By Max Ranzau
From the Industrial Might and Logic Dept. This article is a revamp of a piece I wrote last year, in connection with the partner training calendar. If you haven’t read this article before, here’s the exec summary: It describes my point of view how a technical training class should be conducted and thus how I run my mine. Even if you’re not a trainer, but a prospective participant, you may consider using my points below as a yardstick to measure the quality of another class you participate in.
Looking back over a couple of decades of working in IT, I believe my particular take on training methodology stems back from the fact that my first training class back in the mid-90’s sucked harder than a diesel powered vaccum cleaner. My students were well-justified being anything but kind in their review. Hey, so we all had to start somewhere, but moving up and onwards from there and becoming a better trainer is a continuing effort on multiple fronts:
- Knowing your target material (obviously)
- Constantly improving your delivery methods.
- Never be ignorant of the fact that even though you teach for a living, there is always someone smarter out there who you can learn from as well.
As an example of the latter, I remember (after teaching 2-3 years of Citrix WinFrame) being sent on a mandatory NT4 Terminal Server course. Taking into consideration that “thin client/server computing” (yeah, that’s what we called it back then) was still a fairly new thing, the poor sod assigned to teach the class was indeed an MCT, but his speciality was MS Office (!). Go figure how that went… The guy was nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, having no clue whatsoever to what he was teaching, beyond what was on the current page of the book. However, soon finding out that myself and a colleague were knowledgeable in the subject, he ended up turning over the reins, thus doing the smart thing to ensure the participants got a good experience and their moneys worth. I think the morale of the story here is that getting egg on your face is also a learning experience. I know I’ve got enough already for an omelette or two! ;-)
Now, let’s talk about the RES certification classes. If you’ve never sat through a RES partner training class, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. These classes are very heavy on practical labwork rather than the usual PowerPoint + 15 steps of predictable labwork. With the above experiences in mind, having trained a slew of technologies over the last 20+ years, including Citrix, RES, App-V and Packeteer, I’ve formulated what I believe to be a good recipe, resonating well with most participants:
- Get the basic theory of operations
- See how it’s done
- Try to build it yourself
- Possibly fail. Don’t panic! This is a good thing. See below.
- Fix the problem and learn from the experience
- Repeat on a new topic.
The failure part at first seem to worry some folks in the modern business culture which seems predominant, being spewed and enforced by some clueless managers that “failure isn’t an option“. You, as an engineer or an admin, got to look at it with better eyes than that, because that’s how we learn best as Human Beings. Somehow we seem to forgotten this basic rule of human nature in the ruthless corporate world we inhabit as IT people. Pause and think back for a moment: It is likely that ever last one of us as a youngster , learned the hard way a stove is indeed hot! – All because we were unable to absorb the experience of the senior people in the household and just being told don’t do this or that, doesn’t always stick.
In a much too typical IT class, you watch the numbnut at the whiteboard yammer on for 1-2 hours, showing off his Powerpoint skills, while reading aloud from the curriculum, followed by; “So, let’s turn to Lab Excersize 23A on page 451 and take 15 minutes to complete this lab”. This is where you with 98.2% probability will see the Instructor bolting for the door to answer voicemail or go on his smokebreak. You as a participant, in the meantime get the sheer thrill of following 15-20 lab steps: Click here, now click there etc. etc…Done. My question to you at this point is – and think hard about this one for a minute:
What. Did. You. Learn ?
Did said lab exercise provide you with the opportunity for independent thought or ideas? Did it expose any weaknesses in the procedure (or god forbid, in the product!) which would help you in the field later? Did you get the chance to fail, fix and learn from the experience? If the answer is no to all of the above, you have to ask yourself if you feel properly enabled? After all, chances are that your employer is not pulling you from the field, just to enjoy the nice catering and my lame Chuck Norris jokes during class.
When dealing with potent and extremely versatile products – such as the ones RES Software produces – a different approach is needed as described above. Setting you up for potential failure during class will help you avoid making similar mistakes when in front of your customer. It’s as simple as that. Being thrown into the deep end of the pool is not a bad thing, as long as there’s a qualified lifeguard on duty. What that translates to is that during my classes you can expect to be challenged to keep up and think on your feet, but at the same time you will be fully supported.
This is how I train. I look forward to seeing you in class!