The value of SharePoint Certifications

In today’s world of SharePoint consulting and engineering, there are certain competencies and thresholds that need to be met prior to being able to enter into an engagement that is profitable to both the individual providing services and the organization receiving services. Similar to medicine, SharePoint engineers and consultants have practices and firms that they are a part of. They do not necessarily know all there is to know about SharePoint when they start off, nor do they have the same expertise in every area of the product but rather they have a foundation of knowledge that they all take on as a core foundation of knowledge.

The Problem – How do we truly measure an individual’s acumen in the SharePoint Products and Technologies landscape?

With the SharePoint Products and Technologies continuing to expand and absorb capabilities within the Microsoft stack, it is a bear to think that a certification can truly qualify an individual and provide depth and insight into what they truly know and how they would react when presented with a real world problem. The purpose of this article is to examine the Microsoft certification process in relation to SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2010.

The Current Certifications – There are five available for both SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint 2010. Two of these exams are for IT Professionals that deal more with the core infrastructure at the collaboration platform level of WSS and SPF; the other more at the application level of MOSS and SPS. Similar to the IT Pro exams there are two for Developers that are aimed at the individual code level solutions using WSS and SPF in addition to application server solutions leveraging the capabilities of MOSS and SPS. On top of these four exams there is the Microsoft Certified Master. Coming soon there will be a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 end user certification (Microsoft Office Specialist – 77-886).

Similar in opinion to Mark Rackley in his post “The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint” at the regarding Microsoft certifications, it’s frustrating when reading someone’s bio and finding that they’ve been certified in several Microsoft technologies only to come to find that they’ve read every book that’s been written to learn the theory of the product and the how to from a distance. Further, knowing that there are certification question and answer dumps available further infuriates SharePoint professionals as their knowledge becomes devalued and treated like a cheapened commodity of knowledge.

So what’s the benefit of an MCTS or MCITP – As an individual that maintains proficiency in a technology, they have various options for how to formalize this body of knowledge. By going through the certification process, it further legitimizes their knowledge. Further, as an individual that possess certification, from a perspective as a business partner, it provides greater avenues and channels to pursue opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

What about those folks that are using the brain dumps – it only lessens their value to go through the certification process with information that they’ve memorized. While it might open up opportunities to them and their business, winning contracts away from more deserving groups of technologists that just have not formalized their certifications they are only hurting themselves. As organizations become entangled in engagements that they lack the expertise in performing the work required, they will either have to a) hire individuals that are not certified that have real world experience, b) start learning the actually competencies and objectives that were called out as a part of the certification, lowering their return to their customer and slowing down their delivery or c) turning to another organization to subcontract the work out. In a worst case scenario it would mean retracting their bid for the work after they had started the work and have it go back out for rebid by the customer that was looking for someone to provide services.

This not only diminishes the organizations competency in a particular area but when it comes time for the organization to hand out customer reviews to be sent back to Microsoft as a part of the partner program to validate their competencies they’ll be downgraded.

What about that MCM thing? Well it’s a tough program and as my esteemed friend Mark Rackley stated, it goes to the extreme of requiring an individual to attain certification in all four areas as well as go through a registration process. Going through the registration process does not automatically mean an individual is admitted though as the MCM program has apparently tuned into the fact that some individuals don’t quite have the real world training and wouldn’t be able to make it through the three weeks of deep exposure to SharePoint. Again, similar to going to medical school, the application process weeds out those that may not actually have the foundation of knowledge that is required to be successful in a training program that helps to push an individual toward mastery of a wide variety of skillsets.

So what’s the value? So if we look at certifications being attained by individuals that have real life, hands on experience in some capacity, then we can look at these exams as being a foundation of knowledge and vocabulary. During the interview process, leveraging the learning objectives that are related to an exam should provide a starting point for where a candidate may be coming from in their interview for a position. If the individual does not seem to have an idea of any of the underlying knowledge related to the learning objectives then either a) they’re having a bad day or b) they’ve moved out of the technical expertise into more of a technical manager role that is no longer hands on and have lost their ShareFoo or c) they went through and deceived themselves through the use of test aids.

