more like an ongoing dialogue.

    That said—we hear from you guys a lot… we have 2,288 comments just since we launched this new site in May—not even three months ago! (and another 1500+ comments on our old Technet blog).

    So I thought it might be helpful—to both you and us—to give some useful info and suggestions on how to ensure your comment gets read and responded to.


    Why Your Comment May Not Get Noticed

    Because we have so many authors here, and because we get so many comments, each author only gets notified of comments left on articles he or she posted. So if you ask a question directed at me in a comment attached to a post of Sarah’s, odds are I may not notice it. If you leave a comment for me on one of my own threads, however, I have no one to hide behind. :-)

    Exception/Full Disclosure: there are a few of us who do receive every comment left on the blog (Dana, Joanne, myself, and a few others), but mostly that’s so we can ensure that no inappropriate comments are getting by. We tend to focus on our own articles when it comes to substantive review.


    …which leads me to:


    Why Your Comment May Not Show Up… or Why It May Quickly Disappear

    We have a pretty strong spam filter—very little gets by it. (So far today, I can see it’s caught a couple of offers for payday loan advances, Viagra, “gay movies,” and something called Lortab, which I assume is some kind of pharmaceutical, and we’re inclined to spare you from those rather off-topic subjects.)  Sometimes, however, our spam filter catches legitimate comments, and since we don’t make the software ourselves (we run on WordPress), I really can’t tell you why that happens. What I can tell you is that we don’t censor comments unless one of three conditions are true:

    1) Your comment includes an obscenity, even if disguised with strategically placed asterisks. And yes, I know standards of acceptability vary wildly around the world, but that’s precisely the issue: we have a global readership. I don’t pretend for a minute to have some kind of objective table of forbidden words or phrases. We use our own judgment here, so my best advice is to simply steer clear of using words that you think might offend someone somewhere.

    2) Your comment includes confidential information, copyrighted material, or references to illegal sites (for example, braindump sites), for rather obvious reasons.

    3) Your comment includes personal attacks against someone—doesn’t matter if that person is another reader/commenter, one of our authors, one of our executives, or even (and I’ve had to delete a few of these) the President of the United States. There’s simply no call to impugn someone’s character—we certainly give you guys plenty of ammunition for intellectual debates without any of us needing to go down that road. :-)

    …but we never, ever, ever, ever delete a comment just because it’s negative or critical, if it doesn’t also meet one of the above criteria.


    Why Your Comment May Not Get Answered

    So if you leave a comment for the right person on the right thread, and it’s not in the least bit naughty or disrespectful, why might you still not get an answer?

    1) We might have already answered that question earlier in the thread (or in a previous article, if this was a follow-up article). Do a search through the comments, and you might find your answer. To manage our workloads (we all have day jobs other than posting here), we tend not to respond to repeated questions but rather assume that you’ll find the answer elsewhere in the thread (or that another reader will point out the answer to you).

    2) We might be waiting on a reply to an expert to whom we forwarded the question. Give us a couple of business days from the time you posted before asking again.

    3) We might have exhausted what we can contribute to the conversation. Sometimes, you may not be satisfied with the answer we give, but it’s the only one we have. In such cases, we state specifically that it’s time to move on, and if you continue to pursue the conversation… well, we’ve moved on.

    4) We might be deliberately ignoring you. Hopefully, this will never happen to you—so far, there’s only one reader who we’ve decided to simply ignore all comments from, and only because he has flat out told us that he wouldn’t believe us and doesn’t trust us anyway, so why bother? We have a baseline expectation here that we all treat each other with respect and assume honesty and positive intent. If you go so far as to tell us that you think we’re bad, dishonest people and rate every single post on the blog with one star, there’s really no reason or incentive for us to talk to you anymore—you wouldn’t believe or appreciate any information we provided.

    (BTW, I’m not mentioning this reader by name, and I’d appreciate you not cluing him into this, because our success here is measured in some part by the amount of traffic we get, and every time he posts a comment, we get eyeballs. In other words, he’s actually helping us, and I think it might cause him emotional distress if he knew that. Shh!)

    Finally, if none of the above applies, and you still haven’t got an answer, we might be on vacation, in training, sick (this is especially likely if you haven’t seen a post from that author since) or I guess we just screwed up and missed it. It happens. Feel free to ask again, we don’t mind. :-)

  • Well, not really. More like ALMOST PASS! but I kind of wanted to see what it felt like to say that.

    So I took 70-680 the other day, and came this close to passing… scored 677, which I thought was pretty darn respectable considering:

    a) I haven’t been near an IT shop in years,

    b) my experience with Windows 7 is based on installing and using it on a single home PC and work PC, and

    c) I didn’t even look to see what topics were covered on the exam (was sort of an impulse decision). (Full disclosure: Microsoft employees take exams for free. I don’t recommend that you make this kind of impulse decision without at least looking at the prep guide when you’re paying for the exam!)

    Should I have passed? Of course not, since I don’t have enough experience in all of the objectives.

    Should I have come this close? I think so—I have a lot of experience supporting Windows clients over the years, and I’m certified in every previous version of Windows.

