Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Creating Websites (PHP & MYSQL)


Well after seeing someone really making some good money from creating websites and placing a few google ads on them, I've really started to have a go myself!

The hardest thing i've found so far is actually coming up with the idea's for a good website! As i'm sure many enthusiasts do too.

Anyways, I've also started to learn PHP & MySQL as I'd like to create some clever websites and, of course, I've started a blog on it too! Follow me as I journey into another new learning experience! Visit http://www.http//

Maybe one day..... I'll create a new facebook rival! :-)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

My Views on I.T. Contracting v Full-Time Employment

I was recently asked to write a one page document on I.T. Contracting for a company. So thought I'd share it with all of you too!

I have been I.T. Contracting now for just 4 years and can honestly say i really enjoy it. Over the years I've regularly come across the debate, with several other contractors, of the pros & cons of contracting as opposed to being fully employed.
It is often something I think about and feel that one day I will return to full-time
employment, especially for the days when i'm older!

But for now, contracting is great. I get to work with several different people, at various different client sites, doing all kinds of different I.T. projects and usually in different ways!
I'm learning new skills all the time, discovering new systems and techiniques at every different contract. This is something that could never compare in a full-time job. Although I don't feel that I am a total expert in any particular field or system, what i do have is a broad knowledge of all kinds of systems, how they work, what businesses want from them and how they can gel them all together. It's great to be working on a project at some client site and be able to suggest complex system solutions that you have seen and used elsewhere, that the normal on-site everyday IT administrators have never even heard of.

Two major issue on this debate is always the money and the job security! Of course with contracting neither of these are guaranteed. (But then, with the current climate, can a full-time job guarantee long-term employment either?). I've found that when I am working, I am earning more that I would be employed, so the simple trick is to save some of the money for those times when you're not working. Many contractors I know with Limited companies, pay themselves the same steady amount every week regardless of how much more they earn. After all, shouldn't being a contractor also have the benefit of being able to have more time than usual!

I've worked with such companies as Vodafone, Computacenter, EDF Energy, Department for Work & Pensions, EDS/HP, The NHS and I've only been contracting for a few years! I can't imagine there are too many people out there full-time employed who would have worked with such a variety of large scale corporations.

Of course one benefit for working full-time for a good company is that you can usually get some good training and qualifications. As you may know, some courses (ie. MCSE) can cost £1000's. If you want these and you're a contractor, then you'll have to foot the bill, not to mention losing money to take the time off to do them! But when companies are recruiting, how much do they look at your qualifications? Many people will always argue that experience can be worth just as much, if not more. Of course, it depends on the company and the role on offer. Personally, I've completed 2 MCP exams now. I felt I should get some formal qualifications to show I am a "professional" and not just another agency worker. I actually have several qualifications now, please check my CV at to see those,

So to end my ramblings, I haven't really said which occupation is the better (or have I!), as of course this is, and can only be, a personal opinion. For me right now contracting is my first choice. But to the potential employer, whom we always wish for, with that whacking great salary and pension, with a job right on my doorstep - i'm waiting for your call!

Thanks for reading.
Stuart Sparks

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Monday, 19 October 2009

Exam 70-680: TS: Windows 7, Configuring

This appears to me as the general everyday engineers exam to do. Here's the Microsoft gumf:
Candidates for this exam operate in computing environments that use Microsoft Windows 7 as a desktop operating system in an enterprise environment. Candidates should have at least one year of experience in the IT field, as well as experience implementing and administering any Windows client operating system in a networked environment.

Candidates should be able to install, deploy, and upgrade to Windows 7, including ensuring hardware and software compatibility. Additionally, candidates should be able to configure pre-installation and post-installation system settings, Windows security features, network connectivity applications included with Windows 7, and mobile computing. Candidates should also be able to maintain systems, including monitoring for and resolving performance and reliability issues. Candidates should have a basic understanding of Windows PowerShell syntax.
Interesting that Powershell is requested! A good thing I believe, a bit of scripting is really useful to know and you will always come across it on pretty much any type of rollout / support.

