Speaking at Milton Keynes Geek Night (#MKGN)

For the last few years, I’ve been heading into Milton Keynes once a quarter (and on a couple of other occasions too) to attend the Milton Keynes Geek Night, organised by Richard Wiggins (@richardwiggins) and David Hughes (@davidhughes). Last time I had the crazy idea that I might speak at a future event. Furthermore, Richard took me up on the offer. Gulp.

So, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’ll be doing a little 5 minute talk on 9 June 2016 to represent some of the geeks of Milton Keynes who are neither designers nor developers. I haven’t written the presentation yet, but the synopsis is below:

Would you move all of your IT services to the cloud? Many organisations are moving all, or part of, their IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud. In this talk, I’ll share some of my experiences from helping to first migrate and then transform, enterprise IT services, using a mixture of infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service technologies.

Tickets for MK Geek Night 17 have sold out but you can get on the waiting list (and talks are recorded and posted on Soundcloud). Please be nice to me.

Retired: Mark’s Office 365 Resource Centre

18 months ago, I created “Mark’s Office 365 Resource Centre” using the public site from my Office 365 subscription. Over the last few months it’s fallen by the wayside as my focus has recently moved towards Azure (and Office 365 public websites are a deprecated feature) so I decided to move it here.  This content is no longer maintained, but may still contain some useful links.

New functionality

See also Office 365 Updates on the Office Blogs.

Planning and Deployment resources

Technical resources

Training and certification

Licensing

To license Office 365, costs are provided on the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal. These are ordered and paid for directly by customers (although trial tenants may be created by partners though the
FastTrack portal). Customers with Enterprise Agreements have additional options including not just the Office 365 plans but ‘add-on’ and ‘bridge’ licenses for on-premises Office and CAL Suites.

Information for partners

Tips, tricks and more from my blog

There are a few posts missing from this list, because I consider them to be out-of-date (although they are still available):

Useful to know

(Including tips and tricks from elsewhere on the web):

Bits and bytes (downloads)

Ad blocker detection

Ad blocking has become increasingly common on the Internet. We all hate those sites that place obtrusive ads in the middle of content (Forbes, ZDNet, I’m looking at you!) but for many sites it’s fairly passive content – simple images, banners, etc. placed above, below or to the side of the main content. We might not particularly like it – the ads are not always intelligent (how many times have you bought something and then seen ads for the site where you already made a purchase based on the cookies on your computer?!) – but nothing in life is truly free and the websites that offer advice, etc. that help fix our problems are often at least part-funded by ads.

My blog currently has over 2000 posts written over a 12 year period. Some are good, some are bad. Some are rants, some are really useful with lots of positive comments saying words to the effect of “thanks for sharing this”. A few years ago, I used to make about £50 a month from Google ads. With hosting charges of around £100 a year, plus domain name registrations of about £25 a year, that gave me some profit to go towards IT equipment and let me write more blog posts. I even set up a company for my writing and consulting. Then along came Google’s Panda algorithm change which de-emphasised blogs in search results. Almost overnight, I saw 90% drop in revenue.

My company ceased trading a while ago – and my day job now means that I can’t continue it for contractual reasons – but, to be honest it had long since become more effort than it was worth.

I now make about £60 a year from ads and maybe a few more pounds from referrals. The UK Government takes 42% of this in tax. I write less content than I used to (I’m a busy guy but I’m also less motivated to do so). My website hosting costs far outweigh the revenue of the site but the ads help a little. This blog is nothing more than a labour of love.

On the last site redesign, I moved my ads to the bottom of the page. I also added a notice asking people not to block the ads. Now I’ve upped the ante a little by using Pat O’Brien‘s Ad Blocking Advisor WordPress plugin to display a notice when the site detects ad blocking. I’m not ad-blocker-blocking because you can still read the content, but I do ask people with ad blocking software to reconsider:

“It looks like you use ad blocking software in your browser. I devote a lot of time to this website and the advertising doesn’t even cover my hosting charges but it helps a little. Please support this website by adding it to the whitelist in your ad blocker. Thank you!”

Ironically, I had to install an ad blocker to test the website functionality!

Professionalism at last: Chartered IT Professional (CITP) status

Mark Wilson, BSc (Hons) MBCS CITP. It’s got a nice ring to it. Except that I almost never use letters after my name (in fact, one of my customers complemented me a few days ago for not doing so – although I did point out to him that my email signature is auto-generated in software and so I don’t have the option!).

