MCSE 2000 & Upgrade to MCSE 2003;Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA);Network+;A+ 2012
03 Aug to 29 Sep 2004
The mere mention of it conjures up thoughts of the Taj Mahal, Bollywood, the Himalayas, Kashmir, Bengal tigers, IT outsourcing, cricket, beaches, beautiful exotic women like the amazing Aishwarya Rai, spicy food, and even poverty...
The mere mention of it conjures up thoughts of the Taj Mahal, Bollywood, the Himalayas, Kashmir, Bengal tigers, IT outsourcing, cricket, beaches, beautiful exotic women like the amazing Aishwarya Rai, spicy food, and even poverty. These all come to mind when one thinks of India. It is at once both wonderful and awful. In the few weeks that I've been here I became ill three times, was involved in my first ever auto accident, developed insomnia, visited the Taj Mahal, passed several certification exams, and made some wonderful acquaintances with some very friendly Indians. Here's my story.
I am an American originally from Dallas, Texas but I currently live on the British owned island of Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean
Territory. It's a small island due south of India that's literally in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I run a small, proprietary messaging network based on Microsoft Exchange 5.5 and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. I sought training and certification because it is likely that my organization will perform an upgrade to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 in the very near future given that Microsoft ends its support of NT at the end of the year.
I was working in a different position when this job fell into my lap, so to speak, and I wanted to have some formal training so that I could adequately perform my duties while having the requisite technical knowledge to justify my methods and motives at work. Thus, I registered for A+, Network+, MCSE Messaging 2000, Upgrade to MCSE 2003, MCDBA, and CCNA at Koenig. I have just finished up all of the MCSE 2000 and 2003 core exams and now I am working on Exchange 2003. I also completed A+ and Network+ before I began MCSE. I have put a bit of effort into this article and I hope that you can use it as a reference guide before and after your arrival.
I originally decided I wanted formal training in August of 2003. My initial searches were strictly limited to Singapore. I had heard of Global Knowledge from the US and their widely available brochures so I sought information there first. I also checked out a couple of other local firms in Singapore that are in the business of IT certification. I met with the respective representatives from each of these schools during a trip to Singapore. The prices of these schools did seem quite steep, but I didn't know of any better alternative and I really wanted the certifications. Therefore I was all set to begin school with Global Knowledge in January of 2004. However, when January came around my leave was cancelled due to some unforeseen scheduling conflicts. As I became doubtful that my goal of IT certification would materialize, I began to search for other options. It was at this point that I decided to broaden my horizons and look beyond Singapore. First, I searched Thailand, which is a wonderful country that I had been to twice in the previous year. I found a school in Chiang Mai that would have cost me the equivalent of $25,000 US for a boot camp schedule similar to the one I registered for at Koenig. Needless to say, I continued to search. As I thought of all of the countries within reasonable flying distance, all of the obvious ones came to mind: Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and even Australia. Despite my broad search, there was nothing in particular that caught my attention. However, shortly thereafter it became obvious to me that I should be searching for a school in India. I had wanted to come to India since I had accepted an offer to work on Diego Garcia two years ago. It was perfect; I could combine the holiday of my dreams with my goal of computer certification. Surely with all of the publicized IT outsourcing and one billion (one gigabyte, as I tell my instructor) people, they must have at least one IT certification school, I thought. So with a Yahoo search of "MCSE India" I came to know about Koenig-Solutions. I immediately noticed how ridiculously inexpensive the prices seemed. Could this be real? Is it legitimate? I studied the web site for a few days and checked the internet for other sites that may have something to say about Koenig. I searched Yahoo again to see if I could find any message boards with reviews of Koenig. I really didn't find much in any forum, other than one message board revealing how intense the school is and that it is no party. Even a search of www.indiamike.com - an excellent resource for everything about India - turned up nothing on Koenig. It turns out that most of the objective information I used to form an elementary opinion on Koenig came from Featured Student articles just like this one. The Featured Student section of the Koenig web site is quite a creative concept.
