by Jan Wiesmann
There’s a competition that’s all about IT, a topic I’m passionate about? Where do I sign up? This was my reaction when I first heard about SwissSkills two years ago. One thing was clear. A lot of hard work and skill were needed to get there.
SwissSkills is the name given to the Swiss championships in a range of professions that takes place every two years. To qualify, you first have to take part in the regional championships. Some 300 trainees from all over Switzerland take part with the top 10 in the current year and the top 10 from the previous year qualifying for SwissSkills. The medallists from the previous SwissSkills are also invited meaning that a maximum of 23 people can take part.
So, I had a target, but how was I going to reach it. The first step was to prepare for the regional championships that cover three subject areas: Networking, Windows Server and Linux Server. Networking and Windows Server weren’t going to pose too big an issue as they were part and parcel of my daily work, but Linux? We’d had a module on Linux at school, but would it be enough?
I started to build virtual labs at home by configuring virtual routers, switches and, of course, all Windows and Linus servers. Linux was by far the most complex because there’s no GUI so you have to know the commands by heart. This was definitely the biggest challenge for me at the start, but after a while I got the hang of it and ventured to try out the preparation tests you can use to simulate exam conditions.
Thursday 23 March 2020. The day I found out if my prep had been worth it.
We were given three hours to solve a variety of problems and the exam was very similar to the preparation tests with the only difference being that specific services that I had no experience of had to be installed and configured on Linux. After 2.5 hours, it was finally over. I’d managed to nearly completely solve the network tasks and when it came to Windows, there was only one GPO setting I hadn’t been able to find. There were, however, several things that didn’t work on Linux.
The results weren’t published until August, but the wait was worth it. I made 5th place and had therefore qualified for SwissSkills in Bern on 11 September.
Two colleagues and I set off for Bern at 5:15am. Once we’d picked up our championship shirts, we were all set. After a short speech from the organisers, we were off to the tournament room to find the workstation we had been assigned. The competition kicked off at 8:15am. I read through the tasks and was a little surprised that none of what had been covered in the preparation tests for Linux was going to be included. I started by setting up the various Windows servers and firewalls, losing a lot of time to issues related to the servers not being able to reach each other. Thankfully, the networking section was much easier and I was able to complete nearly all tasks without too much trouble.
After lunch, I carried on with the Windows Domain Controller, but here there were several problems. I kept on getting error messages I’d never seen before when adding clients to the domain so I had to set up the server again completely from scratch losing crucial time I could have used for Linux. Thankfully, it then worked and all I had to do was finish configuring the firewall, which gave me no bother.
Now, with not much time left, I could focus on Linux, but, with just 20 seconds to go, the Hyper-V server crashed because the firewall running on it lost its configurations. Something that ultimately cost me lots of points.
The exam was over at 4:15pm. I was so annoyed that I’d lost so much time on some tasks, but my colleagues also felt less than confident. We didn’t have much time to mull it over though because we had to go straight to a photo shoot for social media and our personal photo album. At 4:45pm, we were heading home.
The results were published two days later. Unfortunately, I’d only placed 20th and I have to admit I was very disappointed as I’d expected a lot more from myself. But they say setbacks can make a person stronger, so I’m going to try and learn from my mistakes and be better. No matter the result, it was definitely worth taking part in SwissSkills. Experiencing this level of stress and tension and competing against like-minded people was a one-off experience.