Knowledge is Good

November 6, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Posted in Study hints | Leave a comment
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I loved the movie Animal House. At the beginning of the movie, scenes of Faber college were shown, including a statue of the founder of Faber college, which had this inscription on it: “Knowledge is good.” In the IT world, technology changes quickly.  You need to stay on top of the technology, and in my belief, training is the best way to stay sharp.

 

Outside of a job where your employer pays for your training (and pays for you to attend), there are three different ways to go about it: on-line training, self-study, and instructor-led training.

 

Self study training requires a lot of discipline and requires setting goals. In the IT world, it also means that you need equipment. If you can get access to the technology, hardware, or software at your place of work and its part of your job, the learning curve is not so steep. There are several good books on the shelves of your favorite retailer that you can use to learn a new technology. You can learn practically any Microsoft technology with the trial software and three computers.  Unfortunately, you cannot use old equipment. You have to have fairly new equipment, and that can be costly.  For Cisco technology, you have to have Cisco equipment.  Cisco equipment is not cheap.

 

 On-line training  is fairly popular in recent years.  You can hear an instructor talk over a phone line and watch slides on your computer. You do not have to pay travel costs.  Online training is great for people who want to get an overview of a new technology. However, just watching pre-made slides can be limited, and you might have limited contact with the person leading the course. To pursue a technology further you need to get hands-on.  To get down and dirty with a technology in an online scenario, you need to immerse yourself with virtual labs.  You will have to be selective on picking an on-line training provider that provides good virtual labs.

 

Instructor-led training, or what we used to call “classroom” in high school, is an excellent way to learn a new technology. You have the opportunity to work through hands-on exercises with the actual technology, not to mention the chance to grill an instructor like a T-Bone steak. There are different avenues that you can take with instructor-led training. You can take a vendor-approved class like a Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) class, or take a class from a provider that builds their own training materials.

 

When you’re shopping around for an instructor-led training course, ask yourself: are you trying to improve your job skills, get a promotion, or learn a new technology so you can get a better job (or perform better at your current job)? Or are you trying to get a specific certification? If you want to achieve a certification, try a class from a provider that builds their own training materials. While I think vendor-approved classes are the best way to actually learn the material, I personally am not a fan of taking those same vendor-approved classes for certification purposes.  Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses are geared to learning the technology, not toward preparing you for the certification exam.  In Microsoft’s defense, if you check the objectives of a particular test on their web site, the Microsoft prep guide will tell you which objectives are covered by which MOC course. If you’re starting from scratch, you will typically need to take multiple MOC classes to  cover all the objectives covered on a Microsoft exam. A vendor-independent course that maps to a particular test usually hits every objective and gives you more bang for the buck than a vendor course. On the other hand, MOC classes do contain a lot of good labs and are taught by Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs). Vendor-independent courses may or may not be taught by MCTs. Most importantly, vendor-independent, certification-based courses are not going to give you the same depth of topic coverage and real-world applicability as a vendor class. Judge your own level of knowledge (be honest) and don’t take the certification-geared class until you have gone over all of the freely available vendor training material and are confident that you have a good grasp of the underlying concepts.

 

When I mentioned instructor-led training to a friend, she asked, “Do you mean a bootcamp?” In past  years, the word bootcamp has been given a bad name. I have had the opportunity to teach bootcamps and I have had the opportunity to be a student in a bootcamp.  A bootcamp covers a lot of material in a short amount of time. The key for a successful bootcamp is to have the students prepared ahead of time. Sometime in the 1990’s a guy named Ken Kousky invented the bootcamp. Ken is not much of a golfer, but he is a smart guy. He designed a  training program which is a combination of self study and instructor-led training to help customers achieve a certification. A student would take a 6- to 8-week self study course, then attend a week or a couple of weeks of intense training,  and finish by taking a certification course. With a true bootcamp, you can expect long hours and lots of studying, and a lot of preparation beforehand. A bootcamp is not for everybody.

 

The program was very successful and spawned a lot of competitors. The competitors were more interested in getting students certified by any means necessary than teaching students the technology. The end result was that a lot of training companies became “paper mills” that produced a lot of sub-par students with paper certifications.  These students had the certification but could not do the jobs. The end result: employers became leery of certified people and the certifications became devalued.  The vendors fought back against the paper mills. Microsoft has introduced simulation questions and emulation questions to combat the paper certifications. CompTia, Microsoft, and Cisco have begun changing their tests at a record pace to stop the braindump sites. I believe the bootcamp that once was known as the “paper mill” will be a thing of the past. If the training company does not prepare their students adequately, their students will not pass and the training company will lose money.

 

 

You have to decide if you want to learn a technology or prepare for a certification exam. If you do not have the prerequisite skills for a bootcamp, take an instructor-led class that spans across multiple days or weeks. Community colleges and many training companies offer technology classes that meet two or three times a week for a couple of weeks. This gives you time to absorb the technology.

 

 

Whether you use on-line training, self study training or instructor-led training, you have to implement the skills you learned or you will lose them.  Dean Wormer said, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.” I say, “If you want to learn a technology, take the initiative and do it.” You can choose from self study training, online training or instructor-led training. Remember, knowledge is good.

 

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