Friday, October 27, 2017

Study Methodology

While going through school one of the things that my teachers constantly harped upon was proper study habits. Which are something that while going through school you may have developed, but now that you have been outside of school you may have forgotten. Or, your life has changed dramatically from what it was while sitting at your desk in a study hall or dorm room, you need to redevelop in a way that fits your current lifestyle and living conditions.

One of the things they taught us was that there are three different styles of learners. Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Each of these three learning styles have certain strengths, and certain ways in which they best learn.

Visual: These are the types of learners who need to see something to understand it and learn it. As such, these types of learners need to utilize study methods that allow them to see the content. If you are one of these types of learners you may do well with reading the book, or watching a presentation or video on the subject. Flash cards can also be an effective study method as well.

Auditory: These types of learners best retain the subject when they can hear it. In High School I had a friend who was a stereotypical auditory learner. We would sit in Economics, and he would play games on his calculator (TI-83!!) non-stop, seemingly never looking up at the teacher or at the slides. However he always outscored us in tests and quizzes. Just because his eyes and hands were engaged in another activity he could still learn the content by hearing it. If you fall into this category learning from a book may be more difficult, but you can try reading aloud to yourself. You may find that if you try and teach the subject to someone you will learn it better yourself because you need to vocalize it. Although teaching a subject helps almost anyone learn the subject because you need to truly know the subject to be able to teach it.

Kinesthetic: These types of learners need to “do” in order to learn. For these learners, recreating the subject in someway can help them best retain it. I somewhat fall into this category so I’ll go into this a bit more below.

It’s important to note that most people learn best with more than just one of these methods. So experimenting with different study methods to find the one that works best for you is important. Remembering that you may need to pull methods from each category.

I find myself being more of a Visual and Kinesthetic learner. I can read the book and retain much of what was said. However to reinforce what I see, I also need to “do,” which when studying for a subject like Wireless Networking can be hard to do. How do you “do” Inter Frame Spacing? For me, I take notes. Sometimes more detailed than others. But I find the act of putting down the content in my own words really helps me retain the knowledge. I find this is especially beneficial when it comes to definitions. For example, if I copy a definition verbatim from the book, I don’t retain it at all. Because I’m not really interacting with the definition. Merely mindlessly copying from one place to another. However when I take that definition (or subject) and put it in my own words. I have to stop and think about what the actual thing means, and how it really works. I need to truly know it to be able to put it in my own words. I touched upon earlier how teaching a subject to someone can be an incredibly useful learning method. I think this is a great example of that. In putting something in my own words, I’m essentially teaching myself the subject to the level that I can reframe it in a way that I can communicate it differently than it was presented in the book.

When it comes to reading the book, as much as I love wireless, I need to set a goal for myself to get through the book. To accomplish this, and to ensure I stay on task, I made myself a tracking spreadsheet. Below is a link to the template of the spreadsheet I use. I use the Kindle versions of the books so you will see “Loc’s” rather than Pages. It’s just how the Kindle tracks it. But essentially what I do is find the last “Loc” of the book that has content on it. So the last Loc before the appendix and such. Then I update the formulas with the dates I am going to start on, and the date that I plan on ending. From there all I need to do is update it with whatever Loc I’m on at the time and it will tell me how far ahead or behind I am. As well as how many Loc’s I need to read to finish for my target date. This method works really well for me because it keeps me on task. If I am busy, or get lazy one week, it will show me how much that week cost me to get back on track. Or, if I know I’m not going to be able to get any reading done for a few days, I can use the “per day” amount to figure out how far ahead I need to get to make up for it.

One of the best tools for me have been flash cards. Much like what I spoke about previously with putting things in my own words. They force me to take subjects and frame them in a way that will work on a flash card. For example, if I was to put 3dB on one side, on the other I would put “Doubles, or halves the signal strength.” The mere act of having to take that and figuring out a way of putting it on a flash card helps me retain it. Then actually seeing it when using the flash cards reinforces it even further. Another thing that I really like about flash cards is it helps you identify the ones that you need to work on further. I will run through my flash cards and the ones that I faltered on, or didn’t get right, I flag or put them in a separate pile to go through again. There are a number of online flash card utilities out there. The ones that I have used are Anki and Quizlet. Both are solid, and offer a couple of various options of going through your cards.

