08 February 2011

Fusion Cuisine: Slicing and Dicing Courses to Suit Different Palates

Ever been faced with setting up training for some of your developers, but the courses offered by the usual suspects fail to cover the technologies your team uses? Or cover technologies that you don't use? Or lack the depth you're looking for in particular areas? Or too much depth...?

I was recently faced with a request from a client who want to put some of their junior developers through an Intro to Java course. The developers in question come from various other programming backgrounds, and already understand OO concepts and normal development disciplines. The "obvious" choice is the Sun/Oracle SL-275 mainstay course which I have been teaching (on and off) for something like 15 years, now.

But! A good part of SL-275 – and of my own Intro to Java course – delves into developing applications using the Swing GUI toolkit, used to construct desktop applications. This particular client is a company that only does web-applications, so learning a bunch of Swing concepts does them little good. I was happily able to propose that, instead of using Swing for that portion of the course, we could substitute some Servlet and JSP concepts and development. This arrangement serves them much better, as it also equips their developers with knowledge they will be able to immediately put to productive use. Fortunately I have lately put in a lot of work on a Servlet/JSP course, so I'm able to cycle some of that material into the Java Intro course.

It's not as simple as it sounds, though!

The Swing portion of "Intro to Java" also serves some other pedagogic purposes. It reinforces some of the OO groundwork covered earlier in the course by driving home the differences between inheritance, containment and usage. (At least it does the way I teach it!) Swing also provides a good platform for introducing listeners (Observer Pattern in the GoF book), Java's anonymous-inner class mechanism, and the exception-handling framework, along with a bunch of other bits-and-pieces that are useful for new-to-Java developers to learn, like converting between Strings and numbers.

So the challenge, now, is to make sure that I can adequately cover the same territory, and serve the same purposes, using servlets and JSPs. Not too hard, really, but it should make for a fun course where we can do a lot more hands-on, practical development work than the stock SL-275 allows.

The other tricky bit to watch is making sure that the level of detail doesn't overwhelm new-to-Java developers with too many web-application specifics. It is important to keep the focus on "Introduction to Java", and not lose sight of the real objective in a welter of webapp configuration and deployment.

Just a single, simple example of where and when customised courses can much better match the client's needs than any standardised, templatised training provided by a 4-week-per-month manual-pusher.
Contact me for a course customised to your organisation's needs!

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