So probably the easiest exam of the 3. Will probably do for most people unless you want to be a real hardcore export I suppose!

Also worth noting, completing this exam will count as credit towards:

• MCITP: Enterprise Administrator

• MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7

• MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7

I shall be looking at what exactly these exams are next! I'm assuming they are the new version of the MCSE.

Feel free to post/comment.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Microsoft Windows 7 Exams

So Windows 7 is here, it's meant to be the next main stream OS as we're meant to skip Vista right?

So let's assume all the big companies will be wanting to roll this out pretty soon and of course we want to be part of that. So lets get another MCP in Windows 7.

I've already got the XP MCP and Server 2003, so am hoping once I've learned all the new features and functionality of Win 7, I should find the exam a breeze - just like Server 2003 & XP were.

But I've had a look and have found there's 3 exams:
  • Exam 70-686: Pro: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator
  • Exam 70-685: Pro: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician
  • Exam 70-680: TS: Windows 7, Configuring
So which one to go for?

I'm doing a bit of investigate and will post my findings soon...

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Life of an I.T. Contractor

Let me share some of the thoughts and problems I've had on deciding my career path in I.T. contracting.

Surely some, if not most, of you will have thought the same and if so, I'd love to hear from you. (
Currently I've been quite successful in my short 4 years of contracting. I've worked as a rollout engineer, team leader, project co-ordinator, system engineer and 2nd line support. But the problem I have is actually deciding what my speciality should be.

Recently with the economic situation as it is, work is "apparently" dry. Whilst I've been lucky enough to be pretty much constantly jumping from one contract to the next, I have heard from agencies and other contractors that finding regular work has proved harder than usual.

So what do I need to do to make sure I'm always required? Can I just carry on now and just assume that there will always be large scale rollouts going on? (As i'm sure you'll agree, the big rollout projects are the best and usually employ a lot of engineers) But with the technologies businesses have now ie. Radia, SMS, BDD to name but a few, it's becoming increasingly easier for a normal business I.T. setup to be albe to remotely deploy new operating systems and applications.

How many sites have you now worked on where you can plonk a pc on a desk, plug it in, press F12 and watch it completely build itself and install all the apps!

No need for a skilled I.T. contractor for this anymore!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we're doomed! I've no doubt there will always be a need for good 2nd/3rd line engineers in the field. Although remote support is pretty much everywhere now, there's only so much you can achieve remotely. There is always the need for an engineer to visit a user/machine.

But the other major problem now - the rates of pay! As above, i've only contracted now for a few years, but I've heard all too many the stories of the good ol' days of earning £30+ an hour for a rollout engineer. Of course now, this is more like the £12 p/h mark.

Sometimes this is fine, I've worked on this rate too, but it's not ideal if you're not working all year round. Plus, as always, don't we all wanna be the rich I.T. contractor, with the large house, sports car and retiring nice n early :-)
So here we are.... my dilemma: what should I do and learn to be on high demand and earning the good old rates of the old days?

They do indeed still exist, I've worked with many really good and clever guys that are earning £400 - £800 a day. But the problem I always have, is they've been doing clever I.T. for years and are now very much specialised in their field of excellence.
Now, there is training galore available out there and we've all talked about what courses we want to do. But it always seems to come down to the same old issue.

These courses require time and lots of money. Great.. no problem, I've have loads of time spare after my next contract finishes.... oh but, I won't be earning then so I won't be able to afford the course!

But for now, let's assume we've been a bit clever here and have saved up our "hard worked for" £1000's and we've got some time off coming up....
What course(s) do you go for?? There's sooo many.

Personally, I'd like to specialise in SMS and/or Radia. Every site I've worked on has always had one of these systems and will probably do so for the near future. As it happens, I'm currently working now as an SMS package importer/tester and the biggest thing I've found hard - is sitting in front of the same machine, all day, everyday! Something rollout engineers are not used to!

I've seen Radia in use many times, even got to know a little bit on how it works, I put this on my CV and along with the fact I'm SC cleared the phone calls of £350 a day started rolling in! But when it came to skills testing and interviews I realised I actually know F*** all!