Once my interest level was piqued, I naturally contacted the school by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This led to a series of e-mails between me and the training manager, Mr. Sandeep Dhawan, which spanned several months. I asked Sandeep about anything and everything that crossed my mind. He was always quick with a response; I never had to wait longer than 24 hours for a reply with a more than adequate answer for any query. Koenig even made an extensive effort to become approved for the American Montgomery GI Bill so that their training could be reimbursed under this program. Unfortunately, US law won't allow non-degree related educational institutions outside of the US to qualify or my training would have been free. However, if there is a similar program in your country that you would like to use to pay for your training, you can be sure that Koenig will make an exhaustive effort to determine if they can qualify.
After yet another vacation postponement by my employer in April, I was finally permitted to take a three month leave of absence to attend school near the end of July. I arranged my flights to arrive on August 3rd and depart on October 16th. My training was scheduled to end on the 9th but I wanted an extra week just in case I failed an exam, wanted to take an extra exam, or if I decided to do some traveling within the country. I'm glad I did as I will use the extra time to take an additional exam and a short trip. After my flights were booked, I planned a trip to the Indian Embassy in Manila to get an Indian visa. I then sent a deposit of $500 from my credit card to the Koenig Paypal account. It was both surprising and impressive that Koenig accepted Paypal. That was an early indication of something I have come to realize in the weeks since - they are very flexible and accommodating.
The initial arrival at the airport seems to be the most daunting experience for every Koenig student. Everyone is concerned about arriving at the airport only to find a bunch of strange faces but no one there awaiting their arrival. The typical late night arrivals by most students do little to ease the burden of that feeling either. I will admit that I had similar feelings, but they were mostly due to the fact that I had changed my flight plans to an arrival time two days prior to that which I had informed the school. Mind you I was already in the Hong Kong airport when I sent the notification e-mail to Koenig.
I also had no guidebook and no idea where to find a hotel and from reading the India Mike forums I learned of the typical scams run at the Delhi airport by a few unscrupulous locals. How would I convince a cab driver to take me where I wanted to go safely without driving me all over town or scamming me in some other creative way? Where exactly was I going? I had no idea in which part of the city Koenig was located. Where would I begin? Not to worry, though, as their process of receiving students at the airport is very efficient and systematic. Even with only five hours of notice there was a guy at the airport waiting for me and holding a clearly visible sign with my name on it and "Koenig" written below it. The guy, who turned out to be employed by the Rangoli Hotel, was near the front of the crowd of people and I spotted him right away. It was quite a relief to see him there. He handed me a welcome packet that included 1000 Rupees ($22 US - divide by 45 for US dollars) and I followed him to the car. My flight arrived just after midnight and I was in bed by around 3 AM. Needless to say, it would be wise to plan your arrival a day or two before you intend to begin training.
My initial impression of the school building itself wasn't great. I don't know what I expected, be it a facility typical of a five star hotel or whatever, but I just didn't expect what I saw. From the outside it looks as run down as any other building on the street. I guess I expected that with all of the western money flowing into the school that there would be a nicer facility. However, on the inside it is decent. The classrooms are clean and more than adequate. They are not large but most of them are designed for one on one instruction and there is plenty of room for that. Each has a minimum of three capable PC's, a whiteboard, and an air conditioning unit so you're fully equipped with everything you need for a sound, comfortable learning environment. The one on one method is certainly a unique option in the certification world and they implement it well here at Koenig. This method allows you to proceed at your own pace, without having to worry about waiting on other students in the class to catch up with your knowledge level or worrying about struggling to keep up yourself because everyone else in the class learns the material more quickly than you. Your instructor is much like your own private tutor and will adapt to the pace and the style that suits you best. There are around 40 teachers and on average around 35 students, so there is a readily available pool of instructors. The instructors are all highly qualified, each with a college degree and certified in the particular course that they are teaching. If you have any problem with your instructor, it is easy to change to different one. Not many of those overpriced 25 students per teacher certification schools back home, if any at all, can make that claim. It is very doubtful that you'll be able to change instructors if you aren't comfortable learning from the one you have. Also, the scheduling is very flexible. In fact, the common theme here is that everything is flexible. Do you think that you can begin and end training on a schedule that suits your needs at one of the cookie cutter schools back home? If you are on a very tight schedule like me, Koenig can arrange specific start and end dates for your training. There are only certain times when it's possible for me to come and go from the island, so in that regard being able to schedule training at my convenience was not only a huge advantage, but also one of the deciding factors for me. Instead of being presented with options of dates for certain classes and arranging your schedule accordingly, they can design a bespoke boot camp for you beginning when you want, ending when you want, and including a custom training plan with all of the certification courses that you would like to take.
