James Foxall answers your MCSD questions

James Foxall MSCD, vice president of Omaha, Nebraska-based Tigerpaw Software, Inc. and the author of MCSD in a Nutshell: The Visual Basic Exams was recently our guest on a SearchVB Live Expert Q&A.

If you'd like to read our initial interview with James Foxall, you can visit this SearchVB article: Certification means money. And if you weren't able to attend our certification chat with James, you'll definitely want to visit the original chat transcript, here: Preparing for the MCSD Visual Basic Exams.

Our certification chat with James was very popular and ran one-half hour overtime. Still, we received more questions than could be answered during our chat. Fortunately, James was kind enough to address the remaining certification questions from our users below.


jerry203871: What do you recommend as the best study course and practice exams for VB6?

James Foxall: I really believe the "MCSD In a Nutshell: The Visual Basic Exams" is the best study guide you can buy. It's my opinion that if a person couples this with the Transcender exams, they should be able to pass without a problem.

trsanders666955: I graduated with a degree in Computer Science in May '99. At my current job I am not doing any development work and I don't see any in the future. This year I have received the CIW Foundations certification and my MCP+SB (FP & VI). I am now currently working on my MCSD. I am preparing with self-study and working on small programs at home. Basically, I want to know if getting certified w/o having much real-world experience a good idea or not?

James Foxall: It depends on the employer. An MCSD, in and of itself, is a great thing that carries a lot of weight. I think it does offset some experience, and I definitely believe it will certainly be beneficial for you to obtain it.

celias291399: How heavily does MS get into the Data Environment control on the exams?

James Foxall: You will find enough questions about the Data Environment on BOTH exams to make it worth your while to devote time to study that specifically.

dturska93739: What do I need to know about MTS to pass the exam?

James Foxall: You will need to have a working knowledge of MTS to pass the Distributed exam, but you don't need to know any MTS for the desktop exam.

vbhuva421324: How should I prepare for the Solution Architecture Exam (70-100)?

James Foxall: I used the Transcender prep exam. I have yet to see a book that does this subject justice, but the Transcender product is simply great!

jerry985473: Are free sample tests available for 70-175 (Designing and Implementing Distributed Applications with VB6) and 70-176 (Designing and Implementing Desktop Applications with VB6) on the Net?

James Foxall: Microsoft has information on two official testing sites. I'm not sure if any of theses are free or not.

morgwyn300522: Would you recommend a diverse track for the MCSD or a contiguous track (i.e. Visual Basic, Visual C++, Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures, with Visual InterDev or some other elective) or an all VB core with Solution Architectures and MS Office/VBA?

James Foxall: I think this depends on your current skill levels. If you're proficient with one language, focus on that. I'm not sure an employer is going to care all that much which classes you took, as long as you have your MCSD.

BBCritical627246: What is your suggestion on the MCSD exams for those who are experts in some areas and know next to nothing in others?

James Foxall: You just described most Visual Basic developers, and the target audience for my book "MCSD In a Nutshell." Visual Basic is expansive, and very, very few people are experts in all aspects of the product. However, the exams expect you to demonstrate understanding of all aspects of Visual Basic. Check out my book "MCSD In a Nutshell," I think you'll find it valuable.

trsanders666955: I asked the question regarding getting certified w/o having much "real-world" experience. My reason for getting certified is to gain as much knowledge and some experience (from working on personal projects) before I start looking for another job. What is a realistic salary can I request or expect for having my MCSD but not much experience?

James Foxall: Salaries vary across the country. However, studies show that you earn more with an MCSD than you do without one.

chrish329665: I have taken college Visual Basic courses and I am finally in the workforce putting my "skills" to work, but they are real rusty. I want to get certified soon. What is the best crash course that can prepare me for the tests and the working environment?

