Back to school with Sun

This week I’ve been able to attend a Java SE training course at Sun’s Camberley campus. The primary reason I am here is that my better half is studying the course, so I figured this would be a great chance to work quietly from the back of the room if Sun didn’t mind (and they didn’t) to provide a few thoughts on how the company delivers its training courses.

This week I’ve been able to attend a Java SE training course at Sun’s Camberley campus. The primary reason I am here is that my better half is studying the course, so I figured this would be a great chance to work quietly from the back of the room if Sun didn’t mind (and they didn’t) to provide a few thoughts on how the company delivers its training courses.

First impressions were pretty good I have to say – the UK operations director was at reception to make sure I was able to get a delegate pass and a lunch voucher even though I was not a ‘real’ student. Once we had worked out where the coffee machines and the loos were located it was time to meet the trainer. Again, positive impressions here – he’s an ex Sun employee now working as a third party trainer. A nice extra sprinkle of impartiality perhaps?

Although Sun specifies that students’ differing levels of experience are pre-analysed so that a level playing field exists as far as possible, there will always be an inevitable difference in the aptitude of those attending. Luckily, course numbers are quite small this week and the trainer (let’s call him Brian, as that’s his name) is the sort of enthusiastic born-to-teach kind of guy that can work at six levels at once.

"Sun’s Java training programmes are carefully structured to ensure that the content is always pitched at the right level to be commensurate with the delegates’ skill set. But Java is a broad technology and in a real world development environment, solutions can be as varied as the problems they are addressing. With that in mind, Sun strives to make sure that course content reflects the needs of the software developers as they interact with these technologies on a day to day basis," said independent software education consultant Brian Earl.

This course (and others like it) is delivered with follow on web-based practice exams, which the company says help ease the route to certification. Our trainer pointed much of his content towards the desired end result for many students attending this kind of class, “This is the kind of area you will need to know about if you are considering professional Java certification,” he said, repeatedly.

Earl made sure he had some code up on the white board an hour and 10 minutes after the class started. “Developers get itchy if they have to sit around for too long without working on something,” he told me.

The corporate training materials here are written to welcome you in to the warm fuzzy world of the Java community and make you feel like you’re part of a winning team: 6 million developers, 1.2 million mobile phones, 1.65 million smart cards and 1106 members of the Java Community Process.

One reality check perhaps and something that kind of resonates of what chief executive officer and president Jonathan Schwartz said at JavaOne earlier this year in his press break out sessions – these courses are not cheap. I’m sure they pay for themselves so-to-speak if you approach them properly. But even if Sun’s open source offerings (OpenSolaris, Java, Netbeans, Glassfish etc.) are free, back in San Francisco Schwartz reminded us that Sun is there to make the technologies available and, “Sell you support when you need it.”

The chaps on the course seem to have enjoyed it and got what they wanted from it. I spoke to technology consultant Chris Madelin, who told me that, "This has been a good week for me in general. I'd say I've got a better handle on Java, both how it sits in relation to how I will be using it in my day-to-day work and the nuances of the language. I appreciated the fact that the trainer used lots of examples in relation to the type of exam questions that we might face when going through certification. He also pitched the content at the right level and enabled us to develop working examples in the classroom and discuss the worth of our work."

Just an additional point to mention here – if you have kids or know a young budding programmer looking for extra skills, Sun offers a certain amount of free training at www.sun.com/sai - if you click on this link you’ll need to select the Register option.

I’d be interested to know what readers think of corporate training of this kind and whether it is something that they constantly strive to achieve themselves. Skills for so many jobs (in software application development and in other industries) tend to be learnt on-the-job, so is this a topic that you think about regularly?