The training itself is intense. I would recommend taking the regular track to anyone with ample time unless you feel that you have enough knowledge to walk in and pass the exams with minimal help and preparation. I was no expert before arriving here, but I did have a little experience so I thought I could handle the fast track. If I could do it over again, I'd allow for more time by taking the regular track. It seems like I spend every day preparing for the next exam. Opting for the regular track would give you plenty of time to thoroughly cover the material and study for the exams. The fast pace and the immense amount of material covered in such a short time could very well be what lead to my insomnia the first month I was here. I would be up until at least 2 or 3 in the morning studying every night, but when I went to bed I couldn't fall asleep. I had all kinds of computer jargon running through my head. So another recommendation I have is to take them up on their offer of mailing you the course materials before you arrive. It will be an advantage to have read through these before training begins. The ideal way to prepare for each of these exams is to read through the book they provide you once and then read through the practice tests at least twice, if not three times. The last time you go through the practice test it is a good idea to hide the answers so that you have a feel for how well you know the material before you actually take the exam. The exams are administered by Mr. Subodh Choudhary, a very friendly guy. Exams are scheduled with him the day before you take the exam so that he can order it and prepare it in time.
I have two more recommendations for those of you taking the MCSE tracks. First, if you are new to the IT field and thus do not have any experience, it would be very advantageous to take Network+ before you begin MCSE. I found it to be an excellent preview of the various networking technologies and I breezed through that part of my MCSE training as a result. My final recommendation is for those of you taking the MCSE 2000 track with the MCSE 2003 upgrade. I ended up taking the two upgrade courses before my two electives (Exchange 2003) by pure accident so I could keep the same instructor throughout. This has also proved to be the ideal route because there is a smooth transition from MCSE 2000 to MCSE 2003. Because of this, even though I have cleared all of the core exams for both 2000 and 2003, I do not have any MCSE certification because I haven't passed the Exchange exams yet, but this is of little consequence because I will clear the Exchange exams in the next week and immediately receive both MCSE Messaging 2000 and MCSE Messaging 2003.
The transportation to and from school every day is arranged by school owned "taxis" that make trips from the hotel to the school and back beginning every morning around 8 AM. There seems to be around three of these running at a time. These vehicles are air-conditioned, compact, four door cars that comfortably fit three students, but sometimes carry four. They also transport students back to the hotel after school each afternoon. If you need to go anywhere else, whether it is to the bank, to the doctor, to the hospital, shopping, to the airport when you leave, or even to return to the hotel early from school, they will arrange a taxi for you for this as well. This service is always provided free of charge and is a wonderful convenience. You cannot imagine how nice it is for them to have removed the hassle of dealing with negotiating for a taxi or an auto-rickshaw - a small, covered, three wheeled vehicle that is difficult to describe - twice a day every day. Koenig has so sheltered the student from the potential rigors and stresses of life in India that I'm not sure some students get the opportunity to experience the "real" India. That is definitely a good thing, though, as I discovered on my trip to Agra.
There are currently two locales available to attend training with Koenig. Delhi is the mainstay and is where most of the students attend, but there is also the option of attending in Shimla, which is in the Himalayas in northern India. I hope to spend a week in Shimla before I leave, but I'm not sure if I will have the flexibility in my schedule to allow for that. Beginning November 1st they will offer an even more exciting option in the formerly Portuguese ruled region of Goa. I am looking forward to returning in a year or two so that I can attend some more training in Goa. It is a popular tourist destination for western Europeans in particular who flock to the lovely beaches there. Combined with trips to Mumbai and Kerala, this option could prove to be another excellent way to combine a holiday with training. These additional options that are being made available can only attest to the success and popularity of the training program at Koenig.