James Foxall: You can try self-study material, or perhaps look into a 'boot camp'.

jhilliard381886: Mr. Foxall, what is the format of the 70-175 exam? I have heard that it has changed to a case study type format with fewer multiple choice questions. Is this correct?

James Foxall: The 70-175 format is the same as most other exams. The only case study exam I am familiar with on the MCSD side is the Solutions Architecture exam.

mmuzzillo375132: Would you start with exam 70-100? And how much time did you take to study for it?

James Foxall: I would take 70-100 last, and I would definitely invest in the Transcender prep test for this exam.

trsanders666955: I was told that the only way to pass exam 70-100 was from having experience. What do you recommend for those who don't have much experience to prepare for the exam?

James Foxall: I don't recommend any books on 70-100; I don't think there is a single book that covers this subject well. You will need experience. I also recommend the Transcender prep test for this exam - it's what I used.

rode01371489: I am an entry level VB programmer and am currently doing QA work. What is the best approach for taking the exam or should I have a certain amount of experience?

James Foxall: Experience is best. You'll definitely what to buy a good book, and perhaps invest in prep tests as well.

rmenzel808989: Any thoughts about how the difficulty of exam 70-100 ranks with respect to the Distributed exam?

James Foxall: For me personally, the 70-100 exam was the hardest exam that I've taken.

eddiebsd2662: Will the new .NET platform affect the test in the next year as far as some test being retired?

James Foxall: Microsoft probably won't ship .Net anytime earlier than Fall of 2001. The exams usually follow the release of a product by as much as 6 months, so I personally don't think we'll see .Net exams until early 2002. So I wouldn't worry too much about the current exams retiring anytime soon. I do, however, believe that when the .Net exams come out they will be much more difficult than the VB6 exams.

amy401131: Is there much of a market for an MCSD holder with only one year experience?

James Foxall: Yes, I think there are a LOT of openings where those credentials can get you a good job.

jerry985473: I have a job interview next Thursday, is it possible to study enough to pass the Desktop exam before that?

James Foxall: This completely depends on you. Personally, I would budget more study time and prepare for the exams.

connie.marthinsen132819: When will the VB 6.0 exam expire?

James Foxall: There has been no announcements, but I wouldn't expect to see it retire until sometime in 2002.

bruce.mckay632149: James, I'm an old MCSE and just starting to get into VB scripting. How far removed is that from Visual Basic and becoming certified in Visual Basic? What is the best way to learn VB well enough for certification?

James Foxall: I don't use VBScript, but I doubt very much that you could pass the VB exams with only VBScript knowledge, due to the nature of the exams. If you don't use Visual Basic at all, then I don't know what to recommend to get you up to speed to take the exams.

gagliarm984399: For Exams 70-176 and 70-175, are there any particular topics that we should devote the majority of our time with?

James Foxall: Definitely spend some time learning packaging and deployment - there are MANY questions on this topic on both exams.

vbhuva421324: I am currently living in India. Can MCSD help me in securing a job in the US?

James Foxall: I can only say that it can't hurt.

armela29576270: Can you please tell me where I can purchase products that will prepare me to pass Exams 70-175 and 70-176, without breaking my bank account? Thanks!

James Foxall: Buy the book "MCSD In a Nutshell" for about $25. This will give you all the information you need to pass both exams, and it is about half the price of competing titles.

gillmore826148: I assume you read most or all of the MCSD books before writing MCSD in a Nutshell. What did you want to do differently with your book?

James Foxall: LOTS! First, I was highly disappointed at the amount of basic material I found in other books. In my opinion, if you don't know how to add an ActiveX control to a project, you have no business pursuing certification. Since the VB6 exams focus solely on Microsoft technologies, that's what I wrote about. Since most VB programmers are specialists, I felt that it was important to fully teach all of the objective topics, such as MTS and ADO.

