MVP Challenge: Data and AI plus some online exams

If you follow anyone that's part of Microsoft's MVP program, you might have heard there has been a global cloud skills challenge happening lately: #TheMVPChallenge.

There were three challenges that each of us could complete:

  • Azure Data & AI Challenge
  • Dynamics 365/Power Platform Challenge
  • Microsoft 365 Challenge

You can imagine which one I chose to complete. I did the Azure Data and AI challenge. Data and AI are a pretty common grouping.

While I would have liked to also do both the other challenges, Power Platform is obviously interesting to me, but I've looked at Dynamics over the years, and it's just not for me. The Microsoft 365 aspects aren't also my territory, but it might have been interesting to see what I could have learned if I'd done it, given most of us use those products every single day.

Data and AI Challenge

The name of this challenge was odd. There really weren't any data topics. It was all AI, and I don't mind that.

Some years back, I did the full Microsoft Professional Program for Data Science, and I also did the full Microsoft Professional Program for AI. Those offerings are now gone, and I have to say that I was quite sad when they disappeared. They really covered the topics in good detail. I also work with many of the Cognitive Services regularly, so this wasn't a new area for me.

I was really interested to see what Microsoft Learn now offered as a mechanism for free learning on these topics.

In the challenge, we needed to complete 42 modules. The depth really isn't there any more but for introductory-level material, what is provided is quite excellent. And did I mention that it's free?

Did I learn any new things while doing the challenge? Yes, a few. I think that any time you go back over an area, you pick up something that you've missed before. Or perhaps there's something you've forgotten because it didn't seem useful to you at the time, and now you realize that it is quite useful.

I'm already using some of the concepts that I picked up while doing the challenge, even though it was introductory level content.

MVP Community

I was really pleased to see how many of the local (and remote) MVP community took part. It's easy to start these types of challenges and to lose focus and stop.

In particular, I loved the way that our CPM Shiva Ford and other MVPs egged each other one to make sure we completed the challenge.

Exams

There was no requirement to do any exams related to this. I had a real interest, though, in knowing what was in all the "Fundamentals" exams. I wouldn't normally have taken them as they don't count towards certifications, so I decided to do a few exams during the month.

First I took the Azure Fundamentals exam AZ-900.

I thought the exam was OK, not too difficult and should be attainable for most people starting out with Azure. One thing I didn't like was that they spent so much time examining whether or not particular services were Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings. For many services, that's straightforward, but for services like storage, there are aspects of both. Regardless, that's not the sort of thing people should be all that focussed on. They should understand the difference, and that's enough.

Next I took the Azure Data Fundamentals exam DP-900. This had a little more substance to it. I thought it was a reasonable exam and covered many areas of data. The balance was a bit different to what I would have hoped for, but still OK. I did find questions, though, that were just simply wrong, where the author clearly might have read about a concept, but really didn't understand it. In hindsight, I should have taken the time to comment on the really problematic questions but I had a bunch of exams that day, and was already tired from fitting in the exams.

Next I took the Azure Administrator exam AZ-104. Now this exam was way more challenging than I expected. I wouldn't say that any of the concepts were all that difficult if you've worked with Azure for any length of time, but the way the questions were phrased made them more challenging than necessary. I was also surprised by the amount of focus on networking, when you consider all the tasks that an Azure administrator needs to handle.

I was glad to have taken AZ-104 though, as I had previously added the Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions exam AZ-400. I'd been meaning to take AZ-104 for ages, as that's what I still needed for the Microsoft Certified: DevOps Engineer Expert certification.

Upcoming

Now that I'm back into taking some exams again, I plan to do the other fundamentals exams (AI, and Power Platform) soon to see what's in those. Then I'll do the other data-related exams to complete those certifications.

Online Exams

I'll finish this post with a few comments about the online exam mechanism.

I didn't love it but it's workable.

I found the process pretty random. With my first exam, I tried to follow their instructions perfectly. When it got to my turn, a chat window opened but the text box where I could type wasn't enabled, so I couldn't respond to the monitor person. When I didn't respond, they told me they had to put me back in the queue again. Then that happened yet again. I was starting to think I wasn't going to be able to do the exam.