The Concierge is run by a remarkable young woman named Mrs. Isha Bajaj, the Public Relation Executive for Koenig. Her smile alone is worth the price of admission but she provides many necessary miscellaneous services to the student. The Concierge is a very unique and creative service. It eliminates many of the potential headaches that a student might encounter and need to deal with during his or her stay. Isha is essentially your own personal assistant. She will exchange your foreign currency, rent you a mobile phone and/or a SIM card, organize a custom trip, arrange an evening out on the town, ship your books to your address back home, and basically just ensure that your entire experience both in India and with Koenig is comfortable and pleasant. If you want to go to Connaught Place, which is the city center, to shop for computer books priced around 25% of western prices or anything else there, she will arrange a taxi for you. Many students take advantage of the inexpensive medical costs here and get extensive medical checkups or dental work done. Isha can arrange an appointment for this as well. I'm hoping to have time to get some orthodontic work begun before I leave and she can arrange that for me whenever I decide I'm ready to do that. She is always eager to please and will ensure that any negative experience you have is made right. I bought a recharge card from her for my mobile phone that was very poorly made. I almost scratched right through it trying to expose the PIN number. I basically ruined the card. She replaced it for me without giving me the slightest bit of grief. Whatever exchange or refund she managed from the mobile service provider was completely transparent to me. I've also seen her give another student cash in a pinch so that the student need not worry about running around town to search for an ATM. She'll then adjust the students' account for future payment. How is that for convenience? The Concierge is very impressive and is one of the many things Koenig gets right.
I love to travel, having been to 24 countries now in my brief 26 years, and as I said before I was researching a holiday in India before I had even begun to think about certification. It is for this reason that I became very excited about studying in India so that I could combine my travel desires with my certification goals. There are a great many options for traveling and adventure outside of training as India is quite an exotic tourist destination in its own right. Isha can assist you by arranging a customized trip to any destination you wish to visit. Not to be missed in the vicinity of Delhi is Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri, each one a world heritage monument. I have heard some students suggest that they might not have time to see the Taj Mahal while they are here. What!? How could anyone come all the way to Delhi for training and not see the Taj? I'm sure some students just don't have the time, but if you have doubts about your desire to see the Taj Mahal during your stay here, don't worry, I'm sure Isha can refer you to a good psychotherapist. Agra is about a four to five hour trip from Delhi and is done by most students as a one day trip. I would recommend staying overnight in Agra, however, so that you can include Fatehpur Sikri into the trip. Also worth a visit are a couple of India's finest national parks named Sariska and Ranthambore that are located in Rajasthan, adjacent to the Delhi area. They are well known especially for spotting tigers, but also for many other kinds of wildlife. If you're into adventure, animals, and safari's, or just enjoy watching the Discovery channel, these cannot be missed. Bhatapur is a nearby bird sanctuary as well, but I would imagine that most Koenig students are more interested in the mammals. If you make the trip to Shimla for part or all of your training, Corbett is another good national park worth considering. The final destination that rounds out India's renowned “Golden Triangle” is Jaipur. I don't know much about Jaipur (www.pinkcity.net) and I haven't yet made it there, but Isha personally recommends it and claims she spends free time traveling there herself.