    Will I take it again? Heck yeah, I’m not gonna let an exam beat me now after 16 years. Added to my to-do list while on vacation in August.

    So before I head out on vacation, a few words of advice for those of you planning to take 70-680: make sure you know Direct Access and BranchCache. :-)

  • This may not be the first story I’ve read about young MCPs, but it’s definitely the most dramatically written.

    Congratulations to Miss Chiamaka, Miss Somtochukwu, Miss Victoria, and Mr. Tochukwu—and thanks to New Horizons Nigeria and Queensland Academy for bringing them the opportunity!

    Truly an impressive and inspiring achievement!


  • Something magical happens around our halls the week after our annual Worldwide Partner Conference: everyone breathes again.

    I mean really breathes: all the fiscal year-end stuff is closed, and all the fiscal year kick-off stuff is, well, kicked off. Not that things are slow—just calm. Our plans for the next twelve months are locked and loaded, and now we start to execute against them.

    My team has new budgets, new commitments, and even a couple of new people: each year we tweak our roles and responsibilities to align to our major commitments, and this year’s no exception.

    Joining my team are Erwin Chan and Deanna Sterns. Erwin’s been around B2L for a while, managing our RSS feeds, adding stuff like Class Locator and our podcast section, and managing our team’s twitter account with CoTweet. (He’s our tinkerer.) Erwin will be focusing on our social media presence, and there will certainly be much more info and news in this regard coming over the coming months.

    Deanna manages our Flash newsletters that most of you receive each month—you know, those very nice looking e-mails with news that’s typically old by the time you get it. :-)  We know we can make a lot of improvements here, giving you guys control over how often you get news from us, how you get it, and what type of information you want… so look for some changes here soon.

    On a sad note (for me, anyway), Sarah Grant is moving to a new team, but she’ll stay pretty close to B2L, since her new job is managing the CPLS and MCT programs for Microsoft Learning!

    Tjeerd still leads our MCT community (he just no longer is responsible for the certification requirements and benefits, which lets him focus more on community development), and he’ll be embracing the MCP community now as well.

    Meanwhile, Dana is stepping into a big role as our event strategist and will shortly be very busy with our next bus tour and a very, very big TechEd announcement coming soon; Joanne turns her attention to evangelizing learning and certification with students and academic faculty; and Bill focuses on readying our legion of MCTs for some very big product releases.

    As for me: I’m going on vacation. :-)

    I’ll be gone for the month of August (although I suspect I’ll still be checking in here from time to time, ‘cause I’ll miss you guys), and I’ll probably be using the next week or so to catch up on a lot of news and posts that have been queuing up.

    So enjoy your summer--we’ve got some big, big plans for this next year, and we’re looking forward to sharing them with you over the coming months!

  • Heads-up on a good article by MCT Bryan Sullins over at Network World—good reading for those of you working towards your MCITP:EA certification.

    (Although for the record, I didn’t find MCITP:EA to be any more or less difficult than MCSE, especially if you’re upgrading. But as they say: mileage may vary. :-))

  • What happens when you bring 5000 nerds from around the world and place them in a single building? Well if they are Microsoft employees, they begin to talk about computers. This week I am at the TechReady conference in Seattle, having been invited to speak about using Windows PowerShell to remotely administer the Windows 7 desktop, and it has already been an exciting, enlightening, and invigorating time. There are several things that are great about TechReady.

    The first is the opportunity to attend sessions presented by Program Managers, Product Managers, and Lead Developers from our product groups this is an excellent time to hear about our technology directly from the horse’s mouth—if anyone should know how Microsoft technologies work, it should be the people who were in charge of writing the things.

    The second great thing about TechReady is that it gives us who work on the product groups a chance to talk to the people who are in the field and who are in charge of helping our customers deploy and utilize our products. This is because the people who attend TechReady are Technical Account managers, Consultants, and Premier Field Engineers … the types of people whose jobs are to work directly with Premier Customers. The people who work in the Premier Services organization are an excellent source of feedback to the product groups. They tell us what things work and more importantly, what things do not work.

    The third great thing about TechReady is the opportunity to see and to talk to people from all around the world. Yesterday I talked to a guy from Lima Peru who I had never met before. The cool thing is he knew two of my friends in Lima I had met while teaching my WMI and my VBScript workshops down there. Talking to him, reminiscing about old friends was fun. More importantly was the opportunity to talk to him about how his customers are using Windows PowerShell. We talked about the challenges they are having in deploying it to the desktop, setting the execution policy, and migrating existing VBScripts over to Windows PowerShell 1.0. How soon does he anticipate his customers moving to Windows PowerShell 2.0, and what features are they excited about were also topics that came into the conversation.

    After talking to him, I ran into a couple of guys from Germany. I did not know them, but they were friends with one of my friends who had arranged for me to deliver a workshop to customers in Regensburg Germany. The conversation was energetic as we talked about plans for Windows PowerShell 2.0 and best practices for implementing the remoting features. It was a lively exchange of ideas.

    Oh yeah, I also went to some pretty cool sessions. TechReady is great! I cannot wait to see what the rest of the week brings.

