Written by Dan Cuomo & Scott Simkins | Microsoft Platforms Premier Field Engineers and 1st Time AskPFEPlat Bloggers

Hi Fellow IT Pros,

All too often we hear a common phrase from our customers, “I need to get spun up on…” IT professionals often struggle to keep up with, or try to stay ahead of, the ever evolving trends to keep their environments and careers healthy. Training budgets are shrinking and sending staff to brick-and-mortar training facilities to digest an enormous stream of information within a brief period of days could deplete an entire training budget very quickly. In addition, it is also difficult (and sometimes nearly impossible) for many to schedule time to attend a class during their normal work week. The good news is that there is an increasingly available wealth of high quality, on-demand, training options. Many of the options we mention here are completely free while the others can be obtained through our Premier and/or MSDN offerings which we will discuss as well.

One of our goals as Microsoft Premier Field Engineers (PFE) is to help make all the offerings more widely known by educating people on where to educate themselves. We understand that, sometimes, it is difficult to know where to begin. We also know that lots of folks want to be hands-on, see more demos, deep-dive on specific topics, learn from experts, and have access to lab systems they can configure for their own training needs without emptying their wallets to do so. That is why we are trying to be vigilant about spreading the word and letting as many people know about the robust set of learning options that they can begin accessing today, so long as they have a PC, an internet connection, and a desire to learn. No matter what your preferred learning style, this article has something for you. So, let’s get started!

Microsoft Virtual Academy

One of our personal favorites is the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). This site provides high quality, expert training from Microsoft employees like our own Microsoft PFE, Milad Aslaner, (shown in the image below) and partners to include a variety of technologies from Windows 8 Deployment to Windows Phone Development. The majority of this training is provided through videos and live events and is typically accompanied by a transcript, documentation, and assessments at the end of each module. You can even create custom training plans to help you work through topics and track your progression. If you’re on-the-go and want to take a presentation with you, the site allows you to download content in a variety of formats and play them on a range of devices. MVA is a “provider” to degreed.com so you can update your micro-credentials once you’ve completed a course.

Here’s the best part… The MVA is completely free and requires only a Microsoft Live ID (also free) to access the content.

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Channel 9

Channel 9 is another great resource for technical training. Channel 9 provides shows, blogs, forums, projects and information on upcoming and past events (like TechEd). This site is a great place to get up-to-date content on your preferred topics. It also allows for the download of content in a variety of formats. They even provide modern apps through the windows store for Channel 9 and the TechNet Edge show. According to their site, “Channel 9 is a community. We bring forward the people behind our products and connect them with those who use them.”

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TechNet Virtual Labs

If you want to try out the technologies and see how to actually perform a task or work with the solutions, check out the TechNet Virtual Labs. The labs provide a risk-free virtual environment for testing purposes. Typically, you can complete each lab in 90 to 120 minutes and there is no complex setup or installation required. When the labs open up, they include a detailed lab guide. Best of all, there’s no limit to the amount of attempts for the lab and you don’t have to tear-down and rebuild your own systems. Instead, you can tear-down ours. We recycle, so go for it!

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Azure Benefits

Azure is cool…really cool. We are talking “almost as cool as a ninja,” folks…almost. If you want to give it a go, you can try it for a month, for free. Of course, you should probably do a little reading prior to starting the trial so you can get the most out of it. So, we recommend you start out in the Documentation Center. If you’re looking for the offline version of Azure, get your documentation here –> Azure Pack.

But wait, there’s more! If you’re an MSDN subscriber you most likely have free Windows Azure credits as part of your subscription that are reloaded each month while your subscription lasts. In order to take advantage of this benefit for MSDN, you just need to activate it through your account settings under the MSDN subscription section. If you’re tossing and turning at night trying to figure out which version of MSDN to purchase, you should check the Compare the MSDN benefits page to see how many credits come with each subscription level.