The food in India hasn't agreed with me much in the early stages of my stay. I became ill three times in the first month I was here. My instructor blames me for this, however, for taking milk products on two of the occasions and accidentally taking risky water on a third. I think she's probably right, but I didn't expect to be so adversely affected on three separate occasions. On Diego Garcia we do not have any fast food restaurants and we certainly don't have any Indian food, so it was quite an adjustment for me. The options here are adequate, with nearby fast food including Subway, Dominos, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and an Indian fast food restaurant called Nirula's. However, fast food outside of the US is nothing like it is at home. For one, most fast food restaurants in other countries vary slightly in taste from the originals, but India takes it to another level with their strict limitations on the sale of beef. A special license is required for a restaurant to sell beef and for the most part this is limited to a few five star hotels. None of the fast food restaurants here offer beef, so you'll have to settle for Mc Chicken burgers at McDonalds, mutton sausage hot dogs at Nirula's, and chicken or pepperoni based pizzas. The McDonalds here doesn't even offer ice cream. Imagine that. Nirula's is an excellent alternative if you're into ice cream, though. Do not be surprised if a restaurant is temporarily out of something that they normally offer. It may seem unusual from a western perspective for a business to function this way, but many times I have called and a given restaurant will not be offering pepperoni due to import restrictions, will be out of hot dog buns and therefore cannot sell hot dogs, or out of seasonal items such as prawns. Prices are decent, too, with a Mc Chicken burger with cheese, large fries (no, they're not chips!), and a 500mL bottle of water setting you back only 112 Rupees ($2.50 US.) I used McDonalds as an example because that's a readily identifiable frame of reference. One option that I would highly recommend when you tire of fast food is the Rice Bowl, an excellent Chinese/Asian restaurant in the area to which I give much of my business. It is usually a little more expensive than the fast food restaurants, but not always. Their excellent Chicken Hakka Noodles are only 115 Rupees and are almost enough for two meals. The best part about all of the places I have mentioned so far is that they all deliver free of charge! Yes, even McDonalds and Rice Bowl deliver. Delivery will be more appreciated as you become immersed in your studies and time becomes increasingly scarce.Breakfast
It is a great wonder to me how people from a few countries outside the US (and even the odd American) can manage with little more than a cup of coffee for breakfast, but being a native Texan myself, I had to find a place to have a great, big American breakfast each morning. Thankfully the five star Siddarth hotel, across the street from the Rangoli, does a decent job of presenting a multi-national breakfast buffet. A 270 Rupee ($6 US) bill gets you all you can eat of fresh fruit, eggs to order, fish, (undercooked) bacon, sausages, ham, juices, and several various pastries. They occasionally have some of the best hash browns I've eaten outside of the US and there is a variety of other foods that don't quite suit my tastes for breakfast. They also have canned juices available as well as coffee or tea. As a regular there I'm usually treated like a king.
Lunches are taken care of by the Koenig staff at school. Mr. Ram Khiladi, who provides several miscellaneous student services, will visit your classroom around 11 AM every morning with several menu cards from the aforementioned restaurants and a list for you to write down your order. He will call in the order for each student and the lunches will be delivered by lunchtime, which is 1 PM at Koenig. It is a very efficient and streamlined process and it leaves one less headache for the student during the day. It is yet another of the many things that Koenig gets right. There is also a small lunchroom that isn't quite big enough for all of the students to eat in, but that never becomes an issue because many students take their lunches to eat in the classrooms. I usually opt to do this as well so I can either get in some additional studying or check my e-mail while I eat. I suppose being in the IT field has lent my life to endless multi-tasking.
Meal reimbursements are a sore spot with some people, but I think that is because the process is confusing. I will do my best to clear that up. The four star and five star hotels are exempt from this as you are required (poor you) to eat in the excellent hotel restaurant. This section is mainly for those staying in the three star hotels. There is an allotment of 50 Rupees for breakfast, 125 Rupees for lunch, and 150 Rupees for dinner. Of these, breakfast is not reimbursable. That's not good because the breakfasts at the three star hotels are very inadequate and your 270 Rupee buffet at the Siddarth now becomes 320 Rupees instead of 220 Rupees as a result. The lunches are generally not reimbursable either because most students take their lunches at school therefore no money ever changes hands. They order the food, pay for the food, deliver the food, and then sort it for you. Dinners are reimbursable either on a weekly, monthly, or end of stay basis per your convenience. Again, they are willing to accommodate your needs. Since this seems to be confusing for a few students and now that I've brought it to your attention, given the dynamic nature of the Koenig staff I cannot imagine that this process will not improve. They are excellent at adjusting and modifying when necessary and are always striving to make your experience with them as enjoyable as possible.