  • image We know that times are tough for developers, too. You’re doing more with less, applying your skills more broadly, and maybe even learning new tools. That’s why we created Thrive for Developers – a one-stop community hub that offers job postings, technical content, and community resources. So whether you’re seeking new ways to differentiate yourself on the job, or you need to re-tool your skills for that next big role, Thrive has the resources to help you get there faster.

    My favorite feature: the 32-part(!) screencast series by our old bus buddy Brian Prince!

  • Title says it all, except:

    Doing the happy dance, doing the happy dance… my home PC can’t wait!

    Details here!

  • Greetings, developers. Steve McConnell, author of Code Complete (Microsoft Press, 2004: ISBN: 9780735619678) and Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art (Microsoft Press, 2006; ISBN: 9780735605350), would like your input regarding software practices. As Steve writes over on his company blog:

    Construx has developed the State of the Practice Survey with the goal of better understanding which software practices really work, which really don t work, and identify trends in practice adoption.

    Survey participants will receive a summary report of the findings later this year in advance of the published report.

    I hope you will share your views about the state of the practices in your organization. No one outside Construx will see any of the raw data, and information you share will be presented only in the form of summary statistics.

    You can participate in the survey here:


    About Steve McConnell

    Steve McConnell is CEO and Chief Software Engineer at Construx Software where he writes books and articles, teaches classes, and oversees Construx’s software development practices. Steve is the author of Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art (2006), Code Complete (1993, 2004), Rapid Development (1996), Software Project Survival Guide (1998), and Professional Software Development (2004). His first two books won Software Development magazine s Jolt Excellence award for best programming books of their years.

    Steve has worked in the desktop software industry since 1984 and has expertise in rapid development methodologies, project estimation, software construction practices, and third-party contract management. In 1998, readers of Software Development magazine named Steve one of the three most influential people in the software industry along with Bill Gates and Linus Torvalds. Steve was Editor in Chief of IEEE Software magazine from 1998-2002.

    Steve is on the Panel of Experts that advises the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) project and was Chair of the IEEE Computer Society’s Professional Practices Committee. Steve earned a Bachelor’s degree from Whitman College and a Master’s degree in software engineering from Seattle University. Read more about Steve at www.stevemcconnell.com.

  • Got quite a few reactions from you guys about our MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7 announcement yesterday: it seems many of you are concerned and about the requirement to acquire an HDI certification in order to achieve this credential.

    Please note that this is not the only MCITP credential for Windows 7—there’s also an MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7, which does not include customer service skills in among the skills it validates (and therefore does not have an HDI component).

    So for those of you who want a well-rounded technology+soft skills credential, there’s MCITP: EDST7, and for those of you just want the Win7 piece, there’s MCITP: EDA7

    Hope that helps allay your concerns!

  • A few weeks ago, I asked Born to Learn readers if they would like to see a notice about each new exam release. The feedback was unanimous: Yes. So here’s the first one—and a momentous one it is!

    At long last, Exam 70-680 is available in Prometric testing centers. This is a Technical Specialist exam designed to assess candidates’ hands-on skills configuring Windows 7.

    Candidates for this exam operate in computing environments that use Microsoft Windows 7 as a desktop operating system in an enterprise environment. Candidates should have at least one year of experience in the IT field, as well as experience implementing and administering any Windows client operating system in a networked environment.

    Candidates should be able to install, deploy, and upgrade to Windows 7, including ensuring hardware and software compatibility. Additionally, candidates should be able to configure pre-installation and post-installation system settings, Windows security features, network connectivity applications included with Windows 7, and mobile computing. Candidates should also be able to maintain systems, including monitoring for and resolving performance and reliability issues. Candidates should have a basic understanding of  Windows PowerShell syntax.

    When you pass Exam 70-680: TS: Windows 7, Configuring, you complete the requirements for the following certification(s):

    • MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration

    Exam 70-680: TS: Windows 7, Configuring: counts as credit toward the following certification(s):

    • MCITP: Enterprise Administrator
    • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7
    • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7

    For a list of the skills measured on this exam, check out the prep guide. To schedule your exam, visit Prometric’s Web site.

  • 9780735626782f

    Good morning. Microsoft Press shipped MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-653): Configuring Windows Small Business Server 2008 (ISBN: 9780735626782) to the printer today. The book is by Beatrice Mulzer, Walter Glenn, and Scott Lowe, and was designed to help maximize your performance on 70-653, the required exam for the new Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Small Business Server 2008, Configuration certification. This 2-in-1 kit includes the official Microsoft study guide, plus practice tests on CD to help you assess your skills.

    This official study guide covers deploying hardware and software for Small Business Server servers, migrating to Small Business Server 2008, joining computers to the domain, modifying Remote Web Workplace and RAS, and working with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Exchange Server technologies.Then assess yourself using 200 practice questions on the CD, featuring multiple, customizable testing options to meet your specific needs. Choose timed or untimed testing mode, generate random tests, or focus on discrete objectives. You get detailed explanations for right and wrong answers—including pointers back to the book for further study. You also get an exam discount voucher—making this kit an exceptional value and a great career investment.