As you develop your study methods, you will develop a bit of a flow to your studying. However if you are anything like me, that flow needs to be fairly dynamic so you can utilize it wherever you are. This is one of the reasons that I use the Kindle versions of the book. That way I always have it with me. Whether its on my laptop, phone, iPad, wherever I am, I have the book. For notes, I use Evernote. Again, that way wherever I am, I can not only take notes, but refer to ones that I have made previously. However I may move to OneNote since Evernote has put their two-device max on the free version.

In Evernote I will create a Notebook for the overall exam that I’m working on. In the past I used to then create “notes” for the various chapters. However I found that many of the subjects are built upon across multiple chapters, so I have started to create notes on subject matter rather than chapter. For example, in CWDP, QoS was obviously a large subject. I wanted to have a repository of notes on QoS so I created a separate “note” just for it. That way I didn’t have to try and remember what chapter covered QoS, and if there were things from various chapters that touched upon it, I could correlate them all there.


If you are having trouble retaining a subject, try reevaluating the way you actually learn. Maybe there are other methods that you can employ to learn the content. Find the methods that best suit you, then form those methods into a flow. Then get out there and get learning! In our field if you’re not constantly learning and evolving, you’re going to fall behind.

(If you have any questions or concerns about the spreadsheet just let me know. Quick note, you need to update the dates in the formulas, not just in the Begin Date and Target End Date cells. In fact, those are just so I have it staring me in the face.)

More information on the three learning styles:
https://www.thoughtco.com/three-different-learning-styles-3212040 

Friday, October 20, 2017

CWDP-302 Exam - My Thoughts and Process


Image result for CWDP


Around noon the other day (10/18/2017) I passed the CWDP exam. Shortly thereafter I posted to Twitter that I had passed it, and among the likes and "congrats" that were passed my way, a couple of people asked what I used or what my process was. It was these questions that were actually the seeds of starting this entire blog. It finally gave me the confidence that maybe I do have something to share back with the community.

Off the bat I should probably provide a little backstory. For the past 6+ months I've been a presales engineer covering all things networking. From route/switch to security to telephony and everything in between including wireless. As I progressed through that role, my interest in wireless became what it is today, and I went off and got my CWNA. I had grand plans of knocking out the rest of the CWNE track directly thereafter. But as Jeff Goldblum so eloquently put it in Jurassic Park "Life, uh, finds a way." A few months after passing my CWNA our daughter was born, and the focus I had was long gone. However at the beginning of July, I was granted permission to spearhead a new position as a pre-sales engineer focusing solely on Wireless networking and Mobile Device Management. This jump-started my CWNE endeavors. So although 820 days had passed between my CWNA and CWDP, I only had been truly focusing on it for the past couple of months.

Alright, that segue out of the way, lets delve into my experience with studying for the CWDP!

Materials

What materials to use for the CWDP-302 has been something that has been discussed a fair amount on Twitter and other forums. At first I just assumed that I would buy the latest book written for the newest exam and that would be enough. After all, that's what I did for the CWNA and had success. However when I went to buy the CWDP-302 book, the Amazon reviews gave me pause. I normally read Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. But this isn't a kitchen gadget, or some other every day item you would get off of Amazon. This is a book written by Wireless Professionals, for Wireless Professionals. So I was pretty conflicted after reading the negative reviews about purchasing it, but went ahead and did so anyway because it just seemed to make the most sense. Newest test should equal the newest book right? A few chapters in I saw what the reviewers qualms were. The book just wasn't written to the level I expected. To this point my experience was solely with the CWNA-106 book, which was written remarkably well. The CWDP-302 book just didn't live up to my expectations. 

Let's go over the pro's of the CWDP-302 book:

  • It's to the point. I could see this being a great book if you needed to re-certify your CWDP and already had a solid background in everything that it covered. Because it *did* cover all of the exam objectives.
  • Being newer, it does cover some things that the older book did not. 
Drawbacks of the CWDP-302 book:
  • It doesn't go too in-depth into the material. There is a reason it has half the pages.
  • Some of the material seemed to be lifted from other study guides?
  • No chapter review questions. However there was a quick summary of the chapter and some "facts to remember."
So what did I do? I went back and bought the PW0-250 guide. There were just too many topics that were being covered that I felt I was only gaining a veneer of knowledge on. A veneer is great, it finishes off a product. However that product is useless without solid underpinnings. Which is exactly what I needed. I needed to build the foundation of my knowledge and the PW0-250 guide gave me that. The PW0-250 book addressed a lot of the drawbacks in the CWDP-302 book. It went deep into all of the subject matter. It also had chapter review questions, which for me are incredibly valuable. Often I'm squeezing in a few pages here or there. So being able to review the chapter at the end is great because it shows what I might need to review before I move on. Also, sometimes I can blow through a chapter and think that I learned it all. Only to have the chapter review questions prove me wrong. Which I would much rather have happen at that point, rather than when I'm taking the test.