On the third time round the queue, I was able to type into the text box. They person then told me they couldn't see my video. But my video was displayed on the screen in their application. So clearly the application could see me. No idea why the monitor person couldn't. I started to explain that in the chat text box and then they just suddenly started the exam.

The other bizarre part is that they tell you to put your phone out of reach, and that if you leave the video area, you'll fail. So I put my phone in another room. And then a later screen tells you that if they need to contact you, they'll call you on your phone.

For the second exam, again I went round the queue two times. When the person came online in the chat, he told me I wasn't allowed to wear headphones. The bizarre thing is that I thought that would be best, and I did the first exam with them on. I took them off and he was happy.

Third exam started OK, but then I got pinged for turning my head. I have a tendency when sitting and pondering a question, to turn my head, and perhaps even lean back and look up. As soon as I did that, I had the monitor person warn me that if I did that again, I'd fail.

I'm glad there is a way to do these exams online, but I'd really like to see the experience improved. At least with these notes, I hope it will help you if you haven't been doing any exams this way.

 

 

 

 

How to kill off the Camtasia 2021 Launcher Pop Up

Camtasia is one of my favourite products. I use it regularly. I've been so excited to start to get to use Camtasia 2021 that was released just recently. It's a nice step up from an already great product.

But what I didn't like after upgrading, is that every time I started Camtasia, instead of the "normal" editing screen, I got a cutesy little popup that asked me what I wanted to do with the product today.

I'm not a fan of the popup; I'd rather the product just opened into a blank new project like it used to. The popup really just slows me down.

So I asked the TechSmith people on Twitter and they came to my rescue!

Here's the registry key that you need to modify to make this go away:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\TechSmith\Camtasia Studio\21.0\Camtasia Studio\21.0\ShowLauncherAtStartup

If that's a 1, then you get the launcher. If you change it to a zero, it's gone.

Hope that helps someone.

Opinion: What's wrong with Yes and No ?

IT people get accused all the time, of being out of touch with other people, and for using language that is overly complex.

So many times lately, I've come across dialog boxes like the one above.

It's clearly asking a Yes/No question. Why on Earth doesn't it give the user Yes and No as answer choices?

Why do we do this to users?

If you're building apps, please don't do this. If you ask a question that in normal language would lead to a Yes or No response, please give the users Yes and No as answer choices.

Opinion: Do your job advertisements still show a location?

I've been amazed as the pandemic has continued, how many companies that claim to understand remote work, still really don't get it. I've decided that a good test of that, is whether job advertisements still show a city or location for the work.

Now, not everyone can work remotely, and not everyone has anywhere suitable to work from remotely, but the majority of knowledge workers can do just that. That's who I'm talking about here.

Old School

David Solomon, the CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs hit the news last week, when he described remote work as an aberration. He said he wants his people back in the office while noting that "a business like ours, which has an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture" can't work remotely. He added that "It's an aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible".

Turns out though, that he's already now walking back much of what he said.

To agile innovative businesses that haven't been around all that many years, embracing remote work seems easy. For businesses like banks that have been around for more than a century, I'm sure they do see the change as a blip in their timelines. Turning these organizations around will be like trying to turn around the Ever Given within the Suez Canal.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, I already saw many businesses that were hamstrung by their inability to utilize remote talent. I remember consulting at a development company in Melbourne that had nearly 500 developers. They were endlessly searching for new developers. But only if they could live in Melbourne and come to their offices.

What's the outcome of that?

Well over time, they'd lose people and couldn't replace them. They'd already exhausted the local market, and so they started lowering the standards of who they'd hire.

Yet if they'd embraced remote workers, they could have had such a pool of bright developers they could have used. Instead of focussing on endless job searches, they should have been focussing on enabling a remote workforce. Instead of buying more office space and equipment, they should have been buying better connectivity.