    The book will be available in the third week of August, and you can preorder it here or here.

  • |

    With Windows 7 fast approaching, I’ve been following the progress via the Springboard blog like some people follow celebrities in tabloid magazines. “Hey, Windows 7, look over here! Give us a smile! Is it true that you and Windows Server 2008 R2 are an item??”

    Anyway from there I discovered the “Talking About Windows” site where I ran across this video that pays tribute to two of my favorites: Windows 7 and Mark Russinovich. It’s the third video down. Giggle!

    I also finally got to catch up with the planning that’s been going on around the Get On The Bus tour in Europe and WOW. Just wow!

        • 10 cities
        • Rockstar tour t-shirts
        • Demos – Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Exchange 2010
        • SWAG
        • Party at TechEd
        • Tweet-ups
        • User Groups

    I can’t go into too much detail yet, but we’re working hard to lock our plans so that we can start sharing them with you. Just know this – we learned from the success of the North American bus tour and are going to blow it out of the water. That’s a promise.

  • Among the highlights of my job are the random notes I get from you guys. I’m not talking about comments in response to blog articles, just unsolicited notes from MCTs and MCPs saying “hi.”

    This one’s from MCT John Paul Cook, and I had to share it. Thanks for the laugh, John! :-)


    From: John Paul Cook
    Sent: Friday, July 24, 2009 10:46 AM
    To: Ken Rosen
    Subject: nerd rebellion

    Do you ever feel rebellious? Do you get tired of people telling you not to edit the registry?

    I was in a particularly rebellious mood last weekend, so I edited the registry on my Windows Mobile phone while riding my bike at night without a helmet and I was wearing dark clothes. I didn t mess up my phone and lived to tell about it. For my next act of rebellion, I m going to edit the registry while riding my unicycle at night.


    Somehow I can envision a series of these… When Geeks Rebel?

  • |


    Hey fellow AYC’ers!! A few weeks back I asked our host manager to pull a quick leader board (ok, maybe it was more like a month ago, but who’s counting ;) and WOW – was I blown away! I’m guessing some of these have grown a bit from the numbers below, but this is still way too cool not to post.

    So, without further ado – the ALL TIME Top 25 Are You Certifiable Leaderboard!!

    Congrats to the gamers that made it onto this list. The competition is still raging and this achievement puts you all squarely in the top 0.01% of nearly 250,000 players! Way to go!

    Now, if any of you in the top 25, or the top 100, or top 250,000 for that matter aren’t really certified – we want you to come join us as a Microsoft Certified Professional! You clearly have what it takes!  Congrats and keep gaming!!



  • “Hard Code” is an opinion column for developers by I. M. Wright, Microsoft development manager at large. The column’s motto is “Brutally honest, no pulled punches.” If you enjoy this column/podcast, you’ll enjoy I. M. Wright’s “Hard Code” (Microsoft Press, 2008), which includes 49 columns and numerous Eric Asides contextualizing and clarifying I. M.’s unpulled punches. (Eric Brechner is Director of Development Excellence in Microsoft’s Engineering Excellence group.)

    Today’s podcast is from the archives: “Opportunity in a gorilla suit,” first published in July 2008.

    The podcast can be found here.

    I. M. opens this month’s column/podcast this way:

    It s annual review time at Microsoft. We differentiate pay between high, average, and low performers in the same roles. Thus, it s time to calibrate those who ve made the most of their opportunities in the past year with those in the mainstream of solid engineers and those who haven t quite kept pace with peers.

    Eric Aside

    There are many people inside and outside of Microsoft who critique differentiated pay, saying it sabotages teams and teamwork. While I do agree team results should be a component of compensation, I don’t think differentiated pay is the problem (see “Beyond comparison” in Chapter 9).

    As a manager, this is also time for the whiners and the clueless to lament to me about their lack of opportunities to grow and demonstrate their true worth. As if managers hoard those opportunities, giving them out only in moments of weakness or pity. As if those opportunities are rare—hidden treasures available only to the select few with guile and charm. No, you fools, opportunities aren t rare and they aren t hidden. Opportunities are big, loud, and aromatic. They stand right in front of you in gorilla suits beating their chests all day long.

    Yet many smart engineers don t notice. Huge, noisy, smelly gorillas in their face day after day, and they don t notice. Sometimes their manager hands them the opportunity, invites them to a meeting, or puts them on a project, and still the engineers, capable engineers, ignore it. They hand the opportunity to someone else. They give it only passing attention. They leave it sitting in a corner till it finally devolves from inattention.

    Why?!? Why don t engineers notice these opportunities? Why do they toss them aside, only to complain in July about the lack of opportunity? Towering, raucous, pungent opportunities in gorilla suits, every day, ignored. Why?


    Share this post :
  • Greetings! Today we’re happy to offer a guest post by Ross Smith, Director of Test, Windows Security, at Microsoft, and one of the authors of The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention (Microsoft Press, 2007):

    Ross here. This month celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Harry M. Markowitz’s classic book, Portfolio Selection. In this ground-breaking publication, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1990, Markowitz talks of the benefits of diversification and the mathematics behind risk-reward strategies.