Courses are available for Radia, but I believe it's only at one place in London and they are extremely expensive. Would it be worth doing them? Isn't the always all-important question you get asked - how many years experience do you have? Well... none! I've just done the course mate. Oh dear! Do we take the risk?
Now with SMS, this is our good friend Microsoft. Everyone loves Microsoft Systems right? (only kidding of course). But the truth is many companies go along with whatever Microsoft dish out and say they need. So SMS (now upgraded to 2007 with many extra components) is bound to be in heavy demand. Learning SMS is also much easier and more learning courses or learning material is available.

But it's back to my new discovery - Do I want to be sat of a PC looking at the SMS console every bloody day? I'm not so sure....
It seems gone are the days of getting a good ol' MCSE and being the bee's knees are fading away. Infact I'd go as far as to say you should have one now just because every other bugger and kid coming out of college has one, just so that you're "normal"! Let alone someone "special"!
So back to the point of what I started in this blog! What shall I do? What do I want to become an expert in?

Desktop support is good, an all-time favourite with a lot of the engineers I've worked with. There are Microsoft exams available now to be recognised as a qualified desktop support technician, namely the MCDST. Get one of these upto Windows 7 and I'm sure you'll be getting some recruiter calls. But will you ever be getting that sports car and mansion? I doubt it....
Another thing I've discovered in my short time, is that all the good well paid guys can VB script. This is another skill on my wish list. But it's a time consuming one to learn and at the end of the day will be just one off the many skills you need to be an everyday high earning individual.

But at least it's one thing I feel i definitely need to learn, perhaps even do a course on.
Other skills/technologies that I feel I should include are Exchange 2003/2007/2010 and Sharepoint. Now sharepoint really interests me, I feel it's a really great tool for most businesses, many already have it and are constantly developing it. Some are only still now finally getting to grips with it. There are several roles in Sharepoint, a couple I've noticed regularly are the admin and developer roles and i've seen anything upto £400+ day rates for these.

Maybe this is a good one to go for? Maybe from this you can also get into web development. Again it could a role where your sat infront of the same PC all day. But it's a bit more interesting then perhaps it'll be ok, besides once you get the regular fat pay cheques coming through it'll seem a whole world away from rolling out pc's onto dusty desks!

Exchange - well it's been around for a long time, I have to admit I've not had a lot of experience with exchange. I can create mail boxes etc. But that's about it! I don't know why but I've never really been into exchange. Perhaps this is an error on my part as every medium to large business with have Exchange is some form. It's on my wish list. But not at the top!
Another consideration of mine is moving more into the Project Co-odinator role. Not always an exciting job and I've never fancied taking notes in a meeting. But I have had some good experiences as a "PC" and usually paid a fair bit more than as an engineer too. It can be nice to be an important part in the Project, be aware and fully involved in everything that's going on. But the biggest prospect for me is... the next promotion from here would be to Project Manager.

Once upon a time, to me at least, the PM was super duper, top job, great respect and excellent day rates. Now it seems PM's are everywhere and according to agencies I've spoken for. Supply of PM's is far greater that what's in demand.

So what to do!! Ahhhh.. here we go again. If only I had a crystal ball and could see just a couple of years into the future!
I'd really love to hear from you if you've had similar thoughts and experiences of mine. Especially if for you this was a few years ago. Which path did you take and has it paid off? Or can you recommend an excellent choice of career path? :-)
Thanks for reading, there's plenty more I want to blog on and no doubt I will.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My Websites

Websites that I am currently working on are: - My main website - Always being changed and worked on! Can also be accessed from - Our own website with all our wedding pictures for friends and family to view & download. - My site which i'm developing to help with several topics of typical home computing. Mainly with guides on how to do things for free or really cheap. With the plan to fully develop this into a huge site of info, help, tips & tricks over time. - Will be a site/forum to help and discussion for contractors on using Umbrella or Limited Company payment options. - To be developed between my brother and I for his local team, for arranging and discussing friendly games in and around Portsmouth. - A small page dedicated to linking to other websites that I recommend. - To be decided!

Facebook Badge