Rants and Raves #3
Microsoft Certification Exam
I ranted in the last Rants and Raves about the Microsoft Certification exam, specifically about the format. Well, this week I feel no better: I decided that since I was so close last time that I would push ahead and quickly retake the exam, so I scheduled the exam for 9 days after the initial fail. After lots of studying, cramming, and practice tests, I was able to pass. All the prep work is what really delivered in the end, and it was a good thing I had invested the time: this test was far more difficult than my first attempt. It was an agonizing process.
My Rant is the same as last week: I just can’t believe the amount of memorization expected. The exam does little to truly test your knowledge of .Net concepts: instead, it focuses on specific method signatures and return values. But, I don’t want to just Rant and run, so I have a suggestion.
As this is an exam for coders, how about letting us code? Split the exam into two parts: part 1 would be questions regarding general .Net concepts. Part 2 would be a practical hands-on. Develop the exam software to utilize or emulate Visual Studio. Then have tasks to complete, where we write code to solve a particular problem. The kicker is they could write Unit Tests to evaluate our “answers”. Who cares about the specific implementation details? If the Unit Test succeeds, you get credit for your solution.
I’m sure there are plenty of holes in this idea, and by all means I encourage you to point them out, but I’ve really been annoyed by this and would welcome almost any change. I hope it’s not as bad when I go to take my next exam, 70-502 “Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5: Windows Presentation Foundation Applciation Development”.
Pomodoro, short for The Pomodoro Technique, is a time-management method that has been picking up steam lately with the developer crowd. I first heard of this a couple weeks ago at CodeStock 2009. I initially dismissed it as gimicky, but out of curiosity I read up on it some more. I was intrigued, so over the last week I’ve been testing the waters, and I must tell you: I’m officially hooked.
It’s an easy read, and the technique is very simple. In a nutshell, you break all your work time into 25 minute increments, each followed by a 5 minute break. This is called a “Pomodoro” (Italian for Tomato.) After 4 consecutive Pomodoros you take an extended break. At the beginning of the day you write down your priorities and tasks, and at the beginning of each Pomodoro you write down what you are going to work on. Then, at the end of the Pomodoro you update your status on that task.
The most important rule is you never violate the Pomodoro. Focus and work intensely on your task for those 25 minutes: not a minute more nor a minute less. To keep you on track, you use a kitchen timer or other device. When the bell goes off, no matter where you are in your task, you stop.
There is more, in fact there is a 40+ page PDF book on implementing the technique that answers all those questions I can hear you asking, like “what about interruptions”, “what about emergencies”, “what if I finish my task in ten minutes”, and so on. Essentially, the whole thing comes down to prioritizing your work and focusing.
The results for me have been excellent. I used the technique to carve out blocks of study time for my exam, time for practice tests, and managed to write a new application in only a few days. By focusing on one thing, intently, I’ve been surprised at how much I can get done in a short while.
I haven’t tried using an actual timer yet, but I soon will. I find it too distracting to constantly check the time, and I frequently work too long when I don’t pay enough attention. I’ll be working on perfecting my technique in the weeks to come. Of course, managing distractions is another key, so things like Twitter are suffering, but I’ve been so productive that I can deal with that.
Silverlight 3 and Expression 3
This probably isn’t news, but today marks the official launch of Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3. I’ve been using the Mix09 Preview of Blend 3 for a while now and I’m very happy with it. I haven’t gotten my hands on SketchFlow yet, but I’ve seen it and I’m anxious to give it a whirl. I’m downloading the RC with SketchFlow as I write this, so you can expect I’ll be writing about it soon.
Silverlight 3 is a superb upgrade to Silverlight 2 with tons of new features. For the best news available, be sure to read Scott Guthrie’s announcement.