Are You Certifiable? Being a Virtual Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Would you take a certification exam for a 35% salary increase?  Without talking about many other values of certification, this alone is a big driving factor for getting certified. Keeping exams relevant and updated is important, and NetApp stepped up during this COVID-19 pandemic.

I have been a member of the NetApp exam development team for many years and am proud to be one of the few NetApp SME Elite.  Last month the NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer—SAN Specialist exam (NCIE SAN NSO-519) update for ONTAP 9.7 was not delayed by the pandemic.  NetApp University Certification, led by Brandi Einhorn, made the exam workshop happen virtually.  All flights, rental cars and hotels to Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina were cancelled, and remote meeting invites were sent.  These events are historically in-person, but the team worked through it with some good guidelines and lessons learned.

The exam writing process has two phases, the Job Task Analysis (JTA) followed by the Item Development Workshop (IDW).  The JTA is a two-day process and the IDW is a five-day process.  The JTA develops the blueprint for the exam, and the IDW develops the questions for the exam.  For the NCIE-SAN, we needed to complete the five-day workshop.  A five-day virtual event is difficult when direct collaboration is needed between all members of the team. Also, the subject matter expert (SME) team requires at least six members present at all times to meet the minimum psychometrics threshold for a valid exam.

The end result was a great IDW experience.  Here are some of the remote best practices we followed to keep the event as close to as in-person as possible.

Best practices for a remote IDW

  1. Keep your webcam on.  Seeing everyone on video kept the team interactive and accountable.  Also, the event felt like we were all together in person.
  2. Mute audio when not talking if there is background noise.
  3. Lock the office door to keep the pets and kids out.  Or unlock it sometimes because the animals and children are a nice break.  Brandi’s daughters helped open each day saying hi to the team.
  4. Be interactive and engaged.  We opened every day with a discussion of current events and then focused on the IDW goals
  5. Humor.  We made sure to entertain everyone and tell some jokes.  Laughing together is a great bonding experience.
  6. Take breaks often to get up and walk around.
  7. Take a full lunch break.  We all took at least one hour away from the IDW every day for the five days.
  8. During the individual question writing, even though it is an individual task, stay on the audio to interact with the team.
  9. During exam question review, take turns reading the questions out loud.  Each member of the team took a turn reading and stayed interactive.

2 thoughts on “Are You Certifiable? Being a Virtual Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s