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Ramping Someone Up on Dynamics AX

What does it take to learn Dynamics AX?  It's not for the faint of heart - the product takes years to master and there's still no one I've met who knows every inch of it backward and forward.  First, you have to start by finding the right candidate, so you have to know what you're looking for. 

Let's start at the beginning and say you're looking to add on to your practice with a new Dynamics AX consultant or support engineer and you have the time to give them the education they need.  We've been talking about the idea of hiring a college student and putting them through a ramp plan to get them up to the level to be a Premier Field Engineer.  Here's what I'd look for:

  • Combination of Business and IT training in college - I'd look for someone who's a Computer Science major with a business minor, or a CSci grad with an MBA.  You could also look for someone with an MIS degree so they have a good sense of both the business side and the IT acumen
  • Some familiarity with development concepts - the candidate doesn't have to be a developer (although it certainly would help), but AX is so customizable that they will pick it up more quickly if they have a sense of how the customization environment works
  • Technology internship - I'd love to see that the candidate has spent time in a technology related environment, especially in a larger company where an IT project has been deployed during their time
  • Communication skills - generally this is tested in the interview, but I like to see candidates who can write well and present their ideas in a clear, concise manner.

This may be a lot to ask for in a candidate, but if you're looking to spend the next several months ramping them up on Dynamics AX, you don't want to make the wrong choice in the beginning.

Once you've got them onboard - you need to start them slowly and determine what modules/focus areas you want them to start with.  Even though it's quite complex, the install/config side of the application is critical to learning the rest of it, so I would start there by enrolling them in training.  This training could be a classroom training and/or eLearning.  It's critical that they have extensive lab work associated with this training, including the time to install and set up the environment multiple times.  After that, I'd have them sit with current support staff to see what types of incidents come in.  From there, they can learn to troubleshoot issues that will serve them well going forward.  I would then have them start taking support incidents for several weeks until they are ready to take on more.  From there, the next direction depends on there area of focus.  Throughout the support, consulting and Premier Field Engineering practices at Microsoft, we sort all our engineers into 1 of 3 primary focus areas:

  1. Application
  2. Technology/Performance
  3. Development

If your new hire has come in with more of a business background, I would start them down the path of learning the financials side of the business.  Again, they'd attend training and shadow support calls until they get to the point they can take them themselves.  Once they have a good handle on financials, you can take them in several different directions - supply chain, trade and logistics, HR/payroll - depending upon their background and your coverage need.  In each case, it's important that they receive the training and have opportunities to watch it practiced before jumping in themselves.

If your new hire has more of an IT/SQL background, I would direct them to the system side of the business.  We had an engineer join our team after spending 10 years in IT in Microsoft, with a very limited knowledge of AX.  He has focused on hardware configuration, install/setup, SQL performance and scalability and has done very well.  He spent much of his first months on the team in training  on the system side, sitting with support engineers to learn more of the troubleshooting aspects, and shadowing other team members deliveries until he was ready to step out and deliver himself. 

If your new hire has a development background, I'd still start them with the install/config training so they understand how AX is set up and works.  Then I'd enroll them in 2 weeks of the Development I-IV training courses to get them exposed to how X++ is used within the AX product.  From there, they need extensive lab time - give them a small, side project to develop and mentor them when they need help.  Working with an established developer is a great way to give them the practice they'll need to be ready for themselves.

To take a person new to Dynamics AX and expect them to deliver, I would budget for a 6 month ramp-up time.  We have our new support engineers taking calls within the first 2 months, but it really takes 6 months before they have the confidence to do the job well without considerable case reviews and joint calls.  From a consulting and Premier Field Engineering perspective, we oftentimes will expect 4-6 weeks of ramp-up time before the engineer starts to shadow deliveries in the anticipation of the ability to do solo engagements in the 4-6 month timeframe. 

I'd love to hear feedback or take questions, drop me a line in the comments if interested.  More to come on finding the right candidate and interviewing in the near future.

Eric Newell

Comments (4)
  1. Eric Newell says:

    @Ingeborg – when we add new support engineers on the financial side, we always look for candidates with accounting or finance backgrounds in college and some years of work experience.  You're right – debits and credits, applying payments, reconciliation, etc. can all be difficult concepts to pick up if you haven't had time to study it – either in class or in the real world.

    Eric N

  2. Ingeborg says:

    I would want that one day it is acknowledged that you should not deal with financials functionality without having real life business experience. Accounting experience is still underestimated at Microsoft – and I hope that will change in the long run.

  3. Eric Newell says:

    @Allen – there is definitely a lot to absorb.  It depends on what's being asked of you in your role, but I'd start by checking out the AX 2009 or 2012 Implementation Guide so you understand how it runs in the environment.  Then I'd check out Trace Parser and the Performance Analyzer for Dynamics for great troubleshooting tools.  You should be able to find each of the above with a Bing search.

    Eric N

  4. Allen says:

    Funny I just found this – coincidental in fact.  I just got hired to perform AX Administrative duties and my background is primarily that of a SQL Server DBA, although I have a CompSci degree (w/ finance minor) with a CIS masters.  I'm finding it relatively easy to pick up – just very time consuming and a lot to absorb for sure.

    I appreciate your taking the time to share your expertise – if you know of other great AX resources for a technical person like myself I would love to hear about them.

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