Microsoft Certification Public Newsgroups
Should you chase the rabbit down the newsgroup hole in pursuit of your certification?
- By James Carrion
You've just finished reading three certification books, taken two different
practice exams, and spent countless hours configuring your test network-but
you're still nervous about taking that Microsoft exam. Then a friend tells
you that the Microsoft public newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com are a
great certification resource. You wonder: Are they worth your precious
time? Let's find out.
Alice in Wonderland
If you've never subscribed to an NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol,
RFC 977) newsgroup, then I highly recommend learning a little something
about this unique environment first. Visiting a public newsgroup is a
little like visiting a foreign country; it helps to speak the language
and know the customs first, or otherwise you can get yourself into a whole
lot of trouble.
A newsgroup is nothing more than a discussion forum where you post messages
visible to all the subscribers of the forum. A single posted message and
all of the responses to that message are hierarchically organized into
what is called a thread. You can read and post messages by using a software
program called a newsreader, which is a built-in feature of most e-mail
clients like Microsoft Outlook (which uses Outlook Express for this purpose).
Most netiquette guides advise you to "lurk" (browse unseen) around a
newsgroup first before posting an article so you can ascertain whether
the content is relevant, recognize who the major posters are, and to find
out what the signal-to-noise ratio (amount of good information vs. bad
information) is. If the newsgroup is prone to "flame wars" where posters
resort to tit-for-tat exchanges of insults, rants and raves, it may not
be worth your time and effort to participate in the group. You especially
want to be leery of trolls-not the Harry Potter kind, but individuals
who purposely post inflammatory messages and who enjoy the ensuing war
of words. I found out first-hand the nastiness of trolling while visiting
an unrelated newsgroup a few years back. A certain troll not only insulted
me repeatedly but also sent me threatening e-mails that stopped only when
I complained to his ISP. You can read up on the fine art of netiquette
Finally, it's always a good idea to read the newsgroup FAQ (Frequently
Asked Questions) if there is one.
You should also find out whether or not a newsgroup is moderated-one
where an individual (probably a volunteer) known as the "moderator" previews
all articles for relevancy and appropriateness before they are posted
to the group. This has the effect of filtering out the spam and the trolling.
An unmoderated group can be like the Wild West-complete with its own outlaws,
lynch mobs and posses. In other words, it is up to the subscribers to
self-regulate the content on the site. This is conducive to free speech
but at the same time it is prime operating territory for spammers and
Through the Looking Glass
There are nine Microsoft certification related newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com:
|Figure 1. Some of the public newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com.
(Click image to view larger version.)
Whereas the purpose for the certification titles newsgroups (MCSA, MCSD,
MCSE, etc) is self explanatory, I'm not sure why newsgroups were set up
for product specific certifications like Visual Studio (which should fall
under the MCSD newsgroup) and networking and winnt-9x (which should fall
under the MCSE newsgroup).
None of these groups appear to be moderated and although Microsoft has
posted its Rules of Conduct for Microsoft Communities at http://communities.microsoft.com/home/rules.asp,
for the most part spammers and trolls have free roam of the land. This
is especially noticeable in microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse, where a group
of trolls claiming to hold the MCNGP (Mean Certified News Group Poster)
certification have established their own little fiefdom. Woe to the individual
who posts to that newsgroup unaware of the evils that lurk there-you will
be flamed. I found this newsgroup to have some useful certification related
information, such as advice offered by subscribers to a prospective MCSE
on what to expect from the very difficult 70-216 Network Infrastructure
exam, but between the spammers, trolls and ridiculous number of people
looking to swap illegal copies of practice exam software, the sheer amount
of irrelevant posts was a little too much to bear. The microsoft.public.certification.networking
and microsoft.public.certification.winnt-9x newsgroups are also questionable
territory for the same reasons. Fortunately, most of the developer related
certification newsgroups are a little more civilized.
|Figure 2. A flame war in progress on the microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse
newsgroup. (Click image to view larger version.)
What I found of more value for the prospective MCP are the technical
newsgroups that are much more self-regulated and relatively free of spam
and trolling, including:
In the technical newsgroups you'll find very good answers to both simple
and complex technical questions. A number of experienced system administrators
contribute their in-the-trenches Microsoft product knowledge to these
newsgroups and they are an invaluable resource for increasing your Microsoft
knowledge base in preparation for an exam. If you find yourself mentally
answering some of the posted questions without looking at the expert responses,
it is a good indicator that your technical prowess is at the desired level.
If you're working hands-on with Microsoft products and are stumped by
a technical problem even after searching through TechNet, you can post
a question on the relevant newsgroup and receive a response from some
subscriber, usually within 24 hours. You should search the newsgroup posts
first to see if someone else has already posed the same question. If you
are a newbie (new to a newsgroup), you should not be ashamed to post questions
no matter how simple they sound as long as you have already made a solid
attempt to resolve or search for the answer through other technical sources.
Worth Your Time?
Newsgroups are a great way for you to interact with peers and experts
alike and to glean and share knowledge. Some, but not all, of the public
newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com are great resources for helping you
to pass a Microsoft exam. Don't waste your time on the heavily spammed
and trolled newsgroups like microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse unless you
have the time to sift through all the junk. Hopefully Microsoft will intervene
and clean up some of the newsgroups that have already gotten way out of
hand. Browse through the technical newsgroups and post your own technical
stumpers there. By all means learn proper newsgroup netiquette and lurk
a little before submitting your first post. Exploring newsgroups can open
up your world to a whole new learning paradigm but, just like Alice's
romp through Wonderland, your romp through newsgroups can be both a pleasant
and a bittersweet experience.