Speaking of tests! I would attribute much of my success in passing on the first attempt to using the CWNP practice exams. These do a great job of showing you where you are weak, as well as solidifying where you are strong. On my first pass through the exams, I have it provide me the explanation of the answer on all questions. Whether I answered them correctly or not. That way, even on correct responses, I get a little blurb about the question and the various answers on it. You would be amazed at how many little tidbits you can pick up from these. After my first pass through the practice exams, I go back and brush up on the areas where I felt I needed work. Not only by re-reading the area in the book (although I did that as well) but I would go to other sources as well. To me, this is an important step. There is a reason that the concept didn't "stick" the first time. So going to another source and having it explained in a different way, or through a different medium such as in a YouTube video, can have a big effect on my retention.

I should say that I was a bit disappointed in the tests. For how expensive they are, I expected better quality control out of them. Despite the fact that the PW0-250 book came with practice exams, I purchased the CWNP ones for the new exam to ensure I was covering all my bases. There were a few questions that would say in the question portion "pick three answers" and then on the answer section would say "pick two answers." This might seem nit-picky, but for $125, I don't think I'm too far out of line. My only other qualm was that there were only two pools of questions with 60 questions per pool. That's $0.96 per question. I just wish there were more questions to help ensure that I had learned all of the material. That all said, even at 96 cents per question, I will absolutely continue to use them on the future tests. Establishing where your knowledge needs improvement is incredibly valuable, and these tests are a great way of doing that.

I also found the flashcards provided with the PW0-250 book to be very helpful. I know some people do well with flash cards and others don't. So like everything your mileage will vary. 


The Test Itself!

Much like Fight Club, the first rule of proctored tests is that you can't talk about the test. What I will say is that if you are prepared, you should do okay. Read every question as well as every answer carefully. Also, remember how when you were learning to read, if you didn't know what a word was, the teacher told you to sound it out? Apply that to questions you get stuck on. Break the question down to the concepts being discussed. This can often help you break down the question and the subsequent answers and figure it out. Remember, you learned all of this not just to pass a test, but so you can apply that knowledge. With those questions that you need to "sound out," you are merely doing what you are going to do once you walk out the door. You're going to apply the knowledge that you have. So approach those questions like you would any problem you encounter. Break it down, and apply the knowledge and experience that you have gained to this point.

Where Do I Go From Here?

As with any major accomplishment I think "what's next" is an important question to ask. This may sound like hyperbole, but I think you should always build off of your achievements. So once you've reached your goal, your next step should be to establish your next goal. So for my next goal, it's going to be the CWAP. The track that you should take through the CWNP program is often talked about, but its generally agreed that CWAP provides you with knowledge that will help you with the remaining exams. After going through the CWDP, I agree with that. There were certainly some "in the weeds" type things that having that deeper protocol knowledge would have been incredibly beneficial. So, the CWAP will be my next exam. 

With that, thank you for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, just reach out! I would love to discuss it with you. 




Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hello World!

Every blog needs to have a "Hello World" post right?

This blog will be a collection of my views, opinions, and thoughts on the world of Wireless Networking. It will also act as a repository of things that I'm currently learning or studying. I'm sure I'll post some other random things as well. More than likely things that are incredibly self-aggrandizing, but this is my blog and I'll do what I want. One thing that I will not commit to is a cadence at which I will publish posts. There's no way that I can guarantee maintaining a cadence, so I'm not going to commit to one.

This blog is absolutely a product of the gentle persuasion of the WiFi community. The members of this community are very social and incredibly open to sharing their knowledge. It's my strong opinion that wireless networking wouldn't be where it is today without them. Personally I have gained an immense amount of knowledge, insights, and tips from them. It has also helped continuously fuel my passion for WiFi. So in that spirit, this is my small contribution back to that community that has given me so much. (This paragraph will be stolen for the "About Me" section. So it may look familiar.)