This foundational knowledge presented by the certifications provides a basis that allows for further collaboration among SharePoint professionals and allows for a greater ability to work toward solutions. When a developer is speaking a different language or an administrator doesn’t understand a core concept then it slows down the solution development and implementation. Having a team work together and teach one another to get certified further helps the team to produce results.

Bottom Line – Encourage your team to get certified, have a common body of knowledge that leverages the learning objectives of the certification exams – teaching one another through hands on experience. Don’t deceive yourself and your customers by presenting yourself as someone that you’re not though – keep it real.

Bottom Bottom Line – Get it on like Donkey Kong. ‘nuff said.

I encourage you to read Mark Rackley’s post on this topic as well to get a well balanced view of the SharePoint world regarding how certifications are viewed.  Mark brings a different angle which I agree with on several levels –

Best Practices Community Off Topic

SharePoint Practices Poll Results

During the Holiday break I threw a quickly developed poll up on Survey Monkey to see what folks perceptions were of their favorite SharePoint Practice in the Washington, DC area.  The results were eye-opening. Okay, not really. The results were non-scientific backing, further lacking turnout and non-repudiation controls.  One major control that was lacking was the ability to limit individuals to a single vote (I have a hunch some individuals may have double voted). Further with only a small subset of the SharePoint community voting, the results were incomplete and only took into account the perceptions of those voting.  What this poll did show was that there were indeed individuals near their computing devices that had the stamina to click on a link and then make a selection followed by clicking on a submit button – well played friends.

Nonetheless, there were 34 practices that were entered into the poll and the top ten practices that were selected in order of popularity in this very non-scientific poll:

Ranking Practice
1 ActionNet
2 Summit 7 Systems
3 Booz Allen Hamilton
5 Microsoft
6 Innovative-e
Portal Solutions
Planet Technologies
9 MetroStar Systems


So what does all of this mean? Not much, except that folks were able to click through a poll.

I’m sure that the raw data could be spun in some manner or fashion, but due to the non-scientific collection means and lack of controls in place, I figured it would be more interesting to make note of the practices that did show up in the top ten. Each of these practices do great work in the DC area, Nationally and Internationally.  All of the practices listed likewise  have great people working for them, that in turn have excellent results.

So what’s next?  Speaking with my friend and caped crusader, Joel Ward, we’ve tossed around ideas of how to better poll the community but from a different angle. Perhaps rather than just voting on the best practice to work for, we take an inside look with practice members and managers to find out more about their methods, their approaches and what their expertise is.  Call it reporting and showcasing SharePoint excellence throughout the community.

Practices in original non-scientific poll – ActioNet, Applied Information Sciences, Aquilent, Inc., BlackBlade Associates, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bravo Consulting Group, CACI, CDW, ComSys, Deloitte, Digicon Corporation, HP, i3 Solutions, InfoReliance, Information Strategies, Innovative-e, JHC Technology, Juniper Strategy, LLC, Lockheed Martin, MetroStar Systems, MicroLink, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Planet Technologies, Portal Solutions, Perficient, RDA, Satory Global, Smartronix, Inc., Sogeti, Summit 7 Systems, Watkins IT, WinSmarts


SharePint DC – Coming Soon…

It’s Summer time in the greater DC metro area and what better way to get out of the office a few minutes early, and yet still chat with other SharePoint professionals about the intricacies of infrastructure, architecture, and development than to do so over a pint at a brewery in the greater DC area?

Well, look no further than the latest and greatest, SharePint DC – coming soon!


In tradition with other SharePint events, we’re sponsor free, just declaring a rally point in the city twice a month to convene, share our tales, network, ask questions that are stumping us and just enjoy the company of others in the SharePoint community without a presentation or anything else.

Are there any rules to SharePint DC?