Again, there are exceptions, like requirements for particular citizenships in certain jobs, but they are the minority, and even then, they don't need to be located in a particular city.

Pandemic Time

So many businesses that argued they couldn't work remotely suddenly found they could when the pandemic hit.

Prior to the pandemic, I found it particularly ironic that companies like Microsoft and even newcomers like Slack, really didn't seem to get remote work, even though they were building the tools to enable it. Teams is improving rapidly now, but the early versions of it showed all the hallmarks of being designed by someone who lives in a corporate cubicle, always within a single domain and email address.

Both companies have now changed their thinking but I can only wonder what sort of tools we might have had by now, if they'd actually been using their own tooling to truly enable remote working.

In particular, I've been really pleased to see the number of Microsoft job advertisements that now don't have a location, and make it clear they want to find the right person no matter where they are. This is great to see.

Future Work Combinations

I've been closely watching the surveys within Australia on where knowledge-worker staff want to be able to work. Most of the results break down like this:

  • 20% want to be in the office all the time
  • 20% want to be remote all the time
  • 60% want flexibility to choose between the two as needs arise

And just as importantly, they want flexibility not only on where they work, they want flexibility on when they work. 9-5 Monday to Friday just isn't going to cut it any more.

Worse, the lack of timing flexibility affects far more women than men.

Attracting and Retaining Staff

Any company that thinks the world is going back the way it was, is going to have a serious difficulty attracting great staff, particularly if they're chasing world-class talent.

I can already imagine the companies that could lure away key staff from the Goldman Sachs of this world, by offering them a different way to work, that is employee-centric not just company-centric.

The best staff aren't likely to choose to spend mind-numbing hours commuting to/from cubicles in city centres, if there's an alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion: Does your organization have a memory problem?

There's a café in Melbourne that I've liked going to for a while. It's not far from where I live when I'm in Melbourne, and it has all the makings of a really nice cosy suburban café. But there's something missing.

When I sat there the other day, my meal came as ordered but it was just a shadow of what it normally looks like. I put that down perhaps to a different chef that day. It's not great that they haven't all agreed on what those meals are usually made like, but that could have been a one off thing.

Another couple sat down near me though, and one of them put a finger on what the issue is with the café. He said "this place has no memory". He wasn't talking about the food changing; he was talking about each time you come in, it's like you've never been there before. What I think is the basic problem in that café, is that the only people who interact with the customers are the wait staff; there are usually only one or two, and they seem to change these staff regularly.

The old Cheers TV show had that aspect right. The theme song talked about people wanting to go where everyone knows your name.

IT Companies

A large IT company that I deal with has a partner program. I remember talking to one of their staff who had called me about an upcoming event and how they were running it. I asked why on earth they'd changed one of the core concepts. She said to me "It's always been that way". I said "No, it definitely was different". She said "Ever since I've worked here, that's how it has been". I asked how long she'd worked there, and she told me "Six Months".

Customer Feedback

Another large IT company has a way for customers to provide feedback, and for other customers to comment on and discuss the feedback.

But every few years, they seem to manage to have a need to purge all the feedback, either as some ill-conceived way of "tidying up" the feedback, or by losing info during migrations between feedback systems.  Either way, the information and rich discussions they have lost are amazing. Wonderful insights that were provided by people who've now moved out of the industry are all gone.

Now add into that mix a constantly changing set of staff within the relevant teams in the company. Again, you've created a lack of organizational memory. And time and again, you see the same mistakes made by new staff that previous staff had made.

Does your organization have a memory problem?

 

Opinion: iPhone12 Pro is an interesting device but a lousy phone

I'd been using an iPhone6+ for quite a while, and it still worked fine. Lately though, I'd been running into things that needed a later version of iOS than what was supported on that phone. So I changed to an iPhone12 Pro.

So far, that's been a big mistake.

One thing I've seen over the years while working with technology, is that development teams often get enamoured with the new features. And they forget to make sure that core functionality works as expected. The core functions seem to get lost in the weeds.

The iPhone12 Pro is a fascinating device, and a wonder of technology. But it's a lousy phone.