My chapters are VERY comprehensive, and actually teach you the subject, not just what I think you may need to know to pass an exam. For instance, my ActiveX control chapter is almost 100 pages, where some books only have dozen or so! You'll also find much more comprehensive elements, such as very large sets of chapter questions. If you read my book, plan on learning something, and plan on having a book that you'll refer to in your development efforts, not a book you'll be throwing up on eBay as soon as you've taken the exams. Also, unlike some authors, I have my MCSD. It was a matter of pride for me to produce an accurate and useful book, and I feel that I went the extra mile on the subject matter.

jjacques47739: What have you heard or seen in the way of C# and any courses that may be offered or are about to be offered by Microsoft?

James Foxall: C# won't hit beta until December, and won't ship live until fall of 2001, so I wouldn't expect to see any classes any time soon.

Kristen.A.Kinnear-Ohlmann201194: Is it wise to take the Visual Basic 6 exams now with Visual Basic.NET coming in the next 2 years? Won't this mean re-certification?

James Foxall: Do you really want to wait 2 years to get certified? New exams will always come out and others will retire, so I don't think it pays to wait that long. I personally believe that the .Net exams will be MUCH harder than the VB6 exams, so you may want to leverage what you know now and get certified.

cziemba66202: For the MCSD, the VB 5 exam is being discontinued in Dec 2000. Which of the other VB exams would you recommend as the elective?

James Foxall: I would say go with what you know.

roger373261: I've been programming for 25 years, the last few have been pure hell and it doesn't seem to be getting any better in the near future. With new languages coming out every year and radical upgrades it is very difficult to stay on top of anything let alone 2 or 3 languages. I still have clients using DOS. What do you see happening in the industry in the no too distant future?

James Foxall: I wish I had a crystal ball! I think .Net will shake things up a LOT, but I can't tell if this is going to be good or bad yet. I sympathize with you. I haven't been programming for that long, but I'm already feeling the bite of re-learning all the time. Visual Basic.Net only resembles the VB we know and love, but it is a different language and it will take a lot of relearning. Oh well, if nothing else I guess it keeps authors employed! :)

Richard_Korab500821: How did you measure that material contained in your book against the exam. Or is your book more of a good reference?

James Foxall: I took both exams in beta, and then I took them again when they were final to see exactly how the exams evolved. I looked at all other books and brain-dump sites, and I wrote the book to be an in-depth text on Microsoft technologies, which is the focus of the exams. Since the book was written as a comprehensive text book on the subjects, it has the added benefit of being a great reference book as well.

burseyliving93177: Do you really need real world experience programming to pass the desktop a distributed exams or would your book and other sources be enough?

James Foxall: This is a subject of much debate. In a perfect world, you would need real-world experience, but I think there is a small group that are able to pass the exam without experience. My book would certainly help, as would the Trascender tests. If you could answer all of the questions in my book, and I give you all the information you need to do so, then you should be able to pass the exams.

jjacques47739: How much of the VB-MCSD track does your book cover?

James Foxall: MCSD In a Nutshell covers both Visual Basic exams (70-175 and 70-176).

rickt0725623246: I like to focus on Access programming. Is the trend toward VB front-ends really worth the learning?

James Foxall: I started out in Access 1.1. When I saw an early copy of Access 95, I saw many technical issues and made the jump to Visual Basic. Personally, I think focusing on Visual Basic makes much more sense for the long-term.

morgwyn300522: Which MCSD exam did you take as an elective?

James Foxall: I used my Visual Basic 5 exam as an elective.

jjacques47739: What (if any) of the MCSD test are in danger of retirement?

James Foxall: I believe the Visual Basic 5 exam is slated for retirement soon.

zerith27864: What does your book assume about the person who is preparing for the exams?

James Foxall: MCSD In a Nutshell assumes that you already use Visual Basic regularly, and that you are not new to the language.


James Foxall is vice president of Omaha, Nebraska-based Tigerpaw Software, Inc. and the author of MCSD in a Nutshell: The Visual Basic Exams published by O'Reilly & Associates.

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