Why yes there are… much like a subsite to its parent in a site collection, we inherit the rules established by the SharePint community…

Please Note:   Like Fight Club there are rules to SharePint:

  1. No sponsorship
  2. No sponsorship
  3. If this is your first SharePint, You have to Drink!

Check back for more details coming soon.  First event will be the last week of June 2009.

Certification Infrastructure SharePoint

TechEd 2008 – Day 1

Day 1 of TechEd 2008 was a long first day to open up the conference.  Starting off with breakfast at 7:30, heading to the keynote at 8:30 and then onward to breakout sessions, hands on labs and interactive sessions through 6:30 in the evening was quite a lot to digest – but the day didn’t end there as we headed over to the MCP/MCT/MVP Gathering in the evening and then over to the City Walk for the TechEd Groove.  Nevertheless, the core personal highlights included:

  • a better understanding of Dynamics CRM 4.0 and how it integrates with other products (Microsoft and other)
  • tips and tricks using PowerShell for web content management and the SharePoint object model
  • an understanding of the certification path for Windows Server 2008
  • hands on lab for advanced SharePoint administration – how I’ve missed working with the CLI
  • how records management is improving in MOSS 2007

All in all, a great first day at TechEd 2008.

Infrastructure SharePoint

WSS v3 to MOSS 2007 Upgrade "Fun"

A few days ago I was allowed to participate in the fun of upgrading from the Windows SharePoint Services version 3 platform to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Standard Edition during an overnight weekend time period so as to limit the exposure of any problems that could crop up during operational hours.  This should be a cut and dry right?  I mean Microsoft has a fully loaded set of documentation to assist in “Planning and Preparing.”  How hard can this really be?  I’ve got all the information written out with service accounts, passwords and backup copies of site collections, site definitions and content databases sitting on an external drive – really is this going to be a problem?  This is going to be FUN!

Okay, so admittedly, there are a few challenges to this environment.  It was originally a WSS v2 environment with a custom site definition utilized by several site collections.  But wait, there’s more! This environment was upgraded to WSS v3 with a custom site definition leveraging an upgrade definition file.  The additional challenge of the evening in question, which I shall continue to term as fun, included changes in the Microsoft Windows Network Infrastructure going through a spiral of changes.  You would think that this wouldn’t be much of an issue, servers cache credentials right, don’t they?  Unfortunately, when attempting to upgrade, just as when the initial SharePoint instance is installed, the server will communicate back and forth with Active Directory to confirm the user accounts being utilized.

Rather than take the blue pill and investigate how far the rabbit hole goes, I digress and state that after the networking challenges of the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Infrastructure were fixed so that the real fun could begin – total time wasted waiting for the domain controllers to be fully accessible and operational, 2.5 hours.

First feat, identify where the custom site definition files reside for this WSS v3.  Total time ~ 5 minutes.

Once these were copied over to a network file share I figured that we were in the clear… figured.

Second feat, validate the site backups are operational and the site definitions can be applied prior to restoration to be sure that the environment will be a success.  The Gray Ghost accepts nothing less than success mind you – it’s a flaw in some sense.  So first step in mitigating risk was to utilize a VMWare VM (easier than building out an entire server blade eh?).  And for those of you would ask, yes, I’m using VMWare – I’m still not a fan of Microsoft’s VirtualPC 2007 and I have to say that some of the features and capabilities in the newest Workstation release are pretty sweet.  After installing the key components (frameworks for .net 2.0 and 3.0, in addition to good ole trust IIS 6.0) on the VM, I was off and running to installing a base installation of SQL Server 2005 Express with the applicable service pack and WSS v3.  All of this to a) test that the custom site definitions, just in case the actual server should kick the bucket, at least there would be a safety net and b) to be sure that the data would restore from the backups.  Total time ~ 1.5 hours, apparently there were still some DNS issues cropping up.

Third feat, upgrade MOSS on a WSS v3 platform.  This would seem trivial right?  Unfortunately, not so much.  After running the SharePoint Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard, it made it through 8 of 9 upgrade / installation steps before failing.  Sadly there was very little in the actual error log except that an error had occurred.  After parsing through the log files I came across an interesting tid bit of information:

Requested registry access is not allowed.

