22 August 2008

Courseware: The Next Step

Just received my Instructor's Manual (only a week late!) for Sun's SL-425 "Architecting and Designing J2EE Applications"1 and I'm very happy to see that it is basically the same course as the old "Architecture and Design" course I taught several times lo' those many years ago when I was so frequently on my feet as "Herr Instructor".

This is easily the best2 course I ever "taught"! It is aimed a senior, experienced designers and developers3, and confronts head-on the sticky few-good-answers stuff, the ill-defined and the fuzzy grey areas. I have always run the course in a round-table "workshop" format. When you get 8 or 10 senior developers into a room, each with a decade or two of experience, you're not going to be their Teacher. And you sure as hell better not have a tender ego. "I don't know" is a frequent answer. The job is much more one of facilitation: Keeping discussion on-track, drawing quieter participants into the discussion, acknowledging expertise and encouraging people to share their (often vast!) experience. I found it hugely enjoyable to engage with seriously expert people, and to facilitate drawing out their expertise. And I learned a lot!

It has been a very long time that I have wanted to run this course again, so I'm looking forward to it hugely!

So: I have a couple of weeks to catch-up on the changes since last it taught facilitated this course. Mainly the technology has caught up with the tech: Where there was only CORBA or RMI a decade ago, there are now a host of J2EE technologies, and the course now includes them. Where a decade ago the whole idea of enterprise-architecture patterns was pretty new and unheard-of, now there's the J2EE Blueprints Catalogue (even if those yanks can't spell "Catalogue"!)

Of course I'll probably be unable to resist the temptation fo slipping in a few sly teasers about Jini and Javaspaces -- but Hey! Sun seem to encourage instructors to go beyond the boundaries of the course material, and encourage us to bring our own experience into the classroom. Or workshop in this case.

I am still thinking about floating my own version of this course, perhaps a little less attached to Java tech, so that more people might engage. The absolutely best runs of the course were when we had many people from different organisations and backgrounds. Cross-pollination really works. Ask plants!
[1] Is there such a word as "Architecting"? My spelling-chequer doesn't seam to think sew.

[2] "Best" from my point of view, anyway. Though, I can honestly report that every participant I've ever had on this course reported exactly the same sentiment!

[3] I don't believe the term/job-title "Architect" had any currency back then. Whilst it had certainly been invented4 it was certainly not popular. In fact there still was no such Job Title as "Software Designer" back then. My boss had to invent it for me!

[4] I believe that I was one of the (probably many) inventors of "Software Architect"a s a job title. Certainly not unique in that, though! Back in 1989 a technical career-path looked much like "Junior Programmer - Programmer - SeniorProgramer - Junior Systems Analyst - Systems Analyst - Senior Systems Analyst - Business Analyst..." I rejected the whole deal5 stating "Analysis is The Art of Taking Things Apart. I don't want to do that. I want to put things together, and that's called Design (and, at the high-end, Architecture)."

[5] ... in a bi-annual merit-assessment that became (in)famous as the one where I told my Manager, "If you want loyalty, get a dog! This is a business relationship; didn't you understand that?" Needless to say I got no increase that year. ;-)
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