    Modern portfolio theory (MPT), based on Markowitz’s work, suggests that the return of an investment portfolio is maximized for any given level of risk by using asset classes with low correlations to one other. In other words, a diverse set of investments reduces risk and maximizes return. In a portfolio with two diverse assets, when the value of asset #1 is falling, asset #2 is rising at the same rate. MPT also assumes an efficient market—that is, all known information is reflected in the price of an investment. These factors contribute to an investor’s ability to create an “optimal portfolio” for his level of risk.

    How does this apply to testing software? The effort we put forth in testing (or quality improvement) is our investment. Our return or investment yield is the number of defects discovered. Each of our techniques will yield a return of a certain number or percentage of defects. This is easily seen in the distribution of the “How Found” field of our defect-tracking database. In addition to the return of discovered defects, there is the risk of escaped defects: missed bugs that are found in the field. This is akin to investor loss.

    The evaluation of our testing strategy based on the MPT principles exposes a set of deficiencies and enables us to improve the return on our testing investment while minimizing the risk of escapes, the same way investors maximize the return on their portfolios while minimizing the risk of loss of principle. The range of optimal portfolio selection, according to Markowitz, is called the “efficient frontier” and is derived by evaluating each asset’s correlation with every other asset’s correlation to determine the optimal allocation of all the asset classes. Once the efficient frontier has been determined for the asset classes being evaluated, the decision of which optimal portfolio to choose becomes a question of the level of risk tolerance.

    In other words, once the efficient frontier has been determined for our defect discovery techniques (“how found” in the tracking database), we can use our tolerance for risk (how many bugs found in the field are we willing to accept as a reasonable level of risk) to estimate which test strategies to invest in, and how much/frequently we should invest. A diversified approach minimizes our risk and maximizes our return. When the defect yield of “how found = test case development” starts to wane, it’s time for “how found = customer” or “how found = ad hoc testing.” We are governed by the principle that the second bug is harder (and more costly) to find than the first. Yield curves through a project cycle illustrate this effectively. This is common sense to any seasoned tester, but the numbers give us a formula to predict and dictate the timing of behavior change.

    The most important aspect of the diversified approach is to stay with the portfolio once it has been established, regardless of return. This takes a level of trust that we’re not used to at Microsoft and a belief that our techniques are good investments. Just as an investor might panic when a given investment fails miserably, we tend to over-react when we miss a certain type of bug. Just as a fund manager massages her investments to provide consistency, there are great defect prevention tools and techniques to improve our test strategies.

    Game Theory and Human Computation

    The relationship here is interesting. The year before winning the Nobel Prize, Harry Markowitz won the John von Neumann Theory Prize. From the Nobel Prize site:

    "In 1989, I was awarded the Von Neumann Prize in Operations Research Theory by the Operations Research Society of America and The Institute of Management Sciences. They cited my works in the areas of portfolio theory, sparse matrix techniques and the SIMSCRIPT programming language." John von Neumman was one of the leading mathematicians in his day, and instrumental in the development of game theory.

    John von Neumann s 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, helped set the stage for the use of math and game theory for Cold War predictions, stock market behavior, and TV advertising. He was the first to expand early mathematical analysis of probability and chance into game theory in the 1920s. His work was used by the military during World War II, and then later by the RAND Corporation to explore nuclear strategy. In the 1950s, John Nash, popularized in the film A Beautiful Mind, was an early contributor to game theory. His “Nash Equilibrium,” helps to evaluate player strategies in non-cooperative games. Game theory helps us to understand how and why people play games.

    So, other than Markowitz winning the von Neumann award in 1989, how does MPT relate to defect prevention? The answer lies, seductively, in the use of crowd-sourcing and human computation: attracting the effort of "the crowd" to assist.

    Wikipedia describes “crowdsourcing” as

    "a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design[1] and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science)."

    and “human computation” as

    "Human-based computation is a computer science technique in which a computational process performs its function by outsourcing certain steps to humans. This approach leverages differences in abilities and alternative costs between humans and computer agents to achieve symbiotic human-computer interaction."

    So, if the problem set for defect detection lies in our ability to balance our portfolio of discovery techniques, how can we involve the "crowd" to balance our portfolio on a grander scale?

    The answer lies in the use of "Productivity Games." Productivity Games, as a sub-category of Serious Games, attract players to perform "real work," tasks that humans are good at but computers currently are not. Although computers offer tremendous opportunities for automation and calculation, some tasks, such as analyzing images, have proven to be difficult and error-prone and, therefore, using computers can often lower the quality and usefulness of the results. For tasks such as this, human computation can be much more effective. Additionally, by framing the work task in the form of a game, we are able to quickly and effectively communicate the objective and achieve higher engagement from a community of employees as players of the game.

    One of the all-time greatest examples of a Productivity Game is the ESP Game, developed by Luis von Ahn of Carnegie-Mellon University (also well known for inventing the Captcha), in which players help label images. In the ESP Game, two players work together to match text descriptions of images to earn points. The artifacts of game play are text-based (searchable) descriptions of images (not searchable). More at http://www.gwap.com.