Needless to say, what a let down, and without going and pulling down a copy of regmon and finding out what key it was that SharePoint was trying to modify, and then go about restoring the proper administrative privileges in the registry, I decided that it was time for a surgical strike at the heart of this SharePoint server.  Total time ~ 1.5 hours.

Game time… sort of.  Checking to see what’s been installed, the server seems to think that MOSS is, even though it’s not entirely installed.  So at this point I’m frustrated and decide that I’ve got site collection backups that I’ve made using stsadm and I’ve got the content databases (removed them through the web interface prior to the fun of this evening), it’s time to uninstall MOSS and WSS and just do a fresh install of MOSS.  Easier said than done right?  Attempt to uninstall MOSS via Add/Remove Programs, no deals Mr. Bond.  Hey look, SharePoint Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard again, this time it doesn’t give me the option to remove, but rather just spews an event error stating that I need to complete the upgrade before I can do anything further.  Alright, sure, I can do that, I’ll just go in and manually move the files to where they’re supposed to be, modify the appropriate registry keys, fluff the pillows, take the milk money from the neighbourhood kids and start the appropriate services.  Wait, I don’t know where the files are supposed to go, and better yet I’m getting sleepy, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to type the appropriate GUIDs for the keys that SharePoint installs into the registry.  I’m feeling a little helpless at this point and pondering how quickly I can find Windows Server 2003 media to get back up and operational with a fresh installation pondering to myself if my worst fear had come to fruition, had this server kicked the bucket?  I got up and checked the server room, there was no bucket in sight.  Press on I say.

Then out of nowhere, it hit me….  psconfig to the rescue… 🙂

If you’re not familiar with psconfig, you really need to get to know this fine young gent that resides in the 12-hive’s bin directory.  After running the following:

psconfig -cmd upgrade -force

Low and behold, SharePoint was now done completing and “upgraded”.  Ack, Event Viewer has gone mad in the Application log, errors everywhere, lots of red.  Quickly got up and checked the server once more, still no bucket.  Time to check Add / Remove Programs.  Again, SharePoint Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard (the bane of my current existence) rears its head once more.  Fortunately, this time it bows before its master and allows me to Remove SharePoint from the server.  Once that was completed, I proceeded with uninstalling WSS v3.  After a quick reboot of the server and a scan of the Event Viewer for any nefarious errors, in addition to making sure that IIS was cleaned up, it was time to kick off a fresh installation of MOSS 2007.  Total time ~ 2 hours.

Once MOSS was operational, I deployed the backed up site definition from the file server, set the files to inherit privileges and like that I was back in action, restoring the site collections successfully.  Next up, installing the WSS v3 SP1 and the MOSS SP 1, both of which deployed successfully with no hiccups.  SharePoint Products and Technologies Configuration Wizard decided to play friendly this time – I was amazed.  Total time ~ 2 hours – the joys of waiting for site collection backups to finish restoring.

Overall experience – I was ecstatic to have added MOSS capabilities.  I was more ecstatic to sleep.  Just another overnight upgrade with the Ghost with the Most.


Developing Migration Methodologies

Something that always seems to strike me as somewhat interesting is when I find colleagues, co-workers and fellow engineers not really thinking through the entire process of migrating from one SharePoint services based platform to another. I tend to cringe when I hear Microsoft salesman talk about the extensibility and the modularity of SharePoint 2007 and how easy it is as an administrator to do things, so much that you don’t even need a systems administrator for regular maintenance, nor an architect or engineer to design things prior to deployment.

Low and behold that’s where the Ghost swoops in and starts pointing out the deficiencies of a system prior to migration and why it will topple and post migration on a system not well suited for it. That’s also where the Ghost starts to build up fixes and implementation guides to be sure that the system does not fail so that there’s no egg upon the face of those that will be assisting in deploying it to customers and clients.

