CLASS ACT

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, August 1995

You’ve been tinkering with NetWare LANs for years, and you are tired of having to either call for help or spend hours on research, every time a new problem or question arises. Or, you’ve suddenly been put in charge of your company’s LAN, but you only have experience with other computing environments such as mainframes, minicomputers, or individual, unconnected PCs. Or, you could experience the worst case, being shanghaied into administering a LAN with no background at all. You could even have the most benign experience, a desire to further your career in working with LANs.

All these questions suggest formal training, with the most cost-effective option being classroom instruction. Individual training by a systems professional is just too expensive for any but the briefest of introductions to the technology. (Keep in mind that I could make some serious extra money by conning people into letting me give them extensive personalized network training beyond this level, so the previous statement goes against my own financial interest.)

Once you’ve decided to go the classroom training route, you can easily be overwhelmed by the available choices. First, you should determine what you want out of the training, your time constraints (both time to completion and your personal availability), and your budgetary limitations. These factors will guide your decision.

If you are concerned only with getting the information that you need to run a network, and getting it fast, you need to look at independent (that is not associated with Novell) classes that emphasize the rapid acquisition of practical knowledge without regards to any of Novell’s tests. Since these courses are not subject to any review process (short of outright fraud enforceable via criminal statutes), you must evaluate them carefully.

Obviously, a word-of-mouth referral is best, assuming the person giving the referral is LAN-literate enough to give a valid opinion and works on a system similar enough to yours. Learning skills appropriate to someone else’s LAN won’t help much.

Another technique is to analyze the course curriculum carefully. Does it fit your needs? If you have access to more experienced colleagues or friends, ask them to help you sort out what may be unfamiliar terms. (Though, if the training organization is incapable of translating their curriculum into something resembling English, you might be justifiedly wary.) They can also help you categorize skills by how applicable they are to your particular situation.

Also be sure that the target audience concentrates on people with your current skill level. You don’t want to be either bored out of your mind or left in the dust. For example, if you only need information on the day-to-day running of a network, you might not care about buying advice. If you are getting a new network or upgrading an existing one, product analysis skills and buying hints would be essential.

Talking to the instructor is another way to select a class. If the instructor is honest, you might be warned away from an inappropriate class. Either way, you can get some idea of the instructor’s knowledge and, most important, people skills. Realistically, the individual instructor is a lot more important than the organization in training situations.

Visiting the training site can be very revealing. If you see a poorly-maintained group of mismatched computers, you can expect the class to be disrupted by hardware and software failures. If you notice unexplained evidence of piracy, then the organization’s ethics may be suspect.

Speaking from the point of view of someone who designed and taught an independent LAN course for several years, most of the courses that I am aware of don’t look very appealing. Based upon my examination of their advertising material, they habitually misallocate time by making decisions based more on academic or marketing opinions rather than real-world considerations. They also neglect to narrow their target market properly. They just want to get as many bodies into the classroom as possible. A perfectly valid class can be rendered near-useless by inappropriate targeting and a failure to reveal prerequisites.

If you have any interest at all in using training to advance your career, the Novell courses are the best for you. All other classes are simply cram courses designed to stuff your short term memory with just enough material to pass the Novell tests.

Even the cram courses given by Novell Authorized Education Centers that use Novell course material fall into this category. (I’m sure that the previous statement will do wonders for my future employability as an independent Certified NetWare Instructor.) Keep in mind that the industry is wising up. Sneaking your way through the tests by either using a cram course or just "winging it" based on the prior acquisition of ad hoc (and by definition, incomplete) knowledge isn’t enough these days.

Employers and clients have become aware of the overwhelming advantages of the structured classroom experience, the standardized course material, and, especially, the presence of a CNI, in Novell’s training method. The exposure to a CNI, and to classmates with differing experience is the key to this equation. I’m not even particularly thrilled with people who purchase the course materials and then take the tests.

Again, even when choosing from among the many Novell Approved Education Centers, the individual instructor is the most important factor in the equation. Based on feedback from former students, the quality of the instructors was the biggest variable, even within a single training organization.

Note that my preference for the full Novell classroom "experience" is based both on my own experiences as a LAN student in classes where I had overwhelmingly more practical experience than all but one of my instructors, as well as the post-class comments by my own students. I managed to acquire tons of useful knowledge from my instructors and classmates in every class in spite of my extensive experience. (Just last week, I learned at least a dozen new NetWare tricks from the administrator of a client’s LAN who is just about to start his formal NetWare training!)

When I search for new employees, I strongly prefer people who have attitudes toward training similar to mine. That is, not only to attend the class, regardless of prior experience, but, while in the class, participate fully, to the point of sucking the instructor’s brain dry of information in a vampire-like quest for knowledge.

1995, Wayne M. Krakau