SQL MCM Day 15: Logistics

There’s something really exciting about walking into Microsoft each morning.  I know it sounds cheesy, but I get the feeling that really cool things are happening all over the campus.  Love ’em or hate ’em, Microsoft builds things that touch our everyday lives, and this is where it’s happening.  I know a lot of Microsoft employees that I really, really respect for their knowledge, community efforts, and personalities.

And for three weeks, I’m surrounded by ’em.

My MCM training is taking place in Building 40 on the Microsoft campus.  I’m staying at the Homestead Suites only a block away, and I’d highly recommend it to any attendees.  It’s way cheaper than everything else in the immediate vicinity – around $75/night compared to $150/night for real hotels like the Courtyard or Residence Inn.  The advantage of staying so close is that you don’t have to fight traffic.  During the MCM, you’re going to treasure every minute you can spend studying (or relaxing).  If you’re willing to drive 20 minutes each way in traffic, though, you can cut your hotel bill to around $50/night and get a hotel with a warm breakfast each morning.  That drive might not be so bad, though.

Rooms in the Homestead have a little kitchen with fridge, stove, and a microwave, so I stocked up on basic breakfast & dinner food when I arrived.  That turned out to be a bad idea – every day after class, I really like driving a few minutes to a nearby restaurant just to get out for a while.  The Homestead isn’t exactly welcoming, and it’s tough enough to get psyched up for an evening of studying.  If you stay farther away, then take a 15-20 minute drive from Building 40 to a hotel, you can hit a restaurant on the way in & out.  You’ll have a better frame of mind at a little higher expense.

The Homestead has a small laundry room, but I drop my clothes off at a nearby laundromat.  They’ll wash & fold your clothes for a fixed rate by the pound of clothes.  It costs 3-4x more than doing it yourself, but you don’t have to wait around for a free machine, and you can spend that time studying instead.

No matter where you decide to stay, bring an Ethernet cable.  Hotel WiFi is a gamble, and you can often get better performance via hard wiring.  The Homestead’s WiFi in particular is horrible, often dropping connections outright, but the network via jacks in the kitchen is rock-solid and quite quick.

The Homestead’s pretty quiet, but the walls are wafer thin.  Even in quiet hotels, though, I sleep way better with a white noise generator.  At home, I use a Marpac SleepMate, which uses a spinning plastic tube to generate whooshing air sounds.  It’s very soothing, and it masks background noise extremely well.  Sometimes in hotels, I can get away with just turning on the air conditioning fan to get white noise, but in places like Seattle, that doesn’t work.  Leaving the fan on means you don’t get heat or AC, and Seattle hotel rooms in winter get cold enough to hang meat.

On the road, I use the $1 Ambiance iPhone app, which plays background noise through the phone speaker.  You can choose from hundreds of noises, and my favorites are Brown Noise (no poop jokes), Powerful Waterfall, and Rain on a Tent (not to be confused with Snakes on a Plane.)  Ambiance has two downsides – it runs your phone battery down, so you need to run it on a charger.  It’s not as all-encompassing as the Marpac – recorded noise just doesn’t seem to do as well as whooshing air when it comes to masking noise.  I still recommend it highly though.

Killing Us Softly

Killing Us Softly

If you don’t like studying in the hotel room, you can spend as much time as you want in Building 40.  On the first day, MCM candidates get badges with 24/7 access to the building.  The classroom is stocked with an abundance of the finest snack foods imaginable.  Want something to drink?  The kitchens all have Starbucks coffeemakers and fridges stocked with sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks.  Carbohydrates will not be an issue – well, at least the lack of ’em won’t be an issue.  I think I’ve gained five pounds already.

Non-Microsoft staff don’t get WiFi access.  You can bring your laptop, but either bring a data card or be prepared to use the in-desk computers to access the web.  Bring a giant thumb drive (at least 8GB) to copy materials from the lab to your machine.

Some of the labs are delivered in VPC format, so install Microsoft Virtual PC ahead of time on your computer.  If you can’t run VPCs on your laptop, consider upgrading your laptop – it’s cheap relative to the cost of the MCM.  You can skip using the VPCs, but you’ll be missing out.  Apple users – this means you need to install Boot Camp with at least 20GB free space so that you can boot into Windows, then copy the VPC to your local drive and run it from there.

The MCM signup material says that laptops will be provided, and they are, but you don’t want to use them.  They’re garbage.  Same with the computers built into the desks – mine said Optimized for Windows XP, and even that was a stretch.  Mine didn’t have the VT extensions on the processor, so I couldn’t even use it for VPCs.  To add injury to insult, the desk computers have CRTs embedded in the desktop, and you’ll bang your knees against the display every time you use the desk.  By the end of the first week, most of the attendees were sitting sideways at their desk just so they could use their laptop without bruised knees.

If you’ve got friends to visit in Seattle, do it before the MCM begins.  You can’t predict what time you’ll get out of class each afternoon, and when you do, you won’t be fit for human companionship.  Your brain will be battered even more than your knees.  Don’t plan on doing it after the last day, either.  By the end of this, you’ll be dying to get home to your own bed, to eat food out of your own fridge, watch your own television, and hug your loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones, I need to blog about the bonds you build with your fellow MCM candidates.  You really go through hell, and you learn a lot about people by the kinds of questions they ask (and the answers they offer) during three weeks of nonstop in-depth technical training.  More on that later.

First I’ve got a test to take.  (sigh)  Here comes Number Two.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Ah, a fellow white noise junkie. I came up with a nice trick (IMO, at least) for noise on the road: use the clock radio in the room. Tune it to a dead frequency and you have a nice LOUD source of fairly random noise. No looping, etc, which I found with some of the programs I downloaded. The only tricky part, as it turns out, is finding a dead station. I coil the antenna under the radio, which seems to help block most incoming traffic and makes it easier to dial up some nothingness. Of course then you lose the alarm, but you already have the iPhone or your computer for that.

    • I tried that too, but I got stuck at a few hotels that didn’t have radios! Totally odd. The one we’re using near the Quest headquarters does that – they have a big TV with built-in alarm clock, and no radio. (sigh)

  • Sounds like that Homestead hasn’t changed much in years! I stayed there briefly few years ago when I was new at MS and I remember not being able to do much online on their iffy WiFi network. But like you said, the location is decent and is surrounded by many restaurants. And speaking of food, have you tried Malay Satay on 24th St between 156th and 150th Aves? Their lunch menu is a great bargain and IMHO far more interesting than the same old campus food.

    Also, if you ever get tired of all those free carbs, try the ‘Microsoft Mocha’, which is one part Starbucks (machine) coffee combined with one part (microwaved) chocolate milk that can be found on the bottom shelf of the beverage refrigerators. It’s not great but it gives you some caffeine alongside a little bit of protein. Something I suspect you might find useful as you approach the big 6-hr lab exam. Best of luck!

    • Amar – HAHAHA, the Microsoft Mocha, I’ll have to try that. Funny! I’ve been going to the coffeeshop in 41, but it’s not open on the weekends, so I might have to bust out the MM. Thanks for that!

  • Hi,
    if you have the opportunity to do the couse again, what you focus your studies before starting?

  • I spent a week at Microsoft a couple years ago. I quickly became addicted to the always available snacks too. It was tough to return to work where we have no kitchen fairies.

  • Congrats on a successful endeavor

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