Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Take your training!" and watch out for ADHD at those sleep-inducing outsourced courses

I guess one lesson from my own IT career was, if you want to stay current, “take your training.”
Back in 1981, when I joined Chilton in Dallas, new programmers were scheduled for self-study training sessions “upstairs” with a VHS video and book lesson, exercises, and quiz, all to be finished in 4 hours. The lessons were in a number of topics like Structured System Design, JCL, Assembler programming, and solving mainframe dumps.  The pace was slow, but effective.  Your course completions were considered in the performance appraisal.

Training has tended to outsourced to training companies, that usually visit most cities and conduct week long courses in suburban industrial parks  (I-494 south of Minneapolis, for example), often near airports. (Business travel can be uneventful.) There is a tendency for them to start simply but for the pace to accelerate. Students are then presented problems which require a lot of “self-sufficiency” (using help) to work.  This was particularly true in a PowerBuilder course in 2000, a little less so with a Java course in 1999.  If you don’t code java everyday, can you define a “constructor”?   This was really a problem in 2001 with BEA Web Logic. 

There is a problem that in a typical shop, most of the material will not be used by the programmer, particularly in maintenance or support. That was much less a problem in the mainframe days where much more development was done in house, even with purchased systems (like Vantage in life insurance). It’s hard to pick up modern IT skills without being on board with a project early.  That fact tends to give younger workers, especially college and graduate students, a big edge.  (I heard plenty of stories in my libertarian world contacts about IT course projects at the U of M back in my Minneapolis days.)

Perhaps I experienced some ADHD  in these courses (even a later one in version management on Unix in 2001; we actually had a class in FileAid two days before the layoff at the end of 2001!). I had a little publishing “empire” that I didn’t like to desert, and was in a space where it was hard to focus on stuff I wouldn’t ever use.  After I went into book and web authoring on the side, I had my own world to maintain, and too much distraction was a problem.  Like the world, I was changing, too.

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