Currently though I am working through a few migration struggles that all focus on SharePoint’s security identifier (better known as a SID) and how it’s referenced by content that resides within your friendly neighborhood content database. The stsadm migrateuser operation is fairly handy in being able to move a user from Domain A to Domain B and reassign their identity within SharePoint’s access control lists, however on a grand scale where you’re dealing with 10’s of 1000’s of site collections and web applications and users in an enterprise implementation, to say the least it can be quite daunting.

What I’ve found to be the best option is to mellow out and go Gray for a while and think things through, working out a migration strategy and methodology, while clearly communicating to customers, clients and stakeholders the risks and impacts that need to be defined so as to demonstrate the impact to the business operations. Typically a large whiteboard comes in handy as well as some unsweetened ice tea along with Jack Johnson playing in the background.

The largest problem that I have come to find is that when migrating a user from one domain to another using out of the box Active Directory tools such as LDIFDE if I’m feeling lazy or the Active Directory Migration Tool that obviously I want to keep SID history – but wait, that’s only for the Windows 2003 user object and not the SharePoint SID. SharePoint stores both the SID information and the login name (sAMAccountName) as a property identifying the user within SharePoint.

So what happens when the sAMAccountName changes or the userlogin? As Brian Regan would say, “Hell on earth.” Okay, so it’s not that bad, rather the user just no longer has ownership of a particular file. So if a user resides in Domain A and has several hundred files spread across several web applications, what’s the best methodology to migrate their content and the user to Domain B? I ask myself that constantly.

What I have come to find is that to be successful, all SharePoint data must be migrated to the new SharePoint instance within the new domain (domain B, which has a two way trust with domain A), and then the migration of users can begin. Otherwise, as a user’s content moves to the new domain and then the user moves in, a single operational modification needs to be performed to reassign privileges to the user. Else, there is a constant struggle of moving content, reassigning permissions on both instances until all of the user’s content has been moved.

Is there an easier way to do this in a short period of time in a highly distributed system? Not that I know of…  It seems that you can either go the route of six in one hand or half dozen in the other.

Infrastructure SharePoint WSS

70-630… and check…

So after inadvertently forgetting to move the 70-630 exam so that I might be able to get some study time in, I decided to suck it up and go take the exam at the time I’d originally scheduled it for… The exam went by pretty quickly as I completed it in about 35 minutes – only to press submit and have a sinking feeling that I failed from lack of studying (I guess I like to go for perfection).

But no, actually I passed with flying colors this morning. Overall the exam was pretty simple and quite easier than the WSS exam which actually required knowledge of infrastructure and how the platform really works. Best of luck to those that are off to take this exam!

Certification SharePoint

70-631… check

So this morning on a whim I decided to test out my skills and took 70-631 at a local testing center. About 45 minutes later I was walking out with a smirk on my face thinking “Oh yeah”. Needless to say, it was a nice accomplishment after not having studied (and no I didn’t stay in a Holidfay Inn Express last night), so I guess there’s something to be said for being a Systems Architect with about 9 months of MOSS / WSSv3 work under my belt. So on to 70-630 sometime later this week.

SharePoint Solutions WSS

WSSv2: Photo Library Pet Peeve

I give Microsoft credit for having developed a highly usable framework for the Windows SharePoint Services v2 platform, however I do have to say that they left a lot of room for improvement between v2 and the newly released v3 (which is highly improved in many aspects).

For those who have not yet upgraded, I do have to say that one pet peeve of the v2 platform for me at least, is the Photo Library and its inability to mass edit metadata stored in the Photo Library. For instance, if you were to create a photo library and dump a few hundred images in via “Upload Multiple Files”, for any custom metadata column you have added to the photo library, it selects the default and appends that to the newly uploaded images. This is the common and expected behaviour, however, one would think that similarly to a document library you would have the capability to edit in a datasheet view quickly the information pertaining to the photos, but unfortunately no such capability exists.

Anyone have a workaround solution of any sort for this sort of mass editing?