    Following is a series of quotes and examples related to the importance, usefulness, and appeal of games. 

    As University of Minnesota researcher Brock Dubbels suggests, "Games provide the opportunity to experience something grand—flight simulators do not have the excitement that games do—games exaggerate and elevate action beyond normal experience to make them motivating and exciting. In World War 2, the likelihood of being in a dogfight was slim, but in the game ‘1942,’ you can find one around every corner. Games raise our level of expectation to the fantastic and our biochemical reward system pays out when we build expectation towards reward. Sometimes the reward leading up to the payout is greater than the reward at payout! A game structures interaction in ways that may not be available by default for special circumstances and projects. A game can also create bonds that hold people together through creating opportunities for relationships that one might not experience every day."

    Brook Mitchell, CEO of Snowfly, a company that makes game software for performance rewards, describes the manual labor used in a slot machine: "Pulling a lever on a slot machine is a very routine and repetitive task. If playing a slot machine were a job, it would be difficult to staff it at almost any reasonable wage. Yet these people were paying money to do it."

    Paul Herr, in the book Primal Management, concurs: "The neurobiologic revolution has, in turn, sparked a revolution in economics. Economists, working in close cooperation with neurobiologists, have designed brain-imaging experiments based upon game theory to explore the brain’s decision-making apparatus. These experiments indicate that all forms of reward, monetary or otherwise, depend upon feelings. When players in an economic game plan their monetary strategy, the dopamine reward system in the basal striatum—the same brain area that processes food, sexual, and drug-related rewards—lights up on the brain scans. These experiments indicate that there is only one reward metric for human beings—sensations of pleasure and pain emanating from the basal striatum. Neuroeconomic research is putting feelings and emotions where they belong—at the core of economic decision making."

    Even family advice columnist Ask Evelyn says that people learn patience and perseverance as they learn to wait their turns, wait for a particular card, or come back from a loss. They learn to finish the game, sticking it out to the end, whether they win or lose. And they learn to win or lose graciously. They learn to cooperate, be honest, play fair, evaluate situations, and use critical thinking and strategy. They also learn to make choices for which they must accept the consequences. Accepting the consequences of your choices—being responsible for them—is a vitally important life skill. Best of all, no one has to work at "teaching" all this. It happens naturally while you are having fun together.

    Juan Barrientos, Development Officer with the Games for Learning Institute at NYU, describes how they are "studying what makes games fun and educationally effective. G4LI researchers use a variety of methods such as game play observation, interviews, and experiments in order to identify design patterns for effective educational games."

    Ken Perlin, Director for the Institute adds, "The key question is how to reliably design fun and measurably effective learning games.  The Games for Learning Institute places this question on a sold empirical scientific foundation by creating a wide variety of mini-games.  As kids play these games, we measure the impact that various patterns of game design have on different kinds of learning outcomes."

    Institute co-Director Jan Plass further emphasizes that "in addition to conducting empirical research on design patterns for effective educational games, the mission of G4LI is to create a thriving research community on educational games. For example, we are building a game design architecture, based on XNA, that will be fully instrumented, and will therefore allow other researchers to collect play data for their own studies on games and learning."

    These same principles apply at work today and will increasingly apply as the next generation of employees learns and prepares for future employment. How do we use games to teach employees to deploy defect prevention techniques? Using mini-games to attract attention to a variety of techniques helps to distribute effort across the set of techniques as prescribed by Markowitz s MPT.

    Below are a three examples of Productivity Games we’ve used at Microsoft to improve quality. See Chapter 5, “Using Games to Improve Productivity,” of The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention for the genesis of this approach and for some examples related to development of Windows Vista. In addition to the list below, there s a lot of work going on in the Office Labs group to experiment with the use of games in Microsoft Office. The Office Labs Skill Tracker adds elements of game play into Office to motivate users to explore more of the applications, learn new features, and boost their productivity. Skill Tracker will be released in late 2009. Office Labs Program Manager Jennifer Michelstein, who is coordinating the Skill Tracker project, believes that "adding elements of game play to Office can motivate people to learn more features and boost their productivity, while having fun, competing, and feeling good about learning. A key variable is integrating the right level of fun in Office, so that game elements boost instead of reduce overall productivity."

    Code Review Game

    Background: Code reviews are a cost-effective method for discovering defects, but they require training, rigor, and dedicated effort

    Problem: How do we encourage effort in code reviews, when, for individuals, techniques requiring less effort might be more attractive?

    Solution: Code Review Game

    The Windows Security Test team deployed a game designed around code reviews in March 2009. The belief was that work and fun need to co-exist to help keep employees motivated through the ebb and flow of the product cycle and that you must vary defect detection approaches to get the best results. The team organized a lot of games like bug bash, bug smash, self hosting, etc. In one of the brainstorming sessions, the team came up with the idea of organizing a Code Review Game:

    1. We wanted to keep the game easy and simple to get the best results. We created 4 teams and captains for each team.

    2. We asked the teams to choose their code and make sure it is not chosen by any other team. Each team gets points by the following rules.

    a. Every sev 1 code bug gets 10 points.

    b. Every sev 2 code bug gets 5 points.

    c. Every Doc/KB gets 3 points.

    d. Every code bug for Win8 gets 2 points.

    e. For participation every team gets default 4 points.