The most basic functionality you'd require for anything that calls itself a "phone" is that it can make and receive phone calls. The iPhone12 Pro fails that simple test. So often now, I get an SMS from my carrier telling me that I missed a call and it went straight to voice mail. But the phone didn't ever ring in the first place.

I'm not alone. If you browse online for "iphone12 goes straight to voicemail", you'll find a large number of articles, some with many steps showing how people have tried to work around this issue. I've tried them all. In the end, I've concluded that it's just buggy. My previous iPhone worked fine in the same location, and on the same network. My wife's iPhone6S, sitting right beside me, works as expected.

Coverage

While investigating various issues, I've also been reading about all the people with basic connectivity issues. For some reason, the iPhone12 just doesn't maintain the same level of connection to a tower.

But so many people complaining that once they've changed to one, their phone coverage has really suffered.

Intelligence gone mad

I keep finding issues with this device (I won't call it a phone for the reasons above), where something doesn't work as expected. And when I search online, I find others who also were puzzled, and it turns out there's some new "intelligent" feature that is enabled by default, and makes the device act strangely.

Here's a simple example: If I plug in the device to charge at say 10PM, I'd expect it to have fully charged within an hour or so. But if I pick it up at 4AM because I need to work early that day, it's not fully charged. Why? Because the phone decided that I normally take it off the charger at 7:30, and decided to go into a slow charging mode (no doubt well-intentioned), that will make it ready by 7:30AM.

This is intelligence gone mad. Great to have an option for that if I want to choose it, but making it a default that I need to find a way to turn off? Not so much.

Appropriate change methods

The Apple (wrong) way to introduce these breaking "features" is to just enable what they think you'll want, even though it will often end up confusing the user, who hasn't got a clue what's happened.

The right way to introduce it would be for the feature to be off, and for the device to tell the user "hey I noticed you normally take this off the charger at 7:30AM. If I slowed down the charging rate so it's ready by then, your battery life would be longer. Do you want me to enable that?"

Appalling recovery options

These devices now come with a large amount of memory. Yet Apple hasn't worked out that devices with a large amount of memory need better backup/restore options.

For example, when they can't explain problems, the support people often suggest reinstalling the device from a backup. Or if they change the device, you need to do the same. I tried their option for iCloud backup/restore once. It took quite a while to back it up, but when I tried to restore it on the new device, even on a fast connection, it took 3 days. That's simply not fit for purpose.

Worse, when it finally finished, it just calmly said "Some files were not restored". No hint, no idea which files.

How did this ever become acceptable?

And if you have a device with 256GB+ memory, and you need to change to a new device, what are your options? You can backup/restore to a PC, but once you're done, you have a mess that takes ages to sort out. Most of your data (e.g. music, books, etc.) won't be there. They assume you need to download it all again.

How is that reasonable when you have them all sitting in a device right beside you?

Heaven forbid if you have a bunch of things like authentication apps that all need to be set up again.

Overall

I can't tell you how much time I've wasted with the iPhone12 Pro, just trying to get it to perform with basic functionality. Wish it wasn't so.

 

 

 

 

Happy new year: and a reflection on 2020

Hi Folks,

Just wanted to make a post to wish you all a happy new year for 2021.

I doubt there's anyone much on the planet who didn't have a very, very peculiar, or very, very difficult 2020, and while there's a glimmer of hope with the virus now as vaccines arrive, I suspect that 2021 is still going to be dominated by the coronavirus, and a very tough year for so many.

2020 was also a very lonely period for many people, particularly as lockdowns occurred. Make sure you reach out to anyone you know who might be affected.

At this point, I just hope you all try to stay as safe as possible. Hard (or even disastrous) as other things might seem, everything else can be worked out later. Your health can't be.

 

Opinion: Development vs Professional Development

We had a new house built a while back, and in a few rooms there was a double switch: one for the light and one for a fan.

But which is which?