There are several options available for a place to stay. Most of the students stay in the three star hotels and most of the students staying in three star accommodation stay at the Hotel Rangoli. I chose the three star hotel option to maximize the economical benefits of my decision to come to Koenig and I am therefore staying at the Rangoli. Aside from the very friendly staff Hotel Rangoli won't win too much praise from me, but given that it is only a three star hotel my complaints are limited. My first complaint is the cold showers. For a three month stay it's not too pleasant to deal with cold showers. They are only tolerable due to the heat and humidity here in Delhi. If it were colder here something would have to give. They water is randomly hot, but I haven't yet figured out how to attain consistency with the water temperature. When I brought it to the attention of the staff I was given help by a guy who, although friendly, could not speak much English. I didn't bother bringing the issue up again after that. My second complaint about the Hotel Rangoli is actually with the restaurant. I understand the need to adapt to the customs of a foreign country, but I don't think that applies here. The restaurant is pure-vegetarian so they don't offer any meat products. Most hotel guests are Koenig students and most Koenig students come from Western, meat eating countries so it makes little sense to me why a hotel wouldn't cater more to its biggest customers. By itself, the fact that the Rangoli has a pure-vegetarian restaurant isn't a big deal. But this really becomes an issue when combined with my third complaint, which is the lack of a mini refrigerator. OK, I know some might think I'm being a bit picky now, but considering that the three star Hotel Patel Continental down the street - which has hot water, a non-veg restaurant, and mini-refrigerators - is run and managed by the same people who manage the Rangoli, I don't think it is too much to ask for the Rangoli to offer the same. It is tragic that with so many people going hungry in this country that I am wasting so much food because I do not have a way to store it. I haven't yet found an acceptable solution for this problem. The offensive noise at the Rangoli can be another nuisance. I don't know that it would be any different at another hotel, but I can't imagine it would be much worse. Training is six days per week, which leaves only one day off each week. I would love to use this as a day to catch up on sleep, but the sound of a guy slamming a hammer almost directly behind my head makes it almost impossible to sleep in. I've had enough trouble sleeping as it is. I'd love to move from the Rangoli, but I haven't found anything worth the trouble. It seems the only thing five star about the Siddarth is the prices and most of the other hotels are just too far from Koenig to bother. I'd rather stay as close to the school as possible so I'm sticking with the Rangoli.
Normally cold showers and loud noise are about the worst possible annoyances at a hotel that I could imagine being required to deal with, but I've tried to adjust. Travel in any foreign country and especially in India requires adjustment. I just didn't realize it would require so much. Thankfully the Koenig staff does an excellent job of making the entire experience so smooth and enjoyable that your trip here could very well be easier than attempting a similar school in a western country. A school in a western country sure couldn't afford the personnel resources required to manage an operation as efficient as that run here at Koenig. The economic advantage becomes almost immediately apparent. When Isha sent me to the doctor after I became ill, the total cost of the visit to the doctor including one week worth of five different medications was only 333 Rupees - less than $8 US. Medical and dental costs can be low enough to make scheduling an expensive procedure here instead of back home very beneficial economically. For those of you on a budget, I've found that I'm spending a maximum of around 1000 Rupees per month on laundry. The computer books for sale all over Delhi are offered at a fraction of western prices. Isha can also arrange to have these sent back to your home so that you don't have to carry them with you. I even purchased my laptop here when I realized I wanted to have one with me. Although buying Sony products in India can prove to be difficult due to limited availability, I managed to find a top of the line TR5GP model at a price consistent with typical western prices. I had to make a trip out to Nehru Place Business District, the IT Hub of Delhi, to find the majority of the laptop vendors here. At Nehru Place one can find almost any computer product offered in India. It's not the cleanest of environments and with typical traffic it's exactly one hour away from the Rangoli by auto-rickshaw, but I'd recommend checking it out at least once. For more information about any of this, see the India Mike forums before you arrive or talk to Isha once you're here.
It has been a very pleasant experience working with my instructor, Ms. Vidhu Gupta. When I needed a break from computers, we discussed a variety of cultural differences. She gave me lessons on cricket, the Hindi language, and the Hindu religion and culture including festivals and food. She even provided food samples from her lunch almost every day. It was fascinating to learn about these things and it made the experience in the classroom much more enriching. Labor Day in India is celebrated as teacher's day. Vidhu explained to me that students here are always very eager for this day because the most senior students can become the teacher for a day. I took the opportunity on this day to give a lesson on American football and she discovered why it is the most complex sport in existence, if not one of the most