    Response and enthusiasm for the Code Review Game

    The team rates this game approach as one of the most successful in the recent past. Each team created their own strategy to win the game. A few of the strategies to "win the game" were shared and they look a lot like solid techniques to find defects:

    1. Identify the developers who are more prone to make errors and take their code to review to get maximum ROI.

    2. After finding a code review bug, look for similar kind of bugs in the full code. If the code is written by the same developer, it’s high likely that a similar bug will appear in other places/files as well.

    3. Check all the APIs used by developer in MSDN to see whether they are correctly documented.

    4. Do the review in the first four hours of the day rather than later in the day when the teams are already exhausted. This activity takes out a lot from individuals.

    5. Divide the code into pieces so that each day people review around 500 lines of code.

    6. Organize the game with a critical yet playful attitude, never targeting any individual developer. If one finds a good piece of code, never forget to praise the developer for this. This way the developer also felt the sincerity of the players and understood that issues which are reported are genuine issues.

    7. Clear the deck for code review week; get stuff done early so there is time to concentrate.

    8. Start with the code review checklist. As new people enter the game or as new strategies are developed, update the checklist to raise the bar for competition.

    PageHunt Game

    Background: Understanding, measuring, and improving search relevance

    Problem: Evaluating search relevance and findability of Web pages

    Solution: PageHunt Game, available at http://PageHunt.msrlivelabs.com

    See articles on the game at

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/editors/23898/ and


    The goal of the PageHunt Game is to improve the relevance of the search results and, particularly, to look at the areas where improvements can be made. Most work to evaluate and improve the relevance of Web search engines typically uses human relevance judgments or click-through data.

    Both of these methods look at the problem of learning the mapping from queries to Web pages. They work when a page or result does get surfaced. But what if some pages rarely get surfaced? There are no ratings from the crowd, no click-through data, nothing at all. This game is designed to employ a different approach of learning about the mapping from Web pages to queries.

    The hope is to use the data from the game to automatically extract query alterations for use in query refinement. For example, from data gathered in a pilot version, we learn that JLo is a sort-of equivalent to Jennifer Lopez, Capital city airport to Kentucky airport, etc. So when someone searches for JLo, we can also refine the query to look also for Jennifer Lopez and improve our search results. We also hope to get additional metadata for (e.g., image-heavy, text-poor) pages, identifying ranking issues. etc.

    The Language Quality Game

    Background: Localization, translation, and linguistic quality require tremendous investment, effort, and talent. Usually, the best way is to hire local experts to complete a manual visual inspection of every translated string, dialog, and user interface element.

    Problem: How to capture local and cultural nuances, reduce the expense and schedule time, and improve quality of localized releases by employing native language speakers.

    Solution: Language Quality Game



    The traditional business process uses specific language vendors to perform translation work and then a secondary vendor to assess the quality. The business challenge has been that, for some languages and locales, finding two independent vendors can be difficult and costly. To address this problem, the Language Quality Game was developed to encourage native speaking populations to do a final qualitative review of the Windows user interface and to help identify any remaining language issues. The goal was to ensure a high-quality language release. Using the diverse population of native language speakers within Microsoft has enabled the pre-release software to be validated in a fun and cost-effective way. The list of Windows languages can be found on MSDN.Microsoft.com.


    Game Duration

    One Month

    Total Players

    > 4,600

    Total Screens Reviewed (Points Earned)

    > 530,000

    Average Screens per Player


    Top Player Screens Reviewed

    > 9,300

    To learn more about the Language Quality Game, join Microsoft and others in the software quality field at the 27th Annual Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference (http://www.pnsqc.org/). Joshua Williams, a senior test engineer from the Windows Defect Prevention Team, will be presenting a paper demonstrating the success of using games in testing software.


    The use of Productivity Games at Microsoft stretches back several years. Early use of games to increase quality improvement efforts in Windows began in 2006. In August 2008, Forrester released a report on Serious Games ("It s time to take games seriously," by TJ Keitt and Paul Jackson) with the insightful prediction that "the strongest ROI and ultimate adoption will be in serious games that help workers do real work."

    As we warm up for the highly anticipated 50th anniversary of Portfolio Selection, we can recognize that the world is changing. Crowd-sourcing, social networks, and instant and real-time communication are all altering the way we work. However, our ability to focus has not increased at the same rate as our tools. How does the crowd focus its attention? How do we, as those interested in attracting effort from the crowd, retain the crowd’s attention span? Creative and collaborative play is the key. Productivity Games help individuals work together effectively and help focus our collective energy.

    There is real potential here.

    Productivity Games could be the Six Sigma of the 21st century.