Now the old way to do that would have been to put a label on each one. Seems like a reasonable idea but unless that's a braille label, and you can read braille, that's not going to help you in the dark. You want to just reach in and turn on the correct switch. That's easy enough to do, but it really only works if the electrician who installed them followed a pattern i.e. the switch furthest inside might be the light, and the one closest to the door might be the fan.

If you only had one room like this, it mightn't matter much, but if you have several rooms, you'd hope they're done the same way in each.

But they weren't.

Professionalism

And that got me thinking about someone who does it the same way each time, and someone who doesn't. A licensed electrician might install it safely, and both switches work but a more professional electrician would check not only that it works, but that it was done in a consistent way, throughout the house, and throughout all the houses that they worked on.

When I see someone who installs things differently in different parts of a house, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling about the overall quality of their work. It's a clear indication of their lack of attention to detail. There might even be a standard for how that should be done. If there isn't, there should be. So perhaps there is a standard and they didn't follow it.

For a number of years I worked as an engineer for HP, in the fun days where they had the best commercial minicomputer systems in the industry. That involved working on large pieces of equipment (including some that were quite scary to work on), with an enormous number of pieces and screws to hold them together.

If I ever started to work on a piece of equipment, and found screws were missing, even if they were where the customer wouldn't see them, I got a really bad feeling about whoever worked on the same machine before me. Fortunately, I generally knew that whoever did it was unlikely to be based in our office, as the engineers doing work out of our office were meticulous about that. It was an unwritten rule about doing quality work.

Development

And so the same things apply to development work. Are you hacking together something that works? Or are you aiming for more than that?

When someone needs to do further work on a project that you worked on, how will they feel about it?

Congratulations to Dr Georg Thomas !

Many years ago, I spent a lot of time in universities. I ended up finishing my studies at QUT in Brisbane

and I have a great and continuing fondness for that institution. Earlier on though, amongst other universities, I did quite a lot of study through Charles Sturt University

Over the years, I've maintained a continuous link with my friends at Charles Sturt University (CSU). Back when we used to run Code Camps for both developers and DBAs, CSU were only too pleased to jump in to help us. From the minute we arrived that first day in Wagga Wagga, I knew it was going to be good. Associate Profession Irfan Altas was an amazing help and remains a friend to this day. I'm always pleased to get to chat to him.

Irfan asked me to be the guest speaker at a CSU graduation a few years back. That was a great honour.

What many people might not realise is that I've also been helping as an industry supervisor for students in PhD or Doctor of IT programs.

And that's the reason for this post. I was so excited yesterday to hear that one of the students that I've been supervising (in this case together with Professor Oliver Burmeister) has completed all the requirements to be admitted to his Doctor of IT degree.

Congratulations to Dr Georg Thomas ! That's a major life achievement for you.

 

 

Opinion: Please don't schedule online meetings for full hours

I've seen a lot of people lately complaining about meeting burnout. It seems that in our pandemic-isolated world where staff members and others are available pretty much on call all day long, it's become really common to have a much larger number of meetings than we used to.

I'm interested in why this is. Perhaps it's the lack of contact leading to a desire for more contact and conversation, but if there were a lot of unproductive meetings before, nowadays that seems to have increased so much that it seems almost silly.

Endless interruptions are also a problem. I've been watching developers lately who can never "get into the zone". Some device around them is beeping every minute or so to alert them that another message has arrived from their favorite chat application: Teams, Slack, etc. And every time I see them losing their train of thought.

But the worst aspect of the current meeting culture seems to be this incessant need to fill every possible minute of each hour (or half hour) of a scheduled meeting. I partially blame our calendar apps. Why do they automatically allocate meetings right up to the end of an hour (or half hour)? Who designed that?

Back when we were in office, you'd see people hurrying to get from meeting to meeting but often that was only one or two. Now I see people with back to back meetings for a large proportion of their days, and every meeting occupies the entire timeslot.

There's no opportunity for them to be human for a few minutes in between.

Please learn to schedule meetings for say 50 minutes instead of full hours, and let the humans recover, get a drink, take a bio break, answer a message, etc. in between meetings.