At the beginning of each year many of us create resolutions to improve ourselves in some way. One of my resolutions for 2014 was to achieve SharePoint 2013 certifications by updating my 2010 SharePoint certifications. To do this I will need to pass the Windows Server 2012 upgrade exam (417), the Core Solutions for SharePoint 2013 (331) and Advanced Solutions for SharePoint 2013 (332). The two SharePoint tests can be purchased as an exam pack at a discount as well as getting a second chance certificate (http://bsf01.com/microsoft_vouchers/mcse_sharepoint.aspx).
Now I don't have the ability to take time off and study up, boot camp style, to get the new information that I would need to pass the exams. Much of the information carries over from SharePoint 2010 and but much of the information is brand new and needs to be practiced and played with. I don't have a budget to pay for training classes or even to attend the SharePoint conference, Microsoft TechED or any other conferences.
For training options I have found that the TechNet, MSDN, Microsoft Virtual Academy and Channel9 sites offer a ton of video on demand training. I would encourage IT Pros and Developers to review topics from both developer and administration disciplines. This can be beneficial in gaining a more complete understanding of the platform and its capabilities. Even sites like youtube.com have a lot of information that can be viewed and studied.
TechNet offers training for IT Pros and has an excellent series on SharePoint 2013 (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/sharepoint/fp123606). These videos provide great information about SharePoint 2013. I find it best to follow along with the video by also reading the corresponding TechNet article for whatever subject I am learning. That way I can try and answer any questions I might have and make notes and bookmarks for important facts. The TechNet site also has hands on labs that you can take for SharePoint 2013 (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/virtuallabs) just search for SharePoint 2013.
MSDN has similar training available via it's web site (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-US/office/dn448488). These videos give a lot of good information from the developer point of view. Again, the method that I use is to follow along with the corresponding MSDN article so that I can answer my own questions and make notes and bookmark important information. The MVA site (http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/training-topics/collaboration_topic_page_en#?fbid=lZqJkjDRmgD) offers several courses for SharePoint developers and IT Pros ranging from an Overview to an entire course on Advanced Solutions. MVA also has a course for the Windows 2012 Upgrade exams requirements (http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/training-courses/upgrade-skills-to-windows-server-2012-jump-start).
Channel9 has many recorded sessions and labs from popular conferences. Some of the information may be a little stale but with SharePoint 2013 moving into it's second year of release and first service pack most of it remains relevant. Channel9 offers these recorded sessions for free. A quick search of the Channel9 site turns up quite a few sessions for SharePoint 2013 (http://channel9.microsoft.com/search?term=sharepoint+2013).
With that, I'll also need to download software, set up VMs an install and configure Windows, SQL Server and SharePoint. I do have the advantage of having an MSDN account provided by my employer. So I have access to all of the software that I would need without having to download evaluation software. Certainly, downloading VHDs and ISOs from the MSDN site can be simple enough. Downloading these files and setting up a new boot device on your machine can give you the best user experience from a performance point of view. Launching the VHDs as virtual machines is also an acceptable option. Since they are VHD you will need to bring them up in Hyper-V or convert the disk to VMWare if you are using VMWare Workstation or Server.
Developers who have an MSDN subscription also has rights in Windows Azure. In Windows Azure, you can fire up a new SharePoint development machine from a template that has all of the components that you need. The Windows Azure VM also has Microsoft Visual Studio installed so that you can go through any of the development tasks or walkthroughs. This environment can be spun up very quickly and has a scripted initialization depending on your requirements. It's a great way to get up and running with little or no effort. Unfortunately for IT Pros, the installation mechanics have already been done, but if you want to see how an automated installation of SharePoint should look,use this VM as a reference.
Office 365 also provides a quick and easy way to get up and going with SharePoint. You can sign up for an Office 365 Demo client and be up and running in a very short time. MicrosoftOfficeDemos.com also offers demo clients with content and scripted walk throughs. This is great information for learning about native functionality in SharePoint such as enterprise content management, search, legal holds and social. You can be up and running with demo content in less than 24 hours. They also offer Demo VHD with content for offline or on-premise environments. This gives you an environment that is pre-populated with content and allows you to walk through different scenarios and functionality.
The best case scenario would be to have in person, one on one training with a SharePoint expert. The use of the production level hardware and unlimited software licenses would also be preferred. However, this is not reality. In reality, we all have daily jobs and responsibilities and could not afford to neglect these for a significant period of time to pursue new knowledge. We don't have unlimited hardware resources to run the recommended 24GB ram VM for SharePoint. There isn't a personal coach and mentor who is going to come and hold our hand while we learn this new technology.
So we have to make due with what is available. I use the resources in this post to watch videos when I am on the treadmill or to read while I am waiting at the airport or even on a plane. Time that would other wise be unused. The resources mentioned in this post give some alternatives to paid training and provide sufficient information and guidance for learning in a self-paced cost effective manner. Combine the resources here with online books (SafariBooksOnline.com or books247.com) as well as product team blogs (http://blogs.office.com/b/sharepoint/) and you can find a wealth of information to help you on your certification journey.
Another great resource is borntolearn.mslearn.net