    To give a shout-out to others in the field, here’s a list of great thought leaders and references in this area:

    · NYU Games for Learning Institute http://g4li.nyu.edu/

    · Snowfly, Inc - www.snowfly.com

    · Serious Games Institute

    · IBM Innov8

    · Video Games as Learning Tools - http://vgalt.com/

    · Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2009

    · Seriosity http://www.seriosity.com/

    · Games at Work - upcoming book

    · Changing the Game - book

    · London Business School case study

    · Serious Games Initiative

    · Google  Guest Blog Post - Using Games to Improve Quality http://googletesting.blogspot.com/2008/06/productivity-games-using-games-to.html

    · Games with a Purpose - www.gwap.com

    · Fold It http://fold.it/portal/

    · Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference (http://www.pnsqc.org/).

    · Office Labs http://www.officelabs.com

    · The Economist http://www.economist.com/daily/columns/businessview/displayStory.cfm?story_id=11997115

    · The Edge Magazine - http://www.edge-online.com/blogs/changing-the-game

    · NY Times Freakonomics blog - http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/theres-free-labor-in-video-games/?scp=1&sq=changing%20the%20game&st=cse

    · Employees play games, Microsoft Wins  http://unlockthemysteries.com/employeevideogamesmicrosoftwins.aspx

    · Behind the Scenes at Microsoft http://www.leaderperfect.com/articles/microsoft_trust.htm

    · Changing the Game: How Video Games are Transforming the Future of Business - http://www.changingthegamebook.com   - Ch8

    · CNET interview link http://podcast-files.cnet.com/podcast/danielgameauthors.mp3?tag=mncol;txt

    · Realtime Perfomance Webinar link

    · Singapore Management University did an interview (about 4 mins in) http://www.forimmediaterelease.biz/index.php?/weblog/the_hobson_holtz_report_podcast_400_november_24_2008

    · Serious Games Summit - 2008 presentation http://www.defectprevention.org/downloads/bug%20hunter.pdf

    · Microsoft Research - Rethinking the ESP Game.

    · And, of course, the Microsoft Press book that brought us all here: The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention. Buy it today <grin>.

    · More info on our work around productivity games is on http://productivitygames.blogspot.com and http://www.42projects.org.

  • |

    It’s your day, how are you going to celebrate? Yes, if you’re a System Administrator you should take a bow because today is System Administrator Appreciation Day! You could convince the users you support to take you out to lunch. You could drop broad hints that flowers and candy are always appreciated. Or you could spend a little time thinking about what it takes to be a great SysAdmin. Are you there? How are you going to stay current? How are you going to get even better?

    Today, I’m writing my commitments (goals) for our new fiscal year at Microsoft and these are the things I’m thinking about. How am I going to have more of an impact? How am I going to be more efficient and make my budget go farther? How am I going to grow my skills so that I stay relevant? It’s a lot to think about, but kind of exciting when you sit down and spend the time to map out a plan and figure out how to integrate new practices into your duties.

    As Ken mentioned in a previous post, we recently had a reorganization in Microsoft Learning and so I’m taking over event planning from Deborah Grauer. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. I can’t hope to be as good as she was my first year doing this, but here’s what I do bring to the table: fresh eyes. I can look at our event plans and bring new ideas and new energy. I know that’s not a lot to hang my hat on, but I also have a secret weapon. You.

    If you attended TechEd this year or are planning to attend in the future, let me know what you’d like to see from Microsoft Learning. If you’ve attended one of our webcasts, tell me what you liked and didn’t like. If you haven’t attended a webcast, why not? They’re free. Are you looking for a particular topic? Here’s your chance to influence the planning process. I’m listening.

  • Iowa joins Washington, Virginia, and Illinois to become the fourth state up and running in our Elevate America program, with vouchers available for up to 6,000 Iowans.

    More info here, here, and here (and full press conference audio here).

  • Okay, there seems to be mini-theme developing today: it’s time to check-in on Dunbar High School, which (deservedly) seems to make the news every few months.

    This time out, Naples News has a nice profile of alum Danny Bell, well on this way to a career in computer forensics.

    My favorite quote, from his former teacher Dan Trembley: “I say this with no bitterness: He makes more money than I do. That’s what I want to do is train young people who will be successful members of society.”

    Mr. Trembley, something tells me that maybe not in the traditional sense but nonetheless: you are a very rich man.

  • Starting next week, if you’d rather not print your own certificates or have a local print shop do it, you can order a paper certificate from our fulfillment vendor.

    We’ll post instructions and a link next week both here and on the MCP Member site, but since many of you have been asking “how much is this going to cost,” we can share that information now:

    The base shipping and handling cost for a paper certificate is $9.95 USD—to anywhere in the world. One price, worldwide.

    Additional information:

    You can add additional certificates to your order (maximum of 6) for $0.99 each… so an order for 3 certificates would cost $9.95 + $0.99 + $0.99 = $11.93

    There will be an “express shipping” option for faster delivery, at an additional fee of course. Don’t have the details on that yet.

    Some U.S. residents will be charged sales tax (if you live in a state where our fulfillment vendor has facilities—I have no idea why, but it’s a legal requirement).

    No sales tax or VAT outside of the U.S.

    Only Visa, MasterCard, and American Express payments are accepted—no other payments of any type.

    More details next week.