Regardless of the above, today, I received official notification that I’m now a Chartered Information Technology Professional (CITP). This accreditation is awarded by the British Computer Society (BCS), who describe it as:

“Aligned with The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), the UK Government backed competency framework, CITP is the benchmark of IT excellence.”

It’s been a bit of a journey to achieve professional status, so I thought I’d write a quick blog post about the process, just in case that’s helpful/useful to others.

The application process

My journey started around a year ago, whilst I was still working at Fujitsu, where all Distinguished Engineers had our BCS membership fees paid and were encouraged to apply for Chartered status. Unfortunately I had resigned by the time the invoice arrived and Fujitsu reneged on the promise to pay my CITP application fee, but I decided to make the payment myself and continue with the process.

As part of my application (including a copy of my CV and an experience statement), I had to demonstrate that I had been working for at least 3 of the last 5 years at SFIA level 5 (or above!). I also provided details of supporters who had known me and my work over that period.  I was reasonably confident that I work at that level – Fujitsu regraded many of their technical staff using SFIA shortly before I left and I was judged to be at level 5 (although there was some disagreement about whether I was a domain architect or a solution architect – I’ll save that for another blog post!)

Breadth of knowledge test

The next stage is the Breadth of Knowledge (BoK) test. The BCS describe this as:

“This stage involves a formal testing of core knowledge across the breadth of IT. The test comprises multiple choice questions which cover a broad range of sectors and topics.”

I had six months to complete this stage of the process. which is an exam undertaken at a Pearson Vue test centre. I can’t say much about the exam (it’s subject to a confidentiality agreement) except that if you truly are working at level 5 (i.e. reasonably senior roles) you probably have a broad enough experience of IT to be able to answer (or at least guess) most of the multiple-choice questions. There’s also some mock questions on the BCS website that give you a flavour of things – as well as a published syllabus and an extensive reading list, which I’m afraid I ignored…

The hardest part of the exam is that, in addition to an overall pass mark of 50 out of 75 questions, it’s necessary to score at least 8 out of 15 in each of the 5 sections.  In mock tests I was a bit close to the 8 and I couldn’t work out why. In the final exam I did OK in all areas.

Skills assessment interview

With the exam out of the way, the next stage is the skills assessment – a formal interview involving a 10-minute presentation and subsequent questioning. Again, the BCS offer guidance – and it’s worth reading it closely – the presentation shouldn’t be a rehash of your CV, or repeat other information in the application – but should:

“Deliver a clear and concise presentation of professional work for which you were personally responsible and which demonstrates your competence. Your presentation should be based on an area(s) from the SFIA skills within your chosen specialism.”

I had six months to prepare for, book, and carry out the skills assessment, which is conducted remotely using Citrix GotoMeeting. When I finally booked my appointment, I was pleased to find that there were weekend slots available. Unfortunately GotoMeeting wasn’t behaving for me when it came to starting the interview, but I did join early, the assessors were patient, and a reboot plus an analogue telephone line let me work around the issues…

The hardest thing for me in preparing for my interview was identifying which specialism most closely aligned to my work (I do find SFIA rather arcane in that regard) and that comes through in my presentation, embedded below (although the slides have limited value without the supporting script, I’m afraid).

[slideshare id=60974903&doc=markwilsoncitpassessmentinterview-160415220728]

I was also concerned that the assessors may not feel I was working at level 5 (even though Fujitsu had previously graded me at that level, that might not match the BCS view). Thankfully my answers to questions must have been sufficient because, about 10 days later I was contacted to say I had been successful, although formal notification would be slightly delayed.

Overall

Overall, it’s been a long, challenging process – one with time limits and a need to fit around my work (along with technical exams, blogging, and family life!). It’s also debatable whether the application fee and increased membership fees (albeit tax-deductible) will really make a difference in my career. I’m told that some Government departments reward CITP status with additional pay; sadly the private sector doesn’t seem to hold CITP in quite the same regard.

For me, I felt that some of my friends are chartered in their fields – be they surveyors or accountants – and I wanted to be able to similarly demonstrate professionalism in my field. I’d also like to hope that some of my customers will recognise that having a Chartered IT Professional work with them on their IT strategy and on transformation projects demonstrates the level of experience that they expect.

Right, one more time. The last time I’ll do this for a while, I suspect…

Mark Wilson, BSc (Hons) MBCS CITP

Chartered IT Professional