I promised to discuss a training class that I took a few weeks ago, but first, I want to quickly thank you for your responses to my May 11 column about additional resources. You agree that too many people are reluctant to even attempt to use product documentation to track down answers to their questions. One reader, Kevin, said that even when he showed a user how to use the documentation to find an answer, the user assumed that Kevin found the answer because he knew "so much about computers," not because he simply knew where to look. Another person wrote that although product documentation provides answers to most questions, the documents can be overwhelming for newbies. If you have no experience with a product, knowing where to look or what questions to ask can seem like advanced skills. If you're in this position, you have a terrific reason to take an instructor-led class. As I mentioned last time, many people like to take classes when they're learning a new technology and then turn to other resources as they progress beyond the beginner level.

Last time, I wrote about the debate over whether an instructor should focus on the information you need to pass an exam or the information you need to do a job. Three weeks ago, at a local training center, I took a class for people who want to upgrade their MCSE certifications from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000. Everyone in the class had exams on their minds, and none were working as Win2K administrators. Could the instructor really teach us to understand the material while also preparing us to take an exam? I'd like to answer with a resounding yes—the class I took was enormously educational. I learned more about Win2K in 4 days of training than I had in a year of using the product to run SQL Server. Because of the instructor's careful explanations, analogies, and examples, I finally understand concepts that I hadn't fully grasped before. The instructor also spent time developing special review questions that went well beyond the course book's simple review exercises, and every morning we spent 30 minutes discussing questions and situations relating to the material we'd covered the day before. However, I can't say for sure that this class also helped prepare me for the Win2K Server or the Accelerated Upgrade exams—because I haven't taken either one of them yet!

I'll close this week with a news flash: Microsoft is contacting MCSEs whose certifications are based on the NT 3.51 exams to remind them that the NT 3.51 exams expired on June 30, 2000. You must upgrade any certification based on the retired exams by June 30, 2001. It's nice of Microsoft to send reminders, but unfortunately, the company is mistakenly notifying some MCSEs who have since earned NT 4.0 certifications that push their MCSE expiration dates back until the end of the year. If your relationship with Microsoft goes back so far that you became certified under NT 3.51, you might receive one of these warning letters. If you have any doubts about your MCSE certification expiration dates, you can double-check the requirements at the Microsoft Web site.