Harnessing Tech Conferences for Certifications

I’m a self labeled certification junkie and really do enjoy the process of challenging myself to learn a technology to the degree required to achieve certification. Maybe this warrants some explanation: typically, the items on a blueprint cover a huge swath of items, many of which I have either worked with briefly or have not had the opportunity to touch. By preparing for certification, I get to focus on expanding my skill set to include these more edge case objectives and better understand the product or service that I’m already working with.

When I was invited to the HP Discover US conference back in early June, I noticed that all attendees were given 5 free vouchers to use at the on site Pearson VUE testing center for the HP ExpertONE program. Not having any HP certifications, I was interested in finding out more, and had lots of questions roaming around my head – what sort of certifications does HP offer, how do I register, what sort of blueprints are involved?

I hadn’t really thought of harnessing a tech conference to get certified before, but it made a lot of sense to me. Where else do you have access to tons of subject matter experts and products on site to answer questions? Also, it’s insanely easy to test when all you have to do is walk downstairs and show an ID, instead of trying to schedule a time and location weeks ahead of time. So, I decided to take a look at the ExpertONE program and figure out how to best move forward with my certification at a conference experiment. I set the goal of getting the exams done in a day so as not to impact my “blogger duties” too much. 😉

Getting Prepared

My first goal was to learn more about the certification program. Fortunately, HP has a pretty darn awesome certification explorer tool. Each vendor has a different way of figuring out certification paths, but I liked that HP had a lot of options on how to figure out what you wanted with a fancy GUI.

Here I chose the “Blades” technology, which is one area that I commonly work with

 I chose “Blades” and focused on the “AIS – HP BladeSystem Solutions” certification track. This is the professional level certification, with an option to move up to Expert level with some more exams. Here is the pre-req screen for the track:

So, according to the explorer tool, I needed to fulfill three prerequisites. HP surprised me in that the last two can be a number of different third-party options. I used my Microsoft MCITP:EA (Enterprise Administrator) certification to complete the operating system and networking objectives. I planned to take the HP2-T16 exam and the HP0-S27 exam while at the conference.

Note: I also had to go register for a Learner ID, which is an account with HP that tracks all your certifications (similar to a VMware VCP ID, Microsoft MCP #, or Cisco CSCO ID).

Using the Conference Resources

For some items on the blueprint for the HP0-S27, I realized that I had no real world experience to supplement the objective. One example would be the c3000 chassis – I’ve only worked with c7000 chassis in the past. Also, I rarely see the FlexFC module as most of my hands on work was with the FlexFabric module. So, knowing this, I was able to identify personnel on the floor who were subject matter experts in these areas (Virtual Connect, Industry Standard Servers, etc.) and ask questions.

The guys and gals on the floor were incredibly helpful, allowing me to put my hands on the equipment and play with the interfaces, pull out drives / modules to inspect them or simulate failures, and gave me tons of input on how the product and services work. This sort of “personal fire hose” level knowledge transfer was incredibly helpful to me and was a big reason why I wanted to go for the ExpertONE program on site.

Talking with HP’s experts while at the conference was important to the certification plan (photo by Calvin Zito)

Additionally, many members from the ExpertONE program were on hand to answer questions and get me squared away without any issues. My thanks go out to Karl Kovacs (@karlkovacs and @HPExpertONE) for all of his direction and guidance, as he was instrumental in providing assistance to my questions!


If you’re looking to get certified, attending a tech conference that offers exams on site is a great way to get that process kick started. I’d say that if you have the gear in your data center and want to attend, this would be a great way to pitch it to your boss, even if it’s not your direct responsibility (such as a storage admin wanting to get BladeSystem certified to better understand what his gear is connecting to). Having an ecosystem thriving with folks who want to help you, colleagues and peers who have been through the process, and an infrastructure that supports testing, makes a great combination.

If you’d like, you can view my interview with Jake Ludington entitled “How Tech Conferences Help You Get IT Certifications” below, or read the excellent article by Matt Ryan entitled “How Going to Tech Conferences Can Help You Become Certified” on LockerGnome.

Also, it was nice to return home to find this waiting in my inbox. I plan to go for ASE (Expert) level soon. 🙂