MEGAMIND, an Institute for Advanced Technology Training is featured in The Learning Curve (www.designshops.com)
Finding a Quality Technical Training Experience
by Molly E. Holzschlag
July 10, 2000
With numerous technical training options available, it can be challenging for professionals to choose effective learning experiences. How can you make good decisions regarding a technical training organization? To find out, I spoke with a well-regarded training center, MEGAMIND, an Institute for Advanced Technology Training.
Ensuring that your choice of technology training is a good one lies, at least according to the Institute, in three major areas. First, you must determine if the center offers topics that are relevant to you, and if it views you in its target audience. Then, find out if the organization is keeping up to date with the true needs of the professional. Third, find out about the instructors—the classroom experience is paramount.
A Good Center Knows Its Audience
Most DesignShops readers already know this cardinal rule: Know your audience. A training facility must understand who it is providing courses for, and why. When I asked Institute director Deb Murray about her audience, she responded clearly, “Our audience is composed mostly of developers and system administrators. I tend to find that people primarily interested in our courses are quite technical.” What’s more, Murray has found her audience is made up of working professionals. Attendees, Murray explains, “have probably at least three years’ experience and tend to be looking for more advanced technology information.”
With this kind of information in hand, you can adjust your expectations and decide whether the course is appropriate. A course that has clear direction differentiates it from the myriad of courses that give you the same information you could garner from experimenting with the application yourself.
Despite streamlining an audience’s general skill level, there will always be diversity in the classroom. Instructors who are able to manage this will help provide a better learning experience.
“The most difficult issue in teaching security issues is knowing how to present them in a way that the audience can relate,” explains Gene Schultz, who is an author of several books on Internet security, Research Director and Trusted Security Advisor for Global Integrity Corporation, and an expert instructor for MEGAMIND. He says technical people “want technical content, but they can get so wrapped up in details that it is easy for them to miss points.” On the other hand, it seems that managers, who also often take his security course, are sometimes uncomfortable with technical terminology. “Managers get turned off by any technical talk whatsoever and want content that is related to the business side of security,” Schultz says.
If instructors understand these types of classroom concerns, they will be better equipped to address them effectively.
Keeping up to Date
The timely—or timeless—content of a course is critical. See if the program in which you’re interested can answer in-depth questions about their curriculum. After all, technology changes, and buzzwords only mean so much—an organization has to have substance to match its vision.
Murray claims that her institute stays “way ahead of the industry. We focus on finding out about ‘pre-emerging’ technologies.” The institute does this by first researching industry trends. Then it listens to people in the trenches, relying on the expertise of instructors to bring new information to the table, and paying attention to audience feedback.
Instructors must also understand the scope of the technologies they’re teaching. Robert Williams, manging partner of the Enterprise Certified Corporation, a UNIX expert and instructor with 20 years experience, and an expert instructor for MEGAMIND certainly knows the past and future of his topic. “I started during the early emergence of UNIX when different variants could barely speak to one another,” he says. “Slowly, bridges between environments have been built. Over the next several years, interoperability will become the norm and soon thereafter differences will be transparent to the user.”
So, along with teaching more recent technologies such as XML, the center you’re looking for should have strength in its core topics including Java, Linux, UNIX, Windows NT, and Internet security training.
An instructor’s abilities guide the learning experience. Williams puts it into perspective, saying, “The most difficult problem is securing knowledgeable instructors. So many of the ‘education mills’ will use off-the-shelf instructional materials and have an individual simply walk students through something in which the instructor has little or no knowledge.”
Try to find experienced instructors who know their technology, and who can teach. While the idea of finding well-known industry leaders and using them as teachers isn’t a new one, making it work is. Unlike the old aphorism “Those who can’t do, teach,” in technology, those who do, also teach.
Finding out who your instructor will be and what his or her techniques in the classroom are is something I encourage. I’ve found that most instructors, in general, are willing to take a few moments to talk to people researching a facility. As an instructor, I’d rather speak to a student first and find out if my course and style is a good match than have that student be disappointed later on. So, talk to the instructor. The best ones will respond with clear descriptions of their topics and abilities.
Look for testimonials, and see if former students are willing to field questions about their experience. Chances are if they’ve had a very good or very bad time, they’ll want to share it. Gordon D. Besson, the information systems security site manager for the U.S. Department of Energy, applauds Schultz, who provided two presentations to his group on behalf of MEGAMIND, and presented strong foundations in the security topics. “The knowledge that Dr. Schultz imparted to us was far beyond what we had dug out of the Microsoft manuals.” This kind of endorsement can round out your investigation.
Getting the best technology training experience means having to do a little digging. But, spending that extra time may just help ensure that the courses you take and the price you pay, will be worthwhile investments of time and money.