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Notes of a Lifelong IT Student

IT training classes can be divided into two main categories

Have you ever attended software training? If yes, have you enrolled voluntarily or your employer required you to get re-trained to get extra points for your annual review? If so, was that class useful other than getting these points?

In my blog “Notes of a traveling contract trainer ” I promised to write a sequel from the student’s point of view. You got it.

If you work for a large corporation, the chances are high that you are entitled for taking one or two training classes each year. In some cases you even get to choose which classes to attend. I mean off-sight training. But most likely, you are enrolling a class offered onsite by an invited instructor.

IT training classes can be divided into two main categories: five full consecutive days or two-three months long evening classes. The latter are for people who want to get fundamental training and have time to study and absorb the material.

If you are planning to learn new software by attending a five-day instructor-led class, the most efficient way is… to learn it by yourself before the class.  I’m not kidding. This way you’ll know what questions to ask the instructor during his/her short visit.

I’ll give you an example from my own career.  Back in 1998, I was a client-server developer (PowerBuilder and Visual Basic) who wanted to switch to Java. Being an independent contractor, I had to switch gears fast to make sure that my billable rate won’t suffer. How can one quickly convert from PowerBuilder expert to a senior enterprise Java developer?  J2EE was completely different comparing to any client-server technology.

Learning the syntax of yet another language is the easiest part, unless it’s an Objective-C.  But understanding the architecture and the best practices of new environment is always a challenge. To make the story short, I went through a couple of Java books by myself, and then enrolled to a five-day class “Developing J2EE applications with BEA Web Logic”. I got lucky – the instructor was good (he had the real-world experience). Five days and $2500 later, I was ready to work on real world Java projects. I still believe that attending an instructor-led class after self-studying is the best way to learn.

Computer-based training is usually boring.  You can’t ask questions, but have to take computer-based tests. Multiple-choice SAT-like exams are equally stupid everywhere. They just prove that you are good at taking multiple choice exams.

Instructor-led training remains your best choice.  In the class, use your own laptop to make this training efficient. Contact the instructor prior to class and ask what software has to be installed. These days, unless you are getting into SAP or CICS-like software, you can download and install evaluation copy to your laptop. It’s better than using a desktop provided in the classroom, because you take with you the software with training files after the class is over. It’s properly configured with the help of the instructor and all samples work. Add to this well written courseware (is it well written?) and you are armed and dangerous.

If you are not sure where to find a reputable instructor for the software you want to learn, find the conferences related to this software. Pretty often, one day intensive training is offered the day before or after the conference. Instructors that are approved to teach a class at a major conference are usually good. I’m not saying that you have enroll into this short class, but google the name of the instructor – the chances are that s/he teaches longer classes as well.

Check the training catalogs of your local universities, where evening classes in schools of continuing education are often taught by practitioners.

While in class, try to get as much help from your instructor as possible. Most of the instructors enjoy helping students. Don’t be shy. There’s no such thing as stupid questions in the classroom.

At the end of the class, never forget to fill out evaluation sheets. Instructors have to present them to their managers. Be nice to them. Even if you didn’t like something in this training, leave your comments and submit your evaluation sheet.

In September-October of 2010, I’ll be wearing a student’s hat twice and be an presenter in one event. I’ve already registered into two conferences: Java One by Oracle and Adobe MAX, and I know exactly what I’m looking for besides networking. At JavaOne I’ll attend every technical session on the upcoming JDK 7 release, and at MAX, my main educational goal is getting good at development for Android platform. But first, I’ll be one of the presenters at the Third Annual Flex Symposium here in New York City.  I like being in classrooms.

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More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion ( He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

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