Recently a colleague who’d recently joined the company asked me what training strategies I used to get the qualifications I have today. My reply was probably not quite what he expected, but started with the question “why?”. It’s important to ask yourself before embarking on any certification path why you want to do it and what you want to achieve. Is it to achieve some review objective, to learn more on a technology to satisfy an interest or to be more marketable in the jobs market? Once you’ve answered this you need to gauge your motivation to achieve the goal – a great audio book I’m listening to at the moment is “The subtle art of not giving a f**k” by Mark Manson in which he describes the following scenario:
Imagine that somebody puts a gun to your head and tells you that you have to run 26.2 miles in under five hours, or else he’ll kill you and your entire family.
That would suck.
Now imagine that you bought nice shoes and running gear, trained religiously for months, and completed your first marathon with all of your closest family and friends cheering you on at the finish line.
That could potentially be one of the proudest moments of your life.
Exact same 26.2 miles. Exact same person running them. Exact same pain coursing through your exact same legs. But when you chose it freely and prepared for it, it was a glorious and important milestone in your life. When it was forced upon you against your will, it was one of the most terrifying and painful experiences of your life.
If you’ve chosen a certification path because it’s something you need to do rather than want to do then it’s likely you’ll not enjoy the trip and either give up part way or look back with frustration at the time you dedicated to something you really didn’t enjoy. For me the MCSE was by far the most difficult thing I’ve had to study for as the subject matter just didn’t apply to my goals, every chapter read was a chore and far from enjoyable and led to frustration that I was somehow a failure for this being so difficult and that my lack of motivation was letting everyone down. Contrast that to my university degree where every subject was interesting and a rabbit hole of more and more learning that kept feeding me like an addict. Sure it was difficult but much like the marathon runner who chose to run 26.2 miles I felt great and was rewarded with not just a first class honours degree but the highest grades in my academic year.
My studying now consists of picking something I’m interested in and working through material with no ambition to pass the exam and instead take my time enjoying the journey and choosing the sections of study that apply to my thirst for knowledge or will help me in my work environment. I’ll listen to CBT Nuggets or Pluralsight videos while engaged in mundane tasks like ironing or washing up which allows me to gain a 30,000ft view of the subject and tune in or out of the interesting topics. Then in my spare time I’ll work through the printed book (I can’t manage with e-books) and put Post-It notes in sections I want to learn more about or setup a lab on and revisit at a later point. Spare time however is a precious commodity but for me there’s always at least 30 minutes a day I can get free which keeps things progressing forwards. After all of that, if I feel comfortable doing an exam then great, but I also don’t aim to achieve a pass and instead use the exam as a “bonus round” as the learning I’ve achieved is enough of a reward.
Another quote from “The subtle art of not giving a f**k” sums up the studying journey perfectly for me:
In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends while struggling to make ends meet makes us happier than buying a new computer.