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Education as a Service (EaaS)

Suppose one of your New Year’s resolutions was to “NYR 173: Eliminate scheduling headaches.” Problem is, your calendar typically looks like a multi-colored wall of unavailability. Enter Education as a Service which is one of the numerous benefits available to Premier Customers as an on-demand portfolio of training courses. It’s a library of on-demand videos featuring Microsoft Engineers who are subject matter experts in their field. They discuss and teach a range of IT technical subjects designed to increase your IT staffs depth and breadth of knowledge. If you’re interested in adding this to your Premier contract, please speak to your Microsoft Technical Account Manager (TAM) who can arrange your subscription to our library of content. Instead of bringing a trainer to you, this training is available remotely and at the convenience of each of your colleagues. Go ahead and check the box next to #173.

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Chalk-Talks and Brown Bags

Chalk-Talks and Brown Bags sessions are a great way to get personalized instruction on a topic of your choice. If you’re a Premier customer and are able to find time for a group from your team to attend some onsite training, a Microsoft Premier Field Engineer (PFE) can come to you to provide instruction in a variety of settings and formats. For example, one of our joint customers decided they wanted a bi-weekly, hour long session of custom PowerShell “brown-bags” delivered over Lync with screen sharing. If you’re interested in finding out more about what’s available and have a Premier contract, please speak with your Microsoft TAM.

Supplementary Learning Materials

There are a variety of other great learning materials out there too. Most of you are probably aware that Microsoft Press creates books and references for different skill levels across the range of technologies. Did you know that they also provide a gallery of free eBooks and a blog to keep everyone updated on the latest info? Speaking of blogs, there are numerous technology blogs led by Microsoft employees in their respective fields. Ask DS (Directory Services), SQL Team and MVP, System Center Team Blog, Windows Blog, and of course, our own Ask PFE Plat (Platforms) are a small list of the variety of other blogs available. For an additional list of Microsoft Team Blogs, check here.

For those of you who would either want to share some of your knowledge or troubleshoot some of your more challenging issues, check out the TechNet Forums.

If you’re looking for a topical launching point for some our key technologies, look no further than the Survival Guides. Using the survival guides can be far simpler than searching the internet and provides a means of finding what you need on a topic, especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re seeking. You might even find related information to pique your interest and lead you down an educational journey.

Another trove of knowledge can be found in the Infrastructure Planning and Design Guides. This series helps to clarify and streamline the design process for a variety of technologies.

Whether you’re building applications for the desktop, the Web, the cloud, or for mobile devices, MSDN Magazine provides up-to-the-minute, comprehensive coverage of Microsoft technologies. MSDN Magazine connects you with the industry’s leading voices on establishing practical solutions to real-world problems.  You can still get a physical copy or “go-green” like us and our virtual labs.

In addition, MSDN and TechNet both provide a “flash newsletter” that can be customized to your liking.

TechNet Flash: The biweekly newsletter delivers the latest alerts of new resources to help you be more successful with Microsoft products and technologies. When you subscribe, or if you already receive TechNet Flash, you can customize your own version to receive the information that's most important to you.

MSDN Flash: MSDN Flash delivers critical developer news to you in one information-dense, compact newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest development news from Microsoft by subscribing today. Learn about the latest resources, SDKs, downloads, partner offers, security news, and national and local developer events. Every other week you'll get an email containing pointers to all of the new articles, samples, and headlines from MSDN Online, the MSDN Library, the Knowledge Base, the Developer Centers, and other Microsoft websites. In addition, look for announcements of Microsoft and industry events, training opportunities, chats, and webcasts

Finally, an oldie but goodie. Don’t forget about “the TechNet Library which contains technical documentation for IT professionals using Microsoft products, tools, and technologies.” One of my favorite features of TechNet (and a golden nugget for all those who made it to the end of the post ;-) is the export capability. If you want to “organize a custom set of articles with only the information you really want” check out J.C. Hornbeck’s article. You can export this custom set of articles in translated or its original language, specify the example code language (for example, PowerShell, HTML, C#, etc.), and create and title relevant chapters.

Summary

No matter what your technology, there is an à la carte menu of training options that is waiting to be consumed. We encourage you to tell your co-workers about them, talk about them with your friends, put up flyers, or share a link to this blog, so your pals can see for themselves. Thanks for reading.

-Dan Cuomo & Scott Simkins