I’m back home and back to work after spending a week in Nashville attending the Basic NetScaler 9.2 class. I’m always curious about how useful training classes are, so I will share my thoughts about the class. I’ll cover three topics – the course material & training facility, the instructor, and how much I think the class will help me do my job.
Course Material and Facility
I continue to be pleased with Citrix course material. It isn’t perfect, as there were a handful of points at which our instructor pointed out errors in the text or in a graphic, but overall, the courseware is well-written and the labs are well thought-out. One thing that impressed me with the labs was that instructions for doing the labs with both the graphical Configuration Utility and the CLI were provided. Having only used the Java-based Configuration Utility to work with our NetScalers, it was nice to be able to work in a simpler, no-nonsense command-line interface for a little over half of the labs. I switched to the GUI when it made sense. Another aspect of the labs that I found satisfactory was the remote virtualized environment to which we connected. I’d found a similar setup a bit slow and kludgy during the XenDesktop class I took earlier this year, but had no issues with the remote environment for the NetScaler class.
I took the NetScaler class at the same location at which I took the XenDesktop class this past Spring – at LPS Integration in Nashville, TN. LPS is also the Citrix integrator/reseller with which we’ve worked to build my virtual desktop environment. A part of my job is taking care of computer labs, and I was satisfied with the lab/classroom at LPS. The staff were friendly and helpful. They even worked with us to get us registered on the spot for the NetScaler CCA exam Friday afternoon.
Having the right, or wrong, instructor can make all the difference in any class, and we were lucky enough to have an awesome instructor, Gary. He reminds me of the instructor I had back in the day when I was working on my NT 4 MCSE (yeah, I’m that old) – at the top of his game technically, plenty of experience, and taking a week of vacation every now and then to teach a class. Not to knock full-time trainers, because I’m sure there are good ones out there, but in my experience they often don’t have the real-world chops to make the class as valuable in a practical sense.
Gary made it clear right off the bat that he wasn’t going to be just teaching us the material covered in the courseware, and in my opinion that’s what separates good trainers from great ones. There were several points during the course where he worked in his own slides and worked with either a physical or virtual whiteboard to go in-depth on certain topics that he felt were critical but were not given the coverage in the courseware he felt they deserved.
Our instructor did a great job teaching us the material covered in the class, while also going beyond that, providing deep dives into topics like Global Server Load Balancing or just how awesome AppExpert policies can be. He also demonstrated a passion for working with the NetScaler that was contagious – so much so that I can see myself focusing a great deal of my spare cycles moving forward to learning more about and doing more with the NetScaler.
Gary pointed out several times that NetScalers achieve the impressive results they’re known for not by doing just one or two huge things to impact performance, but by doing very many little things. I can already see that this class will deliver for me in my duties supporting our Citrix-based environment. From the annoying cookie issue we unwittingly created for ourselves that we now understand how to resolve, to the intermittent LDAP authentication issue I can now troubleshoot in my sleep, to seeing immediate ways that the NetScaler can help make the non-Citrix environments we maintain more bullet-proof, I’d say this class will pay for itself quickly and many times over. If I had to pick one thing to highlight as a value not only of this class, but the particular instance of it Gary delivered to us, it would have to be the sense of confidence I feel in working with what had hitherto been a mysterious black box.
One more thing – the CCA exam
On the first day of class, my coworker and I agreed, half-jokingly, to take the NetScaler CCA exam immediately after class ended on Friday. As Friday approached that decision seemed a bit brash, but we stuck with it. While I’m pretty sure I can’t discuss specifics about the exam, I think it’s OK if I mention a couple of things. First of all, I took nearly the entire 75 minutes to finish the exam; I finished with about 3 minutes on the clock. That was a shock to me for a 58 question exam, because I’m one of those nerds who usually finishes any test faster than everybody else. Not this one, which leads me to my second point. The exam was hard – harder than I recall the MCSE exams seeming from way back in the day. And not just hard in the sense that it referenced tiny details in a densely-packed course, although it did. Hard in the sense that it tossed numerous concepts at a time into complex questions that I had to read and answer, on average, in less than 90 seconds.
So the exam was hard. Hard but fair. A bit scary as well, as it hit me when I sat down to begin the exam that my coworker and I could wind up having a really crappy three hour drive back home, especially if we either both failed or maybe worse, if one of us passed and the other failed.
Turns out our ride back home was pretty happy; just a couple of new Citrix Certified Administrators.